Brass Birmingham: The most common beginner mistakes

Brass: Birmingham is less punishing than its predecessor Brass: Lancashire. With more industries available and a wider array of options, it’s unlikely to get stuck or make a fatal mistake early on. But this softer approach also makes it harder to know what we do wrong.

Building too many coal mines, not developing lower level industries and dismissing beer are some of the most frequent beginner mistakes. I explain why they are common missteps and how to avoid them.

TOO MUCH COAL

Perhaps it’s the appeal of placing cubes or that they are easy to understand, but beginners build too many coal mines. Coal gives a strong income boost which can be useful to compensate for early loans. However, it provides very few points and can’t be relied on as a road to victory.

Coal is best understood as a support industry. It’s cheap, necessary to lay railroads and a good way to soften the cost of Cotton Mills. Keep in mind that by placing coal you also make it available for other players. This means they are more likely to place their own industries, which will earn them more points than your mine will.

Beginners should also be wary of providing coal to other players in the railroad era. The extra income from flipping the tile is mostly irrelevant while cheap coal is critical for laying track. Do not fall into the trap of providing the coal others need to become railroad barons. The main benefit from building coal in the second era is the large boost in cash if the market is empty.

Lastly, don’t build your first mine on Redditch. It’s not actually connected to Birmingham by canal. There’s a market on each side, too, so it’s unlikely anyone will spend your coal. Remember you can only build one industry per city during the first era of the game so you won’t be able to build both the mine and the steel mill.

NOT ENOUGH BEER

Conversely, beginners don’t tend to value beer as much as they should. Breweries are the most important industry in the game. They are required to flip most other tiles and to build two railroads with just one action. If that wasn’t enough, they are extremely efficient on their own. They should be fought over by everyone at the table.

Compare their cost and value to that of other industries. They are worth almost as many points, but are much cheaper, require iron instead of coal and don’t require a sell action to be flipped over. You don’t even need to be connected to your breweries to use them!

Try to take as much beer from your opponents as possible. Yes, you are helping them, but if you don’t take it, someone else will. There’s a limited amount of beer over the course of a game and you can always use more. Similarly, try to place your own breweries when you can get a barrel out of them.

Still, don’t forget to invest in the other industries. Once all players get their piece of the pie, it will be difficult to get an edge on beer alone. And once good rail links dry up, cotton mills, manufactured goods and pottery are going to be the best way to consume your liquor. Remember, merchants provide free beer and a bonus for taking it. Don’t waste the opportunity.

DEVELOPMENT

Development is the most underrated action in Brass. It’s not immediately obvious why removing lower-ranking industries would be beneficial, especially given how action-tight the game is. I believe there are two particularly important reasons to develop industries at several points of the game.

First, development allows us to place higher level industries in the canal era. Since only level I tiles are removed between eras, a level II or higher industry can score twice. Getting ten points from each Cotton Mill or Brewery is powerful and you’ll also benefit from their high link values once more.

The second reason to develop is that higher level industries are more efficient per action. Unlike other games, the main limitation in Brass is not money or cards but having enough time to hatch all our plans. While the increase in cost is noticeable, the long-term efficiency is worth the expense.

The drawback of development is consuming iron. It’s hard not to give other players the opportunity to build a good Steel Mill and come out ahead. Still, if you don’t develop industries early on, you’ll come to regret it. Not being able to build certain industries in the railroad era can be restrictive and they all benefit from doing away with the more questionable ranks.

RAILROADS

A railroad link is rarely worth less than 4 points and often as many as 8. By taking the double-rail action we get a ridiculous amount of efficiency, even if we take a hit on the turn order or are forced to take loans. Uttoxetter, Worcester and Birmingham are particularly strong spots. Note that the power of railroads does not extend to canals, which have a much lower range of scores.

In Brass Lancashire the double-rail action was powerful to the point of being borderline broken. It was the strongest play you could make in that game and it’s still one of the best in Birmingham. The additional cost of Beer has done little to compensate for its brutal point efficiency. You should keep it in mind before the railroad era has even begun.

Don’t be afraid to jump in and get a piece of the pie. Take beer from the table or place your own and build two tracks. Then do it again next turn if you can. Getting access to key spaces of the board is important, eventually the good links we’ll be gone and players will need to turn their attention towards industries.

Building railroads is so important that I believe it’s the main reason I win so often. Even if you stumble with canals and early industries, being left alone in a hot spot or taking advantage of other player’s beer can be enough to win. Try to compete with other players and keep building rails until their cost becomes prohibitive.

5 Comments

  • Mark van der Werf

    In my few plays of birmingham i didn’t like it as much as lancashire (Which i love and played a ton) because i felt beer was too strong.

    It felt Beer, railroads and iron are a necessity to do, just as railroad and iron are a necessity in the original. Coal also felt a bit better to do than in the original, at least early on and canals also seem decent to make (which you want to avoid on the original). All combined this made it seem that developing isn’t worth it or only minimally so. Between beer, railroads/canals, iron, coal and pottery there is so much to do that getting higher level industry seemed bad.

    This took away the feeling of symbiotism for me where players specialize and need eachother (port and factory players in original). Birmingham seemed to get down to everyone doing low-tech little bit of everything and no real need for cooperation making it far worse than the original.

    I wonder if this feeling is correct though, brass like games are very sensitive to group think and we may have just misplayed (even though we’re veterans of the original). I suppose we didn’t compete beer enough leaving the low-tech players doing beer to win while with proper competition you do see opportunity to tech up in manufactured or cotton. Still it seems everyone doing their own beer, the ports from the original seemed much better as a design.

    • It seems to me that all players should compete in Beer, Railroads and Iron. The famous “BRIC” strategy is pretty much that, though I disagree on the importance of coal. I think Coal is ueful, but it’s not as necessary as the other three. I would actually rank it lower in importance than “flipping” the other industries. After all, you need the other industries to flip beer and get a decent point/action ratio once good rail links dry out.

      Development is weaker than it was in Lancashire, the usual “develop into heavy cotton” isn’t as strong. You still must do it and I think at least one player will develop quite strongly. I actually like going into heavy cotton. Still, I do think high-level industries are not the way to win. They are just a tool.

      Note that there’s a hierarchy of industries with Manufacturing being worse but less demanding than Cotton and Pottery being high-risk, high-reward. The game is not as open as it might seem.

      Either way, while they run in the same engine, I think both games have a very different personality. Lancashire is closer to 90s euros (Simple, tight) while Birmingham has a more modern feel (More options, cannot get locked out). I like both, to me they are different scenarios of the same game.

  • Great writeup, thanks! I have a question about this sentence:
    “Since only level I tiles are removed between eras, a level II or higher industry can score twice.”

    What do you mean by scoring twice? Are you referring to the value of the links on the tiles? Or are you saying that the VPs on the tiles somehow could be scored twice?

    • Industries are scored at the end of each era. Since level II industries are not removed from the board, you can place them on the canal era and they’ll score both at the end of the canal era and at the end of the railroad era.

      For example, a Level III Cotton Mill gives 9VPs. If you play it in the canal era, it will score a total of 18VPs over the course of the game.

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