Louisiana summers are hot. Ouai, ca fait chaud! But as hot as it has been in 2016 down in the Bayou State, the steamy heat that vented up from the Atchafalaya Swamp is nowhere near as hot as designer Alex Pfister was this year.
Just to recap the last few months:
- Mr. Pfister won his second Spiel des Jahres Kinnerspiel (connoisseur game) for Isle of Skye in ’16;
- Won the International Gamers Awards general strategy (multi-player) Game of the Year for Mombasa in ’16; and
- Garnered the 2016 Deutsher Spielepreis (people’s choice) Game of the Year with Mombasa again.
If you are keeping score at home, that’s three of the top awards in international hobby board gaming in just a few months. And we cannot forget the Spiel des Jahres Kinnerspiel won in ’15. Have you played on of his designs? If not, which one should you try first?
Does your game group love Libertalia, with its juicy decisions over which cards to play to maximize your points, while bluffing the other players as to your strategy?
Well then, spice up your gaming nights with Broom Service by Alexander Pfister!
Broom Service is the 2015 release from Alea / Ravensburger which the Spiele jury awarded its prestigious Kinnerspiel award in 2015. Two to five players take turns moving their witches across a beautiful landscape of towers, delivering magic potions and dispelling angry clouds along the way. The game plays over seven rounds, and there is a unique twist in its mechanics.
Players have not one but two witch meeples to keep track over over the board. All actions in the gamer, including movement of the witches and delivery of the potions, are accomplished by playing a hand of four cards from your ten role cards in your hand. Each player is given the exact same cards, namely a witch for moving quickly around the board, a fairy for dispelling rain clouds, gatherers for farming the potions, and Druids for delivering the potions. To make it even spicier, Mr. Pfister requires that when playing with only 2-4 players, a ‘dummy’ player is added whose sole purpose is to draw at random three cards which will cause players to take a three point penalty if they play that role.
And you thought any of the above was the twist? Non, non, non. The real twist is that each role has two available actions, a “brave” action and a “cowardly” action. If a player chooses the brave action on his or her turn, and no one else plays that role, the player gets the usually awesome brave reward. That could be anything from extra victory points to extra money. But if anyone else plays the brave action following the first player’s choice, unfortunately that choice is ‘trumped’ and the previous player gets nothing. (It’s all there in black and white in the fine print, Charlie.)
Ah, but the player could choose the cowardly action, and then that role is safe, albeit with a lesser benefit. After each player plays out all of the four role cards in his hands, the next round begins.
If given a vote, I would have voted this game as the 2015’s Top Game That Underwhelms Me From Its Description. Frankly, the box cover art, the reviews I read, and even the game play videos did not strike my fancy. Then I heard the Dukes of Dice extolling its virtues, and I kept reading and hearing the same theme everywhere after that — the beauty of Broom Service comes in the bluffing and backstabbery in the game. When you are the first player — and you get that honor by being the last person to have played a brave card — there is such a deep and delicious decision making panic that could overwhelm many players. After surveying the other players on the board, the potential cards that have three point penalties on them, the cards in your hand, and the available towers and clouds, making that first move is such a gut driven decision! At least the way we play it is. — because there are lots of stares and questions like “Do you have that gatherer or not!” — and the hooting and holly ring is loud and fun every time someone is ‘trumped’.
So why is this game spicier than Libertalia?
Before we answer that, let’s clear up something first. Libertalia is a game I still LOVE, and I will play it anytime it is offered. But, there are definitely some elements of Broom Service that give it a slight edge over Libertalia right now.
First, it is much more of a traditional board game than Libertalia. It has a very vibrant board, that is almost a little overwhelming or intimidating at first with the pop of color that is found all over the board. The board has lots of cute little graphics showing the various terrain and the different types of towers. Within a play or two, I was reading and exploring the board ever more, and I have no complaints about the layout. If I had a minor quibble, it is that at first glance the bordes between the territories seems hard to define in some places. Repeated plays took care of this, so I do not see this as a stumbling block.
Second, the bluffing and card play aspect of Libertalia really gets amped up here. Even at two players, Broom Service is all about reading the table and the board together to figure out the best next play. Are all of your opponents away from juicy scoring opportunities in the hills? Then maybe that’s the direction you go, and you do it bravely not cowardly.
Third, and probably the biggest factor, is that the “take that” element of Libertalia is ramped up big time here — yet provides some forgiveness, something that is lacking in Libertalia. In Broom Service, the ability to gauge the room or your own level of daring as to whether you want the base action or the bonus actions that come with chancing it on the brave side of the card is very elegantly designed. Even the most cautious player can run around the board scoring points, albeit at a slower pace. And when the opportunity to be last on the board and play your brave actions come out, it is very satisfying.
Are there any downsides? There’s a lot going on for new hobby gamers, with multiple paths to scoring points (clouds, towers, bonus points, etc.). The random round event cards can sometimes add a level of chaos or change the action of the game so much that it does not feel thematic to the experience. The plus side of having two witches and therefore two sets of actions to explore can be intimidating for younger players. But all of these are quibbles, and there is so much more on the positive side of this game. It is tightly built, and one of the few games that should leave you asking “just one more round” when turn seven ends.
So, if your game group likes to play games that combine beautiful bits, a board, and cards too– with a game experience that lasts about an hour — then I have the game for you. Head on down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of Broom Service. I give it four out of five cayenne peppers!
Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!