Brass: Birmingham (Digital Eyes) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2018Players: 2-4
Designer: Gavan Brown, Matt Tolman, Martin WallaceLength: 90-180 minutes
Artist: Lina Cossette, David Forest, Damien MammolitiAge: 14+
Publisher: Roxley GamesComplexity: 4.0 / 5

Looking back, building that last pottery had been foolhardy. Investing in the rail network would have been much more lucrative and sensible, but you had wanted to compete with your contemporaries. Maybe if you had been more careful and had planned further ahead when you first started out as an entrepreneur, things would have worked out differently. But then, nobody could have predicted the Industrial Revolution to be so transformative as it had been. Yet, overall you had done well and were certainly top Brass: Birmingham by Roxley Games.

When a game is celebrated as being complex, your first instinct is to be intimidated. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage and suggest to my weekly games group that we should try Brass: Birmingham. I felt that over the years we had tackled more and more complex games and that now we were finally ready to go up to the next level of complexity.

Convincing the others actually turned out not to be too difficult, because after having moved our weekly meetings to an online world, we had discovered more games on the various platforms and were happy to try out new things, provided one of us would learn the rules.

We had spoken about playing Brass: Birmingham for a couple of weeks, but none of us had had the time to learn the rules, ready to teach the others. However, one week it was just the two of us and we decided we were happy to learn the rules together and just go for it. We intended to teach the third person in our group during our next online games night, so investing half an hour going over rules together seemed a very worthwhile effort.

Brass: Birmingham, like its sibling Brass: Lancashire, which in turn is a reprint of the original Brass, is rules-heavy. A large chunk of its complexity comes from the sheer number of rules. The turn order itself is actually relatively simple, consisting of discarding a card and taking an action, then drawing up again, and pretty most of what you do during the game is either build an industry or a network link – but the devil is in the detail of course.

The card you discard defines where you can build and what you can build. There are also things like your network and whether you’re connected to something else to consider. It also matters what resource you produce or consume, because each one works slightly differently.

There is a lot of terminology to learn, the behaviour of the cards and industry to understand and the sheer amount of tiles on your own player mat to grapple with. It feels very overwhelming, but the game tries to help you.

Brass: Birmingham is played over two eras: the canal era and the rail era. Yet, on your first game you only want to play the first era, so you can ease yourself in. The very first time you play, the canal era alone will probably take as long as playing the whole game once you’re a bit more experienced.

So, don’t be put off by the rules complexity. In the end, like with any game, once you’ve played it once or twice, things start to flow really quickly and you’re starting to get a feeling for where your victory points come from. What felt like exceptions or special circumstances becomes second nature and intuitive.

In fact, when I played my third game of Brass: Birmingham, I started to play a bit more strategically, even tactically, looking for opportunities that another player created by their actions. After all, the whole game is very much about being very careful about deciding what to build where and when and in what order.

If you get it wrong, you can set up an opponent for a huge windfall that will not only give them victory points, but might actually completely ruin your own plans and effectively lose you the game – and that’s what makes this game so wonderfully exciting for me. Yet, it’s not just the usual player interaction where your actions just ruin someone else’s game.

In Brass: Birmingham, things are a bit more complex, as you would expect. You often build industries that actually benefit another player, giving them coal or iron or beer. Yet, when these resources are used up, you will gain an even bigger benefit in the form of victory points. It doesn’t end there though, because a player can gain an additional benefit from your benefit by building network links.

It’s a network of dependencies and everyone is trying to snatch a few victory points where they can, in the hope that the final point difference will be enough for them to take the win. In the process, you’re helping others who actually help you, which then helps someone else, in sometimes unexpected ways and at unexpected moments.

If you play really well, and everyone plays really badly, you always help yourself, but in reality, you can’t do anything without considering how it could help someone else. It’s a wonderful form of player interaction that Brass: Birmingham implements excellently.

The whole process is made harder, because you can’t just build anything wherever you like. Your hand of cards limits what’s possible, so from the start you have to work around what options you have been given by fate. It adds another level of strategic thinking, as if the game needed even more complexity. If you discard the wrong card at the wrong time, you may curse yourself later, after already having cursed the cards for conspiring against you.

Yet, the cards don’t actually introduce a huge amount of luck. In fact, I’d say it’s minimal, hardly noticeable. You’ve got a hand of eight cards, which basically allow you plan eight turns ahead. That should be more than enough to come up with a decent strategy, without allowing you to plan ahead too far.

So once you have worked up your courage, worked your way through the rules and made it to the end of the canal era, Brass: Birmingham greets you with another, quite nasty, surprise. Sure, the game will ask you to tot up everyone’s victory points at this stage, lulling some of you into a false sense of security, because they have managed to get a 20 point lead over everyone else, while others are close to giving up, because they are so very far behind.

