- Designers: Michael Kiesling and Andreas Schmidt
- Publisher: Eggertspiele
- Players: 2 – 4
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 60-90 minutes
- Times played: 4, with purchased copies
Aside from being a board gamer I am also a craft beer fan. I generally do not try to merge my hobbies, aside from perhaps enjoying a beer while playing a game. However, I must admit that the title “Heaven & Ale” caught my attention while I was reading up on new releases at Essen and I added it to my list to check out. I was able to play a demo and immediately marched over to the sales stand to buy a copy as soon as we were finished with our game.
In Heaven & Ale you are a brewer at an ancient monastery. You are trying to develop your gardens and manage your monks to make the best beer possible, but there are lots of competing demands for your time and resources.
Each player is given a board with spaces for 30 resource and/or monk tiles, as well as spaces for storage sheds. One half of the board is light and one half of the board is dark; this is important to note for when we get to tile placement. The board also has a numbered track along the left side and on the top; this is where you keep track of your resources needed to brew your beer as well as the quality of your beer. On the right side of the track are the spots for scoring your tiles (more on that in a minute, too). You also get twenty five dollars and a set of bonus cards.
The main board is a track around which players will move to gather tiles. In the center of the board are the monk tiles, which show you how many rounds are left in the game, and the bonus tiles.
There are four types of spaces.
- Resource spaces are spaces where you buy goods tiles – wood, yeast, water, hops, and barley. The tiles range in value from 1 to 5, and what you pay depends on where you plan to place the tile. A tile placed on the dark side of your board, where it will generate income, costs its face value, while a tile placed on the light side of your board, where it will generate resources costs double the face value.
- Monk spaces are spaces where you buy monks, who will help you get money and resources. Each monk space has a set cost for those monks, but you’ll still pay double if you want to place them on the light side.
- Scoring disc spaces allow you to take a disc and place it on one of the scoring spaces on your player board; doing this allows you to carry out the scoring action of that particular space. For example, if you place the disc on your wheat space, you would score all wheat tiles currently on your board – you’d get money equal to the value of the wheat tiles on the dark side and you’d move your wheat marker up a number of spaces equal to the value of the wheat tiles on the light side.
- Barrel spaces allow you to take one or more bonus tiles if you have met the criteria; the first player to take the bonus gets four points and the second player gets two points.
The game is played over a number rounds based on the number of players. On your turn you move to any forward spot of your choice where you can perform the related action.
If you took a resource tile or a monk you pay the cost and place it on your board in the space of your choosing. If placement of the tile would cause a shed space to be fully enclosed you add up the value of all surrounding tiles (resources are worth their face value and monks are worth zero) and take the shed that matches that value (there’s a chart on your player board) and place that shed in any orientation you’d like. Based on the shed you will be able to activate zero – four tiles that are adjacent to the shed. Lesser value sheds will only let you activate zero or one tile, but will move your brewmaster farther along the brewing track. Higher value sheds will let you activate two – four tiles, but will not advance your brewmaster nearly as much. Activating a tile lets you take its benefit – resources on the light side or money on the dark. A monk activated this way simply moves your brewmaster up one space on the track.
If you took a scoring disk you place it on one of your ten scoring spaces; where you may place it is dictated by the space you took the disk from. You are only going to activate each space at most once. When you score it, you take the related action. For the resource tiles you either choose the spot that scores all resource tiles of one number value or you choose the colored spots that will allow you to score all of one resource type. You can also place on one of the monks, which will trigger each monk of that type to score all tiles adjacent to that monk; any monks who happen to be adjacent will move your brewmaster up on the track. If placement of your disc completes one of the pairs, you may choose to play one of your five bonus cards and take the bonus it provides. Unplayed bonus cards can also be turned in at any point for three dollars, but you then lose the ability to take the bonus later in the game.
If you stopped on a barrel space you take all bonus tiles that you have fulfilled.
