If you could sum Bruxelles 1893 up into one word it would be harmonious. Much like the intricate Art Nouveau style that inspired the theme, the game is made up of multiple mechanisms that work in unison to create a masterpiece. In fact, it doesn’t seem like all of these elements should work well together, but they do. It feels as if the designer simply created an amalgam of his favorite game mechanics and dropped them into his own pretentious Euro title (I say this in jest, I’m actually quite fond of the title). However, sometimes a game can be beautifully designed yet still lack the one important characteristic that every game should have – fun.
So is Bruxelles 1893 just another soulless Euro? I’ll answer that question in a bit but before I do, get ready to explore the cutthroat world of art dealing and architecture where you’ll be rubbing elbows with notable public figures, engaging in bidding wars with the competition, manipulating the art market in order to fetch the highest price for your paintings and slowly chip away at your masterpiece while altering laws on which materials may be used to construct buildings. And all of this is done while you get to sit comfortably from your high vantage point, cunningly playing the role of the puppet master as you send your assistants out to conduct your shady dealings. You might even lose some of your dear assistants along the way, but that’s the price you must pay for fame and fortune. So without further ado, welcome to the world of Art Nouveau in Bruxelles 1893.
Bruxelles 1893 Overview
In Bruxelles 1893, each player is one of five famous Art Nouveau architects in Belgium during the late 19th century and early 20th century. The goal of the game is to acquire the most fame and notoriety which of course comes in the form of victory points. But no matter how skilled of an architect you are, you can’t score VPs all on your own. So to help you in your pursuit of fame and fortune, you start the game with five eager assistants who will without hesitation run around Brussels and engage in ethically questionable behavior on your behalf.
There are two primary areas where you can send your assistants to take actions, the upstanding Art Nouveau board and the disreputable Brussels board. The Art Nouveau board features the five following actions:
Workshop Action – The player creates a work of art by drawing a single colored art tile.
Sale Action – One work of art is sold and exhibited in the shop window. A work of art cannot be sold if a piece of art of the same color is already displayed in the workshop. The player may also move the workshop marker horizontally and/or vertically a number of spaces equal to the total amount of art tiles they possess. After the workshop marker is adjusted, the player then receives the amount of money and victory points indicated by the location of the workshop cursor dot that is the same color as the piece sold.
Royal Theater Action – The player chooses to recruit one of the available public figures on the Brussels board. They can either discard the public figure card immediately and utilize its special ability only once, or place the card in front of them to be used again in subsequent rounds.
Materials Action – The player takes two noble materials (wood, stone or iron) of their choice.
Construction Action – The player takes a building tile from his personal board and places it on any empty action space on the Art Nouveau board. But before this happens, they must pay the resources as defined by the compass on the Brussels board. If a player uses all noble materials, they receive five victory points, but if they use at least one white joker cube, they don’t receive any VP’s. After the player pays the resources, they must then rotate one of the compass arms a single space clockwise.
Here’s where things get really interesting. In order to take any of these actions, the player must place at least one Belgian Franc beneath their assistant on the action space. “So you have to pay to place a worker? What an original concept!” Thank you for the sarcasm sir, but that is incorrect. The purpose for placing money when taking an action on the Art Nouveau board is so that players can participate in the bonus card auction. Allow me to paint you a picture, the board is split into five columns which are each made up of five action spaces, and at the bottom of these columns are random bonus cards that are drawn at the beginning of every round. So if player A and player B both place workers on action spaces in the same column but player A places two Belgian Francs beneath his assistant while player B only bids one, player A would win the auction and receive the bonus card for that column at the end of the round.
But wait, there’s more. The Art Nouveau board also features a subtle area control mechanism that adds yet another layer of complexity. At the intersections of the twenty-five action spaces lie City of Brussels shields. If a shield is surrounded by four assistants, the player with the most assistants surrounding that particular shield scores victory points equal to their level on the city hall track.
Now if you’re still wishing that there were more places you could stick your colorful assistants, you’re in luck. Remember the infamous Brussels board we mentioned earlier? Well you have four different actions on that board to choose from as well.
Market Action – The player receives three white joker materials.
Stock Exchange Action – The player gains an amount of money that’s equal to the value indicated on the stock exchange card.
Fiftieth Anniversary Park Action – Any one of the five actions on the Art Nouveau board may be carried out when an assistant is placed on this action space.
Grand Plaza Action – The player may activate the public figure cards in front of them. The maximum number of public figure cards that the player can activate depends on their position on the Royal Palace track.
Unlike its neighbor, the Brussels board does not require bids and players can take the same action multiple times in a single round. However, after the first time someone uses a particular action, the next player who takes the same action must place two assistants on that space. The action can even be used a third time, but again the player must place one more assistant than the person who previously used the action. But be careful not to place too many assistants here because at the end of the round the player who has the most workers on the Brussels board must send one of their assistants to the Courthouse to fess up to their unsavory actions.
There’s so much more to Bruxelles 1893 but I’ll spare you the finer details so that we can get to the real reason you’re here – the review.
