Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Saturday, 18 August 2018

The Game Shelf Previews:- Microbrew

Game: Microbrew

Publisher: One Free Elephant

Designer: Sarah Kennington, Nigel Kennington

Year: 2018

Microbrew is a game that comes in a mint tin. It came second in the 2017 Mint Tin Design Contest which was started off the back of the success of  Mint Works on Kickstarter. The rules of the contest are that the full game fits in a mint tin - making the game super portable, but, in all likelihood, meaning that it is a smaller micro game.

Microbrew definitely crams in something more than a microgame into this small package and, in exciting news for beer enthusiasts like Fi, the game is being given a full release through Kickstarter in September 2018. After a brief demo at the UK Games Expo in 2018 we were hooked into this 2-player game by both its theme and it's puzzly mechanisms, and we're excited to share our thoughts after a few plays of the prototype.


In each round of Microbrew you will take turns placing workers onto different worker placement spots in the brewery. You can place your worker where your opponent's worker is, but if you do so that worker goes back to them giving them an extra go in the round. The goal in Microbrew is to have the most loyal customers, and you get loyal customers by serving them perfect beer. Naturally, a good deal of the worker spots are related to this important process. You can bottle a beer by using the bottle action along with a recipe in your hand or the common pool and a column of ingredients from your brew kettle. Over the next few rounds the beer will ferment and will eventually be ready to serve. When you use the serve action, if any of the ingredients were wrong then the beer will not be perfect and can't get you a loyal customer. But even if the beer is not contaminated everyone has their own taste, you need to match the right beer to the right customer if you want loyalty. Of course you can use the serve action to sell imperfect beers too, in which case you get some money and stop the customer from being thirsty, preventing your opponent from serving them!

There are several actions used to manipulate your brew kettle, but the kettle doesn't refill so you'll need to use the 'Mash' action to refill your kettle if you plan to keep making beer. There are 4 kinds of maltings used to make beer: yellow, orange and brown are all useful, but green maltings are useless for you and can only be replaced with the 'Flush' action. The brew action is where the puzzle comes in, you can move 1 malting along the diagonal lines of the brew kettle, swapping it's position with any maltings in the way. This is critical to making the right beer but has caveats, yellow maltings are light so can only move upwards, brown maltings are heavy and can only go downwards, while orange maltings can go up if swapping with a brown and down if swapping with a yellow. Finally green maltings will always swap when encountered, causing some chaos along the way.

There are a few ways to spend money earned from making beer. First, you can use the 'Advertise' action to get a loyal customer for money instead of for any brewing talent. Alternatively you can use the 'Manage' action to buy new recipes, hire your third worker, buy an expansion to your brew kettle or take back your own worker (freeing up the spot for reuse). When there are no more loyal customers left in the deck the game ends, at which point the end game objectives are evaluated. There is one common objective that both players can see openly, and each player has 2 secret objectives of which they choose one to use. Completing an objective gives you 1 bonus loyal customer. The player with the most loyal customers wins, with money breaking ties.

Microbrew set up ready to be played, please note this is a protoype, art will be updated for the release.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

One Free Elephant took a tiny little mint tin and decided to put a huge game in it, there is enough complexity in Microbrew to rival most full-sized worker placement games! The natural side effect of this is small components, and while the brew and mash actions can be a little fiddly most of the game components come on fair sized cards, with larger areas such as your brew kettle being composed of two cards put together. The puzzle aspect of brewing can be highly satisfying, but also frustrating when your opponent mashes and just so happens to draw a perfect beer out of the bag. Of course brewing perfect beers isn't the only way to win.

Brewing valuable, but imperfect beers can turn a large profit, and then you can advertise your way to international success without brewing a single good beer. I'm sure there's no deeper meaning to this mechanic... You can even serve your bad beers to customers that your opponent has the perfect beer waiting, causing them to waste precious time. In fact if you are clever you can manipulate the fact that going where an opponent is gives them a worker back to ensure that you are always first player each round and keep serving those people your mediocre suds. The level of strategic play is very impressive for such a small game.

There is certainly an element of luck to the game, each beer recipe suits only one customer perfectly, so if your opponent has already grabbed that customer then your recipe becomes mostly useless. It's also quite possible that the customer you started the game with a recipe for won't turn up until the last round, or even worse is the loyal customer that your opponent started with! Still there is more than enough ways to manipulate the game to get around the lucky parts. I really admire the amount of depth that One Free Elephant have managed to fit into a small tin. It's probably not going to be the first game on my must play list when I am at home with my full collection, but I can't see any reason not to include it in my bag every time I go on holiday!

If I bottle the 3rd row of my brew kettle it will make a perfect beer for the right hand customer. The leftmost customer is an example of final art.
Fi’s Final Thoughts

Microbrew is definitely one of the best two player games we own and the fact that it's so small means that it's likely to become a staple to take on trips. For me, the theme is a definite plus - beer is definitely a passion for me and we only have one other game that scratches this itch. In addition I think it has the highest game to box size ratio out of our whole collection - it's definitely more than the filler you might expect from a tin so small!

I really enjoy all of the puzzly aspects of Microbrew. The most obvious puzzle is moving the ingredients around your kettle, but the tight worker placement board is also really interesting to manipulate. As you start to predict the actions your opponent wants to take you can block spots as a time wasting tactic to ferment your beer more. You can also serve bad beer to your opponent's key customers to force them to waste more time if they want the customer to refresh and become thirsty again.

The end of the game often comes quickly and the scoring is so tight that you really need to find efficiencies to come out on top. Advertising at the right time is definitely one way to get ahead, as is focusing on the end game objective to ensure you get one more customer, but luck can sometimes dictate your opportunity to focus on a particular beer type or nationality of customer. Hampering your opponent is, of course, another potential plan. There's only one path to victory in the game but there's a few different efficiencies you can work on to try and come out with the most loyal customers.

There was definitely a learning curve to Microbrew, but after a few games, we have it down to around 40 minutes of intense gameplay and that's just perfect for us for a travelling game. I would recommend Microbrew to any fan of two player games that is looking for something portable but not forgettable.

You Might Like...
  • Microbrew is a big game in a small tin and really packs some punch as a puzzly worker placement game.
  • There's some interesting player interaction in the game, that is more significant than just taking someone else's worker placement spot. The puzzle is not only in your brew kettle, but also in predicting how your opponent wants to use actions on the board.
You Might Not Enjoy...
  • The game is naturally a little fiddly, but for us, this is a sacrifice worth making for portability.
  • We have found the game to often be too close, with evenly matched players unlikely to diverge significantly from a similar process throughout the game.

The Verdict
7.5/10  Microbrew is a great worker placement game in a small package that really captures a theme that is often not successful in board games. It's a must for beer lovers and for gamers who want to travel with something more satisfying then many lighter microgames.

Microbrew was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective by One Free Elephant. It will be live on Kickstarter during September 2018.

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