Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque Game Review

Brutal, bizarre, and engrossing.

A shiny new edition of a classic unconventional worker placement game. Read more in our review of Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque.

Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque feels like it comes from an alternate reality–it cleverly subverts many of the tropes of its genre while also feeling like a game sprung from some bizarro science fiction realm. It claims to be set in the “Golden Age of Architecture,” but I’d more describe it as being set in the “Golden Age of Being a Butthead.”

It’s great.

B1893BE, which is what I’ll be calling it going forward, as it sounds sufficiently futuristic, puts you in the gilded shoes of an architect. You have a cadre of sub-architects that you send around the board to do your bidding. At first, it appears to be a classic worker placement game. You’ve got pawns, send them out to do your bidding.

But, there’s more to it than that. One portion of the board is a grid of action spaces, some of which are inactive based on where the first player for the round placed the try square, a little component that makes part of the board inactive using the power of right angles. When you place a worker on a space on the grid, you must put a minimum of a dollar underneath that worker. At the end of the round, the player that put the highest sum of money in each column in the grid receives a prize, in the form of a prestige card. These cards help players secure first player, power up their endgame scoring multiplier(s) or give them powerful bonuses.

There’s another area of the board where players can place workers in more traditional worker placement fashion, though these spaces require you to place more and more workers depending on how many times someone has gone to each respective space. Icing on the poop cake here is that whoever places the most workers in this zone has to send one of their workers to worker jail at the end of the round, losing that worker for the next round. Ties are friendly, at least insomuch as everybody loses a worker in the event of a tie.

Now, what are you trying to do? Well, it’s tough to say–the dank streets of Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque are constantly shifting and difficult to manage. You want to build buildings, which cover action spaces on the main grid, and give you kickbacks when other people use them and give you beaucoup points at the end of the game. There’s also a majority competition for iris symbols on the main grid, which score you points based on how far you’ve advanced on a personal track. You can hire famous personages that give you powerful abilities, but you have to pay at the end of the game or lose points. There’s an art stock market where you sell art for points and money, and the more art you hold, the more you get to manipulate it.

There’s a few more juicy sub-mechanisms around the whole thing, but that’s the gist of it. The genius of the game is that it sticks fishhooks into different parts of your body and hands the lines to the other players. You’re constantly being outbid, having the costs of things changed on you, losing a vital action space, or some other minor catty indignity. And you’re giving the same right back.

It’s well-balanced, perhaps one of the more well-balanced games I’ve encountered, because everyone feels like they’re having a slap fight underwater until the very end of the game.

What this has to do with Art Nouveau and Belgium, I have no idea. But it’s certainly a unique experience that breaks the conventional mold of the worker placement game. More workers are not necessarily good, and the bidding is delightfully mercurial.

I cannot speak to the new edition of this game, which is a reimplementation of Bruxelles 1893. From what I can tell, there are minor additions to increase the variability of the game and devalue the center of the grid a bit. Overall, it all works well, and is a delight for anyone who’s a fan of a knife-fight euro.

  • Great - Would recommend.

About the author

Thomas Wells

Writer. Portland, OR.

1 Comment

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  • This looks… chaotic?

    I am going to send links to this review to a few of my game group and see if this is something we all might want to try. I mean… I’m down. I just don’t know if I would have anyone else to enjoy it with.

    Thanks for a wonderful review.

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