I must confess, I am fond of a pint. But over the years my palate has become somewhat enamoured with the sorts of beers that my real ale loving father would turn his nose up at. Ones that don’t actually taste like beer. So when I discovered that there was a game where you could brew all manner of exotic concoctions… Well that certainly rang my last orders bell. It also turns out that a game based around creating the sort of weird stuff that I like is pretty, pretty good.
Homebrewers, from Greater Than Games, sets different hobbyist brewers against each other in a race to make the best beers in time for Octoberfest. This takes places over eight months (rounds) which are spent cleaning your equipment for use, gathering your ingredients, taking advantage of the monthly events, tweaking your recipes and, eventually, brewing your creations. At the end of the eight rounds, the players’ beers go to the judges who award reputation points for the overall quality of each brew and their own particular judging criteria. The player with the most reputation points wins.
A Unique Brew
So, how does it all work? To start with, each player is given two flavours from the flavour deck – these are either fruity, sweet or savoury, two dollars to spend on various things we shall come to in just a bit, a token for ingredient, two ‘trub’ tokens for dirty equipment (yak) and a brewer. Each brewer has a different set up of brewing vessels (though you can default everyone’s set up to a standard four vessel line up if you are just starting out) and their own special brewing ability.
For example, one brewer, for the price of a single dollar (it’s based on American craft brewing, but American craft brew is very good so all is good), can brew their lowest quality beer without having any clean vessels or ingredients, while another, for the same knock-down price, can draw two ingredient card from the top of the deck and discard one. Already you can see there’s quite a bit of room for varied player experiences here.
Such a Variety of Tastes
Not only are the players different, but the progress tracks for the beers, the monthly event and the Octoberfest judging criteria are different each time. There are four beers to brew – Ale, Porter, Stout and IPA – and each has a progress track that players will progress along as their beers improve. As they progress, depending on what tiles are in play, they can get extra bonuses, like dollars, reputation points and ingredients. Each track is different each time, so your tactics will have to change accordingly.
With the monthly events, there are also six variable spaces. Which mean that you could get extra ingredients, brews or flavours depending on what comes up. Finally, there are four variable judging criteria (one remains fixed: score double your lowest brew, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on all your brews) which could award points for having certain numbers of certain flavours in individual beers or overall. In theory, it would be a long time before you played the same game twice.
A Good Mouth Feel
So, how to play; as said, there are eight rounds and each round is divided into three parts: roll, trade and action. All players have a set of three dice, and all roll at the same time. On the dice are the following actions: clean equipment, gather ingredients, draw/play flavours, monthly event and brew. Players then decide which actions they are going to keep and which they are going to try and trade. There’s then a bit of too and fro between players over dice. (or if you are playing two players, Charlie dice, but I will get to that in a bit #2). Once decided, each player goes through their actions. Starting with the first player (the one who last had a beer) in their chosen order.
The cleaning action allows a player to clean the ‘trub’ (brewing word for yerk in the tub) of their furthest right vessel in preparation for brewing. Seeing as players start with two trubbed-up brew tubs, this is probably a good call. The ingredient action allows a player to put a brew token in one of their beers. Ready to brew – you need to brew, you’re a homebrewer. That’s what you do.
The flavour action can be played a number of ways: you can draw a card from the four shown (there are always four on show), draw a card form the top, discard a card from your hand (which is on display for all to see – you are proud of your flavour combos, after all) to acquire either cleaning power, ingredients or cash shown at the bottom of your card or, most interestingly, you can apply the flavours to your beer – now we’re getting to the fun of it! Giving your beers flavours has a number of benefits. The first is the amusement factor of making a bacon and liquorice IPA.
Next, each flavour gives a beer brewing benefits. For example earning you extra money, pushing you further up the track or gaining you reputation points on the spot. Finally, the judges are looking for flavour combos at the end. No flavours, no points. The monthly event can be played in two ways. Either you can use the main event, which will be one of the other actions, for the price of the dice or for two dollars more you can use the double action at the bottom. Finally, brewing your beer. When you brew your beer, look at your next available clean vessel. Above it will be a number of spaces to move.
Add your flavour effects and move up your drink themed beeple (beer-meeple) on the track – if you get to the very top first you are the champ in that beer and NO-ONE can take that away from you. As well as the set dice actions, you can change things up through the liberal application of cash – one dollar allows you to change one of your dice faces while three dollars allows you take a whole extra action (which, at the right time, can be a game changer). If you are a bit short, you can trade an action dice for two dollars as well.
After everyone has performed their actions, roll and repeat. Big scoring takes place twice in the game. At Summerfest and Octoberfest. Most of the points are scored at Octoberfest, but the Summerfest allows players to get an idea of where they are going. On both of them, beer quality is scored. There are points for first and second and, depending on player count, runner up. All four beers score separately, so usually everyone gets a go at something. The judging categories in Octoberfest can make the biggest difference, so watch out for those crazy flavour sensations – they might just win the day…
Time, Gentlefolk, please
Homebrewers is a relatively light but fun combination of tableau building and dice drafting. Rounds are quick. Actions are simple and there is a good flow to the game on the whole. Though trading can get a bit sticky depending on numbers of players, personalities etc. There is a whole lot of space for variation in gameplay. Even without the expansion. With individual brewers and randomised progress tracks leading to tactical rethinking for each game. But I don’t think it ever gets in the way of playing a quick not quite a filler. Not quite an epic game. (By way of comparison, much as I like Pandemic: Rapid Response. It does give me the feel of an over-produced filler rather than an alternative to the original ‘this game hates you’co-operative).
There is an element of randomness which some may not like. (Dice hate me, but I love dice – it’s a very asymmetrical relationship.) However, there are ways around it if you have the cash. (life lesson here) The set up time can be a touch on the long side. Not Twilight Imperium long, but, again, comparable to Rapid Response. I like the theme of beer and brewing. But you don’t need any knowledge of beer or brewing to play this. You could take this as a pro or a con.
That said, if you do like beer though(and I do), in the end game there is plenty of fun to be had comparing flavour combos and wondering if they might actually work. I mean… a jasmine, melon and bacon porter. That could work, right?