Multiuse cards? A Scott Almes’ design? 2 Player only game? Where do I sign?? Beer & Bread is filling me up like a triple layered chocolate cake!
Now, I won’t go into set up and gameplay in huge detail as I have covered that in the How to Play (see tab). And my incredibly talented pal Board Game Happy has already given his thoughts on this box of bubbly loveliness (here). But, there’s no harm in having a second opinion when contemplating your next game purchase so here’s what we thought of Beer & Bread!
Two Please, Barman
In Beer & Bread, each player plays a neighbouring village that loves to brew beer and, yep, bake bread. Not exactly vying for space as the no.1 superstore of old, there is nevertheless some competition brewing. The villagers are willing to share the raw materials, but what they do with them is where bucolic pride bubbles over!
Taking place over 6 years (rounds), the game gives and takes away. Fruitful years pay out resources aplenty on odd-numbered rounds. Wheat to waste?! Well, not exactly, as your opponent always gets what you can’t use! And during the even-numbered dry times, you need to survive on what you’ve collected before (or can beg from your opponent). Suddenly, those friendly hand-outs start to dry up and you’re left wishing you had planned better!
The years play out over the same 4 phases (seeding, cards, actions, and windmill). But what each of those phases actual entails differs depending on whether you are in bountiful or brassic times!
When it’s a fruitful year, you get to add lots of resources to your fields, grab beer and bread cards, swap cards with your opponent, as well as harvest, store, produce, or sell. Note that overproducing also brings out your charitable side as you must offer those goodies you can’t store to old loaf lover next door!
And very, very interestingly; remember I mentioned multi-use cards right at the start? Well, beer and bread cards also serve as upgrades! So you can instead use them to give yourself continuous benefits that pay out over the course of the game as well as some end game coin boosts. Plus that triggers a clean-up phase where your completed (sold) beer and bread cards get swept off the board and placed next to you for end game scoring. I really like that twist in the tiger loaf!
Dry years are an altogether leaner affair. This is where previous round planning comes into the fore. Did you plan well when wheat and barley were plentiful? Did you harvest heaps of hops and rye?
Once the 6th round is over (i.e. the 3rd fruitful year has come and gone), it’s time to find out just how much of a brewing boss and baking baron you are. But! Scott hasn’t finished throwing surprise ingredients into the mix yet. Because, even though you tot up your totals for both beer and bread, your final position is your lowest scoring commodity! And I think that’s brilliant! It essentially forces you to maintain a balance between producing both products. You can’t prioritise panini at the expense of porter. You can’t gun for stout and leave sourdough on the shelf. You’ve got to be busting out both to protect your position!
Scotty, my boy, you’ve done it again! You have packed a baker’s dozen of brilliance into a small, neat package. And we are having an excellent time with this one. A bit like Oh my Goods from Lookout; the small box and easy rules belie a cardboard onion that has strategy and balance behind each layer. Everything you do in each year has an effect now and later on in the game.
And I love how the type of year changes the game play – subtly on paper but significantly on the table. Even the upgrade powers change depending on whether you are rolling in rye or begging for barley.
The gameplay for Beer & Bread doesn’t look mean on the surface. You have to give extra resources up which might not sit well. But there’s a chance that you’ll be able to do it when your opponent can’t use them. And that turns a sour ale into something much more palatable!
The close drafting, card swapping is great too – I always enjoy the agonising tension that comes with having to pick cards and pass the rest on. With blue and yellow card backs, you’ll know the type of cards coming your way of course, but not the details. And as you go through the game selling your wares, you’ll also have an idea of how each other is gaining coins. But again, not knowing how many coins each card is worth keeps you on your toes. Quality not quantity, my friend!
Component quality is lovely – I’m a sucker for a wooden token! And the iconography on the cards is clear and cute – again it has a Lookout vibe. There’s a little bit of in-game script so it’s not language independent, but the symbols on everything eliminate colour vision advantages.
We have loved our first few games of Beer & Bread. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, and in fact I want to invite it back for an ale and an arepa right now! I just wish it had a solo mode so that I could brew and bake whenever I like!