The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Wings of War & Brass, Initial thoughts

Brass, a Warfrog economic game, stood high on my “must try” list; today I got the chance.

Given my preferences, no points awarded for guessing that I liked it. This had the typical Warfrog “what can I do now?” first game issues that so many of their titles suffer from. But once you get used to the system(s), then it isn’t too bad. In general, you get two actions a turn, and spend a card for each action. Some actions (loans, research, delivering cotton, or building canals/railroads) don’t care which card you use. but buildings require a card in the matching city or the matching industry card (with some restrictions). In addition, you have to be able to ship coal around (for buildings that require it). An “Era” lasts until the deck runs out and each player empties his hand, then you score buildings that were utilized. At the end of the first era, you sweep low-tech buildings (and canals) off the board, and start again.

What I liked — you have to manage money, actions, cards and resources (although you can use other peoples resources), and VPs. Competition in space and time. Things are tight, but not as precarious as Age of Steam. In short, Brass has what I like.

What I dislike — Understanding the ‘technology tree’ requires flipping lots of chits over. As usual, a player aid would help immensely. (Update — The player aid I wanted is on the back of the rulebook). Some icons on the chits (and map) are confusing. The rules are what you’d expect from Warfrog. Like Struggle of Empires, this suffers from the “You can do anything on the first turn, but don’t have a feel for what’s good.” (That’s a drawback the first time you play, but shouldn’t be a killer). All minor peeves, really.

What worries me — All of the chrome may just hide the fact that one strategy dominates, or that the cards have a huge impact. I won by getting two of the cities that allow you to build Ships (worth Tons of VPs). If one of my opponents had one of those cards, I would have lost.

I’ll hold out, until I get a few more plays (or a steal). But I’m cautiously optimistic.

I also played Wings of War. To my surprise, it’s a Blue Max variant. Instead of having a hex chart for each play, you have a deck of cards and play three cards (in order). Then each player takes their first card, lines it up with the front of the plane, and moves the plane to where the arrow on the card ends up. (So you play on any flat surface). Then you use rulers to fire. So instead of having a “big move” then complicated fire, you plot three small moves and have a fire after each step. I think Blue Max’s red/blue chits are slightly more elegant than the single card deck for Wings of War, but perhaps an advanced rules adjusts that. But overall the games are close enough to make them interchangeable, in my opinion. Which is pretty reasonable praise. Wings of War will probably be another game I play infrequently, but rather like.

And I finally played my copy of Race.

Update: (April ’08) — I had so many rules wrong on Brass that you should just ignore the above. I’ll post a link to a new review later.

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Written by taogaming

November 23, 2007 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with ,

10 Responses

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  1. Like you, Wings of War is a game I like a lot, play infrequently, but always enjoy it when I play.

    That said, I think it’s another one of those annoying 90% games, because the scenarios aren’t quite there. We like playing the balloon-buster games from Burning Drachens, because they provide a focussed objective, and it’s definintely fun out of the box but the scenario benefits from some twiddling: the balloons should be moved forward a bit to get some space behind them, and the defender needs to have more planes (I think they need to have almost-parity with the attackers, so either equal numbers but weaker planes or fewer planes but some of the powerful ones from the Top Fighters pack).

    Anyway, I think it’s a great game, but it pays to use some judgement with the scenarios.

    Chris Farrell

    November 23, 2007 at 10:21 pm

  2. Brian, there’s a chart in the back of the rules for Brass that serves as a player aid (and summarizes the “tech tree”). A quick trip to Kinko’s or (shhh!) your office’s color printer would provide you with instant player aids. Alternatively, there are several player aids based on that chart posted on the Geek.

    It does indeed take a while to figure out what are good actions, but I don’t think the problem is nearly as severe as in Struggle of Empires or, even worse, Princes of the Renaissance. In those other Wallace games, you have a huge number of tiles you can purchase, all available on the first turn. That really adds to the learning curve. After one game of Brass, I have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to attack the game next time. Learning curves are nice, but I think I prefer Brass’s to the other ones, where the curve begins to resemble a cliff.

