Worker placement, where you take actions on the board by assigning a fixed pool of worker pieces to spaces one at a time, is a very popular mechanic. But while it’s great for deep strategy games, it has a problem: without a seed of variety, games that use it can become dry and repetitive as everyone fixates on the same successful strategies.
There are various fixes, but one of the most interesting and least used is to replace the worker pieces with dice, the rolled faces influencing which actions they can take. The latest board game to explore this developing space is Brew, where players represent mystics in a fantasy wilderness. Their dice get them foraging for components, which they then use to brew powerful potions for one-shot effects.
What’s in the Box
Brew stands out even on a shelf, with its unusual lino-cut style box art showcasing a weird creature on a rolling landscape. Lift the lid and you’ll find the same art on the game board, tokens and cards. It’s really striking, a great balance of looking good while still remaining very playable. All the information you need is clear and accessible, letting you sit back and enjoy the play and the art at the same time.
Beneath the cardboard sprues are the main engine of the game, bags of custom dice in four different player colors, plus white element dice. They’re good dice, solid and engraved with elegant symbols to take the inking. There’s not much else in the box, but it’s a nice compact size so it should be easy to fit on your shelves.
Rules and How to Play
Brew is one of those games where simple rules belie a plethora of options on the board and cards. At the start of a round, everyone rolls their pool of dice: four forage dice and two element dice. Then they take turns placing them on the board or cards and, as the game progresses, brewing and/or drinking a potion.
Forage dice can only go on forest cards, which change from round to round, and only on a space that matches the rolled symbol. You also get a potion ingredient shown on the space, or possibly a creature from the four face up choices. Creatures give you special powers, such as bonus ingredients or points when you take certain actions.
Right away, this presents players with an impressive array of options. There will be four face-up potions, each needing different ingredients, so you want to forage for the most useful ones. Then again, creatures give you an immediate bonus for one die, so it’s tempting to snatch good ones before other players do. And after all dice are placed, players with a majority on each forest card can claim it, which is a major source of points.
At the beginning of the game there’s almost too much choice, making it hard to start carving your groove in the game’s pristine wilderness. It’s confusing, and paralyzing. As the play develops and you begin to find combos between creature powers and brewed potions, you can start to focus and develop specific strategies. This brings the pleasure of securing an important potion or creature before your opponents. But hunting out the synergies to start with can be a chore.
Element dice add even more options to the mix. These can be used like forage dice if you so desire, and can go on any space with an extra placement power depending on their symbol. But they can also be played to a matching space on the board for a special power like purging other element dice from forests, or trading ingredients for the more flexible energy berries.
Once you’ve got enough ingredients to start adding to your stock of potions, they become essential weapons in your strategic arsenal. Most of them let you meddle with your dice: re-rolling them, moving them after placement, placing an extra one on your turn, that sort of thing. They’re also worth points whether they’re used or not. However, they often take a back seat in scoring despite the game’s name. Indeed, thematically, Brew is a bit of a mess, with its parts not gelling into any kind of topical or narrative whole.
While all the options do give players a lot to think about, there are times when all those alternatives for every decision feel more like work than play. Despite its simple rules, Brew isn’t the cutesy family fare that you might expect from the art and iconography. It’s very much a medium-weight strategy game. Even the dice are there to provide variety in decision making more than excitement.
That said, Brew begins to dish up the thrills once players have grasped that timing your plays is also crucial to the strategy. With forests offering big points, it’s key to the game’s design that it gives you lots of ways to upset majorities during the turn. Fire element symbols can be placed atop an opponent’s dice, negating it. A potion lets you sneak in an extra turn to claim a prize spot before the next player. These moves are where the game gains tension, which ramps up nicely as it comes to a close, and elicits cries of delight and dismay from the assembled players.
The result is a game where it pays to plan ways to upset your opponents as much as possible. Late game can get pretty bitter as scoring opportunities swing from one player to an opponent. That may not be to everyone’s tastes but Brew isn’t one of those heads-down games where you don’t have to care about what other players are doing. You might not interact with them directly, but messing with their plans can be even more satisfying at times.
Where to Buy
Brew is available at a variety of retailers. The MSRP is $29.99.