Thursday, 11 February 2016

Broom Service

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Broom Service won the 2015 Kennerspiel des Jahres (the German Game of the Year, Connoisseur category). It is a remake of Witch's Brew, which was a card game. There are some changes, the most obvious one being the gameboard.

The core gameplay centres around these role cards. Every player has ten such cards, and at the start of every round, you secretly and simultaneously select four to use for the round. Once everybody has selected his cards, the start player begins the round by playing one of his role cards. When you play a card, you need to decide to be brave or cowardly. Choosing to be cowardly means you are guaranteed to be able to execute an action, albeit a weak one. Choosing to be brave means you want to take a strong action and you are willing to risk being forced to take no action. After the start player plays his card, one by one, all other players check if they have that same role card in their hands. If a player has it, he must play it, and then declare whether he wants to be brave or cowardly. If the previous player has declared to be brave, and the current player decides he wants to be brave too, then the previous brave player is dethroned, and loses his action. It's nice to dethrone someone else, but watch out for players coming after you, who may have that same role card and may in turn dethrone you. Naturally, if you are the last player and you have the role card, you can safely decide to be brave because no one comes after you.

Once everyone has had the opportunity to play a particular role card, the next card play starts with whoever was the brave one in the previous role. Being start player is the riskiest position because you can easily get dethroned.

The actions you get to execute are mostly related to collecting different potions, moving your pawns (witches) on the board, and delivering potions to wizard towers to score points. Depending on the terrain your witches are on, you need different role cards to activate them. So taking note of the locations of your opponents' witches will help you in guessing what role cards they will pick.

There are two types of wizard towers. The round ones only accept one delivery, so once a delivery is made, they are closed (marked using the flask pieces). The square ones are wholesalers and welcome all deliveries, but they give fewer points than the round ones.

Dark clouds on the board block movement, and need to be dispelled by playing the fairy role card. You gain some benefit when dispelling dark clouds, in addition to opening passage.

The brown octagon is a teleportation portal. It's a shortcut to another location on the board. The blue octagon is a special reward tile.

This area at the bottom left is a dead end. You can get to space D via a teleportation portal, but it's a one way street, and there is no way to leave this little strip of land. You are blocked by the river. Usually you only come to such dead ends near end game, to do a final burst of scoring.

The Play

I played with Jason, Ivan and Allen. Jason and Ivan had played Broom Service before. I had played Witch's Brew, but had forgotten most of the rules. I played poorly. I was too greedy and chose to be brave too many times when I should have chosen otherwise. That costed me many actions.

The addition of the gameboard gives the players much more context when trying to guess their opponents' intentions. Not only do the locations of the witches provide clues to which role cards your opponents may pick, the locations and demands of the towers also help. All game information is open (other than the role cards), so you can calculate what you opponents will be able to do in the coming round. You can look two steps ahead if you want to, e.g. an opponent may use one role card to move his witch from a mountain to a forest, and then another role card to deliver potions to a tower bordering the forest. If you think that's what he wants to do, you will be betting on him picking these two specific role cards. You can count three or even four steps ahead, but I think that's a bit too much. I just look at the more immediate possibilities.

There is much thinking put into the design of the gameboard. It is not random at all. As I played, I realised how different elements of the board drive competition and force players to make choices. There are a few directions you can go in. You only have two witches so you can't do everything and be everywhere. The board has character. The board setup is different from game to game due to the dark clouds, the teleportation portals and the reward tiles. There is variability from game to game.

The Thoughts

The core mechanism in Broom Service is predicting your opponent's moves, so this is a game with high interaction. You need to watch your opponents' resources and the locations of their witches. Moving witches, collecting potions and delivering potions are a logistics game, and it is built from the actions you earn from the role selection aspect of the game. I find Broom Service more a gamer's game than a family game. It can work with families, but it would be families who are already familiar with boardgames. I think it will be overwhelming to players new to the hobby. It is not very complex, but it's not Ticket To Ride. The addition of the gameboard (compared to Witch's Brew) is welcome, because it gives more context to the core role selection mechanism, and it also creates more competition and player interaction. The game becomes richer because of it.

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