Yet, the surprise that the game has to offer isn’t the difference in victory points. After all, everyone will score again at the end of the rail era. No, the nastiness in the surprise comes when everyone has to remove pretty much most of what they’ve built on the map so far. It’s almost like a hard reset – except for those among you who have managed to set themselves up for the rail era.

Suddenly, that 20 point difference doesn’t look that big any longer. In fact, the leader will start to sweat a little as they realise that they have to start from scratch, while others are in prime position to really benefit from the age of steam that is coming next.

By now, everyone will also have reached an income level that means money is no longer really of any consequence – except for deciding turn order each round. If not by the end of the canal era, then a few rounds into the rail era, everyone will be so rich that it really doesn’t matter what they build or how much they have to pay. Chances are they either get most of it back at the end of the round or even earn more than they have spent.

Also, money is worth nothing at the end of the game, so when you reach the half-way point in the rail era, you may as well put everyone’s money back in the bank and use it to record how much everyone spends on their turn, so that you can decide turn order for the following round. Money really has no further use now.

I love this. It feels like the game is telling me that for the rich, money loses all meaning. A million pounds is just as unimportant as a hundred million – or in Brass: Birmingham terms, it doesn’t matter whether you’re spending £15 plus some coal from the market or only £5. You won’t miss it and probably get it all back again.

Yet, money still remains important as it pertains to player order, and that’s actually quite a critical point. As the map fills up, it’s increasingly more difficult to find spaces that will only, or at least mostly, benefit yourself. Beer is in high demand for example.

So if you are clever and can ensure you spend the most money in one round, so that you’re last in the next round, then spend the least in that round, you will effectively get a double turn. That can be the only way to build a brewery and immediately use the beer to sell goods or otherwise gain victory points. If you’re clever about it, manipulating turn order can have a huge impact later in the game.

Brass: Birmingham is just a glorious mix of area control, hand management, positive player interaction, which actually and ultimately benefits yourself, turn order manipulation and plenty of strategic and sometimes tactical thinking. It’s an intimidating game that begs you to try it, and when you do, you will just squeal with frustration, enjoyment, anger and pure excitement. You will ask yourself what you could have done differently and whether the canal was actually worth building. You won’t be able to wait for another game where you can test your new strategy and ideas, only for the cards and the other players to spoil everything again.

In a word: Brass: Birmingham comes highly recommended. Go and buy it now!

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I played a digital copy of the game.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (
Music: Industrial Revolution by Kevin MacLeod (
Sound Effects: BBC Sound Effects (

Brass: Birmingham (Deluxe) (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018Players: 2-4
Designer: Gavan Brown, Matt Tolman, Martin WallaceLength: 90-180 minutes
Artist: Lina Cossette, David Forest, Damien MammolitiAge: 14+
Publisher: Roxley GamesComplexity: 3.5 / 5
Plastic (by weight): 20%Air (by volume): <25%

The canal era was over. It was the time of the steam railways. The industrial revolution was in full swing and coal was at the heart of new, booming industries. A lot of iron was needed to build the infrastructure that would allow resources and goods to be shipped around the country. The workforce needed to be kept happy and beer was the perfect lubricant for this task. The rise of cotton mills, potteries and manufacturing gave us the opportunities to earn our Brass: Birmingham by Gavan Brown, Matt Tolman and Martin Wallace from Roxley Games.

Yes, it’s time for my second review of the wonderfully illustrated and highly competitive economic simulation game Brass: Birmingham. Having played it digitally many times, I knew I had to get myself a copy. I also knew I definitely wanted the amazing poker chips. So eventually I treated myself and ordered the deluxe version of this game. Now, having played the physical version a few times, I’m ready to look at how this game continues to delight and how the experience differs from its digital sibling.


Let me start with one of the main differences between the online and physical versions: the setup. Many games require quite a bit of work before they are ready to play, but it does feel like Brass: Birmingham stands out. The biggest two jobs that I think take the longest time are sorting through your industry tiles and placing them in the correct locations on your player board, followed by removing merchant tiles not in play for the current player count, shuffling them and dealing them out onto the relevant locations on the central game board.

Similarly, you have to sort through the deck of location and industry cards and remove those that aren’t in play for your specific player count, before shuffling them and dealing the relevant number to players. Next comes placing the correct number of coal and iron cubes onto the market area of the central game board, as well as putting beer barrels on the relevant spaces underneath merchant tiles.

