Brass Empire: Review

In a world of competing corporations, Fairway would be the best boss. Or, at least, that’s what Brass Empire has taught him.  Fairway picks up this Kickstarted, steampunk, deck-building game from Mike Gnade. See if it was able to turn cards into Brass.

Brass Empire is a two- to five-player, deck-building game set in a steampunk world. Players are competing corporations seeking to expand their power in order to convert labor and resources into Brass and protect their precious infrastructure.

Initial Impressions

  1. Like many deck builders, this game has a mountain of cards. While there are a lot of duplicates, there feels to be a good number of special and unique cards in the deck.
  2. The game’s art is a bit uneven. There are some features that are just beautifully illustrated and others that leave something to be desired. Everyone is dazzled by the really cool card backs.
  3. The corporation feels pretty balanced. In our plays, no one seemed to outpace others merely because of their corporate pick
  4. Reasonable play time which is easily adjusted by changing the amount of brass tokens available in a game.

Game play

Brass Empire is played over a series of rounds until a central pool of Brass is depleted. Once the brass is gone, players total the brass they collect along with the brass value of cards in their deck.

To play, each player is given a personal deck of starting cards, a starting corporation and a mining platform. Each corporation has five specialized cards that are reserved for only that player.  Each player’s starting deck consists of some basic cards that provide the basic values of construction or labor.

The remainder of the cards are divided into two groups: labor and design decks.  The labor deck is replete with a wide variety of labor-supplying cards. These cards generally provide bonuses only when played from the hand. The design deck has two classes of cards: buildings and units. Building and unit cards remain in play once constructed (or hired) and provide bonuses until destroyed. Units are the soldiers and security forces that provide protection and enable players to attack other players. Buildings are “permanent” structures that provide perks.

At the start of the game, these two decks are separately shuffled and a tableau of cards is set face out in a draft. These face up cards are available for purchase by a player for the cost.  As cards are purchased during, new cards are revealed from the pile.

On your turn, you will play cards from their hand to acquire cards from the tableau of cards in the middle and/or use the powers of your face up units and buildings.  The cards in the design and labor drafts are purchased by discarding cards equaling the requisite number of “labor” and or “construction” cost in the upper right.  Generally, when you purchase cards, they’re added to your discard pile. In the case of buildings, they’re played immediately face up in front of you, but are only “constructed” and available for use on your next turn.  In addition, unit cards can be played from your hand face up.

With units (and some buildings), you can attack other players’ units and buildings. Each of these cards includes both an attack and a health value.  And once the health is depleted, the unit or building is placed in the player’s discard pile. You can also use units to mine Brass.

Once you’re out of cards, your turn ends, you draw up a hand of new cards from your deck and play passes to the next person.  The game continues until all of the available Brass is depleted, and the game ends shortly after that.

The players total up the value of all their brass as well as the brass value of their deck. Most purchased cards in a deck will have a brass value in the lower right.  Thus, it’s possible for a player with little actual brass to win by having a very valuable deck.

On the green

The art.  Brass Empire has a ton of really great art in it. Most everyone was impressed by the wide array of unique illustrations.  For the most part, this game deploys its art well.  There were times when the art just felt out of place and a little hokey especially for some of the character art, which was unfortunate. I wanted to say that it was all around fantastic.

Also the card backs are really cool!

Easy to learn, a lot to do.  There wasn’t much to learning this game: draw a hand of cards, buy more cards, collect brass, etc.  But there is a lot to actually playing the game. The plethora of powers and abilities on the cards themselves left our first few games only scratching the surface of the game itself.

Components.  The game uses some very nice components: the box, the insert, the cards and the pieces were all high quality.  I’ll mention that there are just tons of cards in this game.

Balance.  As I said, we played a number of games, but we barely scratched the surface of the game itself.  That said, the cards themselves seemed relatively balanced. Taking a peek at BGG forums, I was curious whether anyone took issue with balance in the game and it doesn’t look like there are too many issues on this front. Considering how many cards in the game, that’s actually quite impressive.

Where it comes up short

For all the things Brass Empire has going for it, I’m left wondering a bit whether the game adds much to the crowded genre.  We did have some minor issues worth noting:

Attacking and runaway leader.  The offensive capabilities of players definitely tend to favor the person who can strike first. And who that player is is  dependent on both luck of the draw and what cards are face up at the time.  Being able to quickly deploy attacking units and striking first makes it hard for other players to effectively deploy new units or buildings. This tends to lead to one player running away with victory.

Red and clear acrylic cubes as “brass.”  I’m not sure I totally understand this component choice.  While they are really nice feeling and large, the game uses these cubes to represent the mined Brass.  When we first set up the game we were incredibly confused by this fact.  It would have seemed more appropriate to use opaque cubes or something in the metallic, orange or yellow.

The other unfortunate consequence of this choice is that the “hit point” cubes are opaque red. This was also really confusing during our initial set up.

In the hole

Brass Empire has pretty much exactly what you’ll expect from a deck building game: lots of cards, lots of art, and lots of unique abilities. Fans of the genre will recognize much of the game play and quickly pick up the strategies and understand the consequences of their decisions. For fans of Dominion or Eminent Domain looking a change of theme, Brass Empire will fit the bill.

Brass Empire is in the hole for a Par.

Fairway was provided a copy of Brass Empire to write this review. He was not otherwise compensated.

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