Bretagne Review from Placentia Games

The game is based in the latter half of the 19th century. You are one of a number of builders who have been tasked to build lighthouses all around Brittany (or Bretagne to use its native name and oddly enough the name of the game) in France.

The theme was intriguing and it caught my attention. It plays from 2-4 players and the advertised game time is 90-120 minutes (which is accurate).

It is a worker placement/resource management game which is played over 5 turns. For a change this is a game where you get victory points during the game and the person with the most points at the end wins. But we all love VP based games so it is all good. If you don’t you have probably stopped reading at this point so won’t get offended when I tell you that you are wrong! The game can end if all 15 lighthouses are built, but in the games that I have played, that hasn’t happened, almost did once though.

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A 3 player game in progress

There are three types of lighthouses, Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. I generally refer to them as easy, medium and hard. I do like the fact that the designer has used other terms other than easy, medium and hard and it adds a bit to the theme that building the hard lighthouse is hell compared to the easy one, but when teaching the game (which I have done a few times now) it makes it easier to explain.

The board has various sections. The lighthouses are located around Bretagne, five lighthouses each to the north, south and west. There are a couple of market towns where your workers can do some wheeling and dealing and Quimper where the initial shipment of goods turns up each turn and a turn order track. There is a Victory Point track too, but you knew that already right?

Each of the 5 turns is split into 5 phases and each player completes each phase in turn order

The first phase which is mainly skipped on the first turn, is a set up phase where you change the weather card, put resources and engineers on the market, receive income from workers in harbours (explained later), place resources on Quimper as directed by the card turned over for the turn. These goods are important and the amount of each resource will probably change each turn. The amounts are dictated by the Quimper cards.

Then in turn order you pick one of the 4 barge cards available. Each barge card has a roman numeral, comes with some engineers and possibly a coin or two and has a picture of 3 barges with empty spaces that are the same size as the resource discs. I wonder what can go on the barges? When you select a barge, the roman numeral on the card then creates a new turn order.

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The 4 barge cards

In the next phase after everyone has a barge card and a new turn order has formed the player with the lowest number barge card then fills up the top barge on his card with resources from Quimper, but they have to be the same type of resource. Once everyone has done the first barge, then in turn order they fill up the 2nd barge. Then the 3rd after everyone has done the 2nd.

At this point I should make sure that you know that workers, which are cubes of your colour, are different to engineers, which are yellow oval die cut card with a picture of an engineer on. These are all kept on your warehouse, along with the goods from your barge once you have filled your barges up.

The next phase is the main phase of the turn. The action phase. You send your workers off to trade at the markets and workers and engineers to go build a part of a lighthouse. I have just described two of the three actions available in this phase, Build and Trade, the third being Pass which creates a picking order for the barges next turn. The earlier you pass, the earlier you pick a barge.

Trade is fairly straight forward when you send one of your workers to one of the market towns and you get to do up to one of each of the pictured trades and to save an action, you can send another worker off to the other market town to do some or all of the trades depicted there, as the trade actions available are different in the two different towns.

Then there is build. This is what the game is all about. Building those lighthouses. There are 12 construction tiles available each turn to build. They have either have 1, 2 or 3 windows on the picture side of the tile. A tile with 1 window will require 1 resource which is pictured on the reverse (which is what you see when it is on display on the board), 2 windows 2 resources… you get the picture for 3 windows. However that is not all, each lighthouse also needs extra resources to build a construction tile, a Heaven tile only needs wood, Purgatory needs wood + one other pictured on the lighthouse and the Hell ones require wood and 2 additional resources. You also need to send engineers to oversee your workers, the easier lighthouses needing less engineers and depending on the weather as well, one of your workers can get injured. Well when the game rules say injured, I say more like killed as he is taken from you and put in a supply of unavailable workers that you may get back later on in the game. When you have paid the resources and placed engineer(s) on the lighthouse, you then send workers to the lighthouse, the number of workers you can send to the lighthouse is up to the number of resources that you spent in total. If you are short of workers you can send less (even zero), but you really want to send as many as you can.

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The construction tiles, the front and back

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Lighthouse building in progress, that is a lot of workers on there that might not be going back this turn unless that last level is built.

Now comes the really tough decision. Do you return some or all of the workers immediately to your warehouse for 2 points each or leave them on the lighthouse. Why you would do that will become clear shortly.

Eventually everyone will pass and then you go on to the next phase which is Evaluating completed lighthouses. One at a time you work out who has a majority of workers on the lighthouse. If there is a tie then it is the worker lowest in the lighthouse breaks the tie. Then in majority order you can play an equipment card. These are worth points. You need to make sure that you play the correct type of card as some can only be played on Purgatory and/or Hell lighthouses. For each card you play you remove one of your workers back to your warehouse – this is why you leave your workers behind when you build the lighthouse. You don’t have a worker left there, you can’t play a card. For each duplicate card played after the first of a type (this is for all players this round, not just yourself), they are worth 1 point less for the first duplicate 2 points less for the second etc.

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3 equipment cards and a barge card

Once everyone with workers on the lighthouse has had the chance to play cards, you then work out the majority order (as it may have changed) again and everyone with a worker has the option of sending one worker to one of the harbours in the area of the lighthouse (north, south or west). At the start of each turn workers in harbours will get you badly needed income of resources, equipment cards, new workers, money etc.

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The harbours are getting a bit full. The orange and purple players are getting 2 equipment cards at the start of each turn.

Then working out the majority again, for a final time, see who gets the points for the majority of workers left on the lighthouse, the harder the lighthouse, the more points you get.

Once this is done the final phase is the end of round housekeeping which is flipping all completed lighthouses, returning all workers left on completed lighthouses to warehouses, removing engineers etc. Any lighthouses that didn’t see any building action that turn also get a coin that goes to the first person to perform a build action on that lighthouse, but don’t worry there are lots of lighthouses accumulating pennies as the game goes on.

Two things to be aware of though is that any engineers you have not used go back to supply at the end of the turn and that you are only allowed to carry over a maximum of 3 resources of 1 type from one turn to another.

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The warehouse card of the purple player, all those resources and only 1 engineer and 2 workers to use, maybe the 3 coins may help, but to hire an engineer I will have to send a worker to the market…. ARRRGGGHHHH!!!

OK, that is the overview. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is. It is fairly straightforward to explain. However the decisions are not straightforward. The weather can alter your plans dramatically as if it is stormy do you injure (kill) one of your workers to build a level of the Hell lighthouse or do you wait a turn as you can see the approaching weather? The barge selection is also a difficult decision, do you want to go early in the turn order, or do you want the extra engineer or extra couple of coins or do you want first pick of the resources? When building a level of a lighthouse, do you return your workers or possibly not get them back for a turn while they sit there having a party waiting for it to be completed, gaining better rewards later on, but leaving you without workers. Hmmm being without workers in a worker placement game, that could cause an issue or two….

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This turn the weather is nice. Next turn your workers will not be keen to go climbing up the sides of lighthouses. Would you?

I have played it with 2, 3 and 4 players. 4 is the sweet spot and 3 is very good indeed. As a two player it felt a little loose with less congestion in the harbours of people completing a lighthouse you wanted to get in on. It was OK with 2, but it certainly worked better with 3 and 4 players. However some people I know like to play games 2 player that I prefer with more, so just bear this in mind and don’t rule this out as a 2 player game.

I am trying to think of some negatives about this game. It is not ‘Just Another S****y Euro’ as some people in the hobby like to say. I am struggling. One big thing I should say is that the rulebook is excellent. You would have thought that this would be expected, but I have read some rulesets by Italian companies (Placentia are Italian) and they made my brain bleed! Why pick on the Italians? Well I am not picking on them, but rules written in Italian then translated into English translate badly and make the rules very hard to follow and understand. My partner is Italian (so I can’t pick on Italians or I would get in lots of trouble) and she informs me that you can’t do a literal translation and the whole rulebook would need to be rewritten. This is exactly what Placentia have done. There was one rule question I had after reading the rulebook, which was answered on the boardgamegeek forum. That was it. We did get a rule wrong originally but that was me misreading a paragraph in the rules and didn’t affect the game much. There was one thing that is implied in the rules, but not stated.

The components were very good, I guess that instead of coloured discs for resources, they could have had more interesting shaped resources, but that may have had an impact on the production cost, which may have had an impact on the price, which was a very reasonable €35 at Essen. They have put a bare minimum of components in the box and you can find yourself running short of some things, but there are multiplier tokens in the game to help you with that. This is a minor gripe though.

The artwork on the board and lighthouse tiles was really nice. I loved the fact that they were real life lighthouses we were building and the locations of the lighthouses were on the board. Tons of theme. It is not tagged on like some euro games out there. All the people I have played this with have been very positive about Bretagne, so it is not just me. One friend who had ordered it, but not yet played it said ‘I’m glad that I ordered this’.

Stewart Pilling

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