Brides and Bribes is a board game set in Renaissance Genoa in which players attempt to gain favor and become the new Doge. The game recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign. The company is currently accepting late pledges for people who still want to order it. It ships to the US for 41 Euros (about $43 as of today).
Disclaimer: I was provided with a prototype of the game for review purposes.
The artwork on the cards, boards and tokens is very nice. The board contains a richly detailed 3D rendering of what Genoa might have looked like in the 16th century. The character cards are done in the style of Renaissance portraits.
The quality of the components in the prototype the company sent was very nice. The tiles are all done in a thick cardboard, and the board itself is plastic coated. It’s also nice and big–roughly 22″ x 33″. Of course, those are all prototype components. The final game components may be quite different, but the fact that they went through the trouble to create such a nice prototype says a lot.
The player workers are standard Meeple-shaped, but the carriages are custom wood pieces that add a nice added thematic flavor to the game.
The goal of the game is to gain influence within Genoa. At the end of 6 rounds, whichever player has gained the most influence wins the game.
Each round is made up three phases: tile placement, distant colonies, and borough resolution.
In tile placement, each player or family sends delegations to the city’s various boroughs and colonies. Each player takes two of five possible actions. First, they can send a delegation to Genoa by placing one of their character tiles on one of the five boroughs on the board. Then, they place a coach over the tile to indicate that it is theirs. The second option is to send a delegation to one of the distant colonies, represented by ships in the harbor. Again, they also place a coach there. Third, they can reinforce a delegation by placing another of their tiles in a borough where they had previously played one. Fourth, they can ask for the Doge’s favor by showing one of their tiles to another player, then discarding it. This allows them to move their player cylinder on the Doge’s favor track, essentially claiming the first move in the next round. And finally, they can simply pass. Play in this phase continues around the table until everyone has passed.
After tile placement, the distant colonies are resolved. Any player who placed a tile there can take the action indicated by the colony they played on. These allow them to take extra workers and coins.
Finally, the boroughs are resolved. This is the real heart of the game. The starting player chooses which borough to activate first. Then, all players who placed a tile in that borough pick up the tiles they played and select one to be their guide. The guides are revealed simultaneously, and determine the order of play in borough. Then, using this temporary borough turn order, they resolve the actions in the borough.
The first, most powerful action, is to marry the first bride. The second is marrying the second bride. Both of these come with a dowry of influence and some other ability. However, players will need to build up their delegations before they have enough influence to do this, so it won’t happen for the first several rounds.
More common in the early going are the other four possible actions. The first of these is to employ a worker, which simply allows the player to take all of the available worker Meeples from that borough. These Meeples can later be used to buy workshops, which grant objects that can in turn be played in later rounds, and grant money at the end of the round. Second, they can hire the common character from the borough. These become part of the player’s hand to be used in the first phase in future rounds. They can also collect influence tokens, which are essentially victory points, or they can take one Ducato.
After the borough has been resolved, the next player selects a borough to activate, and play continues around the table until everyone has activated a borough,
At the end of the round, each player gets a Ducato for each worker they have in their residence. Then, they have to pay a Ducato for each character they have. They can buy back objects they used in the round, and then can build a workshop by discarding the appropriate workers.
Then, there’s a bit of clean up for the next round: any common character that hasn’t been taken is discarded from the game and the next one is turned face up. A worker and an influence token is then added to each borough, whether or not they were claimed in the last round.
The First Player marker is then passed to the next played, and the next round starts. Play continues until either someone has 25 influence points at the end of a round or six rounds have been completed.
The game is quite complex and a little daunting at first. It’s one of those games where you have to spend at least a couple of rounds just collecting enough stuff to really begin gaining points or moving forward in the game. The marriage element in particular seems strange on the first play, as its impossible to marry anyone until at least the third, and sometimes fourth round. So, the brides just sit there on the board, and those two possible actions simply aren’t available.
But once you get over this initial confusion, the game is a lot of fun. There’s a considerable amount of strategy, balancing the possible actions each round to set yourself up for those later rounds where everyone is furiously trying to grab victory points.
I definitely enjoyed playing the game, and if the quality of the prototype is any indication, I think the final production version is likely to be gorgeous. I can’t wait to see it.
As a reminder, you can put yourself on the list to get a copy of the game by adding a late pledge on the game’s web site.
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