Brandubh Review

A classic game that has lasted for centuries is Brandubh.  Brandubh is one of twelve games of Bibelot Games' "Reliquary Collection."  This collection has taken many ancient board games and is re-printing them with very high quality components and packaging that provide you with a very easily portable, nice, yet ancient feel.  Brandubh specifically, is from Ireland around 600 AD.  If you're interested in learning more about the Reliquary Collection, check out their Kickstarter project - I think that they're worth backing.  Also, as a final note, the pictures that I have provided in this review are of a prototype of the game, so the final product may look slightly different - but Bibelot has told me that they are not intending to change the look or feel. 

As I said, Brandbudh is a classic game like Chess or Go.  It is from Ireland around 600, and Bibelot Games didn't have to change or adjust any of the rules.  Brandubh is the game of the Kings and the Ravens.  All of the pieces are setup in a cross, with the High King in the center.  The Kings have a total of five pieces, whereas the Ravens have eight.  The Ravens are attempting to capture the High King by surrounding him on all four sides, whereas the Kings win if the High King successfully moves to one of the corners of the board.  Each turn, the active player moves a single piece as far as he wants in a straight line.  If, by doing this, he flanks one of his opponent's pieces (other than the High King) on opposite sides, then that piece is captured.  Also, the High King is the only piece that is allowed to move into the corners or through the center.  Players alternate turns back and forth until the High King has either escaped or been captured.

I love the suede pouch
The biggest pro that I have for Brandubh (specifically the Bibelot edition of it) is that the packaging is amazing.  It is packaged in a suede pouch that also lays flat to serve as the board.  In addition, the pieces (they claim that they are marble, but I have no idea) fit very well with the age of the game and the ancient feel presented by the suede pouch.  Overall, when playing the game, you really feel like this could have been how it felt to play this game hundreds of years ago, and it is just amazing that the game has survived for so long.  I really hope that one of the things that Bibelot does with their project is to provide the history of each of the games, but I don't know how far along they are in the publishing, and so I don't know if this is feasible for the first printing.

The next thing that I like about Brandubh is that it is actually a solid game.  It is balanced, but not symmetric.  The Kings have a much easier victory condition, since all they have to do is escape.  However, the Ravens have a significantly larger force.  I have seen both sides win, and whenever I have played it, I felt like the side I wasn't using always had the advantage - which I think means that the game is balanced well (and that I'm not very good at it).

The game itself is fairly simple, so instead of more pros and cons, now I will just cover the basic strategy for both sides.  With the Kings, the goal is to escape at all costs.  It doesn't matter if any of your Kings other than your High King survives.  You should use your Kings as blockers, setting up a section of the board for your High King to quickly be able to move through.  Basically, just get your Kings in the way of the Ravens.  In addition, since the High King is the only piece able to move through the center, don't be afraid to quickly switch directions.  If the Ravens are blocking you on one side, it might be good to switch to the other side of the board, and try to get some of your opponents blocked by the center piece.
The components fit the vintage (ancient) feel of the game

With the Ravens, you have to capture the High King.  Unfortunately, he has a lot of lackeys.  Well, he has a whole lot less of them if you start capturing them.  You probably won't win with the Ravens if the Kings still have all of their pieces - so capture them as often as possible.  But, when doing this, make sure that the High King doesn't slip through your fingers.  You have to strike a careful balance between capitalizing on every opportunity to capture a piece, but also being attentive to what the High King might be setting up as an escape route.

Overall, I give Brandubh an 8.5/10.  When talking to the people at Bibelot, they told me something along the lines of "we think the world is better with these games in it," and I would have to say that I agree.  Not only the world, but my game collection is better with these games in it.  It may not come as a surprise to many of you that I have "a few" games (I think it was around 300 last time I looked), and so many of the games that I play for this site wind up being traded after I review them.  Brandubh I think will stay in my collection for quite a while, and I'm very eager to try the other games from the Reliquary Collection, so I wish Bibelot all the success in the world with their Kickstarter project.  And, as a reminder, you can check them out here if you are interested in backing them in order to get a copy of Brandubh or any of the other 11 games in the Reliquary Collection.

If you like Brandubh, you might also like Atlanteon, Hive, and Abalone.

I would like to thank Bibelot Games for providing me with a prototype review copy of Brandubh.

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