I went to the UKGE and I bought…
OK, honestly, I didn’t buy a lot. For the last couple of UK Games Expo’s I have worked the whole weekend and therefore don’t get much chance to go and view a lot of the awesomeness which graces the stands there. This year was a little different though, as although I worked the show, I also took a day off to look around the show with my family. I did so armed with a “shopping list” of games that I wanted to see, and right at the top of that list was the subject of this preview: Microbrew.
I managed to get myself a quick demo while I was there, and saw enough to know that I needed a copy; really really badly, and then spent some time staring at BGG waiting for the announcement that it was on Kickstarter. That time is now people!
Please bear in mind that the pictures in the review are from prototype components and the finished article will look a lot better.
Little footprint, big idea
I’ve still not gotten a chance to play Mint Works, but I love the idea of having a game which is tremendously portable. I have also recently found a fondness for small batch craft beer and Microbrew ticked both of those boxes for me.
Microbrew is a 2 to 4 player worker placement game which comes in a “standard size” altoids tin, but don’t let the size fool you, there’s a lot of game in this little tin. Inside the tin you’ll find 54 different coloured wooden tokens which represent the wort you’ll be (micro)brewing and also maltings, which I’ll come to later. You also have 3 workers in each colour and cubes to show how much of a moneybags you currently are. There are also a bunch of small beer cards and some large cards to represent the customers, and cards to represent the brewery where you can choose your actions, and the copper in which you brew your own beer.
Setting up Microbrew is really easy, but if you have clumsy man-fingers like I do, it can be a little fiddly. In a nutshell, setting up Microbrew consists of: Put your copper out, fill your copper with blindly drawn worts, put the brewery out, put the customers out, put the beer out, get back to the game after sampling the beer (not necessary, but pretty good fun), start the game. To be fair, there’s a little more to it than that, but not much.
“Ya can’t touch me Copper”
The aim of Microbrew is to brew the perfect beer for one of the customers which come out into a central market, and turn them into loyal customers. Let’s face it, if you make someone their perfect beer, they’d best appreciate it.
Some of the choice beers for customers
Microbrew – ing
As well as worker placement being a chunk of the game mechanic, there’s also a really clever puzzle mechanic in making the beer. To make the beer in Microbrew, you need to take a bottle action, but this can only be done when you’re happy that all of your worts are in the right place. These can be moved around in your copper with a brew action, but the light ones always need to go up and darker ones always need to go down, and therein lies the challenge. Will you be able to get all of your precious wort in a line to get them bottled and sold to the right customer, or can you make something which is average, but will net you some cash to do other things? Also, as I briefly touched on in the beginning, you get green tokens in your coppers which are maltings. They can be swapped with any colour of wort, light or dark, but if they come out in your beer then they class as a contaminant. “Great!” I hear you say, “I’ll just leave them in my copper” except that once you have a few in there, it becomes much more of a challenge to get the worts lined up for the beer you want.
Feisty after a few
Also, let’s not beat around the bush. When beer gets involved in most things in life, it can create grief and Microbrew is no exception to this. If you’re a big fan of the occasional dick move then Microbrew can definitely be the game for you.
As I’ve mentioned, you’re trying to get the perfect beer to the perfect customer to try and win more than the other players right? Well, if you serve a beer which is less than perfect to a customer, then nobody else can serve them for the rest of the round because they’re not thirsty any more. So, if you think your opponent might be about to steal the win from under your nose, then serve that customer a shoddy beer! BAM! Put that in your pint glass and drink it.
Even if you’re a little more civilised when you’re playing (happy wife = happy life after all) then there’s still a lot to like about Microbrew.
Damn the Brewmaster!
One of the other neat little mechanics that Microbrew has is the Brewmaster. He’ll just casually sit on one of the actions per round (which does give you bonuses on round setup) and just lounge around like a beer addled middle manager. It’s not like you can’t visit the space he’s on, but if you decide to, then you have to give your opponent a completely free, out of action brew turn. So, is it worth the extra action for you, for the extra action for them?
