Multiple paths to victory. That’s a bad word in this house. I guess it’s more of a bad phrase, but whatever. It’s not good. It’s not that I don’t enjoy games where there are multiple strategies one can employ to win. It’s that Bex, my lovely wife, likes Very. Clearly. Defined. Goals. And. Win. Conditions. Just look back on our three most recent (only) posts. I’ll wait.
1. Ticket to Ride – win by completing your route cards/longest routes
2. Lords of Waterdeep – win by completing the most valuable quests
3. Cinque Terre – win by completing the most valuable produce orders
All good titles with clear paths but I thought it was time for something a little different.
Now, I had never played a Stefan Feld game before. Partly because I’m relatively new to the hobby and partly because it seems like everybody is always cultish-ly fawning over the guy. And the man releases like 17 new games a year so how much work is he really putting into all of those? So, I kept my distance until I saw today’s topic of discussion, Bruges, for cheap on Craigslist. As I believe I’ve stated before I’m a huge proponent of supporting my FLGS – and I do – but you can’t turn down a barely-played copy of Bruges for half of retail. I figured at worst I’d have good trade bait. At best, Bex might actually like it. So, the rules discussion went a little something like this:
“So, how do you win,” she asked. Hmm. The opening volley in most of my pitches to Bex is, “Okay, so hear me out,” reliably met with a roll of the eyes and slow, sideways shake of the head.
“You win by getting the most victory points.”
“Well, you can get points by building the most canals.”
“So, it’s a game about canals?”
“No. See, you can also get points by having the best reputation.”
“From building the canals.”
“No, well, maybe. Kind of. You can also get points by building lots of houses.”
“I thought we were building canals.”
“Well, yes, that’s part of it. But you can build houses, too.”
“So, what, you sell these houses, then?”
“Well, no. You put people in them.”
“You mean, like, rent them?”
“No, you just put the people in there. They don’t pay rent. You don’t sell the houses. They’re just in there – the people.”
“So, they’re freeloading? They could at least help you build some canals. How do you get these people?”
“Well, you pay money to recruit them.”
“So you pay them to live in your houses? That doesn’t seem fair?”
“No, they’re helping you. Helping you. Get points. Because that’s what it says on the cards. See, look. The cards!”
“So how do you get money to recruit them then?”
“Well, you see, there are these dice, and…you roll them…and you get money if you roll higher numbers.”
“Oh, so rolling higher numbers is good? Got it.”
“Well, not always because if you get too many high numbers a plague might break out and…oh, forget it.”
“Wait, so are we building canals? The box top art is horrible by the way.”
Off to a bad start. Fortunately before we got to this point we had put our heads together and came up with two tasty creations of our own – one called the ‘Belgian Adder’ and the other called the ‘Bridge Burner’ – to thematically pair with this title. Would tasty libations be enough to get us through the rest of the rules and into our play? As I have come to learn in our experiment called The Game of Wife, wherein the winning condition is picking a game Bex will like, sometimes you win some and sometimes you lose some. But sometimes, ‘Sometimes You Bruges Some’™. What does that mean? Join us on this installment to find out. But first, the drinks!
Drink #1: Belgian Adder
3 oz. Belgian beer
1 oz. hard cider
3 dashes of bitters
Though this may not technically be a cocktail since it forgoes a distilled spirit, it is a mixed drink nonetheless. For this drink, and the next, I recommend using a champagne coupe if you have one. If not, use any highball glass. Please note, when most people think of champagne stemware, a tall and slender champagne flute comes to mind. This is not the same as a coupe, which is considerably shorter with a much shallower bowl rumored by some to have been modeled after Marie Antoinette’s, erm, décolletage.
Right, so, add about two cubes worth of crushed ice into the coupe glass. Add the Belgian beer and cider, give a few dashes of bitters, and give it all a stir. Viola. A Belgian Adder. Why the name? Well, as you may know a drink containing both beer and cider is called a Snakebite. Mine has beer and cider but I call it an adder because the adder is a viper indigenous to Belgium and other parts of western Europe. With the namesake and setting of tonight’s game being Bruges, Belgium, and for the type of drink it emulates, a Snakebite, an adder just made sense. Additionally, while the Snakebite and Belgian Adder drinks both refer to literal reptiles, an adder, as in 2+2=4, is also what you’re going to be, given that the vast majority of the point totaling comes at the game’s conclusion. So, lots of math > one who adds > Adder > Snakebite > beer-and-cider combo. Whew. I had to work for that one. But there it is.
