My apologies for such a long post; but I am so excited I found (at least this one) solo variant I enjoy so I can play this fantastic game ANYTIME! 😎😃
In my defense, it's been a ridiculously crazy, weird, maddening, frustrating year (as for most of us) but I have had it to the table a few times since July:
...A couple two handed play throughs (not easy with this game - lots of components, plenty to think about)
....An attempt at this solo variant (only playing the 'canal era' / first half of the game). Although I still wasn't quite grasping everything in the game at that point.
Full disclosure: I've been playing the digital version on Steam since a week or two before the game arrived. That not only allowed me to (very quickly) realize how much I wanted the game and loved it, but also allowed me to learn it more efficiently since I have yet to play it multiplayer (thank you COVID world!).
Enough 'chit-chatter-chatty-chat'... I wanna share my thoughts on the "George" solo variant for Brass Birmingham.
Here's the 2P-setup. Brass Birmingham is such a beautiful game. For tonight's game I chose the night side of the board (the other side is, you guessed it, the day side. Same board, different time of day is all). I just love the artwork, theme, colours, components... It just connects with me. Victorian era England. Black Country to be exact: 1780-1880. 😮
Pro #1: I had my bluetooth headphones on. I wanted to concentrate on learning this variant AND it's really a game to be focused on anyway. I mean look at it! Lots of depth and strategy here. I had on my ambient fireplace sound on. Seemed fitting having a roaring fire crackling as part of the setting right? Well to make it even better, one track had rain as well! Crackling fire AND rainfall sounds while playing as a businessman in Victorian England!?!?!? OMG!!!! It was SO awesome! Then I put on some thunderstorm tracks during the 'rail era'... OH WOW!!! I'm totally doing that again next play!
Con #1 of solo BB: Brass Birmingham (as you can see) has ALOT of components. Playing solo means a longer setup time, as you have to organize and setup BOTH player boards with their building tiles etc... Personally for me, I find setting up any game (especially big ones like this) relaxing, so I really don't mind. But I thought I'd put it as a "con" for the sake of some gamers who don't like long setups. (Playing multiplayer, this time would be greatly reduced for sure).
And here we go! A little shot of my player board, with some of the market beer barrells in view in the background. 😃 I listened to a great podcast (I think the "solosaurus podcast" in the summer) where they discussed the three main fan-made solo variants for BB. This version, the "George variant" is the most basic. That being said, it's also the most random of the three variants.
"George" uses dice to make his decisions. All you need is a D6 and D20 to play. Based on his rolls, his decisions are laid out for you in the rules. I won't go through all the rules here of course, but I will mention some basic foundational rules/differences with "George" vs a human opponent (aside from dice and the fact that he's not always very bright)...
- has any personal money or income, though things he does still cost money, which is paid from the bank to his token on the board.
- needs a loan.
- His network always includes everything on the board.
Some of these things really help keep the "housekeeping" down for you as you run the variant for sure. However, the rule where "his network always includes everything on the board" can make it a bit intimidating (at least I found anyway).
"Networks" in Brass Birmingham are a core rule to understand. If you understand that, you 'get' a good chunk of the game. Your network are locations that are linked with your boats/trains (depending on the era). You may still be 'connected' to other locations via your opponents links, but those locations are not considered 'in your network'.
Anyway, back to the game...
The lighting sucks for pics sometimes, but this shot in the canal era shows what I mean by the 'randomness of George'. He's got a few links in there toward the upper part of the pic and to the right, but not many. He links when he has a direct line from one location to another with his buildings. Otherwise, he doesn't link. His VPs come from other aspects (which is fine). Having said that, sometimes he'll still end up putting a link where you were planning too and catch you off guard (which I like that when you have to think!). Also in the pic in the top right area, George has a building played. You can also just see the corner of one on the very far right. This shows his randomness as well. Once again though, depending on the cards I draw and where I'm building my network, this could end up being a problem for me. Again - I like that.