    Count me in the “the rules are more confusing than they should be” camp. I really had to read them carefully to get the ideas down and I was always afraid I was missing something. It also made it tougher to teach. Nothing awful, but below the expectations we have for eurogames.

    There may turn out to be a dominant strategy, but right now, I don’t think Shipbuilding is it. I got to play two of those in my game (and just beat out an opponent who was ready to grab the last one). The veeps were nice, but the cost was substantial and in retrospect, I probably could have used the same money and earned just about the same amount doing other things. In particular, we found that the railroads yielded big points and that really wasn’t something we figured out until near the end.

    I don’t think the cards dominate, but I do think that the folks saying they don’t really matter are nuts. They had a HUGE effect on our game. For example, in the beginning of the Rail Age, 7 of my 8 cards were Industry cards and I had a big problem getting started on the map (since my connectivity was so low at the start of the age). There were many other cases where our play was strongly determined by the cards we had in our hands. I have no problem with that and enjoy figuring out how to best use the cards, but they certainly affect play.

    Really looking forward to our next game. Right now Brass is neck and neck with Agricola and just a shade behind Phoenicia in my Game of the Year race.

    Larry Levy

    November 24, 2007 at 12:28 am

  3. Re: WoW Scenarios

    We just did a simple dogfight, so I have no idea about the scenario balance.

    Re: Brass

    I never saw the chart, since the person teaching kept the rules close at hand and opened. I do feel better that Warfrog put it into the game. I’ll edit the post to change that.

    I am also glad to hear that the game seems to have good replayability (although these claims are always suspect, at least coming from me, until after 1 year has passed).

    Brian

    November 24, 2007 at 10:31 am

  4. Re: WoW Scenarios

    We just did a simple dogfight, so I have no idea about the scenario balance.

    Re: Brass

    I never saw the chart, since the person teaching kept the rules close at hand and opened. I do feel better that Warfrog put it into the game. I’ll edit the post to change that.

    I am also glad to hear that the game seems to have good replayability (although these claims are always suspect, at least coming from me, until after 1 year has passed).

    Brian

    November 24, 2007 at 10:31 am

  5. Please let us know if you find an unbalanced strategy. This one is on my radar, but I’m wary of Wallace games these days.

    I remember your Liberte review and subsequent ones after that – you pointed out Wallace tends to favour having a wide range of cards in a deck from dominant to futile. Or, in Age of Steam, some of the roles outweigh others by a significant degree. Does Brass have this sort of element to it?

    Thanks for the post.

    jacob

    November 24, 2007 at 4:55 pm

  6. I have no idea … I’ve only played once. The different strategies don’t actually feel that wide ranging (at least not compared to AoS or SoN), but then again there is no auction here to balance things out. Perhaps those are related facts.

    Brian

    November 24, 2007 at 10:09 pm

  7. I have no idea … I’ve only played once. The different strategies don’t actually feel that wide ranging (at least not compared to AoS or SoN), but then again there is no auction here to balance things out. Perhaps those are related facts.

    Brian

    November 24, 2007 at 10:09 pm

  8. Jacob, there’s no comparison between Brass and those other two games. The disparity in the power of the cards in Liberte was a genuine problem, particularly given the tendency for the display to quickly clog up (thankfully, the Dagger variant takes care of both problems). On the other hand, the difference in strength of the roles in AoS was deliberate and is intended to make the auction more meaningful. I think the game is better for it.

    In Brass, you are dealt 8 cards and replenish with two each turn. The cards are approximately of the same strength. In certain situations, some cards will be much stronger than others, but it would be unusual not to be able to figure out how to use your cards at all. Moreover, four of the five actions don’t use the cards, but still allow you to discard one and get a new one in return. I’m sure luck enters into things, but it’s probably only slightly higher than it is in AoS, seems considerably less than in games like Struggle of Empires or Princes of the Renaissance, and is much less than Wallace’s early designs. I’d say the skill to luck ratio in Brass is quite high.

    Larry Levy

    November 25, 2007 at 1:37 am

  9. Cool. That answers my question. Thank you.

    jacob

    November 25, 2007 at 11:16 am

  10. Cool. That answers my question. Thank you.

    jacob

    November 25, 2007 at 11:16 am


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