Homebrewers – Preview

Theme and What is it?

New to homebrewing, you have joined a local homebrew club.  While you are happy to help each other, you also have a friendly competition going to see who can become the most reputable brewer.  Cultivate your recipes, increasing the quality of the four different kinds of beers to win medals at Summerfest and Oktoberfest, as well as creating brews tailored to the desires and tastes of the judges at Oktoberfest.  Who will be the best in this motley crew of Homebrewers?

Gameplay Mechanics

Homebrewers is an engine building and dice trading game about brewing beer for two to five players.  Players will brew beer in four categories (Ale, Porter, Stout, IPA) with each brew increasing the related category’s quality level.  There are a number of quality track tiles that are shuffled and place randomly on the quality track, over spaces 4-7 and 8-11, and providing some randomness to which rewards can be earned from crossing different quality milestones.  Players will shuffle the judge tiles and randomly place four of them onto the judging spaces. These tiles will give the end game scoring bonuses that are earned after the final month’s Oktoberfest event. The events for the months other than Summerfest and Oktoberfest are also chosen randomly.  Four flavor cards are placed face up next to the board beside the flavor deck. Each player receives a garage (player board), three action dice, $2, two flavor cards from the deck which are placed face up next to their player board, and one ingredient disc which they can place into any of their four beer categories.  Players also begin with dirty tokens covering their two rightmost sanitization spots in their garage. There is a slightly altered setup for a two-player game which features a dummy player.

The game plays over eight months.  In each month, players will meet with the homebrewing club during the trade phase, before using their dice to resolve their actions for the month.  At the beginning of each month, or game round, that month’s event is revealed. After the reveal, all players roll their dice. Players may then openly and simultaneously trade dice with each other.  All dice are traded one for one and players may make any number of trades. Players may also choose to pay $1 to change one of their dice to an action of their choice. If at any time players have three matching dice, they may reroll them.  Once satisfied, a player locks in their dice by placing them into their garage and once all players have locked their dice, the phase is over.

In turn order, each player will resolve all of their actions for the round.  Players may still pay $1 in this round to change a die to an action of their choice.  They may also choose to forgo an action to take $2. Once per month, a player may pay $3 to take an extra action.  There are five possible actions. The Sanitize action allows players to clean their equipment, removing the leftmost dirty token from their garage.  If all of your equipment is dirty, you generally cannot brew beer and when you do brew beer, you advance on the quality track based on the quality level indicated above your current level of sanitization.  If you take the Event action, you may either take the top action of the current month’s event or pay $2 to take the bottom action. Perhaps you choose to Buy Ingredients, in which case you take an ingredient token and add it to one of the types of beer in your garage.  Once placed, it cannot be moved. Each token represents everything necessary for one brew action, but multiple tokens may be placed on the same type of beer.

The Flavor Card action allows a player to either draw a flavor card or to play a flavor card already in your possession.  When drawing a flavor card, players may either select one of the four face up cards, immediately replacing the taken card, or take a blind draw from the top of the deck.  Before drawing a flavor card, players may pay $1 to discard the four face up cards and reveal four new cards. Conversely, a player may choose to play a flavor card from their garage, either attaching it to one of their types of beer, adding it to the recipe to gain the benefit at the top of the card when the beer is brewed, or discarding it for the benefits shown on the bottom of the card.

Finally, players may take the Brew Beer action.  When selecting this action, players may brew one batch of beer for any recipe that has at least one ingredient token prepared, provided they have at least one uncovered level of sanitization in their garage.  When brewing beer, player’s first increase their marker on the quality track matching the type of beer brewed by the quality level shown on the rightmost uncovered sanitization level. If you reach the “lock” symbol, you have locked up the highest quality level for that type of beer, guaranteeing the gold medal in all future medal rounds.  If you have maxed out your quality for a given beer type, you may not brew that beer type. Players then flip the used ingredient token to the dirty side and cover the rightmost sanitization level. Players then gain the benefits of all flavor cards under the recipe they just brewed before finally gaining the benefits of any rewards given from passing certain spaces on the quality track.

 

Play continues in this manner for the remaining rounds.  There are two scoring rounds, Summerfest and Oktoberfest, in which players earn reputation points based on medals.  Additionally, they earn points based on the judging tiles after Oktoberfest. In the case of a tie for the medals, the players combine the points and split them, rounding down.  If your quality marker is still at zero for any of the beer categories, you are not eligible to win medals or honorable mentions. Finally, players earn one reputation point per $3 remaining.  The player with the most reputation is the winner.

Initial Impressions

I like action selection games where options are tight and the theme is something new and fresh, plus one that appealed to me.  It promised a quick play time so I was interested to see how quickly it played and how well it balanced play length with meeting game objectives.

Game Build Quality

This was a prototype and thus not indicative of final quality

Artistic Direction

This was a prototype and final art is subject to change.

Age Range & Weight

The recommended age range is currently listed at 10 and up.  I think this is serviceable as the mechanisms are pretty straight-forward.  The game does require some thinking ahead and players must have the wherewithal to assess what actions they need and whether to trade for actions or pay to change their dice.  The random nature of the the action dice may frustrate players who are less comfortable with a trading mechanism.

Conclusions

Homebrewers is a great little engine building game and should play in about an hour.  After the first or second game round, the speed of play really moves along and further plays should yield a quick playtime.  I really like the rhythm of this game and since I attached flavor cards to recipes based on the end-game judging I ended up with some rather interesting configurations: Jasmine Chili Coffee Stout anyone?  The tension of the game comes largely from there never being enough time to do everything you want to do. You need to make sure you can brew regularly as the points are primarily tied to how far you can get on the various quality tracks.  Normally, I would find randomness in a such a game very frustrating, but the trading phase coupled with the ability to pay to gain a specific action worked really well to alleviate that potential point of frustration. The flavor cards and events also serve to mitigate the randomness.  I really like the different benefits that the flavor cards can add to your recipes, be it bonus quality points, extra money, or even bonus quality points for a neighboring beer category.

It can at times feel like you are just having a bad run.  Maybe your neighbor built a recipe that yields lots of extra money and is seemingly rolling in cash while you never seem to have the right dice and are strapped for cash.  However, some of this is just perception and some of it alleviates with repeated plays. Each garage comes with unique player powers and from what we saw, they felt relatively balanced.  Overall, I really liked what I saw from Homebrewers. As it stands, it is a very enjoyable engine builder with a unique theme and a quick play time. I recommend checking out the Kickstarter project and giving it your consideration.