Pro/Con combo #1: The randomness doesn't bother me. The way I see it, sure a human opponent is smarter. But ultimately, I have no idea what the other person at the table is going to do each turn so to me I consider that "randomness" (technically). As I said, the fact that "George's" randomness tonight would sometimes force me into 'Plan B' or just screw me over is great! That makes the game fun and interesting. But I did mark this a "pro-con combo" because I know, some people are against randomness... and that's ok too. 😉
Canal era finished with me at 50 VPs and George at 39. I was happy with that. A nice round for me, but still tight enough with George that I need to be smart in the rail era.
Here's a shot from the start of the rail era. See all the purple buildings on the table beside "George's" player mat?? These are his "developed buildings". When you take the 'develop' action in BB, it allows you to take buildings off (from lowest level and moving up) of your player mat. You can do up to 2 develops per action, but each costs you an iron. The benefit of developing is you can open up higher level buildings to build by eliminating the lower level ones. This can mean more income points, more VPs, more link VPs etc... depending on the building. As you can see, "George" develops a fair bit. He can only develop up to his two highest levels of each industry building. Then he can no longer develop that industry building.
Pro #2: What I came to learn tonight, was that in the rail era, since "George" loves developing, this is where he really begins to rack up VPs. Once all industry buildings are developed up to their second highest level, when "George" develops he instead just gets 4-VPs and his action is over. Whoa! I see this as a cool aspect of the variant. It makes you not be complacent and thinking you're doing fine. If you sit back at all, you're going to fall behind.
That being said, I also found in the rail era that he really was getting in my way at times. More often than the canal era. However, this may have been by chance of course. Regardless, I liked it.
This pic shows how "George" was getting in my way in the rail era. His coal mine in Wolverhampton isn't great, but not a big deal for me overall. But his cotton factory in Kidderminster (bottom of pic)... Now that pissed me off! 🤣 That definitely altered my plans.
The rail era (and game) finished with "George" pulling off a narrow victory. 😯 150 VPs to my 145 VPs. I was actually surprised at how close it ended up. I thought a bit into the rail era that I was in trouble.
Pro #3: I really thought this variant was well done. I felt it was smooth to run, especially once you got used to it. For example, I knew by the time the canal era was done that as soon as "George" drew a location card, and rolled a 1-3 on his D6, that I needed to roll the D6 again to sort out which building type he was going to be building there (if he could). Little things like that, sped up the game, made the turns smoother and less need to refer back to the rule sheets.
Con #2: The D20 rolls for when "George" draws an industry card were a bit of a pain (providing I was doing it right). In the rules, there are 16 locations listed with the pictures of their industries available as well. You roll the D20 until you get a valid location to build with the industry on "George's" card. However, there are times where there's only 2-3 valid locations on the board and you'd be rolling the die forever. No big deal - After a roll or two, I would count the number of valid locations. Say it's 3 locations. Then I'd roll the D6 and say location #1 is picked if 1 or 2 is rolled, location #2 if 3 or 4 is rolled etc... Not a big deal, but a little frustrating at first. I'll know for next time.
Pro/Con Combo #2: I was at the table for 2hrs. That works for me, but I know that's not for everyone.
Overall thoughts on the solo "George Variant" (Pro/Con Combo #3:
I had alot of fun getting BB to the table and feeling like I played a real game of it. I absolutely love this game more and more, and being able to play the physical game on my table now (whenever I want) is awesome!!! 😎 I definitely will dive into this variant again for another couple plays at least, before exploring the next variant: "VictorAI" variant. The "VictorAi" variant was reviewed as the "in-between" variant of the three. Less randomness than "George", but not quite as sophisticated we'll say as the Eliza variant. Plenty to explore eh?
Again - I would recommend this for anyone here at ST who's brave enough (or crazy enough?? 😂) to play BB solo. However, I do know that this variant with plenty of dice rolls will not be for everyone.