Board games are fun, everyone knows this fact. Beer makes everything better (except driving, and texting after midnight, and liver problems, and…), another undisputed fact. So making a board game about beer has to be a surefire winner, right? Let’s find out.
The main objective of Brewin’ USA is to score the most victory points, which are largely gained by controlling cities and brewing beer. The game end is triggered whenever any player has brewed their third beer. You’ll begin by creating a gridded play area of randomized City Tiles. The number of tiles used is determined by the number of players in the game. There are more tiles than what is needed to play and they are all double sided, which adds to the replayability factor. Some city tiles have icons for advanced rules, which add some type of bonus for the player that controls that city.
Each round consists of the following phases: Auction for Ingredients, Brewing Beer, Brewfest (which may not occur), and your Accounting upkeep. The auction phase makes up the core of the game and is what makes the game fun. The auction has direct player interaction and offers strategic decisions for which ingredients you’ll go after.
Speaking of ingredients… You’ll need a number of ingredients to make any given beer. Common ingredients that every beer requires are: Grain, Hops, Water, and Yeast. There is also an ingredient called “Organic” (organic what, we don’t know) which can be used in place of any of the core ingredients. Then there are what the game calls “Adjunct Ingredients”, which is not a great sounding name for optional awesome ingredients that make your beers extra special. Optional ingredients include: Citrus, Pumpkin, Berry, Bourbon Barrel, and Coffee. Each of these optional ingredients offers a special power for that batch of beer, such as drawing two ingredient cards or adding to the Market Demand of any city at no cost. These special abilities can be really beneficial so use them wisely.
Creating the ingredient batches for the auction is kind of a neat process. The dealer draws cards from the ingredient deck and places them face up in a vertical column. The dealer will continue to draw and place cards until there are six cards in a column or an ingredient is repeated. This is done until there is a stack of ingredients for each player in the game (or three stacks for a two player game). After all the columns have been appropriately filled, bidding starts with the player to the left of the dealer.
The bidding player will select which ingredient stack they want and will place the opening bid. Play then continues clockwise where all players have the opportunity to either raise the bid or pass. The high bidder wins the ingredient batch, and pays the money to the dealer, which will be turned into Market Demand before this phase is over. The last batch of ingredients will always be free so keep this in mind. At the end of the auction phase, the dealer will place all of the Market Demand, anyway they see fit, on any number of uncontrolled cities. Controlling cities with Market Demand will earn you victory points. You can also score additional victory points by controlling regions (one column in the City Grid equals one region).
Now you’ll brew some beer, assuming you have enough ingredients. You may brew up to two beers on your turn. Each beer card lists the type of beer it is, Porters or German Ales, for example, and the number of each ingredient needed to craft it. As an example, the Half Moon Dunkel Weiss requires 3 Grain, 2 Hops, 1 Water, and 1 Yeast. If you have the minimum requirements listed, you can turn them in to brew the beer. Remember, you can always overpay, but you won’t get change. Certain types of beer are more popular in certain cities, and some cities downright restrict certain beer types, so you’ll want to keep this in mind while selecting which beers to brew.
Once you have brewed the beer in question, you may place the beer card, along with one of your colored bottle caps, on an uncontrolled city of your choice, or you can challenge another player to a Brewfest and try to take control of an already controlled city.
Participating in a Brewfest is another fun part of the game. You and the player you challenged will select up to three ingredient cards from your hand, keeping them hidden. Each participant then selects one card from their opponent to discard. Next, all remaining cards are revealed and each participant calculates their total. The player with the highest value is the winner of the Brewfest. Regardless of the outcome of a Brewfest, all of the Market Demand is split between the players, with the winner receiving the leftovers. The winner chooses whether to leave their portion as Market Demand or convert it into money. The Market Demand for those that didn’t win is automatically converted into money. This is probably the best way to receive money in the game, which means you might want to challenge players to a Brewfest even if you have no intention of winning. This will diminish their Market Demand while gaining you some much needed cash.
During the Accounting phase, you’ll be able to convert one Market Demand in cities you control to one money. You can also do the opposite and convert one money into Market Demand as well. After this phase, a new round begins and the auction dealer passes to the left of the current dealer. Play continues until one player brews their third beer, which triggers the game end. When this happens, the current round is finished, one more round is played, and then players tally their victory points. Each city is worth its Market Demand (plus any bonuses) in victory points and each region is equal to the total Market Demand of each city in the region. Players must control the most cities in a particular region to control that region. A smart player can get some pretty hefty bonuses so keep them from controlling too many cities if possible.
The final round is a blitz of chaotic fun. Players will start stealing money, moving Market Demand, switching cities, etc in a mad dash to gain victory points. Your well laid out plans can flop in an instant if an opponent has been holding on to some Adjunct Ingredients such as Citrus (allows you to move your beer card to a new city, which may start a Brewfest) and Berry (allows you to switch any two Market Demand stacks between cities). These are deadly, game changing, ingredients that can uproot what you thought was a sure victory.
And that’s basically Brewin’ USA. Overall, I think it is an enjoyable game, but let’s talk about some of the things I didn’t like. First, let’s talk about the box for Brewin’ USA. It doesn’t come in a normal sized game box, but this makes it look kind of cool. Note I said “kind of”. The box is meant to open sideways, as in the bottom half slides in and out of the top half. Again, this is kind of neat, but really most people are used to having a dedicated top and bottom and will therefore more than likely turn the box on its side to take off the top. Thankfully, everything fits well inside the box and doing this probably won’t spill the contents all over the place.
After opening the box you’ll be confronted with my first major complaint. All 105 bottle caps come inside individual plastic baggies. I thought I was getting a fun board game but instead I received a labor-intensive chore. Talk about a buzz kill. Seriously, before playing the game you will have to remove 105 bottle caps from 105 bags. I’m sure there is a valid reason for this, but it takes a lot of time and creates a lot of waste. Maybe you can trick your friends into helping you open all the bags by making them think it is part of the game. After you’ve taken care of the mountain of trash you just created, if you haven’t developed arthritis in your hands from removing all the bottle caps, you can begin sorting the cards and reading the rule book.
Just to be clear, real bottle caps are included as game pieces in Brewin’ USA. Genius idea (that was sarcasm). I get the novelty of playing a game with actual bottle caps, I really do, but they are a novelty and that whole novelty factor wears off quick. For starters, bottle caps have sharp edges. Seriously, pick up one of these wrong and you get hurt (Have young kids around the gaming table? Probably not a good idea with this game). Secondly, they are loud, as in “Oops, we just woke the baby” loud. Third, they are fairly large for board game bits, and while they kind of stack on top of each other, it isn’t what they were made for. I personally would have much rather had the standard wood and/or cardboard bits. The bottle caps did not improve my gaming experience.
Overall, Brewin’ USA is a decently fun game, and my complaints are largely about the components and box design, which may not be an issue for you. For me, however, opening the box to find out I had to then open 105 individual plastic bags containing a single bottle cap each was more than a little frustrating. If you are prepared for this, or simply won’t mind it, then your experience probably won’t be soured. The mechanics of Brewin’ USA work well, and the auction is interactive and fun. There is plenty of strategy and because the City Tiles are all double sided the game offers a decent amount of replayability.