Publisher: August Games
Game Designer: Daniel A. George
Playing Time: 60-120 minutes
Kickstarter Funding Level: $49
Award winning brews
August Games brings their first title to Kickstarter tomorrow from designer Daniel A. George and it’s a promising one. Dragon Brew is a worker placement and resource management game set in the fantasy kingdom of Brumancia. Here, the races have decided to settle their differences not through a test of arms, but with a beer brewing competition. Quite a tasty alternative to lopping off limbs I should say. So, pass me a Grumpy Bastard Stout and let’s take a closer look at the game.
There are quite a few games that have you concocting various forms of adult libations; from light to heavy, the subject is fairly well covered. Although the setting of Dragon Brew is fun and lighthearted, it shows to be a challenging and very engaging medium weight euro that should do quite well on Kickstarter.
Your task as head brewer for one of ten different races is to wow the judges and walk away as winner of the annual fall DragonKeep beer festival. Brews are judged based on three criteria; color, bitterness and strength, although each judge has a preference for only two of the three. Festival winners gain points and gold, depending on how well they impress the judge’s, while the judge’s walk away with a wicked hangover.
You’ll notice right away that everything in Dragon Brew is just swimming in theme. From the tavern player screens to the unique races, ingredients, brews and events; nothing has been overlooked to steep you in the environment. Crafting a fine beer takes more than just harvesting wheat, rye and barley alone. Recipes require spices created from otherworldly items like toad stools, dragon scales, and pixie wings. However, all the ambiance is for naught without solid gameplay, and from what I’ve seen to this point, the gameplay matches the look quite nicely.
The action takes place over three phases; the spring, fall and winter seasons, across a three year time period. Beginning in the spring phase, players get a seeding of components and cash to start with, determined by their race card. From here, brewer meeples are assigned to different locations of player’s estates. These workers carry out actions, gather various resources and research recipes for the fall brewing and judging season. Once all brewers have been placed, the phase ends.
Resources, recipe and brewery cards all go behind the player screen as brews are prepped in secret. Paying close attention to other player’s actions can help you deduce what judges they may favor in the fall event, so you can adjust your strategy accordingly. Hidden information games like this tend to be a lot of fun, the uncertainty adds flavor and tension to the gameplay.
The bulk of the work is carried out on the estate, represented by a tableau of cards. Six of the locations are pretty standard; brewer’s study, brewery, mash house, grain fields, magic trader and winter stores. An extra unique building is included for each race.
While identical in name, the locations do not all provide the same action since they are race specific. For example, the Halfling collects four grains in the grain fields as opposed to the Orc’s two. The little people can also warehouse six ingredients in their winter store while the Orcs only keep four. This is nicely thematic, showing the variance befitting each race while adding to replayability.
Upgrading your estate is a must to increase its efficiency in Dragon Brew. By upgrading you can take more actions and create more resources, even gold. Rather than just doing an action twice, you may increase it to three times or more depending on how many upgrades you’ve purchased.
I enjoy how this engine building element gives you complete control over the direction you take. An efficient engine will net a good number of resources and the ability to convert them into others. Production and conversion are major pathways to success in Dragon Brew.
While excess resources can be sold for profit, gold can also be earned in the competition during the fall phase but that doesn’t help you early on. Thankfully, some event cards that you can opt to draft during your brewer placement turn can provide gold. Word to the wise, don’t ignore drafting those cards simply because it’s optional!
Brewery and Action cards provide extra temp workers, resources or quests that will put coin in your pocket. An interesting thing about these event cards is that you can steal actions from player’s estates by casting spells. This is a nifty and thematic way to expand your repertoire and does not stop your opponent from using that same action on their turn.
Fall is the setting for the main event, the beer festival. After collecting the right ingredients in the spring phase, it’s time to put your brewing acumen to the test. From the secrecy of your brew house, you craft up to three beers. More can be made by adding brewers to the mix if you choose, but if you’ve planned right shouldn’t really be needed.
Ingredients are added to recipe and barrel cards to concoct beers to sate the judges tastes. In the process, the recipe names combine to establish the names for your brews. So you may end up with a Grumpy Bastard Stout, a Furious Monkey Saison or the surprisingly popular Berzerk Mountain Bovine Dunkel. This adds quite a bit of hilarity along with a couple of head scratchers, but it’s all great fun!
Beers are presented for all to see and are assessed based on the judge’s card from left to right. While there are three criteria, each judge only concerns themselves with two of them. The leftmost being the primary characteristic and the other, the secondary. One judge may be looking for more strength and weaker color while another may favor a strong bitter taste and strength. With 30 judges, there is a great mix to puzzle through on successive replays since they are changed each season.
If there is a tie on the primary characteristic, the secondary becomes the deciding factor. Winners receive the judge’s victory points and each winning beer receives a ribbon. Once a beer wins a ribbon, it is out of consideration for winning under another judge that year. So don’t expect to craft a killer brew that can run the table! This is a good thing as it keeps the playing field level. Ribbons, like gold, are used as tie breakers in the end game if necessary.
After this, you collect your profits, a mixture of gold and victory points, before moving onto the winter phase. The winter phase is for cleanup, where you store ingredients for the next season and discard recipe cards down to your maximum. Once completed, you are ready to continue to the following year.
And the judges say
Crafting games can be a lot of fun and Dragon Brew is no exception. The fantasy theme is conveyed extremely well, meshing mechanics and looks to transport you to right into the Brumancia beer business. Each of the ten races has a distinct feel, with unique abilities and starting resources that fit their identities quite well. This gives you plenty to explore with follow on plays.
With just seven pages of actual rules, the game can be easily learned and taught in short order. The balance of the book is made up of appendices to flesh out the various cards, races, phases and even some basic strategies to help you along. These are all necessary and great inclusions that alleviate a lot of questions while also letting you work on your plans while reading. Nicely done!
Keep in mind that your choices won’t always have immediate returns. Remember, you are building up to the crescendo which is the beer crafting and competition in the fall phase. What you gain here can carry over to successive years, Dragon Brew rewards the player who plans for the long game.
Engine builder fans will really sink their teeth into the upgrade options available in this game. Efficiency is key and Dragon Brew has just enough options to give you plenty of elbow room to explore without feeling inundated. This exploration reaps rewards over repeated plays and experimentation of different strategies, increasing replay value.
If you’re looking for a solid euro with a charming theme, check out Dragon Brew when it hits Kickstarter tomorrow!
Company Website: http://www.augustgames.com/
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/augustgames
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/BGandBREW
Note: A prototype of this game was provided to me for this preview.