Bruges is a city located in northwest Belgium. It is also a game by famed designer Stefan Feld. And today I am reviewing it for you.
Disclaimer: I have only played Bruges twice, but I review games after one or two plays because I usually won’t give them another shot if I don’t like it after two plays.
Bruges: Is this another Feldian Point Salad?
In the game Bruges players will try to win by garnering the most points. Players will attempt to earn points from buildings, people, canals, and reputation.
But the unique part of the play in Bruges is that cards serve multiple purposes. The colors of the cards matter (there are five colors). Each card can allow you to do one of the following things:
- obtain workers of that color
- obtain guilders equal to the pips on the die of that color
- discard a threat marker of that color
- build a house
- build a canal section of that color
- add a person to an existing house
The game is played until one of the two card decks runs out. Each round players will draw to a hand limit of 5 cards. Then they will play four turns each where they are choosing from the actions above.
There are many choices to make during a game of Bruges. From choosing which deck to draw your cards, to deciding whether to go for canals or houses and people. The decision space in this game is immense and yet it is limited. How can I make such a statement? The reason I make that proclamation is that with the 5 cards you have in your hand each turn, each card presents 6 options. So there are 30 things to decide from in each round. That’s a lot. But on the other hand, you will likely not actually be choosing from those 30 things. You will likely be choosing from a subset of those options based on the gameplan you have. So while there are plenty of decisions you could make, you are probably going to choose from a few of the options available to you. Also, the threats in the game can steer some of your decisions, which can be frustrating and relieving at the same time.
Here’s a look at the game (Image from BGG User henk.rollerman):
Bruges plays 2 to 4 players in about an hour. It has a bit of a learning curve, but I think it fits the Feldian mold nicely.
Here’s What I Like:
OPTIONS: I love options and a large decision space in games. I don’t love when decisions are made for me. Bruges allows me to have the liberty to play just about however I want. I can play as dumb as an ox or as brilliantly as a fox. Feld has made an open decision space where players have full control of their gameplay.
MULTIPLE-USE CARDS: I like when a designer or publishing company can provide multiple ways for components to be used. As I mentioned above, each card can be used to do any of those 6 options. That’s pretty cool.
Here’s What I Dislike:
STRUGGLE FOR SUCCESS: Though you get four turns in a round to do stuff it usually feels like only two of those turns move you forward. Often you are using turns to discard a threat or to take two workers. These don’t feel like fulfilling actions in the game. And that can be frustrating.
STRUGGLE FOR MAJORITIES: There are 12 points available if you can gain the majority in the categories of people, canals, or reputation. That’s a pretty cool thing. What’s not cool is that it can be very difficult to gain the majority from someone who already has it. That can be frustrating. While emotion in games is a good thing, negative emotions should be limited. Struggling for the majorities invokes negative emotions.
Designer Perspective – What I would change:
I think I would try to drop some of the frustration and increase the positive emotions in the game. Feld is a designer who loves resource limitation as a form of tension in games. One way that I would change Bruges is to allow for more success and turn the game into a more rewarding experience. A simple way to do that is to change the “take 2 workers of the card color” option to this:
- Take any two workers OR take 3 workers of the card color
This change alone would open the game up quite a bit, make it less frustrating, and allow players to do more while not changing the overall feel of the theme of the game. I think I’m going to try this as a house rule next time I play!
Being that the game is based on a Belgian city I have not choice but to pair it with a Belgian beer. And since I like the game quite a bit I’ll pair it with a Belgian beer that I like quite a bit. That beer is Duvel.
Duvel is a full bodied lager that is refermented in the bottle. It is hopped with Saaz-Saaz and Styrian-Golding hops. It weighs in at 8.5% abv, so don’t drink too much at a time.
The next time I play I’ll try to make sure I enjoy the game with a bottle of Duvel!
I am a fan of Feld’s games. My favorite is The Castles of Burgundy. Bruges offers some pretty interesting gameplay, but some elements seem more mechanical rather than thematic.
On the whole, this is definitely not the typical point salad that some other games can be. This game requires some work to put together a good number of points. In typical point salad games, everything you do gets you points. That’s not the case with Bruges, and I count that as one of the game’s strengths.
This is a game I can see myself playing multiple more times. I’ll rate Bruges a 7 out of 10 on the BGG scale.