- Designer: Stevo Torres
- Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 10+
- Time: 45-60 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Pandasaurus Games
From the introductory text: “Time is broken and shattered. The seasons all exist at once, and day and night have no real cycle — they rotate at the whim of the forest. This enchanted land has been driven into chaos and it’s up to you, the cunning mystics of the forest, to tame extraordinary woodland creatures and use your magic to bring back balance.
In Brew, players must choose how to use element dice, either to take back control of as many seasons as possible in an area-control game or to procure goods at the local village in a worker-placement game. Recruiting woodland creatures and brewing potions can help offset chance die-rolls or create an engine to help you tame the lands.”
So how does the game play? To set up the game, the small village board is placed on the table, on the Day side. The Forest deck is constructed, and a display of cards is placed face up (based on player count). The Potion deck is shuffled and 4 cards are displayed in the Market to one side of the board. On the other side, shuffle the 4 Creature decks (divided by season) and place them face up so that there is one creature from each season visible at any time. Each player gets one of the 4 character cards (and the table decides if they will all use the special ability side or not), the 4 Forage dice in their color, 2 white Element dice and a green Energy berry token.
In each round, players will roll their dice pool (6 dice; 4 in their color + 2 white) and then they will be placed on the board in turn order until all are placed. Dice are placed in different places with the goal to brew potions and drink them, train Creatures to gain advantages, and to gain control the forests. This process will happen four times, and then the game will end. In more detail, on any player turn, there are 3 phases: 1] must place a die, 2] may brew a potion, 3] may drink a potion.
1] Placing a die – at the start of each turn, you must place a die from your dice pool. This can go onto a Forest card – this will allow you to gain ingredients to make potions and also to train Creatures – or the die can go onto a Village space. If you are placing one of your colored Forage dice, you can place it on an empty space with matching icon. If this is associated with an ingredient, take the matching ingredient chit from the supply. If this is associated with the creature icon (looks like a fang), you choose any of the 4 faceup creatures from the supply and add it to your area. You can use the ability on this card later, though you are limited to having 3 trained creatures at any time. Once your die occupies any space, it is considered occupied and generally no one else can place their die here – though there are 2 spaces on the Village board which are unlimited in capacity. It is possible to place a Forage die which does not match the icon on the board, but you must spend an ingredient that matches the space first. However, you do not get any benefit from the space when you do this. Element dice (white) can be placed on ANY empty Forage space or on a Village space with matching element icon. If you use an element in a Forest, there are special benefits based on the element showing- Water lets you collect 3 ingredients instead of 1, Fire lets you place itself on top of any other previously placed die and take the action there. The die underneath is not counted when determining control. Wind can be placed on top of your own Forage dice to return the Forage die back to your supply. You can then take the regular action of the location with the Wind die. When you place an Element die in the village, you simply take the action printed in that space.
2] Brewing a potion – On each turn, you may brew 1 potion – this can be either before or after placing a die. To Brew a potion, you choose one of the faceup potions in the supply area, pay the cost in tokens as shown in the upper left corner of the potion card, and then take the potion card into your hand. If you have any reserved potions, you could also choose to brew from that supply as well. When you are spending ingredients, you can always use a green Energy Berry as a wild replacement for any ingredient. Replenish the supply from the deck. Once you have brewed the potion, you will be able to score the VP for it at the end of the game.
3] Drinking a potion – Once per turn, you may drink a Potion from your hand, immediately taking advantage of the power printed on the card. Place the potion under your character card so you can remember to score for it at the end of the game. You must still have at least one die to place in this round (because if you don’t, your turn is skipped, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity to drink the potion). Actions may allow you to change a die to a face of your choice, re-roll a die, place an extra die, move or swap dice, or return or remove a die.
End of the round – when all players have placed all their dice, the round ends. Note that players may end up playing different numbers of dice as there are some abilities which return previously placed dice to a player’s dice pool. If you are out of dice, your turn is skipped. But, when all players have placed all their dice, players now collect any forest cards they control – that is, cards where you have more Forage dice than any other player as well as more than the total number of Element dice. This controlled Forest card is placed near your Character board. Any Forests which are unclaimed are discarded. Then, any Creature effects that trigger at the end of the round happen now. Then, unless this is the end of the fourth round, each player collects back dice, the Village board is flipped over to the other side, and a new set of Forests is dealt out, and the first player marker moves one position clockwise.
