Brass Empire is a head-to-head deck-building game where Steam Punk corporations compete to mine the most brass. However, this isn’t simply a matter of industrial prowess. The corporations have no qualms about sending soldiers and war machines to attack and destroy their competition.
This is a new edition of Brass Empire that includes some alterations to some of the rules. However, this is my first time experiencing the game. There is a page of the rule book dedicated to reverting to the way the previous edition was played, if that’s something that interests you.
You can find a video version of this review on YouTube!
In Brass Empire, you generate resources to purchase new cards such as employees, units, and buildings. Units can be used to attack your opponents or mine for brass as long as your mining platform is active. The game ends when the pool of Brass is empty. The game also features several variants, including an easy-to-run solo mode.
|Gideon’s Bias||Brass Empire Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Rock Manor Games|
|Number of Plays: 10+||Designer: Mike Gnade|
|Player Counts Played: 1-2||Player Count: 1-5|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Deck Building|
|Fan of Weight: No||Weight: Light|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: No Interest||Price: $40 USD|
Brass Empire comes with tokens that represent brass, a handful of dice for tracking damage, and a ton of cards. The components are good quality and the artwork has a nice watercolor look to it. All of it was done by the same artist, Declan Hart, so it has a consistent style all the way across the game. I’m a sucker for Steampunk aesthetics, so there are some small visual details I enjoy. Such as the fact that the health and attack values of cards look like mechanical counters.
The rulebook is clear and concise. Brass Empire is a fairly simple game, but the layout of the rulebook and its clarity made learning it a breeze. The simple but effective iconography also helps in this regard.
The oddest thing about the game’s presentation is actually its box. It’s huge compared to the contents it comes with. I suppose that means it leaves ample space for expansion content at some point. But it still seems a bit odd.
Since Brass Empire largely consists of two decks of cards, set up and tear down is incredibly quick. While I’ll never shy away from games with long set-up times, fast and easy is indeed a nice bonus.
The Brass Tacks
Brass Empire will feel familiar to anyone who has played a deck builder before. Its central mechanism is naturally, generating resources and buying cards. However, there are a few things that stand out. The first is that there are two market rows at any given time. One consists of employees, these are generally one-time cards that are discarded once played.
The second row is the design row, it features buildings and units that have a permanent presence on the table, once played. At least until they are destroyed. Following the same line of logic, you also have two resources that can be generated and spent. Labor and Construction. Cards can cost either or both.
This alone makes the usual routine of generating resources to buy cards slightly more involved. While by no means a complex game, it does add an additional element of depth to your deck building as you have to plan long-term on the types of cards you want since two separate sources are factored in. It’s not as simple as just grabbing the highest resource-generating cards, since there are two separate resources.
Next up is the fact that at the beginning of the game, each player chooses a corporation that comes with a small set of cards. These cards can be bought by the player who chose them as if they were in the market. This gives you additional choices when planning your strategy and also helps prevent situations where you are left with nothing useful to buy.
Each corporation also has a distinct style, both visually and gameplay-wise, and I really enjoy the asymmetry they bring.
The game ends when the pool of brass is empty. While the rulebook recommends various numbers of brass at each player count, I do appreciate that it’s really up to you. If you want a shorter game, use less brass, if you want a longer game, use more brass. It’s definitely nice to be able to choose.
It may not look like it at first glance. But Brass Empire is as much about warfare as it is about industry building, or at least it wants to be. Each player has a mining platform. If it’s active, players can use construction to generate brass, or they can use units to mine Brass. If the mining platform is destroyed, it has to be rebuilt before you can use it again.
You also earn Brass for destroying a unit or building equal to its brass value, as long as your mining platform is active.
This makes for an interesting set of factors that shift all game. By playing buildings and units, you leave your opponent the opportunity to gain extra brass by destroying them. However, if you simply leave your opponents to their own devices, they can use those units to mine brass uncontested.
