Gather ingredients to brew powerful potions and tame magical creatures in this enchanted forest.
What Is Brew?
Brew is a dice-placement game for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 45 to 90 minutes to play. It retails for $29.95 and is available in some stores, though is sold out at the publisher level.
Brew was designed by Stevo Torres, published by Pandasaurus Games, and illustrated by Jake Morrison and Andrew Thompson.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- Village board
- 4 Character boards
- 16 Forage dice (4 per player)
- 8 Element dice (2 per player)
- 20 Forest cards
- 36 Creature cards
- 32 Potion cards
- 4 Reference cards
- First Player marker
- 96 Ingredient tokens (24 each of 4 types)
- 38 VP tokens (1 and 3 values)
- 10 Scorch tokens
The illustrations for this game are whimsical and enchanting, and they give off a Studio Ghibli vibe—the magical wolf creature on the front cover is eye-catching, and I know for a lot of people that’s what piques their interest. The four player characters seem like they belong in an animated film, and there are a whole lot more fantastical creatures, too, along with lots of potions in fancy bottles and a small village, seen both in the daytime and at night.
The iconography is also nicely done, and for the most part becomes pretty intuitive—thankfully, there’s also a pretty good reference section in the rulebook for the various potion and creature powers in case you need help interpreting them.
The dice are custom dice, engraved and painted: the element dice are white, with fire, water, and wind faces; the forage dice are in the four player colors, and have rock, leaf, and branch faces. (I had initially played Brew in digital form on Tabletopia and some of the forage dice faces were hard to see, but fortunately in the physical game there’s a good contrast between the symbols and the background.)
The box has a plastic insert with spaces for all the components, but for some reason the four wells for the ingredient tokens are connected in the center, which means if you don’t keep them bagged up, they’ll all just mix together—I thought that was kind of an odd choice.
How to Play Brew
The goal of the game is to bring back balance to the forest—though since you’re all interested in bringing back the most balance, you’ll want to score the most points by claiming forests, training creatures, and brewing potions.
Place the village board in the center, day side up. Remove forest cards as needed (for fewer than 4 players), shuffle the deck, and deal one more than the player count face-up above the village board, with the deck nearby. Place the ingredients and point tokens nearby as a supply.
Shuffle the potion deck and reveal 4 cards face-up as a market. Divide the creature cards by season and shuffle each season separately, and then place each stack face-up.
Give each player a character card, 4 forage dice in a matching color, 2 element dice, and 1 energy berry. The player who most recently brewed a cup of tea or coffee takes the first player marker.
The game lasts 4 rounds. At the beginning of each round, everyone rolls their dice, and then players take turns placing one die at a time, until everyone is out of dice.
On your turn, you must place a die. You may also brew 1 potion, and you may drink 1 potion. These three actions may be taken in any order, but if you have no more dice to place, you don’t get to brew or drink potions.
Placing a forage die on an empty matching space in the forest will either get you the ingredient shown next to the space or let you train a creature if there’s a fang icon. You may force a non-matching forage die into a space by paying the ingredient shown instead of collecting it.
Element dice do not match the forest spaces, but may also be placed to gather ingredients or train creatures, and they also have element powers. Wind may be used to swap out one of your previously placed dice, taking it back into your supply. Fire may be placed on top of a previously placed die, covering it up. Water lets you take 2 additional ingredients when used on an ingredient space.
Dice may also be placed in the village: there are two spaces that can accept any number of any type of die, as well as three spaces that can only accept a single die of the matching element. If you have a trained creature that has a die slot on it, you may also place the required die there for its effect.
To brew a potion, you must spend the required ingredients shown on the card, and then you add the potion to your hand. Energy berries are a wild ingredient and may always be spent as any ingredient. When brewing a potion, reveal another card so there are always 4 cards in the market.
To drink a potion, play a brewed potion from your hand, resolve its effect, and then place the card in your own scoring pile. Note that potions will be worth points as long as you have brewed them, whether you drink them or not.
When you train a creature, you choose a card from any of the four seasons and place it to the left to your character card, where it says “Trained.” You now have access to that creature’s ability—some are passive effects that trigger when you take certain actions, and some allow you to take a new action by placing a die on the creature.
You may have up to 3 trained creatures at a time; when you train more, you must release one of your existing creatures, moving it to the “released” side to the right of your character. If you have a forest that matches the season of a released creature, you may flip the creature over and place it in the forest, making it worth more points. Each forest can only have one creature.
Once everyone is out of dice, you check to see who claims each forest.
To claim a forest, you must have more of your forage dice in that forest than each other player; you must also have more forage dice than the total number of element dice in the forest. (Note that dice that have been covered do not count—only the die on the top of a stack is counted for control.)
Each player takes the forest cards that they control. If there is a tie for control for a forest, then it is discarded.
Some creatures have “end of round” powers—these are triggered now.
Set up for the next round: deal out more forest cards, give everyone their dice back, and flip the village board over to the opposite side. Pass the first player marker clockwise.
At the end of four rounds, the forest deck will be empty, and the game ends. Players release any remaining trained creatures they have.