At any point a player can decide that they are done with the round and exit the board onto the starting spaces. There are 4 spaces – the first player space has no bonus; other spaces give you two dollars, move you up on a resource track or move your brewmaster up. You take the bonus and wait until all players have completed their turns.
Any tiles remaining on the board are left there and the board is reseeded, which means some spaces may have more than one resource tile or monk; you may buy any number of tiles on one space that you can afford.
After the sixth round the game ends and players calculate their scores. You look to see what space you’re brewmaster is on and what the current exchange rate is. You then must even out your resource markers as much as possible using this exchange rate. Let’s say your exchange rate is 2:1. That means that to move your lowest marker up 1 space you must move one higher resource back 2 spaces or a combination of two higher resources back one space each. You keep doing this until you cannot move a marker forward without decreasing another marker below it. You then add up all remaining money in your hand and move a piece forward one space for every ten dollars remaining in your hand. You take the value of your piece that is furthest behind on the production track and multiply that value by the victory point value your brewmaster is one; add the value of any barrels you collected and add a point if you went first in the last round and that’s your score.
My Thoughts on the Game
This game is an interesting puzzle to me, one that I have not yet managed to successfully solve. I have not yet found the path that allows me to move around the track at the right pace, score at the right moment and maximize my resources, all without running out of money. Every choice I make feels fraught with the possibility that I am missing another better, choice. You can’t wait until things are perfect to score and collect resources/money, because those purple disks are SCARCE, but if you score too early you can struggle to get things where they need to be. I am frustrated every single time I play this game, but frustrated in a good way that makes me want to play again immediately. The mechanism of the dark side versus the light side is very cool, and balancing the different ways to score your tiles throughout the game makes for some interesting decisions.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Nathan Beeler: The game was fairly enjoyable for me, since it uses the “you can’t go backwards” mechanism that I adore in other games like Egizia. However, I’m still unsure if Heaven & Ale will age well, or if it will go flat and find itself in the “fine” game purgatory like so many others. The variance I could see happening between games seemed to be more of the tactical variety. And it didn’t feel like it had much of a dramatic arc that I tend to enjoy in games that have real legs. For the moment, though, I give it three cheers.
Craig Massey (3 plays): So far I’m finding Heaven & Ale to be an intriguing puzzle to solve in order to play well. Not that I’m necessarily doing that, but my scores are slowly going up. The decisions points are interesting as you balance and short term cash flow with long term barrel improvement while trying pay attention to your opponent’s needs. It’s hard to predict if we’ll be playing this a year from now, but it has a shot.
Melissa Rogerson (4 plays): I bought Heaven & Ale at Essen with very little forethought – just “I heard this is great, I should get it.” So far, it’s exceeded my expectations – that purple disc scarcity really hits one of my favourite elements in a game. Of my four plays, two have been with just two players, one with three, and one with four. I definitely prefer it with four, as I feel that with the longer game you have more time to achieve something – I’m notorious for badly timing my mid-game. With two, the game is played over just three rounds and so is very very tight; with three, it’s played over four rounds – better, but it still doesn’t feel as though you get enough payoff in the midgame. It definitely takes a couple of games to get a handle on how to optimise your score (I’m still learning). So far, I’ve only played this with novices – looking forward to exploring more depth as we become more familiar with it.
Top Teaching tip: Explain the end-game exchanges and scoring BEFORE you teach the game, and then again afterwards.
Larry (2 plays): I got to play this twice at The Gathering with a practically-finished prototype and I loved it. Both the mechanics and the objective are original and the tension you feel as you advance on the track (“Please don’t take that monk!”) is palpable. It seems extremely well designed and developed. This is the game I have most anticipated from the current Essen crop and I’ve been very gratified to see how well received it has been. I can’t wait to finally play the published version!
