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Brad Johnson
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Crystal Lake
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Brewmaster is a great little game for those moments when you feel like something to fill the time, but you don't really feel like thinking too much. It's basically a rummy-style card game with a beer brewing theme. If you don't have any hangups about your kids being exposed to the basic concepts of beer brewing, it's very suitable for kids to play. (My kids are 9, 9, and 7, and they can play it easily.)

I'm an occasional homebrewer; I bought the game solely because of the beer theme, and it does make the game pretty interesting. However, don't expect a highly strategic card game. It takes roughly as much brainpower as rummy, with a few twists that are very easy to get a handle on. The random events add spice to the game, but also some occasional frustration that comes with any randomness that can foil the best laid plans.

The board is nice, but almost unnecessary. It provides a holding place for the decks of cards and 6 spots for stacking the "crowd markers" -- more on that later. The board is laminated so it can't get damaged if you're playing at, say, a bar.

The cards are divided into 2 decks -- the Ingredients cards and the Event cards. The cards are of good quality with very nice full-color art. The ingredients come in 3 types(malt, hops, and yeast, for you non-brewers) with photo-realistic pictures of the named ingredient. Unfortunately, the same hops picture is used for all hops, the same malt picture is used for all malt, etc. I guess there's really not much visual difference to warrant having a different picture for each variety, but it would have been sort of cool to show the difference in appearance between, say, chocolate malt and crystal malt.

Each of the 3 types of ingredient comes in a number of varieties, and each variety can be used only to brew certain styles of beer -- for example, chocolate malt can be used to brew a porter or a stout, but Trappist Ale Yeast can only be used to brew a Belgian. The styles of beers that a card can be used for a shown very nicely with icons down the side of the card. (This is one reason why even very small children can play -- they don't need to be able to read to be able to figure out which cards go together.)

The object of the game is to brew beers and then win awards. On your turn, you may draw the top card of the ingredient deck, or the top ingredient discard. Then you may brew a beer if you have a "meld" that consists of a malt card, a hops card, and a yeast card that can all make the same style. There are a few twists to this: First, there is one wild malt card, one wild hops card, and one wild yeast card, each of which can be used to brew any style of beer, but you can only use one wild card per meld. (And don't confuse the wild yeast card with "wild yeast" which is actually a bad thing in brewing -- you typically don't want wild yeast getting in your fermenter!) Secondly, there are a couple of "adjunct malt" cards that can be used to make almost any style of beer, but it could ruin your batch, so if you're making anything but a lager, you have to roll a die to see if you're successful. On the board, there is a space for each style of beer in the game: ales, lagers, stouts, porters, wheats, and Belgians. When you brew a beer, you discard the required ingredients and then put one of your "crowd markers" (a little plastic chip) on the appropriate spot on the board. There can be up to 3 crowd markers for each of the 6 styles -- The person with the majority of crowd markers for a style "controls" that style. If there's a tie, the person who placed a chip there last (i.e. the chip closest to the top of the stack) wins. If there are already 3 chips there when you place one, you may replace the topmost opposing chip with your own (the crowds are fickle, and the most recently placed are the first to be lost). If you can't (or don't want to) brew a beer, you just discard and pass your turn.

If you do brew a beer, you must draw an event card and play it. These are a random mix of good and bad -- you might get an extra turn or a free ingredient card, or you may lose your turn (the dreaded "green scrubbie"). The worst card is the "Big Breweries" card which requires the top crowd marker to be discarded from each stack to represent the mass marketers taking over certain niches (except Belgians, which are too expensive for big breweries to do). That card is the one you hope for if you're losing badly, and the one you dread if you've just managed to take control of 3 or 4 beer styles. But a number of the event cards are "Brew Festivals", which are the opportunities to win the awards you need to win the game. When a Brew Festival is drawn, you roll a die, and the player controlling the indicated style (1=ale .... 6=Belgian) wins the award -- a tiny plastic trophy. If no one controls the indicated style, no one gets the award. When all 7 awards have been won, the player with the most awards wins the game. If there's a tie, you have a roll off.

So the main strategy is get at least temporary control of as many different styles of beer as you can and then hope you draw a Brew Festival card while you're on top, and then hope you roll one of your numbers. I've seen people control 4 of the 6 styles and win nothing, and I've seen people have 1 chip on the board and win an award. So in the end it's almost entirely luck, but there are some decisions to make -- the different styles are not all equally easy to make; they increase in difficulty from ales to Belgians. Not only are there fewer cards that can make Belgians, but Belgians require *2* appropriate yeast cards instead of just one. Many games go with only 0, 1, or 2 Belgians being brewed. So if you can just make one Belgian batch, you might have control of that style (1 of 6) for the entire game. Wheats and Porters aren't that much easier, but Ales and Lagers on the other hand change control almost every turn or two. So you sometimes will have to decide whether to brew a quick ale to get a chip on the board and be able to draw and event, or save up for that Belgian that you only need 1 more yeast for.

A typical game of Brewmaster takes maybe 30-45 minutes, and turns are fast. It's fun, but very, very light. I let my kids play, and they like it. If you are at all interested in brewing, you should get it just for the theme -- there are only so many games about beer! And I have gotten a number of people interested in brewing by playing this game.

I keep threatening to come up with a drinking variant involving drinking a beer of the appropriate style every time you brew a batch, but I just haven't gotten around to that yet!
 
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The Enchanted Badger
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I gotta say I'm on the fence about this game. The wife and I brew and she loves rummy style games (like TTR and... rummy?).

This is a pretty convincing review to grab this game. We've been getting some bigger games lately and it may be time to get a smaller lighthearted game next.
 
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imperatrix mundi
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I must admit, my group of friends and I like this game. As mentioned previously, it's a light game to play when you don't want to use a lot of brainpower. It's also a fairly good game to pull out when your non-gamer friends visit, especially the ones who like beer.

In replies to the previous two posters:
Tempus42 -
We've tried drinking the beers we "brewed" in the game. It was fun, but messy. But we also used shot glasses and simply had a shot of the beer type we brewed. There was no way some of us (read: me) could finish one beer before we brewed another.

shumby -
If your wife likes rummy games, you might look into Seasons: The Calendar Rummy Game (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/9971). The boyfriend is always asking for rules clarifications when we play, but he still manages to win 99% of the time.
 
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