Drinking beer has never felt so brilliantly analytical
Wolfgang Warsch is one of the most prolific and varied designers in board gaming today. His recent output includes the addictive roll-and-write Ganz Schön Clever, luck-pushing bag-builder the Quacks of Quedlinburg and the impossibly simple co-op card game the Mind. If there’s a thread running through his work, it’s that he tends to take a single clear idea and puts it at the centre of his designs, resulting in some very clean and elegant games.
The Taverns of Tiefenthal turns this idea on its head. A deckbuilding, dice-drafting, engine-building action selection game, it casts players as bar owners in a medieval German village. It’s a seemingly crazy combination of different ideas and mechanisms. But improbable as it seems, Taverns pulls them together in a coherent, thoughtful and engrossing whole.
Each player starts the game with an identical deck of cards containing staff and patrons for their bar. On every round, you’ll play cards from your deck until your premises are full of customers. Then you and your opponents each roll a handful of dice, choosing one and passing the remainder to your neighbour until everyone has a set of four.
Once the drafting is done, you’ll need to decide how to use your dice. You can allocate them to customers to fulfil l their drinks orders and generate income, with different visitors demanding different values before they cough up some cash. Or you can use them to order more beer from the local brewery, which lets you entice new and higher-paying punters through your doors.
It’s a pretty intuitive process, but what makes the game so enjoyable are the extra bits it bolts on to this bare chassis. As you play, you’ll be able to recruit new staff or build improvements to your business. Extra servers grant you bonus dice, letting you take extra actions on your turn. Expanding your cellars lets you stock up on beer, or stash excess cash between rounds. Investing in more tables lets you accommodate more customers. And doing a kitchen refurb grants you some flexibility, allowing you to tweak the numbers on your dice.
The result is a sense of progression that unfolds over the game’s eight rounds. You’ll start off trying to squeeze a small profit out of your regulars – loyal, but not exactly lucrative. But by the final few rounds you’ll be buying beer in staggering volumes, serving up gallons of schnapps, hiring a host of entertainers and welcoming a crowd of wealthy nobles to your establishment.
Played in its basic mode, Taverns feels a bit like a game with training wheels attached. But it comes with a selection of included expansions, and each module you add brings a touch of extra complexity and new elements to incorporate into your strategy.
It won’t please anyone looking for antagonistic player-on-player competition – its focus is squarely on improving your own bar, not messing with your rivals’. But as an evolving puzzle it’s packed with variety, and seeing your plans come together is as satisfying as a cold beer on a hot day.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
Artist: Dennis Lohausen
This review originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.