Joe Huber (5 plays): While I’m not at all convinced Heaven & Ale is a great game, it’s a very solid and very enjoyable design. I picked up a copy based upon observation of half a game and the positive comments from folks including Larry, and haven’t regretted it. It’s not my favorite of the Essen releases, but it’s such a clean game that unlike Craig I do expect to get a lot of play from it for some time to come. I do think I still prefer Domus Domini in the “games about monks making beer” category of games…
Dan Blum (2 plays): So far it’s a very interesting game of managing a variety of interlocking constraints. Expectations may need to be adjusted for player count, even though you should in theory get about as many actions per game no matter how many players there are; I did a much better job of moving everything up in my second game (with three) than in my first (with four) but ended up with exactly the same score. Of course I may just be bad at the game.
Greg S (1 play) Just played Heaven & Ale and am intrigued. I performed horribly, but hopefully I learned from my mistakes and errant choices. As others say, it is certainly “puzzly” and there is always that tough choice of what to purchase and where to place it. Balancing the constant need for ducats with the long-range need of increasing the value of the various ingredients is tough. With a theme of producing beer, I think I may have actually performed better if I was drinking a beer instead of a Diet Mt. Dew!
Alan H: (3 plays) plays at The Gathering and at a post Essen con reminded me how clever the game is with built in tension because of the go forwards movement, then the frustration of not getting your ideal tokens followed by the limited number and opportunity to get purple scoring tokens. Offsetting this is the planning you carry out to make progress. It’s not my favourite release from Essen 2017, but a very good one.
Simon N: (3 plays: 2-player, 3 Player & 4 player): This game is easy to learn and whilst there is the solo element of building an efficient collection of tiles on your own player board, you have a lot of interaction on the main board and a bit of push your luck over whether to risk buying another tile or going to the badly needed scoring token. The game works well with both families and hardened gamers. It scales well and the 2 player game with only 3 rounds in which to get your markers into the scoring zone is quite challenging. overall a cracking game and probably my favourite from this year’s Essen crop.
Doug G: (3 2-player plays): Shel and I spent the past weekend obsessed with this one. As Alan says above, this is very “clever” and works as a puzzle that’s VERY tight with just 3 rounds for 2 players. Also, the variance of when the resource tiles become available from game to game can lead to wide changes in one’s ability to stay ahead of the money curve. Big numbers are costly, but can reap major dividends if placed effectively. Getting two of the same monk can be a huge boon, though making them pay off can take quite awhile. I’m pretty sure it’s best to focus on getting the brewmaster ahead rather than zooming ahead with your various resources, but we’ll be exploring this one often going forward. Plays in less than 45 minutes with 2.
Simon W: (2 4-player plays): This is not a magnificently challenging game but it is fun and not too long. The tension is great as you try to get the spots you want on the main board and attempt to maximise scoring on your player board by getting the right mix of monks and counters to the left and right. It is definitely a game requiring at least 2 plays too learn, since here you have a timing constraint or tipping point between part 1: build up your resources and part 2: maximise your scoring.
Dale Y (5 plays): This is one of those games that doesn’t bring any significantly new to the table mechanistically, but everything is wrapped up in a nice package and works together well. I will admit that I’m not sure if I’ve see the multiplying scoring mechanism done before, but it seemed familiar. I’ll have to do more research on that. But, back to the game – I love the way that this game constantly challenges you to decide how far to move along the track. Sometimes you have to take a big jump forward in order to get something you really want – though you end up giving up a lot in opportunity cost for all the spaces left behind. The game is super-tight financially, and I always feel like I’m spending a lot of the early game making sure that I have enough money to do stuff – but in the end, you have to play on the other side of your board in order to really score points. I have found that the game feels a lot faster in 2p and 3p games. While you might get the same number of actions in general, the fewer trips around the board make the scoring discs come up proportionately fewer times AND it makes far jumps ahead that much more costly in the opportunity sense. Our 4p games have had winners in the 50-70 range. My most recent 3p game had a winner at 28 (and we had all played the game before). I love this one so far, and I would not be surprised to see this on a short list of games for the Kennerspiel.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! James Nathan, Melissa Rogerson, Larry, Joe H. Alan H, Doug G., Simon N., Dale Y
- I like it. Tery, Nathan Beeler, Craig Massey, Dan Blum, Greg S., Simon W.
- Not for me…