Spiel Des Jahres for those that don’t know is the most prestigious honour that can be appointed to a board game. It is the German public Board Game of The Year. Aside from the main Game of the Year they also have Kennerspiel (expert game of the year) and Kinderspiel (Childrens game of the year). From my experience so far, the board of Spiel Des Jahres either get it right or get it really wrong. For me it’s akin to the Oscars or something like that where the nominations come out and you either instantly say “YES! That deserves it” or you’re left scratching your head wondering what on earth transpired to make it come about.
Broom Service was the winner of last years Kennerspiel (not Kinderspiel like I thought it was. It puts a whole different spin on the game thinking it won an award for best Children’s game) and out of morbid curiosity I wanted to see which of the above things it would turn out to be.
Rules are for fools
I am a terrible person when reading rule books. When I was reviewing Swinging Jivecat Voodoo Lounge (go and read it, it’s a great game… the review isn’t bad either) I had to read the rule book several times before I eventually rage quit shouting “I JUST DON’T GET IT!”, threw the book at someone else and then decided to go and have a look for a video run through. I had a similar problem with Broom Service. Please don’t think that it’s because the rule book is bad (it’s not you Broom Service, it’s me) I just couldn’t get my head around reading the rules without the game in front of me, despite several earnest attempts. Once I did have the game in front me though, the game is quite easy to pick up and understand and play through.
Game setup is a 5 minute affair and Broom Service does come with some pretty awesome components. The potion tokens remind me of Holy Hand Grenades and the witch token player pawns are a really nice twist on ordinary looking Meeples. All of the cards and punch board are made of really good stock and it all seems pretty sturdy. The only thing which has been messing with my delicate sensibilities, is that the board doesn’t sit flat. It doesn’t really affect the game any, but it annoys the heck out of me. I’m going to have to flatten it out before I play it again otherwise by the end of another 7 rounds I’ll have a twitchy eye and a bad temper.
I’m a big brave boy (my mummy said so)
The core idea of Broom Service is just to score the most victory points by delivering potions. However, each step you take in the game can be taken one of 2 ways, brave or cowardly. Strange as the idea of being brave might be, it is a really good game mechanic which so far I have not seen anywhere else. At the beginning of a turn you choose four cards from your hand of 10 to play, and on that card it will have a brave action and a cowardly action. Stepping away from the game actions for a second, this introduces something else which I really love in a game… mocking. When you play your card, you have to declare which action you’re taking. If you play with the right people you could have a giant of a guy saying “I am a cowardly weather fairy”. I’d be quite keen to have a go at Broom Service with some people from Games Quest HQ since I think they’d make delightful fairies… Comedy gold!
Images of hairy fairies aside, back to the Broom Service! The idea of the brave and cowardly actions are that they both have different outcomes. You will always get a much better reward from being brave, but if someone else you’re playing with has the same card and decides to be brave too, then you get nothing at all. However, if you play the cowardly option, you get less of a reward, but are safe to complete the action without repercussion. For example, you could use a cowardly witch action which means you can move, but if you play a brave witch action you can move and deliver a potion. This makes every decision a huge one, since it’s a gamble as to whether the other players are looking to play the same cards as you and whether it’s worth playing the cowardly route just to ensure you’re not left with no actions at all.
To hoard, or not to hoard… that is the question!
There are 7 rounds in the Broom Service and these are counted down by mission cards which are drawn at the beginning of each round. They can either give you something to work towards or work away from. For example, one of the missions will reward you with victory points for having less than 5 items at the end of the round, where another will punish you for being in a certain region at the end of the game. This adds quite a challenge to each round as you could try and hoard all of your potions and wands (wands are used to remove clouds from the game) until the end to score more victory points but then be punished for it in the short term, or you could line up an excellent plan of attack only to be foiled by finding out that you’ll lose victory points by ending up in the wrong terrain.
A worthy adversary?
After setting up Broom Service and reading the rules I did question why on earth it won Kennerspiel. It’s nice and colourful and really friendly looking, it’s aimed at people ages 10+, there are witches and druids and gatherers all of which look really friendly. I mean, the game is about potion delivery, how hard can it be?
Well, hard it is not. Devastating it could very well be.
I have had a few plays of Broom Service now and it is one the most cut-throat games that I have played in some time. I think underneath it’s cheery visage to the outside world is a black heart beating which is steadily eating players resolve until they turn on one another like something from a Greek tragedy. So now I understand why it won Kennerspiel. It looks all sweetness and light but it can be a really harsh game and people that thrive on conflict games would love it. I’m actually certain that if you gave this game to 3 10 year olds to play, there would be blood!
Firstly, when you deliver a potion to most towers, it stays there so no-one else can use it. This gives you an opportunity to really mess with the other players. Secondly, the brave/cowardly mechanic opens up all kinds of ways to mess with people. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, as each player has 2 pawns on the board at once so you could be foiled just by not paying attention to what’s going on.
Is Broom Service worth a play? Definitely! Honestly, I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would, but it has to be played with the right people. If anyone in your game group does not like conflict in games then this is not for them. As mentioned, there’s a lot of conflict and 2 of the games I have played, I have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by getting too overconfident in the last couple of rounds and have paid the price because of it. Losing on one occasion by just one point. I’m a patient guy but that was almost too much. I almost became a table flipper right there and then.
I have also had an insight into my own pshyche playing Broom Service. I am finding that as I review more and more I am getting a taste for these conflict type games and Broom Service is a shining example of making me want to punish other people under the weight of my epic potion delivery skills.
I take back all of the misgivings I had about the Spiel Des Jahres board for last year, and maybe I shouldn’t have doubted them. But now I have to go and see if they made the right decision for this year!
If Broom Service could be for you and you feel like decimating your opponents whilst shouting about being a fairy, then you can find the game here:
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.