Brass Birmingham: Should you develop your level I breweries?
When I first started playing Brass Birmingham I always developed away my Level I Breweries. It’s such a solid move that it took me a while to realize it’s not actually that great. As I got better at the game, I started taking a different approach. By building those breweries, not only is it possible to secure more beer but also to obtain higher scores.
The appeal of developing away the level I breweries is simple. Flipping a level II tile in the canal era nets us 10 points, a great deal considering their low cost and the income they provide. It takes advantage of the raw efficiency of breweries and forces us to fight for them aggressively, both good things. You cannot go wrong this way.
However, it’s not that much better than the alternatives. Both manufactured goods and iron works provide the same amount of points at level II than breweries do. The income gains might be smaller, but it’s not a huge difference. In fact, the cold cash earned from newly placed iron works might prove more valuable than the two additional income steps of the brewery.
So while it’s efficient, it’s not enough of an advantage to pursue it every game. More importantly, it’s not enough to blindy justify its drawbacks. First, spending one action in developing breweries means we’ll have one less action to do the same with manufactured goods or cotton. The latter need more development over the course of the game to be viable so we are limiting our options by not focusing on them.
Second, a brewery requires another industry tile to flip. The efficiency of breweries goes down if they result in free beer for our opponents so they are a bit more of a combo piece than other industries. At the beginning of the game, we may be better off using the beer from the merchant tiles than placing our own.
I’ve found the combination of these factors push the value of rushing level II breweries down. They are not going to win you more games than placing level I tiles would and they come with significant drawbacks. Like all strategies in Brass, every action opens new moves to our opponents. Above all, I find this strategy fails to secure enough beer to reliably win the game.
Beer is the most important resource in Brass Birmingham. It enables the highest scoring plays like the double-rail action and is needed to flip most industries. However, it’s also scarce. The amount of beer in the game is limited and heavily contested by all players. By developing away our level I breweries, we might also be reducing our access to it.
After all, there are only 11 brewery spots on the whole board. Placing level II tiles in the first era means fewer can be placed in the second. Given how contested these locations can be and how a few of them will be covered by other industries, this has an important impact on the game. Less beer reduces the opportunities for profitable railroads and creates a lower-scoring game.
Given the way the game works, those lost brewery spots are more likely to be in our networks than in our opponents. After all, the double link value of breweries is a huge part of their appeal and you can’t build Farm breweries without linking them. For example, covering the brewery near Worcester and Kidderminster will make it harder for the cotton mills in those locations to flip.
It’s also important to note that each player only has access to seven brewery tiles. If we develop the first two and place the third and fourth in the canal era that only leaves us with three tiles for the rest of the game. That’s just 6 barrels of beer and half of them will likely go to our opponents. It’s hard to keep it all for ourselves.
It’s hard to win the game with that amount of beer. And that assumes we place every single brewery we have, which may not even be possible. After all, there are now fewer spots on the board than normal. We can also expect our opponents to fight harder for those spots and be less willing to share their own beer. This is not the best situation to be in.
After all, the situation is not symmetrical. While our opponents will have to adapt, they’ll have more breweries to do so. They will have also taken a different path in the early game and taken the scarcity of spots into account. Hence, I prefer to play a more normal game where I have all my breweries at my disposition.
Ultimately, one does not need any tricks to make breweries better. The level I tile is already good enough, even if it only scores once. Rather than focusing on developing them early, I prefer to focus on other industries. Iron and Manufactured Goods can be great at the beginning of the game and you can get the former flipped through a development action.
Placing more industries and fighting for valuable links can give us enough of a board presence to compensate for early inefficiencies. Not all moves need to pay off immediately, sometimes taking a bad move like a Scout action or placing a low-score tile can be better in the long run. There is, however, one trick to get the best of both worlds.
Some expert players like to overbuild their own level I breweries in the canal era. This mixes both approaches: It increases the total amount of beer you have access to while reaping the benefits of scoring the same tile twice. Sure, you miss on the 4 points of your first brewery but you still get both its barrel and its income.
In a sense, it’s not so different from development. The end result is the same, it just has different benefits and drawbacks. While not useful in every game, it can be a great way of aggressively seeking beer from the very beginning of the game. Depending on your hand, it might be easier than scouting or building canals to other cities.
In fact, you shouldn’t forget you can overbuild your own breweries in the later stages in the game. This allows you to keep placing high-level industries such as pottery or cotton even when the alcoholic beverage seems to have dried up. In the end, there’s not just one way to play Brass, only sets of tools suitable for different game situations.