15th Jan2020

‘Homebrewers’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

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Few things go better together than board games and a few beers with friends. Throw craft beers and healthy discussion about the best flavour combinations into the mix and you could have a perfect evening, I mean, what could improve things further? Well, what if the board game you’re playing is Homebrewers, a dice rolling game in which players brew their own beer and compete in friendly competition to see who is the master brewer?

Well, with that setup in mind, I’ve certainly had a few interesting evening’s playing Homebrewers, and I can say up front that it’s just about light enough to afford the players a slight – but only slight – booze haze. Each game begins with a slightly elaborate setup that involves randomising several scoreboards, building an event calendar out of tokens and preparing the player boards. One really nice feature is that each player is represented on the board by a unique set of wooden tokens shaped as one of several beer glasses – this is a feature that I love.

Homebrewers can be played with either a default set of player boards or a set of slightly random ones, and in turn, the players can also choose to play with or without named characters each of which comes with a special ability. The combination of player board (referred to as a garage in the game) and character can lead to a defining strategy, and this is by far the most interesting way to play Homebrewers. Special abilities range from being able to rapidly sanitise brewing equipment, to being able to create a higher quality brew by default.

WIth setup done, the game takes place over the course of a year, with each round of turns representing one in game month for a total of twelve rounds of play. Each month has an event, and the sixth and twelfth months are scoring months that represent festivals. The first thing that players do at the beginning of a month is roll their three identical dice. These may then be traded freely between the players on a one for one basis, but the faces cannot be changed during trades.

Whether a player chooses to trade or not is up to them, and when players are satisfied with their dice (whether rolled naturally or traded) they may lock them in. A player has the option to change their own die to any face at this point or later in the month at a cost of one whole dollar, or if they roll a set of three identical dice, they can reroll. A couple of other possible modifiers exist, but these break the rules rather than form them in the main, and the idea is to trade first and foremost and then fall back on other options.

Once locked in, the dice determine the actions that players will have during the round, and the faces show options like sanitise kit, take grain, brew beer, interact with a flavour card or participate in this months event. Players may always forgo one of their dice actions and take one dollar instead, and this can sometimes be the best option depending on how the rest of the round unfolds. Each action is fairly self explanatory, but the way Homebrewers uses actions can take a little bit of getting used to, with some being simpler than others.

Sanitise is very simple, with the player simply taking one trug (spent grain) token off the rightmost brewing spot in their garage. This is important, because the more sanitised kit you have, the higher quality your brews will be. Taking grain is simple too, you just take a grain and add it to one of the beer styles in your garage – meaning that you are ready to brew. Interacting with flavor cards is interesting as each card has two uses and can either be slid under a beer style to enhance it, or it can be traded in for certain bonus actions.

Participating in the monthly event varies depending on what the event is, but basically it allows the player to take advantage of whatever the current token for that month shows. This can be cash, bonus grain tokens or flavours, or even brews. When it comes to brewing, again things are simple enough – the player takes the grain token from the style of beer they wish to brew, flips it, and puts it into the highest quality available brewing kit they have, determining the basic brew quality and dirtying that kit. They then move their token up on the score track for that brew accordingly. Any flavour cards will add benefits such as bonus cash, extra quality or more.

During the two festival events, specific scoring criteria will come into play based on the overall position on the tracks, and it’s important to know that for the second scoring in particular, the lowest position each player has on the score tracks will be the main factor, thus ensuring that players have to focus their efforts across all the different beer styles. This goes against the concept that reaching the top of any score track for a particular style locks out maximum points for that one brew and forces players to specialise for maximum points without completely ignoring any one style.

At the end of the game, the points are totalled up (after the final festival) and the winner is the player who has scored the most throughout the game and as the result of any bonuses awarded during the final round. In general, an experienced group of players will make their way through a game of Homebrewers in about an hour, whilst your first two or three games might last up to ninety minutes. In general, the gameplay is fairly lightweight, only encroaching on medium when players are optimising their last few turns for maximum points really.

What I like about Homebrewers is the theme, which immerses the player almost completely in the theme. The weirder the brews (coffee, coconut, melon stout anyone) the better. The use of a garage as the player board and the need to sanitise kit is nice, as is the fact that the cleaner your garage, the higher quality your brew. Whilst I didn’t like the setup of it much, I do like that the board has randomised bonuses and events on it, which give the game a slightly different slant each time.

The only real downside to Homebrewers is the dice rolling element, which defines your whole turn. It’s possible for a player to get three dice that are of no interest to them whatsoever, and to have no one willing to trade with them, and no money to adjust their own dice. When this happens (bear in mind each game has twelve dice rolls like this) a turn can be a complete washout. This will likely happen to each player at least two to three times per game, but it might happen to one player twelve times, or not at all to another, and that affects the game considerably.

When all is said and done, Homebrewers is a solid, craft beer themed game that represents the world of home brewing really well, and only suffers because of a slightly janky dice based action selection system. What the dice element of the game does do for Homebrewers is ensure a crisp pace because the players simply have the three actions on their dice, or the option to pay to change them which is limited by their finances. Overall, it’s a game that I enjoy, but will likely only play very infrequently in the future.

*** 3/5

Homebrewers is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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