A puzzle within a puzzle within a tin
OK, so let’s say you have now finished your game of Microbrew and enjoyed it. Great! Had a couple of beers during the game? Of course! So… how do you get the pieces back in then? Ummm….. Yeah. No messing about, it’s as difficult putting all of the components back in the tin the first couple of games as it is getting to grips with a game of Twilight Imperium.
Don’t get me wrong, I was as happy as a pig in the proverbial to have gotten a preview copy of Microbrew and as such, when it arrived I opened the tin and pored all over the contents like any other board game lover would do. And that’s when it happened. I tried to put it back in and the lid wouldn’t shut. I struggled to such an extent that I had to email the creator and ask really nicely if I could have some assistance in how to fit everything in.
Luckily, One Free Elephant are great and patient for monkeys like me and sent me the “packing” GIF from the Kickstarter campaign which shows nicely how to do it, and once you’ve done it once or twice, it’s second nature, but I’m just forewarning you that it might happen to you too.
Not only that, there’s a stretch goal to put the packing instructions on the lid of the tin so I hope for everyone’s sake that it’s hit.
Here’s one I prepared earlier
So, Microbrew or Microbooooo?
What is it that all of these wise people say? Never meet your heroes? Don’t build your hopes up? Well to all of these people, I fart in your general direction. I have absolutely loved playing Microbrew.
I like a good worker placement game anyway, but there’s so much more to Microbrew than just the worker placement aspect.
Toiling over the decisions on whether you can get all of the wort lines up to bottle something spectacular, or whether you can serve a sub-standard beer to someone just for the money is often a choice you will face. Do you aim for a loyal customer, or serve the beer you just managed to brew to someone just to mess with your opponent? If I get the beer out, will it be fermented in time (once the wort is placed in a bottle, one is removed per players turn until it’s ready) to be able to pip the other player to the customer we’re both aiming for?
These are all genuinely agonising decisions.
Punching above its weight
These decisions, agonising as they may be, are decisions that you would face in board game with a much bigger footprint. These are not the kind of decisions you’d expect to be making in a game which you just got out of an Altoids sized tin. And that my friends is the thing which really blows me away about Microbrew; there’s a whole load of game in such a small package.
I have probably been quite clear throughout this review, but I think that Microbrew is a fantastic game. I have backed for 2 tins for myself and have preached enough about it to my friends that they have bought a copy too. However, Microbrew and One Free Elephant both deserve a lot of credit. It is a genuinely great game and it’s one that you can take with you literally anywhere. OK, with all the small pieces, it’s not a game that you could play anywhere, but you could still take it.
Bitter with the smooth
It wouldn’t be one of my reviews if I didn’t have something negative to say about Microbrew. It’s more of an observation and a warning to future players than something damning though. Be very selective about where you decide to open your tin. Mine got shaken up in the post and all of the tiny bits exploded out of the tin when I opened it.
In fact, in almost a written apology, I have a confession to make. My copy came with one free elephant. It can be used as a first player marker and is a really nice touch and nod to the makers. The second time I opened my tin, he made a bid for freedom and made himself a carpet chameleon. So for a while he really was one free elephant. I found him after a couple of days and then found that he’s not one for captivity as he has since done a runner again. I’m sure he’ll turn up though. I’ve called him Harry (Houdini).
All things considered, I LOVE Microbrew. It’s not just a good game, it’s a great game and the fact that it has such a small table footprint only adds to the likelihood of it being played again and again in my house.
The theme is great, the gameplay is a tremendous balance of being solid and being replayable (it plays in about half an hour so is also one of those “another game?” games) and so I am at a loss as to how to score it.
I can’t in good conscience break my duck and give it a 10, because I think the world would implode. I also can’t score it higher than Anachrony because there’s not so much going on; but it is really good!
Hmmm…………… OK. Microbrew thoroughly deserves a malting swapping, IPA brewing, chocolate stout drinking……. 9.75 out of 10, and a massive thank you to One Free Elephant for letting me get my hands on a preview copy. Also, one last thing… GO AND BACK IT!!
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.