What is Bruxelles 1893?
The simple answer to the question above is that Bruxelles 1893 is a worker placement game. However, it offers so much more than most games that involve placing meeples on action spaces which in turn generate piles of precious little cubes. Don’t worry, the game isn’t completely devoid of every Euro addict’s favorite component. There are plenty of tiny cubes for you to fiddle with as you wait for your friend to recover from his brief period of analysis paralysis. But I digress. Bruxelles 1893 is a melting pot of mechanisms that are blended together to make a seamless gaming experience. From auctions to area control, every individual aspect of the game complements Bruxelles 1893 as a whole. Nothing feels disjointed or clunky which is something you might expect in a game with so many moving parts. Everything flows beautifully like the organic features that define the Art Nouveau style.
So again, “What is Bruxelles 1893?” Well it’s tough to label it as just one thing. Yes, the core engine that drives Bruxelles 1893 is the worker placement mechanic and every piece of this complex and intricate puzzle does feels familiar, but combined they create a picture that’s distinct and innovative.
How to Win in Bruxelles 1893
To be honest, I really have no f#$&ing clue about how to win in Bruxelles 1893. I mean, I know what you can do to win. I know how to score victory points. But in the many times I’ve played the game, I still haven’t found the optimal strategy. And I have tried many different approaches but so far, none of them have worked out for me. There have been times when I’ve been absolutely certain that I would win, yet my opponent whizzed by me in a split second on the victory point track.
I heard Richard Ham state that Bruxelles 1893 is essentially a spiritual Stefan Feld game, and I would have to completely agree with him. And in keeping with tradition of many Feld titles, this game is a point salad. But not a light Caesar with just a few croutons sprinkled on top or even a fruit salad with bits of chopped strawberries and grapes. Bruxelles 1893 is a heavy, decadent Cobb salad that has everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. I hope you’ll excuse me for the food analogy but I’m writing this on an empty stomach.
You can score victory points by constructing buildings using only noble resources, by selling works of art and by having the most assistants surrounding a particular City of Brussels shield. Hell, you can even recruit a public figure and he’ll just give you victory points. Just keep in mind that these are only a few ways that you can acquire VPs and there are lots of game end scoring opportunities.
Our Rating for Bruxelles 1893
Let’s start with the art. It’s stunning. Alexandre Roche created a look that is truly Art Nouveau and unlike anything I’ve seen on a board game. Also, there are tracks and grids and a neat little wheel with two compass needles. There’s so much going on that one look at the board might even intimidate the most hardcore of Euro gamers. And this might sound like a bad thing, but I kind of like all the busyness of the board.
Now for my thoughts on the components. They’re good. Certainly nothing to write home about but they met my expectations. Upon opening the box you’ll find a plethora of thick cardboard pieces, miniature wooden workers, discs and cubes and linen-embossed cards. But the thing that really impresses me is how durable these components are. I experienced the horror of someone spilling a glass of wine all over the board and I kid you not, the only noticeable effect was some slight warping on the cards. Maybe I should consider spilling wine on all the games I review in order to test the durability. What do you guys think?
If you don’t like worker placement games or you’re just sick of them because your friend insists on playing Lords of Waterdeep at every single gathering, I still think you’ll enjoy Bruxelles 1893. It doesn’t adhere to the conventional worker placement formula that defines most Euro-style games. And even though all the elements feel familiar and are easy to grasp the way in which they are implemented offers something truly special and unique.
And now is the time to resurface the important question I posed at the beginning of this review, “Is the gameplay fun?” By now you’ve heard me say that it’s challenging and all the mechanisms are elegantly intertwined, but is it just another soulless Euro? Sure there isn’t any shouting and finger pointing like in a social deduction game but Bruxelles 1893 provides a deeply thought provoking form of fun. It’s the rush of outbidding everyone for a coveted bonus card or adjusting the resource wheel to briefly block your opponent from constructing another building. A game of Bruxelles 1893 is filled with this type of gentle prodding and poking that annoys and inconveniences your competitors. And there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching your opponent wince as they realize you out maneuvered them.
It’s funny because I’m actually quite terrible at this game. Other players have consistently cleaned my clock but I guess I have a bit of a masochistic side because I love Bruxelles 1893.
At the beginning of Bruxelles 1893, the five strips that make up the Art Nouveau board are assembled randomly. Also, at the start of every round, the starting player will choose which action spaces will be available on the board. The fact that the board is always changing keeps the game fresh and it offers an exciting new experience every single round.
Furthermore, Bruxelles 1893 is a heavy game but not heavy to the point that after the first play through you’ll just want to toss it on the shelf to collect dust. It’s the type of challenge that has you constantly coming back for more.
# of Players: 2-5
Average Playing Time: 60-90 minutes
Setup Time: 8 minutes
Suggested Ages: 13 and up
Designer: Etienne Espreman
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Year Published: 2013
BoardGameGeek Average Rating: 7.75/10