Publisher: Z-man Games
Stefan Feld has designed quite a number of games where scoring comes in droves and from different categories. His games are often defined by their “point-salad” scoring. Witness Castles of Burgundy, Trajan, Macao and many more. Truth is, I really enjoy his games and while I understand the criticisms, I don’t find them to be a big distraction. At the end of the day, his games are fun to play. Period. So where does Bruges stand among his many excellent designs?
Bruges, is a card game disguised as a board game. The bread and butter of the game resides in a deck of multi-purpose cards where players get to decide which action they want to take based on the cards they draw. Each round starts with players drawing from two face-down decks to replenish their hand of 5 cards. There are a total of five colors in the deck of cards and when you draw cards, the colors at the back of the cards are visible to all. This is important as resource collection and card play depends on the color of cards you select. For example, one of the actions available for every card is to recruit two workers based on the color of the card you discard. If you pick a red card and discard it as an action, then you can pick up two red workers. Similarly, with the same card, one can pick up Guilders and the amount of coin you pick up depends on the total pips of the die that matches the color of the card you discard. Another action is to discard threat markers or build colored canal segments based on the corresponding color of the card played. Thus, card draw is important as the color of the card will guide which actions you can play to maximize your efficiency.
Each round, players have 5 cards and 4 of the cards are played with some of the actions already listed above. Apart from the actions described above, one can play a character card directly into you personal tableau. Each character belongs to a group and has powers associated with it. Powers can be triggered immediately, perpetually or for end-game scoring. However each character you play must be housed and one can build houses by flipping the cards over and paying the appropriately colored worker. For the most part, that’s the game. Players will draw and play/discard cards, hoping to score points until one of the two draw decks become depleted. Thereafter, the game ends and the scores are tabulated.
Points come in different ways, but as I mentioned before, scoring in Bruges feels more constraint as the game is light. First, canal scores points. You can build two separate canals and if you finish the game with canals built half way, you get 3 VP per canal. If you finish building the entire canal, you will get a statue worth points. The faster you finish the canal, the higher the value of your statue. It’s a race to see who completes the canal first. Points can also be had through gaining reputation. After the cards are selected each round and after rolling dice, players have the option of moving up on the reputation track. The cost is essentially the sum total of all the “1s'” and “2s” pips on all the dice in guilders. Each reputation point is worth VPs’ at the end of the game; Houses are each worth 1 VP and majority scoring for certain milestones also scores points at the end of each round. Finally, the bulk of the points come from the character cards during end-of-game scoring. All the characters have some VPs’ listed on the card after recruitment. In general, the more expensive it is to recruit, the more powerful they are and the more VPs’ they earn. In addition, some cards also have end game scoring in a typical Euro fashion (i.e. one of each type of card, similar sets, reaching a milestone, etc.).
In a way, there is nothing terribly novel or innovative in Bruges. It just feels comforting. There are some Feldian elements seeping through once again: The use of different colored-dice to determine resource allocation and threat marker distribution. The “1s and 2s” represent cost for purchasing reputation while “5s and 6s” will trigger the distribution of threat markers of the corresponding color. Speaking of threat markers, once again, we see Feld incorporate elements from his previous game, most directly from Notre Dame rat infestation tokens and less directly, the negative events from In the Year of the Dragon. I was quite surprised to find no competitive turn order track which I most associate with Feld. The multi-use cards have also come out in later designs such as in La Isla.
I find Bruges to be one of Feld’s top 5 if not top 3 designs I enjoy. That it is also one of his lighter game is not merely a coincidence. In his longer games, I often struggle to figure out which direction to score points and as there are a lot of places to score points, it feels tough to gauge how well you are doing relative to others. In Bruges, things are just simpler. The game is quick and so whatever engine or combo you are developing must be short and sweet. Frequently, a pair of cards with good synergy is enough to get the VPs’ for winning the game. There is no need to build a sprawling engine with multi-layered inputs and outputs. I quite enjoy this slimmed down version of engine building and every time I pull out the game to play, I am reminded of how easy it is to teach as compared to his other designs. Since one does not need many cards to win, this indirectly contributes to replayability. You could try one or two combos per game with lots of leftover opportunities down the road.
There is one negative to the game, I think, and that deals with drawing cards from the two face-down decks. Because the colors are so critical, it seems that getting lucky with the cards coming out in the color you want can really make a difference. This also seems like a rule that can be easily fixed, and it should. Luckily, the new edition of Bruges printed by Queen Games seem to have rectified this frustration.
I have played Bruges enough to know I like it. So, it is staying in my collection. There is one major expansion for the game: City on the Zwin and I would like to get it but not necessarily a priority as the base game seems more than adequate. Overall, if you love Feld, get it. If you love your multi-variable cards, this maybe something to check out. Even if you don’t like Feld’s longer and more complex designs, Bruges may surprise you.
Final words: Great!