Players: 4 (Plays 2-6)
Duration: 5-10 minutes
Red7 is a card game which consists of 49 cards numbered 1 – 7 in each of 7 different colours (with each colour matching a winning condition). At the start of the game players are randomly dealt 7 cards to their hand and then one face up in front them (this area is called the palette). In the centre of the table (or canvas) there is a card which states that the highest card wins (the red winning condition). At the end of their turn, players need to be winning the game or they are knocked out. They do this by playing a card into their palette to satisfy the winning condition, playing a card onto the canvas to change the winning condition, or both. Examples of winning conditions are highest card wins (red), most even cards (green) and most cards under 4 (violet).
Red7 is a brain burner. Each turn is a puzzle that you have to solve and due to the diversity of the cards in this game each turn will be unique. There may be multiple solutions to getting through your turn but some are better than others. You will want to use only one card whenever possible (running out of cards means you can’t go and will almost certainly be out) and you may also want to attempt to plan for future turns too. As a downside, player interaction is low as even though other players palettes do affect your turn the player right before you may change a rule and ruin any plans you have made. However, at about 5 minutes per round this is not a problem and it’s still fun to see players squirm as you change a rule right in front of them. If you like logic puzzles and card games (which I do) then this inexpensive filler is a must.
Players: 4 (Plays 3-4)
Duration: 3 hours
There is something nice about playing a game about your local area. Brass is set in the Industrial Revolution of the North West of England and seeing Runcorn on the board is oddly satisfying (as opposed to actually going to Runcorn which is definitely not). The game takes place over two ages, (canal and railway) and players are trying to score victory points by building various industries (coal, iron, cotton, ports and shipyards) represented by tiles. The catch is that once built the industry will not generate income or score until it is ‘flipped’ which is achieved by meeting certain conditions depending on the industry.
At the beginning of the game players are dealt 8 cards (each of which either feature a location on the board or a type of industry) and 5 stacks of industry tiles (one for each type of industry) with lowest technology type at the top. On their turn players play two cards and take two actions depending on the cards (they then redraw two more cards). As an action players can build an industry, build canal/rail links, develop industry, sell cotton or take a loan.
Building is probably the most common action. When players build an industry they pay the cost on the tile and place it on the board. Certain tiles may require coal or iron which can be obtained from other industries or bought from a distant market. When coal mines or ironworks are built, coal or iron cubes are placed on them and when a connected industry is built that requires them they are removed from the tile. Once they are all removed the tile is flipped (generating money and victory points). Shipyards are expensive to be built but score a lot of points and are flipped immediately. Cotton mills and ports can be built too but are only flipped during a sell cotton action. Building transport links is only allowed from towns that you already have an industry or transport link to and allows you to move coal, sell cotton and score points.
Developing industry is a simple action where you discard tiles from your stacks to get to the better (higher scoring) industries lower in the stack and taking loans gives you a cash injection but lowers your income. Selling cotton is a tricky action that lets you flip a cotton tile but you will need to sell it through a port that there is a transport link too. Additionally the port they sell through also gets flipped.
Once the cards have all run out the canal age ends. At this point players score for any of their flipped industries and canal links. Then all level one industries and canal links are discarded, the discard pile is shuffled into a new deck and the railway age begins. Once the cards are exhausted again there is a second scoring round and the player with the most points wins.
The above may give you some idea of how the game plays but there are a lot of finer details that make Brass a much more complex experience. The concept of having to flip industries before they can score can take a little while to get your head around but it’s not the only quirk. Income is measured on a track in increasingly sized bands so an industry income level of 5 may only correspond to an actual increase of £1. Loans aren’t ever paid back directly but knock you down the income track by entire bands so you are encouraged to borrow heavily early on when the bands are smaller which seems odd. Other weird things are the need for coal to travel along transport links when iron can somehow fly and the fact that all level one industries and canal links are discarded from the board halfway through the game making the canal age (which scores low) feel like an extended setup phase. These abstract elements do clash with the theme and the misleadingly simple looking board does hide a deeper more obtuse layer.
At three hours Brass sits right at the very top of my time limit for mechanics-heavy games and it’s one of those that I am not sure whether I am actually enjoying or just appreciating. Thankfully we had a Brass fan teaching (or reminding) us the game so it went fairly smoothly and the explanation for XCOM at the next table went on twice as long so it can’t be all that bad. Brass is not a game that I would want to play every week or even every month but like Container a few weeks ago it’s one that gets into your head and pushes you to think about every move. We will meet again!
It’s worth noting that historically Brass is very accurate in where the industries are placed and the transport links between them. For someone living in the area it’s entertaining to see that Blackpool’s only value was as a transport link (no industry just tourists) and that you only go to Barrow when you absolutely have to. Just like real life.