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Subject: Oktoberfest in a box, bring your own lederhosen. rss

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Michael Pennisi
United States
Carpentersville
Illinois
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I’ve never been to Germany but I do enjoy Oktoberfest beer, brats, and a good strudel so I thought Goldbrau, a game about the real Oktoberfest would be a good addition to my collection. In Goldbrau, each player represents a businessman trying to make money by investing in both the beer gardens of the Seehausen am See festival and the breweries which supply those beer gardens.

Step One: Pry the cap off and pour.

The game itself is nicely produced. The board is colorful but not excessive in its depiction of the 6 beer gardens, festival area, and four breweries. In the middle of the board is the rectangular festival area consisting of many square tables, some of which have umbrellas. Around the festival are the 6 beer gardens, two on each of the long dimensions of the festival and one on each short end. Next to each beer garden is a space for a marker which states the brewery that provides the beer. In each corner of the board is a brewery.



The game comes with many brown fence pieces which are used to mark out the area served by each beer garden. These fence pieces are the same size and shape as the roads in Settlers of Catan. At the beginning of the game every beer garden has one table “fenced off”. Each player has a set of small wood cubes in one of four colors and six wooden “boss” figures in that color. The wooden bit are shiny and of good quality. The cubes represent shares that players will have in the various businesses while the bosses will entitle players to collect undividable earnings, to change brewery contracts, and expand the beer gardens. The game also has a few cardboard pieces: one small disc showing a drunken German (just one?) who I have named “Otto”, a barmaid who could stand to be a bit more buxom in my mind, a start player marker, a “end” player marker, and 12 cardboard counters that represent brewery contracts.

A set of printed money is included in various denominations. Money determines the winner and is used to gain additional shares in the businesses. Finally, the game comes with one large and four small decks of nicely finished cards. In the large deck are 6 share cards for each beer garden and brewery along with 6 cards each showing the barmaid and Otto. The small decks are three cards decks that go to each player. These decks are used to select actions.

If you have the German version of this game you also get a set of four coasters to enjoy your own malty beverage while playing. Sadly the Rio Grande game doesn’t include this because apparently someone (I’m looking at you Jay Tummelson) thinks Americans don’t drink beer when they play games.

The missing pieces:



Step Two: Chug

You start the game with a set-up phase where each player is dealt 6 share cards. Four of them will be used to place cubes and the other two can be kept “secret” for use later in the game. Whenever you play a card in this game, it gives you right to put a cube on the building shown by the card. Each player also places two of their bosses in a beer garden or brewery. There can only be one boss in a brewery or beer garden and usually you need at least one share to do this but at the beginning of the game you can ignore that rule. The Otto token starts in the Eagle bar and the barmaid in the Bear bar. Each bar also gets a randomly chosen brewery contract. After these placements two cards from the share deck are turned face up and play begins.

The game lasts for 21 turns. Each turn represents one day and after 7 days (one week), there is a payout so the game has three payouts. There is a start player marker that is passed around each turn and another marker to place in front of the player whose turn will end the week.

Each turn, every player chooses one of the three cards in their action deck that they wish to execute this turn. All players simultaneously reveal the cards but the order that they are executed in depends on the type of card selected and where the player sits relative to the start player. If only one player selects a particular action, that player gets a bonus of some sort. The actions and order of execution are as follows.

1) Expand beer garden. This is a fairly uncomplicated action. Coosing this allows a player to expand a particular beer garden by one table provided there is available room to expand and the player has a boss in that beer garden. The player uses the fence pieces to do this. The bonus for being the only person to play this card is that the player may perform two expansions. Expanding a beer garden is important because it brings in more revenue.

2) Move in a boss / change contract. This move is the most complicated in terms of special rules but it basically involves kicking out existing bosses and replacing them with yours. This action can be blocked in a particular bar or brewery if another player has an absolute share majority. The other option on the card is to change a beer contract for a particular bar but to do this, the same player must have a boss in the bar and brewery that are involved. The bonus for being the only person to play this card is that the player may perform a combination of two boss placements and/or brewery contract changes.

3. Buy a share card. This move is also pretty simple. You pay money to buy one of the two face-up share cards or a down card. The price is based on the number of players choosing this action. Face-up cards are executed immediately while face-down cards may be saved and played later for a “surprise” factor. When the sixth card of a bar or brewery is played, any player holding a single share cube in that bar loses that cube. The cards showing Otto and the barmaid allow a player to immediately (even if it was a face-down draw) move those respective markers from 0-3 spaces clockwise. The bonus for this action is a very cheap cost of $2 for a card. Turn order comes into play a lot with this action because the card you want can get bought before you have a chance to buy it.

To sum up: you pick one of your three cards and execute it. Then you repeat this 20 more times and the game is over.

Of course there is the scoring. Every 7 days players will check the income of each bar. Income is produced by fenced-in tables (4 pts each), umbrellas (8 pts each), and the pretty barmaid (20 points) while Otto takes away 12 income from the bar he is in. The total income is split between the bar and brewery. The bar’s share of the income is then divided by the number of shares (cubes) in the bar to get a price per share. This is then paid out with any remainder going to the boss of the bar. After each bar does this, the breweries work the same way.

Goldbrau: Great taste or less filling?

At its core, Goldbrau is an area-control game and yeah, there are plenty of these kinds of games. In this case I think the theme works pretty well and it’s quite a bit simpler than many other games of this type. The easy 3-card action-selection mechanism is in fact one of the game’s strengths. Every turn you have some uncomplicated choices which are coupled with trying to guess your opponents’ choices. The player interaction in the game is fairly high which makes for good times as you try to second-guess your opponents, kick their bosses out, move Otto onto their bars, and gain shares in the bars that they think they control. Finally, there is enough integration with theme to give the game a business-feel and you can almost year the oompah band playing in the courtyard (in my house you can definitely hear the oompah band because I play an Oktoberfest CD during the game).

The game is not without its problems the first of which is a mechanics issue. When it comes to payouts, there is a lot of math in this game. Not that math is bad, mind you, but it is tedious to figure out payouts-per-share for 10 buildings and to count money. I really think that payouts take as long as the actual game play which leaves me feeling a little annoyed. The other problem is the relatively random start conditions. You can start off in a significantly inferior position (no majorities, poor distribution of cubes in breweries or bars, or no contracts out that earn you money) and not be able to change that status for several turns which is significant in a 21 turn game.


So if you are looking for a short, easy to learn, tactical, area-control game flavored like a German beer festival you might want to give this game a try, at least near the end of September.
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Chris Shaffer
United States
Portland
OR
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I just got the English version in trade and it included six coasters.
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Michael Pennisi
United States
Carpentersville
Illinois
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It figures ... NOW the coasters are in the game. The early adopters get screwed.
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