Brides and Bribes is one of the most exciting games I have played yet this year.
Publisher: Spaceballoon Games
Designer: Andrea Gallazzi
Designer: Elisa Lenardi
Designer: Pietro Navarotto
Artist: Alan D’Amico
Game Type: Secret Unit Deployment
Game Type: Take That
Game Type: Area Influence
Initial Year of Release: 2017
Age Range: 12+
Expected Playtime: 60-90
Number of Players: 2-5
Theme and What is it?
You are part of a scheming noble family in Renaissance Genoa. Your loyal family members must gather resources and attempt to gather influence. The best way to gain influence? Marry the right brides and protect your bonds to get ahead. What if she is a particularly attractive first born daughter of an influential noble and you have an ugly nephew to try to marry off? Bribe the lord! A lot!
The best part of Brides and Bribes gameplay is how you send your characters face down to various Genoese Boroughs. Players can reinforce their delegations with additional characters or items but can only visit 3 boroughs total in a round and cannot recall anyone once placed.
Once placement is finished, players reveal a character to be the guide for the delegation. The most influential guide goes first, unless a family already has a marriage relationship with the lord of the borough. Then the player with priority declares an action. Other players have an opportunity to disrupt or modify the action chosen with any abilities on their guides or by revealing other cards from their hand.
The first game of Brides and Bribes quickly became obvious that predicting what other players will do is more important than simply having the best strategy. Other players will swap away characters you want to hire to prevent you from getting them. Some mean person might take the multiple workers you wanted via an uncontested borough and a swap power. Particularly evil players will use assassins and poison to completely knock you out entirely. Don’t take any one action too seriously. Plot your revenge if your plans were foiled in an early round.
Game Build Quality
The game has lots of components. Punchboard items and characters for different borough location decks, personalized character decks, and items from various workshops. All of the punchboards worked out great. The volume of components is a little overwhelming at first but after an initial organizational run and understanding the game it was much easier to work with than I expected.
The characters all look like fancy Genoese nobles from the correct time period. Some players were particularly into picking their brides based on looks. At least one married for a big dowry despite not liking the look of his new bride. Then the next round he promptly poisoned his own bride so the unfortunate widower could marry again the next turn. And he married in a distinctly upwards direction.
In the above picture, Franco used his Vestis to go first over Giorgio who thought he would get the priority. But when he tried to marry the fair Anna, Venefica wagged her finger and said “No marriages in this district today!”. That was unacceptable to the plans of both the red and the blue player. So the red player used his Venenum poison to take out Venefica before she could turn off marriages. And Matteo was used to protect her from the poison.
All in all, lots of abilities were used and the marriage was successfully stopped but several cards effects were wasted. None of those abilities can be reused later. If this chain of actions didn’t sound fun to you, Brides and Bribes might not be up your alley. I can see why some people don’t like to have a plan and everyone collude against them to make it fail. I can also see why some people might find the chain of events and interruptions to be hard to follow.
For me, this was the best part of the game. Predicting and planning so that I get the most beneficial results in each borough was very satisfying. Having my protection cards and assassination cards in exactly the right place was difficult but critical to winning.
Age Range & Weight
14+ is a fair rating for a game with poisons, assassinations, and brides being married for their dowry before being killed by their own new family. This can be a relatively dark theme depending on how the game plays out. The take that elements of gameplay made several adults upset. This is not for everyone and especially not for all younger audiences.
The game is a bit intimidating to learn at first, but like all great euros is actually reasonably easy to teach once you understand it. The number of options and unique symbols took some getting used to but most of the rules were just understanding how order of operations for all the possible actions would work.
Brides and Bribes has a theme that might offend some. It does so in a relatively lighthearted and historical way. I didn’t find it to be offputting at all. Instead, the game took on a really ruthless feel as we all literally schemed on how we were going to get ahead of the other families. The people at Spaceballoon games have done an excellent job of putting together exactly what they were aiming for. Brides and Bribes is one of the most exciting games I have played yet this year.
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