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.

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Thursday 20 February 2020

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Homebrewers

Game: Homebrewers

Publisher: Greater Than Games

Designer: Matthew O'MalleyBen Rosset

Year: 2019

Homebrewers is a game all about brewing your own beer and entering it into competitions. Having brewed my own beer on a couple of occasions in the past, I certainly have no aspirations of entering a competition any time soon, but it is cool to find a board game that so neatly aligns with your other hobbies. Finding a game that matches someone's hobbies is obviously a great way to get them hooked on board gaming too.

Homebrewers doesn't focus on the process of brewing, so sadly I've learnt nothing more and got no hints and tips out of the game! Instead, each player has the opportunity to brew four different types of beer, adding different flavourings, like chocolate, vanilla, honey etc. to then enter those beers into competitions and earn points, and sometimes prize money. The game is sort of thematic, although Amy's chocolate and coffee IPAs were surely not worthy of prizes, but really it's a euro style, resource management and dice allocation game for 2-5 players.

In Homebrewers, each player takes a personal player board - showing for buckets - for Ale, IPA,Stout and Porter. Each turn you will roll three dice and their faces indicate the actions you can take. The grain symbol allows you to add a grain taken to one of the four buckets. Without grain in the bucket, you can't brew a beer. The brew symbol allows you to serve up some beer - transferring the grain token into a vessel for serving, which will define its quality. There's also a cleaning symbol, allowing you to clear out your serving vessels. Take a card allows you to take a new flavour card from the market, sell a card or add a flavour card to one bucket. Finally, the calendar symbol allows you to take the special actions of the month. Ultimately, you're brewing beer to increase your position on one of the four tracks. Twice during the game - during Sommerfest and Ocktoberfest, each beer category will be judged - awarding points to those who have progressed highest up each track.

With only eight rounds in the game and three dice actions per turn, it can feel like there's not enough time to really brew very much beer at all. Fortunately there are lots of ways to boost your turn. Adding flavour cards to your beers means that when you brew them you'll get a bonus actions, perhaps giving you money or allowing you to boost another beer up the track. As you move up the four different tracks you'll also pass spaces that give you extra bonuses. If you can gather enough money, you can also pay to take an extra action - one extra action per turn is huge! You can also take the bigger calendar actions if you can pay money too.

We played with the basic setup, using no variable player powers and we did feel that we couldn't quite do enough in the game, but those variable powers are the key to a fantastic game. The powers are hugely assymetric and extremely powerful. Initially it can seem as though someone has a better power than other players at the table, but we've actually found every combination we've played to be very balanced. The player powers typically give you a cheap way to take a specific action once per turn - maybe an extra calendar bonus action or a chance to fully clean all of your vessels each turn. When playing with these powers, ours turns lasted much longer and felt far more intricate and interesting. You can really chain your actions together once you manage to generate some money, boost a few tracks and gain all of the bonuses. I've never known a game to be so different when you add in the extra complexity of variable powers and I'd never play without them.

The elephant in the room is perhaps that Homebrewers has a 2-player variant with a dummy player. It really has to, because one of the game mechanisms is trading. It's a Catan-like trading system, where once you've rolled dice, you can trade dice among players. If there's only two of you, there's no way anyone wants to trade. The two-player variant adds 'Charlie' - a dummy player who rolls three dice each turn. You each can trade one dice with Charlie. Charlie also has a deck of cards that allows them to brew beer every turn. It's really great to have some more competition on the tracks and can really start to inform your strategy. Charlie could be focused so hard on brewing stout that you just can't hope to get the first place medal! I have zero problems with this two-player variant. Maybe I'm missing out on a trading element in the game, but I'm not a big fan of trading anyway. What the dummy player offers is just another form of luck mitigation - a slight extra chance of getting the die you need. There's so much luck mitigation in this game, from paying to change a dice face, to simply buying an extra dice face outright, that I barely feels like a dice game at all.

The other aspect that I think the dummy player adds is another place to focus your energies. If you notice which beer-types Charlie's deck focuses on then there are different reasons you might want to focus on the same types, or different ones. Focus is something I really enjoy in games - I don't mind a point salad, or many paths to victory, but I like a clear objective. In Homebrewers you're working towards the two scoring rounds, but also for the end-game scoring objectives. Building up the flavour profiles of your beers can be motivated by the bonuses you want to gain, but also by set collection. Those end-game points are a great thing to work towards and we only really got the chance once we introduced the variable powers and were doing a lot more during the game. Homebrewers provides you with so many options for focusing on a strategy that really directs how I play the game.

As a beer lover, I do feel a certain obligation to have a beer-themed game in my collection. I have Brewcrafters: The Travel Card Game - which is a really nice little game. I have Taverns of Tiefenthal, but that really doesn't cut it for a beer theme. Other games have passed through our collection in the past, but Homebrewers is the first larger game to stick. (Brew Crafters is on our shelf of shame, so there's no judgement there!). Homebrewers is a really great game, that tickles my brain cells just enough and gives me an exciting and different experience every time we play. It's not a big game - it plays in only 45 minutes, but I really hope it's one that we bring down from the shelf every so often. For the Yellow Meeple, Homebrewers is an 8/10.

Homebrewers was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £38.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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