As far as beer I went with a Belgian called Kasteel with strong notes of cherry which I thought would pair well with cider, though you should experiment with whatever Belgian you fancy. You should be able to find Kasteel at any Whole Foods if you happen to be near one but you’ll have no trouble finding at least one type of Belgian beer at any grocery store. And for hard cider, also just experiment or pick one you might already know or enjoy. Personally, we prefer a dry cider. Most ciders available are apple but pear is also a possible alternative. And for bitters I prefer using Peychaud’s (pictured above) but it might be a little difficult to find in a suburban grocery store. Luckily, you can always find Angostura Bitters in any grocery store. It is reasonably priced, will last a long time, and can be used for cooking and baking as well. As with the types of beer and cider to use pick whichever type of bitters you prefer or that you can get your hands on. We came to the 3:1 beer to cider ratio after several tastings but feel free to adjust your ratio to taste.
Drink #2: Bridge Burner
2.5 oz. Belgian beer
3 tbsp. bourbon or whiskey
2 tsp. Maraschino cherry juice (optional)
1 small orange wedge
Again, preferably using a coupe, add about two crushed ice cubes to your glass and fill with the liquid ingredients, give a stir and add a thin orange wedge. I should add that for the Bridge Burner and for the Belgian Adder DO NOT shake them in a shaker James Bond style. If you do the carbonation in the beer will leave you with a very colorful and sticky kitchen. No, this is not from experience, mostly.
For this one I also used Kasteel, the cherry tinged Belgian beer from above, but use whatever you like. I tried two versions of the Bridge Burner: one with bourbon and another with whiskey. I settled on Jim Beam bourbon but any brand will do. For whiskey I used one only available in the Pacific Northwest from Woodinville Whiskey Co., which was more oaky and delicious. If you happen to be in the PNW I recommend it. Otherwise, just go with whichever whiskey or whisky you prefer. The liquid volume amounts in both drinks are small because I insisted on using a champagne coupe so you might have to take some pauses to refresh your beverage or use bigger glasses.
A proper cocktail, the Bridge Burner draws it’s moniker from two thematic inspirations. First, the name for the city Bruges likely derives from the Old Dutch for “bridge,” I’m guessing from all the bridges stretching over the canals? And of course, during game play when too many red threat tokens are acquired a fire breaks out and stuff is burnt…like bridges. Now, these ‘point salad’ games of Feld’s can turn contentious, especially if many of the meanie Underworld gotcha cards are played such as the Troublemaker who forces all other players to remove a canal token. Not nice. So the opportunity exists here to strain a relationship though vindictive gameplay so that reconciliation becomes difficult, or idiomatically, burning a bridge. So, perhaps this drink should be a gentle, and tasty, reminder that you should enjoy yourself and remember that this is just a game. And don’t burn bridges, drink them.
So, drinks in hand, we proceeded. The rules rundown was painful for both of us and I suffered some pity smiles and glazed-over eyes. Good thing we had drinks. Looking back, it would have been more effective for me to set up one sample round instead of going so in-depth into the rules.
By the end of the second round Bex had full comprehension of this game while I was still clumsily flopping around, inefficiently trying out all the different turn options as is my custom. Ooh, I’ll take some money; hmm, two workers please; I’m thinking canal; turning this guy into a house for sure…oh I need a purple worker for that?…two purple workers please! Ooh, I’ll take some money. This is fun, yeah? Yeah? etc. Bex is an efficiency finder and I am an experimenter.
Knowing Bex’s tastes in games I was concerned at the outset that this gaming session was going to crash and burn. Like a bridge. That’s on fire. Because, you know, someone set it on fire. Anyway. The key mechanism in Bruges, 150-plus cards that can each be used six different ways, was not a mechanism the likes of which we’d encountered before and seemed a touch daunting. I am happy to report, however, that despite my initial trepidation Bex really enjoyed playing Bruges and demolishing me in the process. Here are some of our impressions.
