Right! Time to get back on the regular reviewing horse! And there’s no better way to start off the new year of games reviews with something small, lovely and independent. Yes, surprise surprise, it’s a write up of a game that’s currently on Kickstarter but stop! Wait! Don’t run away! It’s about making people happy through the medium of beer! At least read the first few paragraphs, yeah?
So, this time around we’re looking at Biergarten by the folks at Steam Boat Gothic, an indie board game development team formed by Lauren and Andrew Sallwasser. Biergarten launched a few days ago on Kickstarter and hit its $10,000 target after a few steady days of funding, and at the time of posting there are well over three weeks to go, so you can support the game with confidence – and you should, for Biergarten is that joyous combination of being accessible enough to explain to a new player in a few minutes while still offering meaty-ish gameplay that you can knock out in about a quarter of an hour.
For those of you out there who aren’t aware of the German tradition of hanging out in the Biergarten, you’re missing out on one of life’s most splendid experiences. A beautiful day sat outside a German pub having a delicious beer with good friends is a rare treat, and even though I don’t really drink that much any more, should the opportunity arise next time I’m in Essen, you can be sure I’ll be partaking, and what will we be playing? Well, this game is pretty much the perfect option.
Players are looking to create their own personal beer gardens (for those who haven’t quite grasped the translation yet) through the medium of tile placement. In the advance version of the game I received, we’re using large format cards which I believe the designers are planning on carrying through to the final edition. Everyone starts off with a central Home Card around which their creations will be built using their hands of Common Cards.
Each turn, you may either draw from the central supply of three face-up cards, take from the face-down deck, or (if you’re feeling like someone else has something you’ll find useful) steal from another player. You must then add one card to your Biergarten – they all must be oriented the same way, as shown by the arrows on them – then have the option to manipulate things. This is done by either swapping two cards that you currently have in play, or by shifting one either horizontally or vertically.
If you check out the card examples dbelow, you’ll see most of them depict huge umbrellas of different colours to protect the visitors from the harshness of the sun. There are also half-shields on some edges of the cards which show that you are allowed to place another card next to it – any edge that doesn’t have this half-shield will instead represent a wall, closing off one part of your Biergarten. We, of course, will be using all of these in a much more gamerly fashion, as you’ll need to pay close attention to your layout if you’re to maximise your score at the end of the game. Cards don’t have to match, but doing so will guarantee that you score high.
The design team have developed this excellent example showing all the ways cards can score. The middle card in the bottom row is one of the Home Cards.
Points are collected in a variety of ways: laying a card next to another, making sure that one of the colours match, scores you one point. Doing the same and matching two colours gets you two points. Bonuses can also be claimed by connecting groups of umbrellas of the same colour, as well as by making sure you get at least one Green, Red, Yellow and Blue parasol into your ever-growing tableau. Should you manage to actually completely enclose your Biergarten with walls, a hefty six point bonus will be bestowed upon you when play comes to a conclusion.
As scoring is fluid, in that it is possible that is will change from turn to turn, it can be a little tricky to keep track of things. However, with a couple of games under your belt, you’ll soon be able to work out the optimal play with the cards you have in hand. Most importantly, the moment one player hits fifteen points or higher, the game is done – all other players get one more bite at the cherry to try and surpass the leader (or at least catch up a bit and feel less ashamed), then whoever has the highest total is deemed the winner.
When playing Biergarten, it reminded me mostly of a slightly more chunky version of the tile-laying mechanism from Alhambra. In both games the positioning of walls is important as all cards/tiles that are played must be accessible from a central hub. Biergarten, being the lighter game, gives you a much gentler ride and allows you to alter the cards you have played much more easily, but the trade-off is that Alhambra has much more going on after the tiles are added to your play area. After playing a few times, I found myself being able to spot the best move for the options available, and the game rewards players who are able to plan ahead a few turns. We’re not talking about crazy levels of working out the options available to you that you may see in a game like Chess, but just looking a few steps ahead certainly pays off.
Biergarten is a charming little game, ideal for throwing into your bag for an evening with friends, and even non-gamers will be able to get their heads around the central concepts in next to no time. It’s certainly one that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I can see the final version looking beautiful once Panda Manufacturing have woven their magic upon it. If you’re seeking a simpler experience that you could easily get your head around even after a couple of high-quality weissbiers, it certainly comes highly recommended. Check out the Kickstarter and throw your dollars at the Steam Boat Gothic folks today!