Thank you for checking review #70 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Note: a review prototype of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.
The game is currently on Kickstarter until September 31st: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1707132801/microbrew-a-full-sized-board-game-in-a-tiny-tin?ref=bggforums&token=c6e1c6e8
An Overview of Microbrew
Microbrew is a medium-weight worker placement / puzzle game hybrid for two players: The Tiny Tin Brewery have challenge YOU – leaders of their two most skilled brewing teams to a brew off! Who will create the tastiest beers and win the most loyal customers? Only one way to find out – Ready! Set! Brew!
In Microbrew, players will take turns sending brewers to work stations to mash, brew, bottle and serve their own beer recipes to a stream of thirsty customers. Work stations aren’t locked out like most other worker placement games – if you really want to push someone out – you can, but their worker goes back to be reused this turn! This means rounds are very dynamic and require careful thought to not just optimise your little team but also to predict where your opponent wants to be so you can ride their wave!
Brewing isn’t just worker placement though – each player has their own “Copper” brewing kettle where their brewer’s actions can let them play a simple but fiendish puzzle game to reorganise their kettle and complete a perfect recipe. Or not! Will you try to make each customer’s perfect beer and win their loyalty, or will you flood the market with average brews and let the marketing money do its thing?
Gameplay differences for 2 Players
There are no differences, as the 2-player experience is the core experience packaged in the game.
The rules are done relatively well overall, with minimal barriers to teaching the game upon reading. There are a few areas I had to continually check, such as trying to interpret if there are two action spaces on the Brew space of the board. Ultimately, reading between the lines, I went with “yes” on that since there are two icons for it whereas every other location has one. It makes a huge difference, given you cannot bump your own worker. It would also have been nice for clarity that some regional/flavor objectives are worth two loyal customers (the rulebook states one, but some clearly show two faces on there). However, the minor omissions do not interfere with the core of the game and getting an understanding of how best to play. Overall I’d give it a solid 8/10.
The puzzle aspect of the game is the real star of the show. Don’t let the appearance of a worker placement game fool you, this part is hardly tacked on and can really add some tactical layers to the gameplay. Thank goodness you don’t need to have them in the right order to bottle them effectively, as just getting the worts you need into the correct row can be an incredible challenge in itself. This is the part of the game that really elevates the gameplay and makes it stand out when compared to its competition.
There are a few ways to upgrade your ability to do things, including getting a third worker and adding a fifth row into your copper for gaining worts. Both of these feel priced well, but are rarely both used in the same game. You can also give your workers overtime, paying to remove one off the board, and an option to look through more recipe cards. This is one of the action spaces we undervalued in the first play, but quickly realized how great all four of these options can be.
The worker placement aspect of this game is nice and simple, yet provides plenty of an interesting challenge. Mostly because you cannot bump your own workers, so planning accordingly is important. You cannot just spend the entire turn bottling unless your opponent does the same, bumping you off. Only having 2-3 workers adds to the challenge, as you will rarely be able to do everything you want to accomplish in a turn.
There is a fair amount of player interaction available. There are face-up recipe cards open for the taking, and whoever bottles it first adds the recipe to their hand after it is served. Paying attention to the recipe they are working toward can allow you to bottle an imperfect beer and take that out from under them. The same applies to serving beers to customers – if they are about to gain a loyal customer you can serve a ready beer to that customer and cause them to flip. At the very least you’ll force them to waste an action to flip them over or wait for the next round to be able to serve that customer. And in the meantime you’ll get at least some cash in pocket from serving that customer.
This game encourages tactical planning in relation to your opponent. Staying a step ahead of them can allow you to gain extra actions if they are bumping your worker back off a space. This especially happens in the first and final turns of the game when both players are typically trying to accomplish the same things.
I love that you can advertise to gain those customers rather than needing a perfect match to their drink of choice. This opens up new strategies, and the scaling cost of that advertise action helps make it easier for a player to use either early, or when they are behind. It helps you to feel like there is a chance to come from behind, and also lets you have a way to gain the loyal customer if you don’t have a matching recipe in hand.
I love the idea of the brewmaster and his ability to give the opponent a free brew action when they go to his space. But I can still count on one hand the number of times he interfered with our movement during a game. His placement onto Bottle of Serve would be far more impactful in terms of providing those free Brew actions.
