Game Reviews

Brass - No muck at all

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| Brass
Brass - No muck at all
| Brass

Martin Wallace hates you. It may be that you've never heard of him, but he still hates you. I reckon he hates all gamers. Why otherwise would he design something like Brass?

Wallace's hallmark is producing tabletop games that brook little room for error. If you make a strategic mistake and the other players notice, they'll punish you for it.

If they don't the game will punish you for it by making you bankrupt, or locking you in a territorial corner. Or both. On the very first turn.

Brass continues that tradition. Set in the north of England during the industrial revolution you'll need to build, produce and sell your way to victory.

Unless you make tiny strategic missteps or take one loan too many. In that case you'll be eating bread and dripping in the poorhouse before you can say "cotton mill."


However horrible Wallace's games sound in principle, in practice that ruthless drive for perfection makes for highly addictive experiences.

You'll screw up, and the mechanics will laugh at your stupidity before grinding you up and spitting you out. And you'll know exactly what you did wrong and want to start another game right away so you can not make that mistake again.

You'll make a different one, of course, so you'll still lose. But each time it's baby steps toward improvement. Before you know it, you'll end up a skilled player. And will have lost hours and hours of your life in the process.

Brass is a two-phase game. In the beginning you'll be building cotton mills and ports, then joining them together with canals so you can flog your yarn overseas.

In the second era you can build railways, coal mines, and ironworks, and start flogging your stuff to other players.

Each piece of industry requires the right card and the right raw materials to build. Not to mention cash in your pocket - which you can get from your industries or from loans - and a connection to your ever-swelling trade network.

You've only got two actions per turn when you need about ten. And you can develop industries to improve their output. It's a lot to juggle.

There are a lot of places where you can mismanage one tiny factor and watch your whole industrial empire collapse in ruins .


To help you avoid making catastrophic errors, the app has no less than three ways to teach you the rules. There's a video, a text rulebook, and a series of interactive tutorials. All of them are rubbish.

I played Brass as a board game when it came out in 2007. I'd forgotten most of the rules since then but still, re-learning it left me more confused than when I'd started.

I went back to the paper rules eventually, which sorted things out. You can download them yourself, but the bottom line is that you shouldn't have to. The app ought to be able to make learning this unintuitive game a breeze.


Thankfully, everything else in the adaptation is top notch. The board, representing north-west England, looks lovely in high definition pixels.

Viewing and managing the various resources in the game is smooth and simple. There's a poor to intermediate AI, which will offer enough initial challenge for new players.

And when you've mastered that, there's a solid asynchronous play option against other humans.

Brass is a great game. It's demanding, thematic, and addictive, with deep layers of strategy and multiple ways to win. It deserves to be better known.

So it's a shame this otherwise excellent adaptation puts the huge stumbling block of poor tutorials in the path of new players.

If you're at all in to strategy games, though, it's worth the effort. Get the app, get the original rulebook, and get stuck in.

Brass - No muck at all

A dire tutorial mars what's otherwise a solid adaptation of a great strategy game
Matt Thrower
Matt Thrower
Matt is a freelance arranger of words concerning boardgames and video games. He's appeared on IGN, PC Gamer, Gamezebo, and others.