When you combine this tug of war with the dual market and two types of resources, you have quite a lot to think about when it comes to executing a strategy. It also means you have to be adaptable, you can’t simply do your own thing while ignoring the other players. In theory anyway.
I say that, because well, that wasn’t exactly my experience. I was only able to play the game solo and at two players, which undoubtedly is skewing my perspective. With that in mind, I don’t think Brass Empire is truly showing its potential with just two players.
More than once, I dominated the brass collection by a massive margin, only to lose anyway. You see, you also score each card’s brass value at the end of the game. Generally, this is a good feature for deck builders because it incentivizes you to keep adding to your deck. A very fun aspect of the genre. However, despite winning the brass war, my partner beat me anyway simply by buying more valuable cards.
Those losses felt kind of dirty because, in two players, there’s not much of a counterplay except to also eschew the “war” part of the game, and buy the most expensive cards. However, there are two market rows and your personal market of corporation cards. At that player count, you never really compete for cards, there are choices aplenty. So, I feel like two players aiming for the highest-value cards would end in a coin flip anyway.
I believe this issue would be non-existent with more players, as competition for the market rows would be much more fierce.
Brass Empire features a number of nifty variants to help you squeeze enjoyment from the game and appeal to different types of players. First off is the solo mode. It features a super smooth automa that follows a simple and rigid action sequence. It works very well. While it somewhat emulates the two-player experience, It doesn’t suffer from the problems I had with that player count. This is because the automa doesn’t aim for the highest value cards, and it does go toe to toe with you by using its units.
The next variant turns Brass Empire into a straight-up battle game. This is where two players shine. Brass values no longer matter. Instead, each player has a health pool of 20 brass, and any effect that would generate brass from the pool, instead “heals” your health pool. In this mode, the last one standing wins. While this mode does miss out on a few things that make Brass Empire different, it works great for two players and feels like a variation of Star Realms or Shards of Infinity.
Finally, there is a deck construction variant. You choose a total brass value, and each player chooses a corporation and builds a deck of up to 10 cards whose total brass value meets that number. You then play normally, but the deck you made, makes up your personal corporation deck that you can purchase cards from. This is a variant I thought sounded great on paper, but I found it less appealing once I played with it.
Having a completely personalized deck of cards makes the market rows somewhat redundant. It becomes a race to buy your chosen cards, as they are obviously the best fit for your ideal strategy since you are the one who constructed it. It felt more like the game was decided by who built the best corporation deck, rather than who played the best.
Regardless, having the variants at all is a nice feature. The solo mode is solid, and the battle mode is well-suited for two players as it erases the issues I had with the main game, at that player count.
Brass Empire is a solid deck builder with some pretty nifty unique features to it. I highly suspect it plays better with more than two players. It’s just not a game that grabbed my gaming group’s attention, and I never force them to play a game just because I need to review it.
The battle mode is a great choice for two players though, and the solo mode works great, especially because of how simple the automa is to run.
I really do enjoy the concept of dual resources and double market, as well as the balance between mining and attacking while also being careful of what units and buildings you put into play because you risk handing free brass to anyone who destroys them. It’s just that at two players, it felt like the brass war was far less important than just buying high-valued cards. It felt wrong, toward the spirit of the game.
Some games simply play better at different player counts, and outside of the battle mode variant, I think this is the case here.
Brass Empire might be worth exploring at higher player counts, or if you’re in the mood for a solid Steampunk solo experience. Alternatively, if you are in the mood for Star Realms with a Steampunk theme, the game’s battle mode has you covered.
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- Easy to learn and quick to set up
- Very cool dual market and resource system
- Corporation decks add nice asymmetry
- Nice Tug-of-war gameplay
- Customizable game length
- Battle mode and solo mode variants are great
- Buying high-value cards seems more effective than gathering brass with just two players
- Deck Construction variant greatly reduces the importance of moment to moment decision making