Friday, June 30, 2017

Craft Gaming

Like many board game enthusiasts, Agricola was a favorite of mine for a long period of time. But the iOS app version that was released a while back changed all that. Oh, it was an excellent adaptation, doing an expert job of fitting a seemingly impossible amount of information on the screen in a sensible way that resembled (though was not identical to) the board game. The problem was that once I started playing the game a ton, I lost interest. Certain patterns became apparent, chiefly that the random Improvement and Occupation cards dealt at the start of the game seemed to control who would win more than any decisions made during play.

Now another board game is attempting to ride into a similar niche: Brew Crafters. It starts with a theme certainly more "relevant to my interests" than farming; each player is a running a brewery. The game is actually something of a hybrid between Agricola and Viticulture (a game about wine-making).

The action system is mostly Agricola. Players have a limited number of workers (though with the ability to acquire more... that also essentially become "mouths to feed"). Everyone takes turns deploying these workers to a series of spaces that can each accommodate only one worker. Most acquire different ingredients for brewing beers: hops, malt, fruit, coffee. (And when they aren't taken during a round, a space's stockpile of ingredients grows larger.) Meanwhile, you can upgrade and expand your brewery in a way that feels similar to Viticulture. You can add an extra bottling line, a tasting room, and more, each with different benefits to your strategy. You can also hire experts -- cards that let you cheat the rules. (Viticulture has those too, though the system here plays differently.)

In creating this hybrid game, the designers seem to have ditched some of the problems of Agricola. Variance in replays comes from the many different beer recipes the game comes with. You can only make 6 different beer styles in each game, randomly selecting the advanced recipes available each time you play. This makes certain ingredients more or less valuable from one game to the next (along with any experts that might relate to them). This is a common pool of recipes, so you don't have the "opening hand decides your fate" problem of Agricola. Admittedly, it doesn't seem like a radical shift from game to game either, but ought to be enough to nudge you off pursuing a single strategy each time you play.

I haven't been able to play a bunch, so it's hard to say for certain how much staying power the game might have. I feel confident declaring that I don't love it as much as I loved Agricola in the beginning. I feel equally confident declaring that I enjoyed it a great deal more than I do Agricola now. I'd call it about a B+. If you like games and you like beer, what's not to like here?

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