Updated: Nov 3, 2020
If you trace games in development, you may have heard of this game under its previous working title Bodega. Now renamed Brick & Mortar, Nick McCollum's game is a tense and timely model of enterprise as players seek to develop and exploit retail stores covering the market for five different type of goods.
Each round - representing a calendar month - you get the option to build a store, either from your hand or by acquiring one in the market. The 2–4 players each play two market cards which (depending on how you choose to play them) determine the supply of goods or the demand for them. You'll need adequate supply to be able to buy stock for your retail stores to sell but you'll need sufficient demand or you'll be left with unsold stock.
More often than not your purchases and sales will be subject to the modifier effects on your store cards. That means this is a game involving quite a lot of maths. None of it is overly complicated - you shouldn't need to reach for a calculator - but be prepared to have to do some basic arithmetic on most of your trades.
Your player board high street can only accommodate a maximum of four stores so you may well find you'll want or need to close down stores to make way for new ones. This makes Brick & Mortar a bang up-to-date game reflecting the modern retail market: our high streets these days are much more fluid than in the past, with transitory and pop-up stores that may be here today and gone tomorrow. There are advantages in filling your street but there are costs too: you're billed for your stores' energy consumption at the end of every round...
Brick & Mortar is a game that builds as it progresses. Early on, with just one or two stores each, the market will have a natural equilibrium and players may well find they have little need to compete for supply or demand. You'll be able to buy the stock you need at the minimum price and sell it for the maximum. You think to yourself, this retail malarkey is a piece of cake. You'll soon be jolted from this false sense of security. When there are fewer goods in the market than the players need to fill their shelves, players have to compete by bidding above the minimum price. Each player has a dial to show their bid and the number of goods on which they are bidding, so it's blind bidding with a simultaneous reveal. Screens mean you may never be sure how much cash other players have, so pitching the price right can be a delicate judgement call... You'll find a similar tension on the more frequent occasions when there are more goods up for sale in players' stores than demand in the market. Now you'll be bidding to undercut other sellers so that it's your goods that sell. Because unsold goods go out of date (get moved down a shelf) you have the added pressure of knowing that any unsold goods may eventually have to be simply dumped for zero return.
Trials and tribulations notwithstanding, most rounds you should end up in profit. You'll need to keep cash to pay your electricity bill, pay for any buildings you want to add next round and buy stock, but you also have the option of spending cash to buy victory points. This can be a tough judgement call: a sliding scale means that buying points just one or two at a time is much less expensive than saving to buy a large wadge of points but you don't want to run yourself so short of cash that you can't compete in the next round's auctions...
With multiple phases each round, there's initially quite a lot to take in but Brick & Mortar isn't an overly complicated game and you'll find that by 'March' (round 3) even casual gamers will find it runs smoothly. We especially liked the way that the rules offer balanced starting options for new players in place of card drafting for your initial hand of stores: there's nothing worse than asking a new player to choose cards in a draft at the start of a game when they don't yet have a clear idea of how the various cards work.
For seasoned players, there's always the aim of putting together an especially powerful combo of stores that racks up profits and points, so you'll need to keep a weather eye on what your opponents are building so that you can use your market manipulation cards to frustrate their profiteering. If, for example, your opponent is operating a Food Bank outlet which picks up unclaimed food in the supply for nothing, then you'll want to reduce the prospect of the supply offering an abundance of food or you'll want to minimise the subsequent demand for food.
With rounds representing months, Brick & Mortar lasts a maximum of a a game year (12 rounds) but mostly the game will end sooner, when a player hits the 45 point target (35 in a 4-player game). In our plays of this preview prototype at Board's Eye View we found that the majority of our games ended after 6 or 7 rounds, so games tended to last for a little over an hour.
Tho' what we've been playing at Board's Eye View is only a prototype, you can see that Octoraffe Games have done a great job in the production of this game, thanks in no small part to the beautiful art of Tristam Rossin. Our only gripe was that some of the icons are quite subtle and could easily be confused: a tiny arrow head before or after a supply lorry sign, for example, significantly alters its meaning. We'd just like to see clearer icons in the published version of the game when it goes to Kickstarter backers. Brick & Mortar is live now on Kickstarter. Click here to check out the campaign.