25th Nov2019

‘Taverns of Tiefenthal’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

taverns-box

The thematic elements of a board game are very important to me, and I often choose to play games that have a focus on something that I enjoy in other areas of my life. The issue with that, however is that it’s quite easy for a game to look the part, but I like it when the mechanics of a game feel at one with the visuals and the theme. It’s a bold claim, but Taverns of Tiefenthal, from the same designer as Quacks of Quedlingburg, may balance looks, theme and mechanics together better than any other game I’ve played.

From the moment the players begin laying out their tavern tiles, this is a game that emanates the warm, comforting embrace of the tavern that is printed on the box cover. The pieces of interlocking cardboard are chunky and durable, and each tavern (essentially a player board) is made up of about ten separate pieces, all but one of which can be flipped over and upgraded. The taverns are viewed top down, and the warm lighting, panting dog and soft wood features really bring the setting to life for me.

The strength of the theme – which to an unaware observer might look like a fairly generic German euro game – continues across the other components. The characters who visit the tavern or work there across several decks of cards are filled with personality, from the resolute peasants who lean over their cheese and bread, to the nobles who grin as they throw expensive wine down their necks. There’s a lot more than these few examples, of course, and Taverns of Tiefenthal is the sort of game that reveals more and more of its visual secrets the longer you play.

Taverns of Tiefenthal itself is a tasting board of different mechanical elements, somehow smashed together in near perfect unison. The players will draft and place dice, buy cards to build out their deck, upgrade their tavern permanently and advance their positions on several tracks throughout the course of each game. If that wasn’t enough, Taverns of Tiefenthal even features five mini-expansions that can be included or excluded depending on how complex you want to make things. Ultimately, the players will focus their efforts on scoring the most victory points over eight rounds – referred to as evenings within the game – until someone is declared the winner.

The amount of components here, as well as the perceived complexity of Taverns of Tiefenthal can be quite daunting, and whilst the number of game phases serves to compound this issue, I’m thankful that the game has an exceptional manual. Each turn begins with the players setting up for the evening. To do this, they simply draw cards from their deck until all tables within their tavern are occupied, at which point they must stop. Each starter deck includes one extra table (always handy) as well as a brewer and a server, plus several basic guests.

With this done, the players each roll four white dice and add them to their personal beer mat. They also roll a dice in their own colour for each server they drew, or if they have the permanent server that is printed on one of their tavern upgrades. The players then draft one dice from their own mat and pass the remaining three on to the player beside them, then repeat the process until the last die is taken. The players will then simultaneously plan their evenings by placing dice onto the locations in their tavern – including guests, visitors at the bar or on other functions such as the brewery or cash box.

The players then resolve their actions one player at a time, usually by removing the dice as the action is taken. In general terms, guests will generate thaler (or money) which can then be spent on new staff, tables or upgrades, whilst some of the tavern locations like the house brew will generate beer, which can then be spent on guests. Guests and new staff members (as well as tables) that are taken in the form of cards will be added to the players decks face down, meaning that they will be drawn next turn. It’s only permitted to take one guest and one staff member each turn, but a limited amount of excess money or beer can be stored in your tavern.

Now if this sounds like a fairly simplistic set of actions, then that’s because it is. The real magic of Taverns of Tiefenthal is that as the game progresses, there’s just tons going on. One thing that I haven’t mentioned so far is the Monastery Board, which sits in the middle of the table and tracks the standing of each tavern with the local monks. The monks will provide bonuses to the players as they progress around this track, and the monk who sits at each tavern bar can increase your reputation when a die is placed on him.

There are also entertainers, who will perform for your guests in exchange for Schnapps (a special, limited resource) and even special guests who offer specific benefits either upon entering the tavern or when being “served” with a die placed onto them. The tavern upgrades by paying a certain amount of thaler and then literally flipping the section of tavern board that is being upgraded. Most pieces allow the player to trade in an associated card (such as a server, or a washer woman) when upgrading should you draw the relevant cards, which means that you may plan to upgrade (or not) on a given turn, only to find that your plan changes due to fate or fortune.

Whenever an upgrade is achieved, or as the result of one of several other aspects of the game (such as advancing your reputation track to the end if you’re using the reputation module) the player will take a noble card, worth ten victory points. Nobles take up only one seat no matter how many are drawn, but don’t pay much in terms of thaler when activated, so they are just one of the many ways in which your deck can fill up with cards. On that note, some cards or symbols allow a player to remove a card from their deck (essentially barring a guest) so that it is possible to ditch low paying visitors, but it’s worth noting that every guest triggers off a specific dice, so having only guests that trigger on desirable rolls like five or six could mean you’ll never activate them.

Over and above all this, and much, much more, there are still tons of features in Taverns of Tiefenthal to mention. The reputation track is one of the extra modules, for example, and it introduces bard workers who will increase your reputation, as well as several new guests that bring reputation boosts and gifts of schnapps. Another module introduces variable player setups for advanced players, whilst the final one (but one which I always use) adds a guestbook that introduces a “bingo style” aspect of covering a grid with signatures, depending on the guests visiting your tavern.

In summarising, I love almost everything about Taverns of Tiefenthal. I adore the way it looks and the fact that it somehow manages to make me feel like I am really running a tavern when I am playing it. I think the combination of so many different mechanisms, whilst potentially complex at face value, has been delivered in such a seamless and intuitive way, and I like that the additional modules seem to continue along this theme – adding more and more interest, rather than simply offering the same variants on a theme.

With the colder months ahead and especially with Christmas on the horizon, I often think of the German Christmas Markets and the delicious, foamy beer that I enjoy there. Taverns of Tiefenthal gives me that same feeling and it feels like the ideal game to entertain three friends with at this time of year. I strongly suggest that anyone with a remote interest in medium weight games (even if you haven’t played one before) and thematic euro games should consider investing in Taverns of Tiefenthal, it is a superb, clever and attractive game that really hits the mark for me.

****½  4.5/5

A copy of Taverns of Tiefenthal was supplied by CoiledSpring Games for review

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