In Bruges, players must balance their resources in order to win over the influence of prominent persons of the 15th century Belgian city of Bruges. Players use cards and their money or guilders to build houses, recruit citizens, fend off threats such as floods and plagues, and recruit workers. Players seek also to gain reputation as they work to complete one of two fabulous canals that encircle the city. When one of two decks of cards runs out, the game ends and the player who has collected the most victory points from various assets wins the game.
Note: There are five key colors in the game of Bruges: red, purple, brown, yellow and blue. These colors appear throughout the game and are all tied together. They are integral to most components and game play.
The board is laid out and players choose a Seal in their player color and place in on one of the 4 Guard House spaces at the perimeter of the city. Each player also has 2 player pawns in their player color. One is placed in the center of the board on the Town Hall and the other is placed on the number 5 on the score track. Each player is also given 3 Majority markers in their color, 5 Guilders and one worker in each of the 5 key colors.
There are 165 cards in the game and their set up is quite unique. Each card is two sided: the front is an image of a house in one of the 5 key colors, and the other side has actions icons along the right hand side as well as the image of a Person and their game effects. These 165 cards are shuffled then divided into 5 equal piles with the “Person” side down. One pile is chosen for each player participating in the game. (2 piles for a 2-player game and so on) These stacks are then shuffled together. The other cards are set aside. The newly formed stack is then divided into two equal draw decks and placed in the nifty cardholders that come with the game. Finally, the first player token and the 5 dice (also in the 5 key colors) are given to the first player.
There are four phases in the game of Bruges and all players must complete each phase in order before the next phase begins.
Phase 1: Draw cards
In phase 1, players draw up to their maximum hand size which is usually 5 cards. Since there are two draw piles, and the color of the cards is visible, each player may choose which of the two decks to draw from but may not look at their cards until their hand is refilled. Cards drawn during Phase 1 will be used during Phase 3.
Phase 2: Roll the Dice
The first player rolls the five dice and they are placed on the board in their respective spaces – lowest to highest. The results of the dice are then resolved: For every die that shows a 5 or a 6, a Threat marker matching the color of that die is given to each player. In this way, threat markers accumulate from turn to turn. Once a player has 3 of any single color Threat, that player will suffer a penalty corresponding to the color of the Threat. Suffer a “flood” (Blue) and it washes away all your workers, suffer a “raid” (Yellow) and all your guilders are stolen and so forth. Next, the sum of all the dice that show a 1 and 2, are totaled and this sum is the cost in Guilders to advance one step on the Reputation track. Players may choose to pay that cost and move their player marker one step higher on the Reputation track. Results of a 3 and a 4 have no effect in Phase 2.
Phase 3: Play cards and perform actions
Every card in Bruges has 3 possible uses. Resulting in 6 possible actions a player may take. Each player in turn chooses and plays one card from their hand and takes one of the 6 actions:
- Build a House: Players pay one worker matching the color of the card and place the card house side up in front of them.
- Collect 2 Workers: Take 2 workers of the color matching the card played. The card is discarded.
- Take Guilders: The player collects a number of Guilders equal to the colored dice matching the color of the card played. The card is discarded.
- Discard a Threat Marker: The player discards a Threat marker matching the color of the card played. The card is discarded.
- Build a Canal token: The player may pay the cost of the next available space adjacent to their Guard House and place a Canal token there. The card played must match the color of the Canal space to be built. The card is discarded.
- Recruit a Person: The player may play the card face up in front of them onto one of their empty houses. The game play effect on the Person card may now be activated when applicable. Players may activate one or more of their Persons’ effects during their turn. This is a key aspect of game play as this enhances the players’ ability to perform actions and affect their advancement toward victory. Each has a specific activation requirement and game effect.
Players play cards and take actions exactly 4 times, which will usually leave one unused card in their hand. At this point Phase 3 ends.
Phase 4: Verify Majorities and Change Start Player
Players have 3 majority markers in their player color that begin face down. During phase 3 they check to see if they have the most canals built, the most Reputation or the most People in play. If so, they flip the corresponding marker face up (scoring 4 VP at the end of the game.) The Start Player banner is then passed to the next player in clockwise order.
