Release Date: 2017Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Nigel Kennington, Sarah KenningtonLength:  45-60 minutes
Artist: Nigel Kennington, Víctor Pérez CorbellaAge: 10+
Publisher: One Free ElephantComplexity: 3.0 / 5

Inside the brewery, the mash and lauter tuns hum away happily on one side, as the brew kettle bubbles silently on the other. Outside, the fermentation vessels slowly turn the malt’s wonderful sugars into delicious alcohol. On the other side of the yard is the bottling line, where the beer is filled into bottles, and then it’s finally ready to be sold. It is your job to create the right balance of malts to create the best beer for your micro brewery’s customers, eagerly waiting in your bar. The whole process takes time and patience, but is worth it, when the number of loyal customers grows in appreciation of your effort.

Microbrew by One Free Elephant is a worker placement and puzzle game, where you try and arrange malts in your mash tun so they align with your brewery’s recipes, which in turn will hopefully satisfy the varying tastes of thirsty customers, to give you money that you can use to give you more workers or upgrade your mash tun – and if you’re creating the perfect beer, you will gain a loyal customer, which translates into victory points.

You have two brewers to start with, your workers, meaning you only get to take two actions per round. Worker spaces are usually limited to one meeple, but you can knock out your opponent’s meeple, which means they get another turn, but at least you get to take the action you need. You can pay to get a third worker, which is something very useful, especially if you can do this early in the game.

So far, so good, but the real challenge is your mash tun, which is randomly filled with three types of malts, plus hops, which spoil your recipes. You can take a few different actions to re-arrange the malts and hops to try and create a combination that perfectly matches one of the recipes you have, or that is available from a common pool. Malts can only move along specific paths, and lighter malts can only swap upwards with darker malts, or vice versa, darker malts can only swap downwards with lighter malts – and at the same time, the malts only move diagonally, while the malts you need for recipes need to be aligned vertically. The whole process is a real brain teaser. It feels very frustrating when you just don’t seem to be able to get the malts in their necessary positions, and it feels equally amazing when you can get everything to line up perfectly with a few clever movements of a single malt. The mash tun is really the heart of the game and is what makes Microbrew stand out from many other similar games.

All other actions are more or less straightforward. Once you’ve got malts lined up, you fill them into a bottle, which ferments over a number of turns, before you can sell it to a customer. It’s all about matching the right coloured malts to the right recipes, and the right recipes to the right customers. It’s very simple, allowing you to focus on the mashing.

The game fits into a standard size mint tin, which is great. The components consist of a couple of decks of cards, plus a huge amount of small, wooden tokens. The problem with the small tokens is, that they can easily get lost, so you have to be a bit careful. However, they need to be small so that everything fits into the tin, which it just about does, with very little spare space. It’s a little tricky to put away, but there is a sticker for the tin lid that shows you how to store everything. Overall the components are of really good quality. The card stock is of a good thickness and the custom shaped wooden tokens are lovely. They really add to the table presence of the game.

As you probably know, I love mint tin games, and Microbrew is no exception. It’s really easy to have with you all the time. However, the game length does mean it’s not the sort of game you want to play while waiting for food, but on a train or plane journey it should work really well. Just make sure you don’t lose any of the small pieces.

I really enjoyed playing Microbrew. It may seem a bit complex to start with, like so many games, but after a couple of turns you get into the swing of things and rounds become much quicker. There is a good amount of variability because of the recipe and customer cards, and of course the randomness of the malts in your mash tun. Turns start to feel a little repetitive after a few plays, but that’s fine because the game is fun and the puzzle of arranging your malts is what keeps you interested.

I can really recommend Microbrew, if you like puzzle games and want something that’s really easy to take with you. It’s a game that we will play quite a bit and it’s a good fit for my games group and very good value for money. So have a look and see for yourself.

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.
  • I bought and paid for this game myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither One Free Elephant, nor anyone connected to the company, has supported me financially or otherwise.

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