End of the game – after the fourth round is over, there is a little bit of endgame scoring
- Score VP for all your potions in hand or already drunk
- Score VP for all your claimed Forest cards
- Score VP for your creatures – each of your claimed forest cards can accept one creature that matches any of its seasons. Score 3VP for a matched creature, and 1VP for all others
- Score VP for your VP tokens collected during the game
- Score 1VP per 3 ingredients left over
The player with the most VP is the winner. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most ingredients leftover.
My thoughts on the game
So, Brew has been a game where the expectations and reality have not matched up… And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – but the game just hasn’t been what I initially had expected. To be honest, when I first saw that there was a game called “Brew”, my brain went to beer – and this game is clearly not about brewing. To repeat the introductory text: “Time is broken and shattered. The seasons all exist at once, and day and night have no real cycle — they rotate at the whim of the forest. This enchanted land has been driven into chaos and it’s up to you, the cunning mystics of the forest, to tame extraordinary woodland creatures and use your magic to bring back balance.
In Brew, players must choose how to use element dice, either to take back control of as many seasons as possible in an area-control game or to procure goods at the local village in a worker-placement game. Recruiting woodland creatures and brewing potions can help offset chance die-rolls or create an engine to help you tame the lands. OK – so got it, it’s not about brewing beer – it’s brewing potions to help take back control of the seasons. Or at least that’s what I thought going into the rules read.
In the end, I don’t think I get any feel about taking control back of the seasons, but generally I’m not one for theme overriding gameplay. Here, I’m using worker placement mechanics to place dice and take actions, scoring VPs for brewing potions and scoring VPs for getting Forest cards and matching creatures to the Forest cards I have collected. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, and it is these choices that makes Brew an interesting game.
Each player starts out with their own special ability, and then later, you can develop a strategy that leverages the special abilities of the potions that you have brewed and the creatures that you train. There is some further complexity when training creatures as there are times you’ll want a specific creature for the special action on the card, and there are other times where you’re more interested in the season that it comes from as the additional 2VP bonus at the endgame scoring for this match can be a persuasive argument. There are also interesting decisions to be made when you have to decide between placing a die to try to lock in control of a forest (for VPs) versus placing elsewhere to gain a needed ingredient which would allow you to get a potion that you want for a desirable action. Of course, the potions themselves have VPs on them, so it’s often not a black or white decision, so you’ll have to consider all facets before making your move.
The game oftentimes ends up being pretty tactical. You are often limited in your choices based on your die roll – more often in rounds 1 and 2 as you may not yet have a lot of potions or animals to give you special abilities. Later, you will likely have more options as you can change die faces, swap dice, etc.
Speaking of the rules – they are well done. The rules are complete and concise, and we didn’t find many issues or questions while playing. When we did have questions, we were able to find answers within the rules – mostly using the creature reference on the last set of pages. I did have a small issue with the subtitle/example font which has creative serifs on some of the letters, but these non-standard letter shapes make legibility an issue. As I’m one who prizes function over form, this was mildly annoying and I would have preferred a more legible font. The player aid is well done, one side summarizes the round flow and the other has the four most important rule exceptions that need to be remembered.
The theme is OK, though I have a hard time believing that this magical land has all four seasons at the same time. I like the idea of the forests with dual natures, but it seems like it would have been easier to think of it as types of land. For instance, I can see some area that could be both a taiga and grassland, but it’s harder to see a forest that is in both winter and summer at the same time. But, whatever, it’s just theme, and in the end, you just need to have cards to match up the creatures to.
The artwork is a cartoony, almost anime sort of drawing with people and creatures with exaggerated eyes and pupils. It’s definitely a distinctive look, and it seems like it has a lot of fans with the gamers that I play with. Personally, I did not care for the style as it makes the animals and people just look… creepy.
So, the game didn’t turn out to be about beer, but the potions in this magical forest can certainly be potent, and you’ll have to figure out which brews will help you the most as you try to control the forests and creatures to be the winner. It’s a decent combination of area control and worker placement, with a fair amount of variability thrown in with the special actions of the characters, potions and creatures. It’s a decent entry level game to both those genres.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Jonathan F.: In some ways, Brew felt like a throwback game – it has a substantial amount of area control where the goal is to stall and make key decisions as late as possible. It also has animals and potions that change frequently, which means you cannot plan ahead before it is your turn. On the plus side, the decisions are meaningful enough that you do really want to chew on them. Ultimately, for me, it was a combination of old-school mechanisms I don’t adore, highly tactical play, and point salad/Feldian scoring.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it.
- Neutral. Dale Y, John P
- Not for me… James Nathan, Steph, Jonathan F.