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" ... The Game is quite fun"

(Note: The following is a reprint of a review that appeared in the Celebrator Beer News in the December 2001/January 2002 issue.)

Reviewed by Jay R. Brooks
Assistant Publisher/Celebrator Beer News

As an avid game collector and amateur game designer, I am genuinely delighted when any new game comes along. This is particularly true when a new game includes an element with which I already have some special attachment - say, beer.

BrewMaster may be the beer game that finally breaks out of the mold of largely uninteresting novelty beer games and finds an audience among beer lovers of all stripes. The game was designed by Chris White, co-founder and president of White Labs (a manufacturer of yeast for professional brewers as well as homebrewers), and his brother Mike, a journalist.

Though the game idea itself was born four years ago, the real work began about two years later when a dull beer festival (I'm not telling) gave the pair a chance to try it out with numerous brewers, who contributed ideas and suggestions. After that, the game took on its present look, and the two game designers lugged it around, looking for playtesters everywhere they went.

Inside the BrewMaster box is a small, attractive folding board (approximately two-thirds the size of most boards, making it nicely portable) with a place on each end for two types of cards: Event and Ingredient. The center of the board features a circle of six general and specific beer styles (ale, lager, stout, porter, wheat and Belgian), with a different glassware symbol for each. On both sides of the long edges are printed the five steps of each turn - very handy when learning to play the game. The game also includes a bag filled with a die, seven beer festival trophies and 40 small poker chips of five different colors. There are two decks of cards, one small (15 Event cards) and one large (75 Ingredient cards).

It's the cards that form the most engaging part off the game. The Ingredient cards are divided equally into three types: hops, malt and yeast cards. Each one contains a picture of the ingredient, its specific name (such as Saaz Hops or Amber Malt) and its country of origin. On the left-hand side is a list of the six beer styles used in the game. If the glassware symbol appears next to the name, then that ingredient can be used to make that beer style. You combine malt, hops and yeast that share a common style in rummy-like matches, and voilá - you've brewed a beer, and you get to place a token on the board!

Every time you brew a beer, you get an Event card, which is not always a good thing (you could get a green scrubbie in the heat exchanger or have an assistant goof up), but since it's the way you win medals (and ultimately win the game), it must be done. The Event cards do a good job of shaking things up. Just when you think one player is on the road to winning, along comes a "Big Breweries" card and everybody's knocked down a peg.

The Event cards display a savvy understanding of what it's like to be in the beer world, and the rules copiously explain why things are the way they are. This is true of the whole game, as other players try to thwart you by brewing their own beer and then winning support for it from a fickle market. You ultimately win the game by winning the most trophies and brewing the most beers.

Of course, the true test is how the game plays, so I played it three times before writing this review. I am happy to report that the game is quite fun, especially with three or four players. Those familiar with brewing may take to the game faster than novices, and that, perhaps, is my only quibble. According to Chris White, the goals in creating the game were to have it mirror the actual brewing process and industry, be educational and be fun to play. Much to my surprise and joy, he and his brother succeeded on all counts. I most heartily recommend this game to anyone interested in beer, games or both.

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