Marrying off your sons isn't the only way to win in Brides & Bribes, you can also build up your manor and gain favour with the local barons, but it is the backbone of the game. You'll send off your sons and servants in their little wooden coach meeples (that look awesome by the way) to various locations on the board hoping to gain favour with the local Lord.
Calling Brides & Bribes a worker placement game is an over-simplification. While it's true that you have a limited number of coaches that can be sent to specific locations these aren't workers, they are instead just as the name suggests, a method of moving your delegations to the right place. It's just as limiting as a worker placement, having only three carriages at your disposal means you can't send your delegations to all locations but there's a layer of depth that goes beyond just placing a Meeple in a slot.
Coaches are limited in size so you can only send a maximum of three characters or items to each location but why would you want to send more than one? Well each character has an influence score, not only does this influence control in what order actions are played out at each location, your eligible bachelor is also going to need enough influence to impress Daddykins. On top that each bachelor has a charm factor and he's going to need to match the daughter’s charm requirement. However, every card in the game also has a special ability, some add influence, some add charm, and others affect how you gain rewards but the most interesting can kill a daughter. Selecting which abilities you want to use and selecting who will lead the delegation is an important decision at every point in the game.
There's a lot of strategy in Brides and Bribes. The most obvious route to winning is to go after the marriages but it's not as advantageous as it first seems. Because you lose one member of your family, marrying a son off reduces your options in later turns and so you will need to make sure you have grabbed some servants to boost your retinue. Also by marrying early you are painting a target on your back and makes you ripe for an assassination.
Poison is one of the most interesting concepts of Brides & Bribes. Not only can it force players to loose points it can also limit players' future actions and permanently changes the board. It's something drastic and so can seem very powerful at first but thankfully there are several ways it can be countered. The strategy comes from deciding where and when to use poison and, on the flip side, ensuring that you send the antidote and bodyguards to the right delegation. The concept does however put people on edge and as soon as one player builds an apothecary everyone sits up and pays attention.
One of the problems with reviewing Kickstarter games is that, in the majority of cases, you're dealing with a prototype. It's why we clearly label the game as a Kickstarter review and write a disclaimer at the bottom of the page. The good news is that component wise Brides & Bribes is looking pretty nice. The thick tiles for personalities and items felt really nice and I much prefer them to cards in this case (the only shuffling is at the beginning of the game) and the wooden carriages are very pretty and distinctive on the table.
However, at this time the rulebook needs a lot of work. My understanding is that Spaceballoon are Italian and so not native English speakers, so there are a few points in the rulebook that appear to contradict itself or didn't explain the concepts as clearly as I would have liked. But Spaceballoon should be praised on their attempt to make the game language independent and every character and item's ability is clearly labelled with iconography, some of this iconography is a little vague at first but I must admit it didn't take us long to get to grips with it.
But the whole point of a Kickstarter review is to cut through those issues and look for the potential of what this game could be and there's a lot to like in Brides & Bribes. It feels like an evolution of the worker placement concept, it may add a layer of complexity but it adds several layers of strategy, forcing you to balance not only where are you sending your delegation but also who to send. The ways in which special abilities work mean that just sending a high influence delegation isn’t your only option and there are plenty of ways you can manipulate the game to ensure your chosen routes to the points is effective.
There are also a variety of routes to victory, marrying off your sons is the most obvious route, but you can also gain points by building workshops and taking a victory point with your delegation. This final option should not be sniffed at as there are a potential 3 points up for grabs each round, which over the six rounds can gain you a perfectly respectable 18 points, but you are more likely going to win via a combination of all three routes.
In short Brides & Bribes has all the hallmarks of a medium weight Eurogame and, with its careful blend of bluffing and strategy will make a great addition for fans of the genre.
This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.