It does take a while to get the game ready and it’s easy to miss something or accidentally have cards in play that are for a different player count or put the wrong industry tile in the wrong space on your player board. So you do have to focus during setup, which does make the game feel longer to set up than others, I think.

a close-up of the player boards and the large amount of industry tiles stacked and placed in their correct locations
a close-up of the player boards and the large number of industry tiles stacked and placed in their correct locations

Table Presence

However, once it’s ready, Brass: Birmingham looks amazing on the table. You can choose between the day or the night side of the board. They are functionally the same and only differ in the representation of the map. One is lighter, the other darker. Either way, the map just looks stunning. It exudes a sense of luxury. You immediately feel transported into the seat of one of the eight industrialists that are described near the beginning of the rulebook. They clearly have lived a life of grandeur and opulence. They seem to look down on you and expect you to go from humble beginnings to becoming the owner of a national, industrial empire, just as they did – and that’s no small feat.

I strongly recommend you either go for the deluxe edition or buy decent poker chips. The cardboard money that comes with the base game simply detracts from the luxurious feeling that the rest of the components convey. You want to hear the clink of the chips as you stack them in front of you. You want to feel the weight in your hands as you have to pay for actions. After all, Brass: Birmingham is an economic simulation. So making the money an active and tangible part of the game is so important. You do need the tactility and sound they make. Every time you spend or earn money, you want to feel its heaviness.

The cards, wooden cubes and beer barrels are also amazing. They lift the game experience. Feeling the linen-finished cards in your hands is a pleasure. Moving coal or iron cubes around the board creates a sense of how these resources flow. The same is true for the beer barrels that play a small, but very important part in the game.

Continual Enjoyment

Having played the game quite a number of times now, both in digital as well as physical form, I can assure you that it never gets boring. Maybe I’m biased, because I clearly love economic simulation games, but every game of Brass: Birmingham is different. The player count will change things up, but also the order in which cards come out. Hand management is such an important part, as well as timing. Deciding what you must do now and what can wait until later is often critical. Be careful which card you choose to play, because you don’t know what cards you will draw next.

Then you have to consider what other players are likely to do next. You might be able to delay building your coal mine, if it looks like nobody else is likely to get theirs out in the location you’re planning to put yours. Placing more canals might be the better choice for the moment, as it will open up the map for you and you could even block other players from reaching the locations they seem to aim for.

As I said, timing plays a huge role in Brass: Birmingham. Sometimes the game becomes a race to build your pottery before everyone else or to connect to a port and deliver your goods before another player snaps the beer and the related bonus away from under your nose.

There are so many considerations and decisions to make at every turn. Even while you wait for everyone else to take their actions, you need to pay attention and keep a close eye on your competitors. At the same time, you need to think about what you want to do next and if you have the money to afford it.

a close-up of the game board with the players' tokens and poker chip money
money is important in Brass: Birmingham, but loans are cheap

Money Makes Brass Go Round

In a way, money doesn’t matter in the game. You can always take loans, especially early on. In fact, you’re missing a trick if you don’t take a loan. After all, Brass: Birmingham is a proper economic simulation. Loans give you the cash flow you need to pay for industries that give you an income that allows you to make a profit. So in reality, money is at the core of this game. It’s there in the form of loans, in how your spend each round affects turn order, the income you make and of course, the money you spend to build infrastructure or industry. It all revolves around money.

Brass: Birmingham is also all about player interaction. You will never be able to play the game in isolation. Even though a lot of the time you want to be the one who uses the resources you create by building industry, later in the game you often produce so much that it’s impossible for you to consume it by yourself. You want others to use it and allow you to flip over your industry tile to increase your income and get points.

Of course, the flip side is that everyone will try and benefit from the work you do. Every time it looks likely that your industry tile will flip, others will build their canals or train tracks to connect up with it. They will want to share in the points you make. There is this constant push and pull in the game. You want to make sure you get the better deal out of every transaction, even when you have to concede other players a share in your profits.

Complex Bliss

It might take a while to wrap your head around Brass: Birmingham, but it’s not actually too hard to learn how to play it. After your first game, you will know how it works. Then it’s just a matter of playing it over and over again, trying different strategies, responding to the luck of the card draw and what other players are doing and generally continually improving your game.

I don’t think Brass: Birmingham will ever get old for me. I will always enjoy playing it, whether that’s digitally or in person. Even the relatively long setup doesn’t put me off. In a way, the physical game is actually more enjoyable. Placing your tiles and playing with the poker chips is so much fun. The icing on the cake is seeing the other players’ faces as you pull off the perfect turn. It’s such an amazing game that I can only recommend if you’re happy to sit down for a few hours to build your industrial empire.


Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I bought and paid for the game myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Music: Vital Whales by Unicorn Heads (