01/10/2022

Brew: Restoring balance in a world with chaotic climate? [Review]

My first encounter with Brew in SPIEL Essen 2021 was not by its initial publisher, Pandasaurus Games. Sadly, they were not present last year due to pandemic. It’s very fortunate for us that Skellig Games localized the game and translated it to German. Anyway, the BGG entry informed me that this game involves dice and utilizes them in the worker placement scheme. I enjoyed some other games with similar mechanic. For instance, we have discussed previously a similar game from Bad Comet Games — and don’t forget the other one from Vesuvius Media.

As usual, I will not dwell too much on the game tutorial. There are plenty of videos that explain how to play Brew on YouTube. I recommend you to watch them before you read further. It really helps to give context on what’s happening and resolved during the game.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: BREW POTION — NOT BEER

The first time I got to know it’s named Brew, my initial expectation was a game about crafting fantasy beer. Forgive me, perhaps I’m lacking in creative thinking — but for real, brewing potions didn’t come into mind at all. Nevertheless, the whole background story of the game is not necessarily focused only on what’s mentioned in the title. Besides the art of potion-making, Brew brings taming the magical wild creature and controlling forests with its chaotic climates into the equation, too.

With that being said, I couldn’t feel any correlation between the gameplay and the theme of this game, at all. We have a long list of potions to brew, it’s true. However, it doesn’t necessarily stand under the spotlight. The other two actions mentioned previously share the same degree of importance.

During the game, we will face a multitude of options — which action to take, what rewards to reap, which resource to spend; the list goes on and on. Thanks to the straightforward mechanic, Brew manages to keep them neatly; we did not feel the game crammed and complicated at all.

Despite this plethora of choices, I still have a hard time to connect those actions with the core story. Let me quote their short description on BGG: “Bring balance back to the forest with potions and woodland creatures.” To put it simply, I’ve been questioning the same thing until now: How can these numerous actions eventually bring back the balance?

Decent gameplay with a combination of several mechanics

On the other hand, it’s unfair not to notice that Brew has a solid gameplay — thanks to how well and seamless they combined dice (as worker) placement, area control, and resource management. Every aspect of the game is logical, in terms of how the game works around. Each action we take is meaningful, and they are chaining nicely to make an impact in the game.

The forest and magical creatures are always shifting — it can be difficult to plan your strategy ahead in the early game. However, from the mid to end-game, you have determined your approach. Despite still being tactical, at least you have an overview on how you want to shape your play style. In short, Brew promotes specialization in how you win the game.

In a game which involves dice casting, we are expecting some mitigation to an unfavourable dice roll. Thankfully, this game provides plenty of tools to do so. Some potions you have brewed may help you to re-roll the dice; even the main board and some creatures you control can still salvage something meaningful.

Controlling the forest as the main show

Coming back to controlling the forest, now, we have area majority in the mechanic equation. I like how we have no tie-breaker in this part — all ties mean that the forest belongs to nobody. It gives another spectrum in your decision-making. With that being said, when placing the dice on the forest cards, I usually try to be as reactive as possible. Stalling and observing how the situation goes can be your good friend here. Of course, you still have to play proactively if you need to reap something from that forest, though.

Some forest cards share the same rewards provided by the main board. I primarily try to reap the rewards from the forest first, if possible. That way, I can still compete for the majority and, maybe, take control of that forest in the end.

I think this part is also where Brew shines the most. The tense is more obvious when we contest for the control of the forests rather than for the potion. For me, the potions become mere tools to achieve control and majority domination. I’d rather fight for the forest majority, since the forest rewards more points at the end of the game. Surely, this is a subjective bias due to my play style. As mentioned before, Brew has more than one way to win the game in the end.

Brew as a point-salad game

Oprah Meme – Point Salads You Get Points!

All players can score points from whatever they generated in Brew. Do you control creatures? Each of them provides point (and possibly, points). Have you brewed some nice potions? Besides the cool effect you can get when you drink them, you gain points, too. Oh, you are controlling plenty of forest? Guess what, you also get points.

I rarely put memes in my article, but this game deserves one.

Optimum player Counts and miscellaneous

Scaling up in Brew’s forest cards is a bit problematic. The number of dice and their space on the cards stays the same despite the change in player count. Two players playing Brew may not be able to feel the tense — meanwhile, playing a four-player-game feels a bit too crowded. The sweet spot: three players a session. I also recommend playing Brew with the Characters’ Powers right off the bat.

Final Thoughts

Brew is a nice light game to have and to play. As a point-salad game, Brew really rewards all players with plenty of points. It has a nicely written rules that explains everything concisely. The production, including the artwork within, is decent. They pack the game in a compact box, which is a good thing if you are quite mobile and having more than one gaming groups to play with. Coming back to the game, it is also a solid one to have, especially if you are playing with some people who are new to board games. For me, it is very unfortunate that they missed to couple the gameplay with the theme.

We do not own any Brew copy, so thanks to Fabelhaft – Das Brettspielcafé we could get the chance to try it. If you are in Bonn, please do visit this place!

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