Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Brewmaster

Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser
Designed by:  Chris and Mike White
Released by:  Cold Creek Publishing Company
Players:  3 – 5
Time:  1 hour

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review first appeared in MOVES magazine.

 

I have to admit — when I was approached to write a review about BrewMaster, the Craft Beer Game, I was dubious.  First, in spite of my German heritage, I am not a beer drinker.  I have tried dozens and dozens of different types of beers and have just not been able to develop a taste for the libation.  I much prefer a crisp glass of wine or a nice amaretto aperitif.  Second, I have played countless titles from independent publishers and the vast majority of them are, well, poor (and that is being kind!).  So, combine the two — a game released by a virtually unknown publisher with a theme of brewing beer — and you have a combination that left me dreading the hours I would spend playing the game. 

Still, I acquiesced and agreed to write the review.  The game arrived and set on my shelf for a month before I had the opportunity to read the rules and learn the mechanics.  After an initial read, the game didn’t seem to offer much.  I have to admit, though, that I was impressed by the components, which are quite nice and very professional.  Clearly, this was a labor of love by the designers and they invested a considerable amount of money into producing it.  

I knew that it would have potentially have the best reception if I played it outside of my gaming group environment.  Those guys can be harsh and I feared they would abort the game without giving it a fair shake.  So, I coerced my wife and some good friends into giving it a try.  My expectations regarding their reaction to the game were not very hopeful, but I figured outside of a bar, this would be my best opportunity to find a receptive audience.

Sometimes life is filled with little surprises.  This was one of those times.  Not only did they enjoy the game, but I did, too!  In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we played it again later that weekend.  I was so surprised that I subsequently taught the game to various other groups, including my wife’s parents, and everyone had a wonderful time playing.  Hopefully, this experience will teach me to suppress my initial biases and have a more open mind when it comes to games either from independent publishers or possessing themes that hold little interest for me. 

As mentioned, the game is about brewing “craft” beers, the type that are brewed on site at your local brew pubs.  Players must assemble the correct kinds of ingredients and brew a variety of beers, from the common Ale to the stout and highly prized Belgian.  The ultimate objective is to attract a loyal customer base and have your beers judged the best at the popular beer festivals.  The player who amasses the most trophies and the largest customer base will rise to the top! 

Although my confession is undoubtedly heresy to Germans and beer-lovers everywhere, I could not tell the difference between a Lager and a Porter if my life depended upon it.  It is all beer to me.  Fortunately, such knowledge is not necessary to play the game.  However, although it is thankfully NOT another trivia game (the world really doesn’t need any more of those!), the game does provide a bit of an education for those who play it.  The card deck is comprised of 90 cards depicting real-life ingredients, along with a bit of history behind those ingredients, their country of origin and the type of beer they are best suited for.  Most of this information is not needed to play the game, but I found it informative to read the information and announce the different types of ingredients when successfully brewing a beer during the course of the game. 

As mentioned earlier, the components are surprisingly top notch.  The ingredient cards contain actual photos of the ingredients, along with an easy to decipher grid letting players know what types of beer can be brewed with each particular ingredient.  The cards are also color-coded, so it is easy to determine without reading whether the ingredient is a hops, malt or yeast.  The fourth major ingredient in brewing beer — water — is represented loosely in the event deck.  Even most of the cards in the event deck contain some historical background, in addition to the text explaining their effect on game play.

The board itself is comprised of four sections, all laminated into an easily foldable board.  It is quite ingenious on how the board is laminated, allowing it to fold and fit easily inside the small game box.  Plus, presuming the game will find a home at many local beer pubs, the lamination will protect the board from some sloppy beer spills!  The board itself depicts a space for the six types of beer that can be brewed:  Ale, Lager, Stout, Porter, Wheat and Belgian.  There is also a place for the ingredient and event decks, as well as their discards.  Conveniently, two sides of the board also list the sequence of play.  Well done! 

Rounding out the components are sturdy poker chips that are used to represent loyal customers, and seven plastic beer trophies that are shaped like little trophies.  Very nice.  These trophies, however, aren’t very sturdy, so care must be exercised in their use.  Hmmm … I am wondering if they would stand up to repeated use with the folks who hang around the neighborhood pub. 

Finally, the rules are very well written and easy to understand.  Even folks not accustomed to reading game rules should not have a problem learning and playing the game without any outside help.  For novice game designers, the White’s have done an outstanding job.

The game itself borrows heavily from the familiar card game Rummy.  Players must successfully meld the proper ingredients to brew a particular type of beer.  The drawing of cards prior to one’s turn and the discarding of a card to end one’s turn is also lifted straight from Rummy.  That’s OK, though.  Rummy has proven to be a popular family classic for generations and folks tend to be familiar with the game’s mechanics.  Thus, I have found that this knowledge makes it easier for folks to learn BrewMaster.

Players each begin the game with six ingredient cards and up to five “crowd” markers (the number varying with the number of players).  The sequence of play is actually quite straight-forward:

1)      Draw an ingredient card.  The player may draw the top card from either the draw pile or the discard pile and add it to his hand.

2)      Brew Beer.  If the player has all three ingredients — hops, yeast and malt — necessary to brew a particular type of beer, he MAY brew that beer.  To do so, he displays and discards the required cards and immediately places one of his crowd markers onto the appropriate beer on the board.  If there are already crowd markers present on that beer, the player simply places his marker on top of those markers.  However, if there are already three crowd markers present at that location, the top marker is removed and returned to its owner before placing the new marker.  Seems beer patrons can be fickle and are apt to desert one beer for another!