This would benefit a little from player aids for both sides. A quick reminder about the spaces, and how the worts move via the Brew action, would be a great thing for players to reference. As well as what the brewmaster does when he moves to a specific space. Those two things, in particular, were needing referenced often as we played.
Packaging the components into that tin can be a real challenge. Seriously. If you don’t want a game that requires methodical packing when you are finished, this game will drive you nuts. But if you are tired of opening boxes where the components can fit into 10% of the space…you’ll love this game and how they’ve packed it about as tight as it could possibly fit into this tin.
Variability. Yes, you’ll have cards flip over at different times in the game but you will almost certainly see every card in the game at some point. In addition to that, there is no variety from game to game apart from the bonus scoring, of which all but two are used each game. Having more customers and recipes would be nice to see in the game, as that would prevent a player from sitting on a brewed recipe until the exact customer flips out. I don’t think that tin can really hold more cards, though. Also, having an odd number of customers should help prevent a tie from being as common since the majority of our games ended in a tie overall.
A negative from my wife: the player’s coppers and the action board are all on two cards, meaning they don’t fit together perfectly and can easily be bumped and shifted over the course of the game. It adds to the fiddly nature of a game that some would already define as fiddly through manipulation of pieces. It appears the kickstarter is somewhat solving that by having these on the back of some beer mats, which can double as a coaster when not playing the game.
I knew that the theme wasn’t one in our wheelhouse going into the game, as neither of us really drink. Then again, we both enjoyed Viticulture and I’ve enjoyed Vinhos and we don’t drink wine, either. The theme itself isn’t really a barrier to entry so much as it is the seasoning added to enhance the experience. From that perspective, I really enjoy what Microbrew tries to accomplish.
The worker placement is, of course, what initially excited us about this game. Anytime there is that mechanic in a game my wife is certainly going to demonstrate at least some interest. However, the real star of the show is the puzzle component to add extra layers of strategy to an otherwise straight-forward game of recipe fulfillment. There have been times when the stars aligned and allowed us to immediately fill multiple recipes with minimal adjustment. There are other times when the required moves to get things aligned are not worth the time spent doing those actions. It all leads to a great challenge on deciphering what you need to do now in order to earn those loyal customers.
I like that there are multiple approaches you can take, primarily going for the perfect beers in order to win over loyal customers or making inferior product to boost money and then advertise those loyal customers into your fold. Both approaches have some strong merit, and your approach can change from round to round. Being able to use that advertise action to win over customers, even without an exact match in beer, makes this feel a lot more balanced.
Ultimately the biggest detractor for this game comes down to variability. You’ll always use the same 12 customers and the same stack of recipe cards. You’ll always see those 12 customers and usually see every recipe at some point, so an experienced player can plan in advance for later turns. In fact, there is no real penalty for brewing that perfect bottle early and having it prepared for when that customer finally flips. It’d be nice to have a greater number of both, and to use only X number of them so you can’t be certain to see a specific customer every game.
But there is not really much room in that tin to add more content in the way of anything, really. It is so packed full of stuff that you feel like you are getting great value…until it comes time for the game of putting it all back into that tin. If you prefer games where you can just toss stuff back into the box then you might go crazy with the required precision for packing this game away.
Overall I really enjoyed this, and my wife became a fan once she realized the worts didn’t need to be in the exact order as the recipe called for. It was fun seeing her go from struggling early to coming back and throttling me game after game. Even in my best game where I managed to snag 7 loyal customer cards, I ultimately lost thanks to her fulfillment of those extra scoring cards (which I fell short on) and the tiebreaker. That went to prove that early dominance in the customer battle doesn’t necessarily equate to a victory, a fact that was disheartening to me but also encouraging overall. Due to its portable size and intriguing combination of puzzle and worker placement, this game is capable of earning a place in many collections that might already have worker placement games – or even ones that already have other small, portable worker placement games. Even without variability in cards there is the unpredictability of the order in which things appear and the way in which your worts will be sorted in your copper. There is far more game in this tin than in many bigger boxes, making Microbrew a steal at the price it is being sold for.
You can check out their Kickstarter, running now through September 31st: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1707132801/microbrew-a-full-sized-board-game-in-a-tiny-tin?ref=bggforums&token=c6e1c6e8
Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Microbrew. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.