•Designer: Tony Boydell
•Publisher: Studio H
•Time: 45-120 minutes
•Times Played: 3, with a review copy provided by Tony Boydell
My wife Shelley loves tea. Almost every day starts with the ritual of tea making: filling our electric kettle, selecting the type of tea she wants for the day, steeping the tea, and then pouring some for breakfast and the rest into her thermos for the day. Therefore, when Tony Boydell announced that his next big-box game would be entitled “A Nice Cup of Tea” my ears perked up; I’m lucky enough to have a gamer for a wife, but if the theme ties into something she loves, that is always a plus.
Tony has become a friend since we first met at Essen some 10 years ago when his game Fzzzt! arrived in the halls, complete with one of his sons playing a robot. His growth as a designer can be seen in the variety of games that have made their way to my shelves, from Fzzzt! to Totemo, Paperclip Railways to his biggest hit Snowdonia, and even to his under-appreciated Guilds of London to name a few. But a cool aspect of Tony and his designs is that we, the board game enthusiasts who are privy to his writing, get a chance to see his passion for game design through his daily blog on BGG “Every Man Needs a Shed,” where he shares ideas and the ways in which the seeds of a design find their way to publication.
Since Tony’s initial unveiling of the game on his blog – along with details of its development – “A Nice Cup of Tea” has transformed into Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea, released in limited quantities by Studio H at Essen, and soon to be available in your FLGS and elsewhere.
Some have immediately labelled Alubari “Snowdonia Part 2” due to its inextricable ties to that previous work (which has also seen its own deluxe version published for Essen 2019). It’s true that many of the core mechanisms of Alubari owe a debt to Snowdonia’s design, but different aspects of play change a player’s expectations.
But let’s first list the familiar. Alubari uses worker placement as its central mechanism, has a weather component that affects gameplay, includes track building and rubble removal, as well as the drafting of contracts and building of engines that can be used both to modify in-game actions, as well as provide end-game scoring possibilities. If you know Snowdonia, jumping into Alubari will feel very familiar.
But Alubari’s theme of tea production and transport marks the first major change for this title. Now, instead of clearing rubble to build track, you can work to clear rubble on the various tea estates that line the bottom of the central board. With the estates varying from game to game, you now work to set up a major dig to claim ownership of an estate, as that ties directly into your ability to produce tea, then possibly convert the tea leaves to chai, a valuable resource that gets your workers motivated to go above and beyond their normal workload. Yes, you can collect a precious few of those chai resources from the supply area (if they find their way out of the resource bag), but if you want your workers to convert more steel into rails at a better rate, build more track, or dig more rubble, making sure they have their chai to drink is invaluable. Believe me, if Shelley doesn’t have her tea in the morning, she’s going to have a more difficult day with her third-grade class than she would otherwise!
Also, unlike its predecessor, Alubari’s track building happens on the board itself, rather than on cards that ring the board’s perimeter. Players “Lay Track” by turning in the rails they have created, but then claim River, Town or ‘Simple’ (I would have probably gone with railway siding or village) spaces with their own tokens that provide end-game scoring, as well as chai (for River spaces). No rubble needs to be cleared for track building. Track building also opens up the next group of stations for construction (and in-game/end-game benefits), as only the towns located one River space beyond where track has currently been built are available to players.
Engines, an integral part of Snowdonia, also modify game play here. Some only provide end-game scoring, but most modify your ability to clear rubble, build track, etc., as well as the chance to add an extra worker during placement for one round. Chai must once again be spent to get that worker out of the teahouse, though.
Getting tea and making chai has its own action, and timing that harvest along with rubble removal and track laying depends once again on the weather. And weather is the one variable that has the potential to irk some players. Just like in Snowdonia, you can have a game in which the sun shines brightly from round to round, keeping the workers happy and hard at work. But then your next play takes place in rain and fog and workers are forced to reduce the possibilities of what they can do. The happy change, though, is that rain helps the tea grow, so your estates, if you have been lucky enough to clear them and claim ownership, begin to produce crops at a faster rate.
All of these pieces of Alubari come together in a streamlined joy of a game. The new twists and permutations make this a more straightforward entry point. By getting everything into its own spot on the board, players – especially those familiar with Snowdonia – can jump in and crank out a game of deep thinking and thought-provoking strategy. Shelley and I have enjoyed our playings of this new gem and look forward to getting it to the table again…probably with a nice cup of tea.
Listen to the podcast Shelley and I recorded on the game (Episode 699) along with an interview with Aldie of Boardgamegeek at http://www.garrettsgames.com
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers:
Dan Blum (1 play): The addition of tea production and usage does make the game different from Snowdonia… but not very different. It still feels like Snowdonia in every important aspect and has what I regard as the same flaws. The primary flaw is that there’s a ton of luck for what purports to be a game of moderate weight and definitely is a game of some length, and it’s not just the weather that’s a problem here – which contract cards come up when is extremely important and you have no control over this. There are also the events, which I think cause even more swinginess here than in Snowdonia, although I may be misremembering the latter – in Alubari a relatively early event removed all remaining rubble from the game, making many contract cards simply useless.
Ratings from The Opinionated Gamers:
Love it! Doug G.
Like it. Dale Y
Not for me… Dan Blum