3)       Event CardIF a player successfully brewed a beer, the player draws an event card and follows the instructions.  I will explain the event cards a bit later.

4)      Discard one ingredient card.  The player now discards one ingredient card from his hand.  Sometimes this forces the player to discard an ingredient he was hoping to keep for a future turn.  Sorry … no choice.  You must discard a card to end your turn!

5)      Fill your hand.  The player now draws as many cards from the ingredient deck as is necessary to fill his hand to six cards.  So, even after brewing a beer and using several of your ingredient cards, your hand will be replenished at the end of the round.

If a player feels his hand of cards in completely useless, he may opt to fire his brew master and discard as many cards as he wishes from his hand.  He then replenishes his hand of cards to six and his turn is complete.  Often, this is a wise tactic to rid yourself of an abundance of one type of ingredient.

When brewing beer, all beers but the Belgians require three ingredients:  malt, hops and yeast.  The Belgians are tougher to brew and apparently considered more stout.  As such, they require 2 Yeasts along with the hops and malt in order to brew successfully.  So why bother brewing a Belgian when it is more difficult to brew?  Well, apparently a good Belgian attracts a more loyal crowd.  Several events cause patrons to desert their beers, but those who are loyal to a good Belgian will not depart!  So, during the course of the game, players will often be forced with the decision on whether to use ingredients to brew a beer, or hold on to them in hopes of acquiring the necessary additional yeast in order to brew one of those precious Belgians.

As mentioned, if a player successfully brews a beer, he must draw an event card.  These cards can cause a variety of occurrences, most of which are beneficial to the player.  The most popular event is the Beer Festival, wherein a contest is held to judge the best beer. The contest is actually quite simple and one of the only disappointments I have with the game.  The player simply rolls a die and the beer that falls at the number rolled is judged the best beer.  The player who possesses the most crowd markers at that location captures a trophy.   If players are tied for the most crowd markers at a location, the player who possesses the top marker at that location wins the award.  This aspect of the game seems even a bit more luck-driven than the rest and somehow disappoints me.  There are five “Beer Festival” cards in the event deck with seven trophies to be awarded during the course of the game.  The game ends once all trophies have been awarded, which means you will usually play through the event deck twice before the game expires.

So what other events can occur?  Here are just a few:

Soft Water.  If the player has a Lager in production, he may add a crowd marker to that site.  The historical data on the card relates this to traditional Bavarian water sources, with soft water usually being associated with Lagers.

Tour German Breweries.  The player may search through the discard pile and retrieve an ingredient of his choice.  The explanation is that the player has toured German breweries and learned some new techniques.

MicroBrewer of the Year.  The player gets an extra turn.  Apparently, customers loved your beer so much you have been bestowed this special honor.

There are more, but there are also some cruel cards, too:

Big Breweries.  The large mega-breweries have grown concerned about the growing popularity of the craft beers.  The top crowd marker is removed from each type of beer, except the Belgians.  I have been zapped by this card in the past and have lost several crowd markers.  Ouch!

Assistant Goofs Up.  This one will teach you to hire better help!  One of your ingredient cards is randomly removed from your hand and discarded.

The Green Scrubbie.  I just have to quote the text on the card:  “You have lost your green scrubbie.  Where could it have gone?  You must take apart your heat exchanger to find the green scrubbie.”  The player who reveals this card is forced to lose his next turn.  This one is nasty!

Play continues in this fashion until the seventh trophy has been awarded.  At that point, players tally the number of trophies they possess together with the number of crowd markers they have on the board.  The player with the greatest total is crowned “The King of Beers” and wins the game.

Although the game is clearly heavy on the luck scale, there are some decisions to be made and some strategies to pursue.  Players can make assaults against the leader by brewing certain beers and knocking off his crowd markers.  They can protect themselves by concentrating on brewing one or two beers, getting their crowd markers to the bottom of the stacks located at those locations.  Thus, they will be difficult to remove since it is the top crowd marker that is removed once three markers are exceeded at any one location.  Saving cards and skipping brewing opportunities in order to brew the tougher Belgians can also be wise as those crowds are more loyal and more difficult to remove.

Another decision is whether to take a chance and use the risky “Adjunct Malt” card when attempting to brew a beer.  These malt cards are very versatile and can be used to brew most any type of beer.  However, they are notoriously unstable and can often ruin a batch of beer.  When attempting to use this ingredient, a player must roll a die.  A roll of 1 or 2 ruins the batch and all ingredients used in the attempt are discarded.  Ouch!

Of course, there is no controlling those event cards.  Other than exercising some card counting and calculating odds as to when certain cards may appear, you just have to grin and bear it.  However, the event cards can often be quite fun and amusing, in spite of the pain they may inflict.

OK … the game is not rocket science, but neither is Rummy, Hearts, Spades, etc.  But you know what?  It is fun!  In spite of my biases, I have had a good time playing this one.  Yes, there is ample luck that can ruin your game or propel you to victory, but there is also enough strategy involved wherein you can set yourself up to be in a position to win.  Even when I lost by a bunch, I still had a good time.  This one will probably be scoffed at by serious gamers, but in the family environment, it has proven quite popular in my circles.  I may well consider it one of my guilty pleasures.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Random to the point of being worthless. Don’t play it as written. This was my comment after playing once years ago. Greg found something that my group missed so maybe we got something wrong. hmm (2/10)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: