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Board Game Review: Bruges

Bruges at Christmas time. Image via

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?

Bored Europeans on the cover of another Euro game.

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!

Beer Pairing:

A fine Belgian brew!

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!

Overall Rating:

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.

Good game, usually willing to play.

Good game, usually willing to play.


Holiday Gaming Guide

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you can still see that this time of year is special. Winter is nearly here, snow may be on the ground where you live, and the year is about to end. As we scramble to get in as many games as we can before the end of the year we usually find that we get the privilege of gaming with friends or family that don’t normally play games.

So today I present my guide to holiday gaming. Let’s get started with the best introductory games for non-gamers!

Non-Gamer Games…

When gathering together with family for Christmas I usually like to “dumb down” the level of games that I bring along. While I think they would probably enjoy longer, heavier games I find it’s just not worth it to try and teach those types of games. So I like to bring games that are light and accessible, yet still fun to play.

The other day I sent out a tweet and asked what games people like to bring for non-gaming family members. I got a great response:

So let’s run through some of my favorites from those that people mentioned (that I have played before):

  • Have you got your ticket? All Aboard!

    Qwirkle: This is such a simple game but has such excellent tactics. I have the travel version so it’s so easy to bring along!

  • Dixit: It’s like Balderdash without the fiddlyness and with beautiful cards. Can you make up a story? Then try out this game. Plus, it can play up to 12 players so know one will be left out at your Christmas gathering!
  • Ticket to Ride: A classic gateway game renowned for simplicity and accessibility! My non-gaming sister-in-law put it on her Christmas list a few years ago. If you haven’t taught this to your non-gaming family members yet, this is the year!
  • Apples to Apples: It’s simple… play a card that you think the player will choose. While that sounds a little boring, this game is a lot of fun with family members. And it can help you learn about them. So invite your crazy uncle to play so you can learn to avoid what he likes!
  • Farmageddon: This is a fun “take-that” farming game where you scrape by to get any points you can. The theme is funny and the artwork is great. Plus, the price is ideal!
  • The Great Heartland Hauling Co.: For small box games with big strategy this one is a winner. You are a trucker utilizing a pick up and deliver mechanic. It plays quickly and has awesome wooden 18 Wheeler Meeples!
  • Hanabi: It can be infuriating! But it is so much fun. This is a hidden information game where you build fireworks. The info that is hidden are the cards in your own hand. Everyone else can see what you have except you. Work together as a team in this cooperative game to build all the fireworks!
  • Love Letter: About as quick as they come, Love Letter is a card game about winning the princess’ heart. It’s so quick and easy that it would be a crime not to play it with non-gamers.

Any of those games listed above would be good games to play with non-gamers. They are all accessible, relatively light, and all are fun to play. But if you’ve got people who want a little more strategy, here are my mid-tier recommendations for Christmas holiday gaming:

For those wanting more…

Sometimes family will want a slightly heavier game. You may have already piqued their gaming interest with one of the games listed above. So now what? Here are a few games that I think fit the “gateway” mold very well. These are games for people who want to play more and want a little more strategy.

  • How would you build a kingdom?

    Stone Age: I love teaching this game to non-gamers who want a little more. It has excellent strategy. But moreso, there is the idea of trying to do the absolute best with your tribe on every single turn. And the theme is fun.

  • Carcassonne: I would have put this in the upper list, but some people don’t always quite get the placement strategy. Fundamentally it is simple: Take a tile, Place a Tile, Put a meeple on it if you want. But there is a serious amount of fun going on here.
  • Dominion: I have had my fill of this game, but it definitely is a great one for those wanting more strategy and depth. This is the original deck-building game where each turn you can add cards to your personal deck. As the game progresses, the better cards in your deck allow you to do more and better stuff. It’s also pretty easy to teach and learn.
  • Pandemic: While I’m not huge on the cooperative thing in games, this game is greatly loved and adored my many people. You have to work together to stop the viruses from spreading and creating epidemics. The theme is pretty cool and there was recently a newly revised version out. So this might be something for those who want more.
  • Kingdom Builder: I love this game. And I love the variability with the expansions. The concept is simple, but the strategy is deep. Kingdom builder is another fun game where you try to maximize each and every turn. I highly recommend this one.
  • Bohnanza: This is a card game about planting beans. But the strategy here is pretty awesome. When should you harvest? Should you wait one more turn? Should you buy that 3rd bean field? This game involves a lot of fun decisions.

Those are some very good options for mid-tier games that you might want to try with your families. Finally, here are my gamer games that I might try to push on people this Christmas season:

The Big Dogs…

These are games that are deep, strategic, and heavier than what your family of non-gamers might be into. But if you can teach them well and quickly explain the games then they might be worth trying to get to the table.

  • Agricola: The game of farming and family growth.

    Power Grid: This can is a nice heavy game with a ton of strategy and interesting decisions. You are trying to build a power grid and supply power to the most cities. But there is a balance of overentending yourself for money or hanging back and trying to leapfrog for the win. Excellent game.

  • Anything Rosenberg: Agricola, Le Havre, Ora et Labora, Glass Road, Caverna. You can’t go wrong. These are heavy games that allow you to spend a long time sitting down with your family. But these games are intense and challenging. I recommend them.
  • Anything Feld: If you want something slightly less intense, but no less awesome, then check out games by Stefan Feld. Macao, Notre Dame, Trajan, In the Year of the Dragon, The Castles of Burgundy, Rialto, Bruges, Bora Bora. Seriously… this guy is a designer of awesomeness!
  • 7 Wonders: The learning curve is a little too steep for this to have been in the previous lists. But this game is seriously awesome. You are trying to build one of the 7 Wonders and you are trying to make yours the best! A cool card drafing mechanic is the main concept behind the game and it works really well.
  • Lords of Waterdeep: If you’ve got any Dungeons & Dragons people in your family then I recommend trying out this worker placement game with them. It’s a fantastic game that works really well.
  • Empire Builder: A classic. This game involves players drawing routes on the board with crayons. Routes allow your trains to access different cities. This is probably my favorite pick up and deliver game.

There you go. I’ve provided three different game categories for you to push on your families. After the holidays I’ll report back since I’m going to ramp up my efforts this year. And I’ll be looking forward to hearing how it went with you all! So pour yourself some egg nog, eat too much food, and play games with your family!

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