There is a ratio I have in my mind when it comes to a good game: the size of the container compared to the quantity of the game. This may sound a bit like a blunt tool, but if you apply it to something like Innovation, which is a huge amount of game in a very small box, it makes it a whole lot more appealing than something like Monopoly, which is a pretty simple game in a large box (Monopoly Deal is a different matter). Now, Microbrew comes in a mint tin, so the question is: have we got a micro-Innovations or just a teensy tiny Monopoly?
A Swift Half
Microbrew is a two-player worker placement puzzle game based around brewing and selling sweet, sweet beer. It’s a different kind of beast to Homebrewers, so I am happy to accommodate both of them. Microbrew is also small enough to fit in the pocket of a trouser designed for ladies (I mean, what is that all about, the ridiculously tiny pockets? I am yet to hear a decent argument for the size, but surely we are better than this).
Players take it in turns to send their teensy tiny workers to the insy winsy brewery to make micro ticro (enough!) beers. They then try and sell them to a range of hip-looking types in the vain hope of making them loyal customers. You can also get bonus loyal customers by attracting certain nationalities of customers or brewing certain flavours of beer. Whoever has the most loyal customers at the end of the game wins. Microbrew takes between 30 mins and an hour, so it’s not quite an epic quest and not quite an ice-breaker, but it’s certainly one to break out if you’re in… say… the pub with a mate and it’s all gone a bit quiet.
Dry Roasted or Salted?
So, how does Microbrew play? I mentioned it’s a worker placement puzzle game, and I stand by that. Each player starts with two workers, a four-column brewing vessel, one loyal customer, three beer recipes and a secret objective, for example having the most Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotsmen (I’m not joking) or the most spicy beer recipes. Players fill their vessels with malts that come in four flavours: light (yellow), medium (orange), heavy (brown) and hops (green).
Each beer requires a different number of malts to make it perfect (the order doesn’t matter) so the puzzle part of the game is about moving the malts about in your vessels. Players share a brewery, which allows them to perform various actions, a selection of beer recipes and group of thirsty customers. Once everything is set up (and for a game that comes in such a small tin, it does have quite a footprint), the round begins with players taking it in turns to place their free workers on one of the eight available actions in the brewery. The actions are: Brew, Bottle, Serve, Mash, Flush, Manage, Advertise and Rest.
One for Myself? Very Kind of You…
Brewing (and there are two slots for workers to brew) allows a player to move one of their malts around their brewing column, with lighter malts going up, darker malts going down and hops going all over the place – you can only move one malt at a time, but you can move it any number of spaces. This is a bit like the game Columns (from the nineties) – outwardly simple but elegantly complex. When you Bottle, you take the contents of one column and place it in a recipe – it’s not ready to drink yet, as it will take four turns to brew (you take a malt off the card each time you swap player), with any unmatched malts becoming an impurity.
Once it is brewed, it can be Served to one of the thirsty customers. If it is a perfect march to their favourite beer and has no impurities, they pays their money and become a regular, otherwise they pay some money, slake their thirst and reappear next round. Mashing allows you refill your vessel from the tin; Flushing allows you to put back the discards and change your hops. With Manage you can buy add-ons (extra workers, extra columns) for your set up.
Resting allows you to make punters thirsty again and get some cash (from the vending machine: best not ask how). Advertising is… devious but effective – if a player has a brewed beer, they can ‘pay’ for a thirsty punter to become a regular, regardless of their preferences – as you can imagine, this gets more expensive as the game goes on.
As you can imagine, it quickly becomes clear that both players will want to do the same thing, but the good thing is that players can push out their opponents workers with their own, giving them a chance to do what they want to do, but giving their opponents a free worker to replace. Cut-throat, but all’s fair in love and brewing. Just ask Br[REDACTED]… Once all workers have been placed, the round ends, the punters are thirsty again, more punters and recipes appear, and game continues until there are no more punters to draw (there’s also a Brewmaster who moves about each time and does stuff like drawing new recipes and punters). Whoever has the most regulars (including bonus regulars) wins.
Let’s Keep Things Civil, Ladies and Gentlemen…
As you can see above, there’s quite a lot of game in that tiny tin and it can get pretty brutal. As you can always see what your opponent is brewing and the customers that they will be potentially brewing it for, there’s plenty of opportunity to scupper their plans. Considering this is a two player, it could get quite personal.
There is also a lot to take in in quite a short amount of time – all those actions, remembering to brew your beer, moving the Brewmaster around, checking your secret recipes/goals… it can be overwhelming. There is, however, a lot to do: puzzling, usurping, upgrading, under-cutting – never a dull moment. The components are also lovely, if tiny – moving the malts and brewing the beers can get a bit fiddly, but the cards are nicely illustrated and the production values are high, to the point where they even include a sticker to show you how to put the bits away.
Criticism aside, Microbrew is a really strongly-themed twist on worker placement and has a lot of charm – you get the feeling sometimes that this is more like a board game version of a mix of Tetris and Tapper. I reckon Microbrew might be better with a couple more players, and there is a deluxe version that has that, but for someone who’s a fan of beer, puzzles, games and tete a tetes… yeah, it’s pretty good.