Dice Hate Me Games already has a reputation for fun, richly thematic games with a focus on real world occupations and endeavors. With titles like VivaJava: The Coffee Game, where players trot the globe searching for the perfect blends of coffee beans, and Compounded, where players manage a laboratory and attempt to create exciting chemical compounds, Dice Hate Me has been quite successful at bringing their unique mix of theme and gameplay to the market.
The company’s new board game fits their wheelhouse perfectly. Brew Crafters, currently seeking funding on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, is all about the art and business of brewing beer. Players work to manage their ingredients, their brewery equipment, and their staff, all in the name of bottling and shipping new and unique recipes to their thirsty customers.
Brew Crafters is the creation of game designer Ben Rosset, the mind behind Mars Needs Mechanics. After a tour of a local brewery, Rosset saw potential for a European-style game about the business of running a successful brewery: gathering ingredients, processing them into different styles of beer, upgrading equipment, researching new strains of yeast.
I sat down to demo the board game with Dice Hate Me founder and owner, Chris Kirkman, and got the chance to see how a real world brewing operation translates to cardboard.
Each player’s breweries starts off small, with a single fermentation tank and bottling line. Everyone has a storehouse where ingredients are kept, and gathering those ingredients involves going head to head with your rival brewmasters at the marketplace.
This worker placement phase of the game sees basic ingredients, like malt, hops, and yeast, snatched up by those who are working to develop their various recipes. Advanced ingredients like coffee, spices, and fruit, are in much shorter supply, and are required for advanced recipes that yield higher rewards. As with all worker placement games, you’ve got that rush of excitement when you know you can grab the resources you need—let’s say a few cubes of coffee—to complete that objective you’ve been aiming for—perhaps a nice VivaJava Coffee Porter. Of course, it stings that much more when the player immediately ahead of you snatches those coveted coffee beans before you can get them.
Other areas of the market allow for players to hire new skilled workers, who modify the game rules or grant bonuses, raise funds, or go first next round.
But gathering resources is only a small part of the brewing process. Next, players enter the Brewery Action phase, where they assign your limited number of actions–called “shifts”–to either process your beer, research in your lab, or install new equipment in your brewery. In this phase, there’s no blocking: everyone can choose whatever they want, without fear that someone else will take the spot first.
Researching allows a player to gain certain advantages, and there are a number of tracks that allow a player to improve either ingredient collection–Basic or Advanced–or to make their brewery operations more efficient and produce more beer.
Every budding brewer wants new and improved equipment, so this option allows a player to add a Double Batch Brewing System or a new Storehouse to hold more ingredients. You can even install a Brewpub to skip the bottling step and sell your beer directly to customers. There are a lot of options for advancement, which means that each player develops a completely different brewery that suits their chosen play style and strategy.
Processing beer is the primary way to earn money and victory points. Here, players take ingredients collected in their Storehouse and combine them to match a recipe. There are three different recipe “tracks” in a game, corresponding to a different style of beer: Ales, Porters, and Stouts. Each track has a Basic version, which must be brewed before a player may move on to the Advanced recipes. This results in three recipes for each track, for a total of nine beers available. The styles of beer have different recipe requirements, and some styles benefit from certain brewery upgrades, like the Oak Barrelhouse or the Hops Infusers.
When a player chooses to Process, they spend their resources, and put a beer token into their fermentation tank. If a token is already in the tank, it moves to the bottling line. Any tokens already in the bottling line are sold, and points are awarded. Players who complete certain Advanced recipes first get bonus points.
In addition to processing the beer in their brewery, players can also choose to Collaborate. They may take any ingredients left over in their Storehouse and put them on a special Collaboration track. When this track is completely filled, the player will be rewarded with points or money for their contributions. During our game, one player dominated the Collaboration track while the rest simply focused on their own breweries. Care to guess which player won the game?
And that’s it, really. Play continues through three years of four seasons apiece. Players will curse when they can’t gather the ingredients they need, or a tactic fails to yield adequate results. They’ll hoot with joy when a complex beer recipe comes to fruition in the brewpot. In the end, victory points are tallied up and the player with the most wins. I came in last place during our playthrough, but I had such a blast developing my own strategy for a successful brewery that I didn’t even really care.
Brew Crafters is one of those rare Euro-style games that seems inextricably linked to its theme. The multi-colored ingredient cubes could be anything, really, but when you combine the game’s components with the gameplay mechanics from brewery upgrades and skilled workers, they are unmistakably hops, malt, and yeast. I felt like I was in a microbrewery simulator, and that’s what sold me on this game.
If you’re a fan of delicious, handcrafted beer and European board game sensibility, give Brew Crafters a try. You can print out an early version of the game via the Kickstarter page and try it before you buy, but act fast: the campaign, which has already been fully funded and has hit several stretch goals, ends this Sunday at midnight.
(Disclosure: We played with a prototype version of the game and the components have not been finalized.)