Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

UnPub 3 Part IV: Brewing beer and getting GIPF

Chris Kirkman (left) fermenting a concoction in
"Brewmasters" by Ben Rosset (right)
In the last prototype game that I played at UnPub 3, I joined Chris Kirkman and Ben Rosset in a three-player round of Ben's "Brewmasters."  I have to say, this game is neck-and-neck with "Post Position" for my favorite game of all of those that I played at UnPub.  Players represent presidents of microbreweries, and the goal is to score the most points by producing beer.  Beer options include basic, tried-and-true recipes like porter, stout, and ale, while other more exotic concoctions like "pumpkin spice ale" score more points per unit brewed.  Players need to manage not only the acquisition of ingredients but the throughput of the brewing operation, from storage to fermenting to bottling to shipping.

The format is a worker-placement game that shows the heavy influence of Agricola, one of my very favorite games and something of a gold-standard for worker placement.  Ben has deliberately taken some of the gameplay elements of Agricola that tend to depart from the theme and modified them to make a more fluid, logically flowing game experience.  The feel of running a brewery is strong, but the game tension is also palpable.  Although I could see mistakes that I'd made in the early game, I also had plenty of opportunity over the twelve seasons that the game turns represent to redirect my strategy and land on my feet.

Chris Kirkman (left), Ben Rosset (top), and myself
in a birds-eye-view of "Brewmasters"
Overhead reconnaissance photo by T.C. Petty III
One aspect of "Brewmasters" that really appeals to me is that there are clearly multiple paths to victory.  I was watching Chris pretty closely, and he and I were pursuing almost opposite strategies.  He expanded the capacity of his bottling operation and went heavy on cranking out multiple batches of porters and stouts.  He had one special recipe that he brewed once or twice, but for the most part he stuck to the basic, go-to recipes.  In a single "process" action he was churning out twice as much beer as I was.  My strategy instead was to specialize in the ale category.  I set up methods to collect the unique ingredients I would need and cornered the recipes for lambic ale and pumpkin spice ale.  I wasn't producing a lot of beer, but I made a lot of points with the ones I shipped.

I'm also fond of the "pipeline" mechanic of the brewing operation that Ben has put together.  If a player is careless, he can create a production bottleneck that chokes down his capacity to the weakest part of his line.  In my case, my need for a wide variety of goods (plus my productive hops and fruit farms) exceeded the capacity of my warehouse, and in at least one case I had to dump ingredients for which I had no room.  The factory dynamic requires some planning and strategizing without creating an annoying level of overhead.
Ben Rosset's "Brewmasters" prototype reveals considerable thought and detail in its components.

Chris and I had only one recommendation to Ben having to do with the end-game, which in our session coasted into all players spending most of their brewery actions on research because there was little motivation to do anything else.  I don't know whether that was a glitch with our particular run-through or a typical way that the game plays out, but I think Ben felt that the observation was sound and that the game needs a little adjustment.  Overall, I think that Ben has a really solid game here.  With that end-game tightened up, I am convinced that "Brewmasters" stands to outshine Agricola in the worker-placement genre.

Image (c) Rio Grande Games
At the end of the day, I "cheated" and played a published game at UnPub with Stephen Craig, YINSH (designer Kris Burm, publisher Rio Grande), one of the two-player abstracts in the GIPF series that I'd read so much about but never tried.  YINSH has a bit of an Othello feel to it, but it is clearly its own game that requires its own kind of thinking.  At one point I thought I had Stephen beat, but I made a couple of mistakes, and he pounced on them to win, just as the tables were being put away to mark the end of UnPub.

Somewhere in the middle of all this game-playing, I managed to visit the booth of the resident vendor, Our Game Table, whom I've seen at practically every convention I've attended.  OGT is actually local to the UnPub venue, since their brick-and-mortar operation is in Dover, Delaware.  Their price of admission at UnPub was simply that they agree to handle sales of published games that registered designers and publishers brought.  So besides their own inventory, they had a table with stacks of Carnival and Viva Java for sale.

Image (c) Game Salute
So there I was, agonizing over the game selection that OGT had brought, when Dan Yarrington and Chris Kirkman happened by.  Dan reached up, pulled Sunrise City (designer Isaias Vallejo, artists Sarah "Chip" Nixon and Chris Kirkman, publisher Clever Mojo) off the shelf, and said, "you need to buy this game."  He said something about the excellent graphics (which they are) - because, of course, the graphic artist, Chris, was standing right there.  Now, in point of fact, ever since its Kickstarter campaign, I'd had my eye on SC, if only to find out more about it.  The game is physically substantial - and beautiful.  Most of the components are building tiles that are 6mm-thick chipboard.  (More on the game itself in a subsequent post.)  In the course of our conversation, I became convinced that Kathy and I would enjoy SC as a two-player, and the price was right, so I picked it up.
Image (c) Dice Hate Me Games

While I was there, I also bought a copy of Viva Java, because I'd always wanted it, and here was an opportunity to get it without having to have it shipped.  I had T.C. Petty III autograph the cover as the designer, and I had Chris K. autograph both SC and VJ as the artist.  (I'm such a fanboy.)

Final Observations on UnPub
I don't think I rolled a single die the entire weekend.  That might say something about the type of games I was attracted to, but it might say just as much if not more about the state of the art of game design.  Although there is something of a sub-genre of dice-driven mechanics like dice building and dice placement - and although UnPub had some innovative dice games ("Knot Dice" and "Throne Dice" come immediately to mind) - there were many dice-free prototypes in evidence at UnPub this year.

On the topic of convention logistics, John Moller had tried to schedule all the games at UnPub, and the consensus on Saturday was that it didn't work very well.  So on Sunday, he dropped the schedule in favor of a "self-scheduling" method in which designers posted signs on their tables saying, "Next game at 2:00" or the like.  That seemed to work, but I think there's an option for a happy "semi-organized" medium position that I will discuss with John to consider for UnPub 4.

So, my bottom line on UnPub is that it was everything I'd hoped it would be.  I got three terrific playtests done on "East India Company" and came away feeling that it is close and that I know what to do to get it even closer to publication.  I also got to play several games, offer feedback, get excited about new things coming out, make new contacts, buy a couple of games, ... and end up wishing I had time to play more.

Tot ludos, ita paulo tempus.

Image (c) Dice Hate Me Games
As I mentioned in my UnPub 3 Part I post, Compounded was fully funded just 32 hours into its Kickstarter campaign.  At this writing, it is over 250% of its $15,000 funding goal.  Compounded has exceeded its $35,000 stretch goal, which adds a "hefty wooden Lead Scientist Lab Key token."  Dice Hate Me has set a new $55,000 stretch goal, a "Lab Partners Inspansion" that will add larger compounds on which scientists may choose to collaborate and share success (or not).

Did I mention that this was Darrell Louder's first game design?


  1. Thanks for all your UnPub posts. I feel almost like I was there.

  2. Wish you could have been there, FarmerLenny! I don't ever get out to the midwest conventions. If you ever come to a con on the east coast, let me know.

  3. A brewing based game- what a great idea! I wish I had gotten a chance to play this, but i can't say iI have.

  4. Yes, "Brewmasters" was really solid. Ben and I both live in the D.C. area, so we're hoping to get together and play again soon.