Bruxelles 1893 is the first published game from Etienne Espreman - but after playing it, most people wouldn't be able to guess this. In fact, I've heard a few other reviewers mention that someone playing this game without knowing who designed it, might guess that it was designed by seasoned vet Stefan Feld. And I can't say I would disagree with that idea.
In Bruxelles 1893, players are vying with the each other to become the most successful and famous architect in the Art Nouveau style. The main mechanism in Bruxelles is worker placement, though area control, auctioning, and card drafting mixed into the game in very interesting ways.
There are two boards in the game - the Art Nouveau board is modular and has the 5 basic actions on it, and there is also the Bruxelles board, which has the card drafting area, the art workshop, and several tracks (including the score track).
To begin a round the first player will flip over the top Stock Market card. This card will indicate which two (usually - sometimes 3 or 4) areas of the Art Nouveau board she can choose to be available for the round. All of the spaces outside of the chosen range are not available.
On a turn, a player will either pass for the round, or place one of her assistant pawns onto one of the boards. The spaces on the Bruxelles board are never completely blocked off, but whichever player has the most assistants on these spaces at the end of a round will lose one assistant indefinitely. These spaces allow players to either take 3 joker building materials, take money according to the stock market card, execute any Art Nouveau board action, or activate a number of her Public Figures.
Players can also place onto the Art Nouveau board. There are 5 actions available on this board, and they are:
- Take any two building resources (not jokers)
- Construct a building
- Create an artwork
- Display (sell) an artwork
- Recruit a Public Figure
When a player places an assistant on the Art Nouveau board, she also needs to place some money along with the pawn. At the end of each round, each column on the Art Nouveau board will be evaluated, and the player who bid the most money in each column will receive a bonus card. These cards can be discarded for a one-time effect, or kept to multiply one of the end game scoring categories (and ignoring the discard effect).
After all players pass, the round ends. Bonus cards are awarded, as well as bonus points for having a majority of assistants around a completely surrounded intersection on the Art Nouveau board. First player is determined, and she flips the next stock market card to begin the next round. After five rounds, bonus points are awarded for buildings constructed, assistants not in court, Public Figures remaining, artworks remaining, and money remaining. The player with the most points wins!
Bruxelles is a complex game with a lot of interlocking pieces (many of which I didn't even mention) and a lot going on. There are many things to consider with each placement. Do I want to risk going to the Bruxelles board? Can I afford to lose an assistant next turn? How much money should I place with my assistant on the Art Nouveau board? Do I really want to win that bonus card - or should I at least make it hard for the players who I think want it?
Despite all of these considerations, Bruxelles is such a well put together game, that after the first few rounds, the game starts to flow very beautifully. The mechanisms get out of the way, and the players are free to play with the different strategies that Mr. Espreman has so elegantly laid out for us to explore.
One of the best things about Bruxelles is how many paths to victory there are. Being confronted with the decision to either take an immediate benefit, or to choose to multiply something (a choice between 4 things) for end game scoring and giving a direction for the remainder of the game is a great one.
Bruxelles is a beautiful game. It takes a bit to teach and to learn, but the payoff is more than worth the effort. I would rate Bruxelles very highly - a 9.0 in my book. I very much look forward to see what Etienne Espreman has in store for us next, and I highly recommend it to fans of more complex strategy games - it is surely one not to be missed.