Score points for:
- All of your brewed potions (whether you drank them or not)
- Claimed forests
- Released creatures (3 VP for each creature in a matching forest; 1 VP for other creatures)
- VP tokens—some creature abilities will give scoring tokens during the game
- Leftover ingredients: 1 VP for every 3 ingredients
The highest score wins, with ties going to the player with the most leftover ingredients.
Why You Should Play Brew
It’s taken me a while to get to this review—not because I haven’t enjoyed Brew, but primarily because I was hoping to get more plays with the physical game. I played a few times on Tabletopia before I got a review copy, and then once with the actual game in the brief window between getting fully vaccinated and learning about the Delta variant, and I haven’t had the opportunity to start my in-person game nights back up again. But I liked it enough that I helped run online demos for Pandasaurus during Gen Con this year, too.
As I mentioned above, the first thing that draws most people to Brew is the artwork. When Pandasaurus first shared a few teasers of the illustrations, I was very intrigued and wanted to see more. I even made some Etch-a-Sketch fan art of the wolf on the cover. While there’s not a lot of narrative in the game aside from a bit of story at the beginning of the rulebook, the setting is an imaginative one where all four seasons exist at once, and the creatures in the forest are strange hybrids: all sorts of animals with extra antlers or tails, often combined with plants or the three elements. You are tasked with using your magic to “bring back balance.”
What I told people when I taught the game is that, well, bringing back balance seems very nice and altruistic, but the characters in this story are also all selfish and want all the glory for themselves, because you’re not working together in this task. You squabble over the forests, use potions on each other, and—quite often—set everything on fire. It feels like an appropriate metaphor for a lot that’s happening in the world right now, only it looks a lot cuter.
I warn people that Brew is a mean game, though what I really should say is that it forces you to be aggressive. The forest spaces are extremely valuable: not only do you need them to gather ingredients and train creatures, but they’re also a good chunk of your score. Jockeying for position on the forest spaces is where a lot of the direct conflict can happen. Do you all just pick a forest and promise not to interfere with each other? After all, there’s always one more forest than there are players, so there’s enough for everyone. But not all forests are created equal: the more spaces there are, the more points it’s worth. Plus, maybe you’ve rescued a toad-thing that really would love to live in a fall forest. As with many area control games, it can start to feel like a pretty small world (ahem) fairly quickly.
Your options can be limited by the dice rolls, of course: you can generally only place dice in matching spaces, so sometimes that in itself will lead to some conflicting desires among players already. That’s where the potions come in. Aside from being worth points (and, you know, the name of the game), brewing potions gives you access to a lot of really fun (and sometimes wicked) effects. There are several potions that let you manipulate dice, from rerolling your own to swapping some placed dice around. Once players have brewed some potions, the tactics shift, because you don’t know if that die you’re placing in the forest will actually still be there by the end of the round. Although the title may suggest that brewing potions is key, I’ve found that it’s only one piece of the puzzle. It’s hard to win without controlling forests, and the potions are valuable as much a tool to help with area control as points in themselves.
The element dice are also really handy for interfering with somebody’s plans, too. Wind can be used to return one of your dice to your supply—it’s a nice two-fer when you realize you’re outmatched in a forest—you can get your die back to place somewhere else, while adding the element to make things harder for the other player. Fire can be used to cover up another die, taking it out of consideration, but remember that it also counts against you, too. Which is fine, if you’re somebody who just wants to watch the world burn.
Oh, and speaking of burning, there’s also a “scorch” effect, which adds the fire tokens to empty forest spaces, effectively reducing the number of spaces available. On the night side of the village, the fire die effect scorches multiple spaces at once, which can lead to a strategy of placing a die in a forest, playing a potion to play an extra die, and then placing the fire to burn everything else down. That said, it’s still no guarantee, since the other potions might let somebody else take your spot, and then there aren’t any other spaces in that forest for you to get a new foothold.
Each of the four characters has their own special ability—you can play the game with or without, but I like using them just to add a little asymmetry among the players. Wren can have up to 4 trained creatures and has an ability that makes it easier to get creatures. Lyric is all about brewing, and can spend energy berries more efficiently. Myla and Lello both have area-control effects: Myla can win ties for control, and Lello can stack his dice on top of others. All of these powers cost berries, though, which aren’t always easy to come by. Most typically you’ll need to get some creatures that help you gain berries if you want to power up your character abilities.
The village board flips at the end of each round, shifting between day and night, with different effects available. While players will usually want to spend most of their dice in the forest, the limited element spaces in the village can also be quite powerful in the right conditions. Familiarity with the spaces available will also help you plan ahead.
The first player marker passes each round, which should even things out, but since you always play 4 rounds, that means in a 3-player game it’s a little strange, because one player will get to be first twice. In Brew, going first isn’t always an advantage—the last player has the chance to react, potentially swinging things their way if they have the right potions—but it can make it feel slightly lopsided with 3 players, regardless of whether you prefer going first or last.
Overall, I think Brew is a delightful game for those who don’t mind direct conflict in their games. If your players (or kids) aren’t the type to take in-game hostility personally, then you may enjoy this bit of “take that” gameplay, and the way that the potions can swing things in your favor. For those who prefer not to fight other players, though, this Brew might be a bit too strong.
For more information about Brew, visit the Pandasaurus website!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.