The game continues until one of the 2 draw decks runs out. At this point, the left over cards that were set aside are placed in the empty cardholder and the rest of the round is completed. The game then ends and scores are tallied.
Players score points for each house they built, for their level of Reputation, for completed Canals, for their face up Majority markers and the People they have in play. Points are also scored from the end game effects on some of their Person cards. After all points are tallied and marked on the scoring track the player with the most Victory points has won!
Michael Menzel has created a delicacy for the eyes. The art and component design are elegant and seamless. Person illustrations are very well done and show emotion and intent. From the smiling Maid, and the intense Storyteller to the sinister Vandal, the characters bring the game to life as they would an actual city. Thick cardboard tokens and sturdy wooden Belgeeples? are a staple for Z-man games. But the inclusion of two card trays is inspired. They make set up and game play much more enjoyable.
Very easy to learn and get playing as the game’s strategy and depth emerge as game play evolves.
Who would enjoy this game?
Bruges has all the attributes that would classify it as a Euro game: resource management, a Victory point track with multiple paths to gain them, little wooden “Belgeeples” and some may say a loose theme of gaining reputation and prestige in a pre-19th century European city most Americans have never heard of. Getting drowsy?
Not so fast! Bruges offers some things that many historical Euros do not: a strong theme through the personalities in the game.
It seems Stefan Feld was inspired by Aristotle who said: “Plot is character, revealed by action.” Rather than faceless wooden workers, there over 160 characters that breathe life into the city (and the game). Each Person in the game has unique art, belongs to a certain class of citizenry, (Nobles, Clergy, Scholars and so forth) and many have unique game effects that fit their titles. In fact, there are no completely duplicated Persons in the game. And if these mechanics round out the game play with strategic choices, this is secondary to the personality they provide to the experience. In fact, it’s interesting that the game calls them “Persons” as opposed to characters or people. They truly give the game its “person-ality.” How?
The multiple uses for the single game component (the Person cards) is the core mechanic that elevates the experience. Players can only play 4 cards per turn, and choosing whether to use each card to recruit that Person (giving that player VP and longer lasting game play effects), or abandon the Person’s game play effects for resources or to build a house requires planning, sacrifice and some luck of the draw. This luck is creatively mitigated by having each card’s color visible on the card back a well as having the draw deck divided into two separate piles. So, before you draw you can craft a strategy based on one of the five key colors. However, when you are finally able to see the card you drew, you may now have a Person in hand that you may “need.” The card may grant a lot of VP, or be of a class that keys off of another Persons’ game effects in front of you. In this way, something remarkable happens: like true history or intriguing novels and despite your best intentions, you may find that the personalities propel your game off in unexpected directions. If the action comes from the personalities, the conflict comes from… the dice.
Dice mechanics in Euro games have been more common of late, however the use of the five dice in Bruges, keyed to the five key colors of the game, provide unique possibilities each turn. These possibilities are shared and affect all players simultaneously. Every turn, the dice determine the value of your cards in hand as a monetary resource (Guilders), like an instant ancient stock market of old. They determine the cost to advance in Reputation, and then there are the Threats. Fives and sixes give all players a Threat token of that matching color to every player and as a result, Person cards must at some time be allocated to get rid of them or the results can be crushing. Each Threat carries its own consequence: Total loss of workers, guilders, loss of a Person card or a house or Canal token. This mechanic gives the game an underlying tension; almost like the outside unpredictable influences that shape history.
As with many Euros, there is a visible Victory Point Track, which may demoralize players in last place, and the game is not very confrontational – although there are less reputable persons in the town that can “mess with” other players. But these are slight detractions. Best yet, with all the choices and innovations, the game remains exceedingly simple to learn and play. For this reason, it’s a great ‘gateway game” for those interested in euro games. It’s a wonderful work of craftsmanship that belies expectations and even perhaps “euro prejudice.” Sometimes, great games, like great stories, just have everything fall into place. So it is with Bruges. Count it among the very best of what board games ought to be.
User Reviews (10)
Add a Review for "Bruges"
You must be logged in to add a review.