With every other game we’ve played Bex has been able to clearly point to what she liked, though Bruges proved tougher to put a finger on. Surprisingly for me, she was not fazed by the so-called ‘point salad’ nature of the game where there are numerous and varied opportunities for scoring. Though success in this game follows a non-linear path that I thought would put off Bex, she was incredibly adept at following several crooked and often intersecting paths, eventually leading her to a convincing victory.
Though she’s not particularly fond of dice in games she felt the mechanism of the triple purpose dice rolls (determining the amount of money you get, cost to go up in reputation, receipt of threat tokens) to be particularly clever. It made for a few stand up dice rolls – hoping to get a red ‘6’ to cash in two or your reds for 12 Guilders while hoping against the blue ‘5’ or ‘6’ that would give you a third blue threat token, thereby causing you to lose all those workers you were about to use to build some houses. There’s tension in them dice.
With the sheer number of non-repeating character cards and the randomness of the dice, this game has an extremely high variability factor. In some games you’ll build lots of canals and in others you might be gaining reputation or combo-ing cards to maximize points. So many choices. Once you have a firm grasp of your six options per card and the best times to deploy them depending on your situation you quickly learn how to identify a strategy early in a game. It proves difficult trying to get points in every category and repeated plays teach you which few to focus on about a quarter of the way through a play. Even with a set strategy you have to be nimble enough to adapt to new obstacles, possibly changing strategies midway through.
The well-worn refrain about Feld games is that their themes seem like a pasted-on afterthoughts. To us the theme matched the mechanisms well and was plenty evocative. We definitely didn’t feel like we were playing a spreadsheet and the card actions matched the character tropes. I should add that while to us an engaging theme is a critical factor of our enjoyment of a game, solid mechanisms tend to win our favor. Since this is really a card game the board is just a place holder of information more so than an interactive part of the gameplay. However, a lot of the flavor of the theme came through because of the presence and appearance of the board so I’m glad it’s there as a reminder of where we are and what we’re doing.
Bex initially found the high number of components to be a bit fiddly and overwhelming but she’s now used to the fiddlyness. It was sometimes frustrating trying to develop a strategy becuase bad cards on your next turn or two could completely wreck what you were going for. The decision tree in Bruges branches out quite a bit leading to the occasional analysis paralysis, mostly on my part, but with repeated plays our turns are appreciably shorter. Despite Bex’s little frustrations with the game, it was those frustrations that fueled the tension and added to the fun of the gameplay.
For the benefit of those who skipped to the end (cheaters!) all of this is to say that this game is very fun, plays in a hour, is variable enough to encourage repeated plays, is challenging without being too difficult and scales incredibly well for two players.
The two drinks we concocted paired very well with Bruges. Though you can easily tweak the recipe using whatever Belgian beer and cider you like, the cherry flavor in the Kasteel really propelled our Belgian Adder up several notches so if you have the means I would highly recommend it. It’s very choice. Otherwise, use a little Maraschino cherry juice as mentioned in the recipe.
Going into Bruges I was expecting the worst but was gratefully proved wrong when Bex really took to to it. We’ve since played this game about nine times (that’s two Ferris Bueller references for those keeping score), our collective enjoyment level increasing each time. The first play took about an hour-and-a-half but we have it down to a solid hour now and we’ve mostly traded victories, the spread usually 12 points or less. I am pleased to report that this was a Game of Wife winner and has officially made it into the regular rotation!
So in The Game of Wife, sometimes I win some and sometimes I lose some, meaning that games are either a hit or a bust. Usually, the ones that are a hit I know Bex will like beforehand while the busts are ones I’m pretty sure she won’t favor, though I try anyway. But Bruges was a bit of a surprise because it was a game she enjoyed despite it lacking all the normal criteria necessary for her enjoyment. So, from now on when I encounter resistance during a rules breakdown I’ll remind Bex that when it comes to me picking games for us, sometimes I win some and sometimes I lose some. However sometimes – sometimes – I Bruges some, meaning that though a game might appear seemingly uninteresting, complicated or boring, like this one at first, there’s now always the hope and chance that we might be discovering the next Bruges.
Thanks for stopping by and cheers!
The Game of Wife
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The Game of Wife would like to remind you to please enjoy these beverages responsibly and only if you are of the legal age in your particular state, municipality, province, prefecture, division, territory, village, township or space station.