Published on May 18th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen0
My Pint Glass Epitaph
Last weekend a friend of mine celebrated his 40th birthday, and as an avid board gamer he decided to party with beer and gaming. There were multiple games going on in different parts of the house, everything from casual card games to multi-hour spreadsheet-cube-pushers and everyone was drinking. This is really typical for our group of gamers- we always drink while gaming, and our friendly neighborhood game shop is also a bar that serves beer and ciders. Most of the people in our circle of friends are into beer enough to be beer snobs, but we’ll all drink Vitamin R if it’s cheap and on hand.
The problem with being into both beer and games is that when it comes to drinking games, you typically have two reasons to look down your nose at it. As people who drink frequently, there is exactly zero social taboo we’re breaking in participating in a drinking game. We aren’t college freshmen anymore, we’re veterans of multiple Oktoberfest celebrations and we’ve all survived our twenties by crawling bars and clubs on the weekends. But we’re also used to playing complex, competitive puzzle games with each other for hours, so the simple rules of most drinking games are boring as hell.
Alewood, a drinking game currently on Kickstarter, absolutely breaks the drinking game mold. The game makers, Little Brass Bird (via Acronaut Games), made a leap forward in drinking game technology that hopefully will spawn a renaissance in the genre. What sets Alewood apart is very simple: it’s actually a good board game, that happens to use liquid in a glass as a literally consumable resource. By getting back to basics on the “game” part of “drinking game” Alewood has provided a shining example to other indy designers of how to improve the party game market.
As you may have noticed, Alewood has an Old West theme and includes components that look like they’re from that era. The laser cut wooden gun has a very distinct burned smell, but is not unpleasant like laser cut wood can sometimes be, and I feel actually adds to the experience of the Old West theme. I can’t think of many other games that include such tactile and olfactory components that add so much to the experience- this works especially well for a party game, where the focus can be more on dynamic experiences rather than strict adherence to rules.
In Alewood you play as an honest townsperson of some frontier village that is down on its luck. There aren’t many jobs, but there’s a saloon and bounty hunting pays well. The problems of the town come to a head and a travelling lawman offers a free ride out of town to the first person who can kill two outlaws. Kind of grim, but them’s the breaks.
When it’s your turn you can either: 1) work an honest job to take $2 from the bank, 2) take action against the outlaws, or 3) duel another player. (When we read the dueling rules at the table no one playing wanted the additional complication so we just ditched that element of the rules as it seemed to make the game take longer without advancing the end game goal of murdering outlaws.) Just grabbing money is great for when you want to get back to drinking, when you need to prep for going against the outlaws, or when you need to use a special power.
When you take action, you measure the amount of beer in your glass with the gun/ruler provided with the game. I really liked the design of the ruler because it’s modular, allowing you to use any pint glass regardless of the depth of the base. The closer the top of your beer is to the bottom of the glass (without being empty), the more dice you get to roll against the outlaw. Your roll can come up as bullets, which damage the outlaw, or dodge symbols which let you negate damage to yourself.
So why don’t you just keep your beer near-empty the entire game? Well, anyone can spend $3 and skip their next turn to make you refill your glass, which is a bummer. Plus, when you finish a glass all of the way you take a special blue die that you can use in every roll for the rest of the game. The more glasses you finish, the more special dice you get to add to every roll. I like that for the most part Alewood encourages you to drink instead of trying to penalize you by making you drink, it takes a lot of implicit moral judgement out of the game. If you’re of legal age in your country, there’s nothing wrong with drinking, folks!
If you take damage from the outlaw after applying your dodge results, then you have to refill part of your glass. If you would have to fill over the capacity of your glass then you have a special opportunity. In the rules they suggest that extra damage be immediately consumed as a penalty-shot of liquor. Some of our group didn’t want to mix liquor and beer, so because we’re in Seattle we decided we’d pull penalty bong rips instead (Excelsior!) For those not wanting to go that route, I suggest that pickle brine or cod liver oil be used. An appropriate penalty shot if I ever heard one!
I like that Alewood has one resource token (money) it keeps all of the book keeping clean and precise. Having one resource also means that it’s easier to play with the limited amount of tokens available in the economy, and it has more direct effects on the other players. When you wound outlaws, the damage they take is reflected by placing money on them from the bank. If there is no money in the bank, then the player just can’t hurt the outlaw very much that turn. It’s expected that players will deplete the stock of money during the game, and some player abilities interact with that part of the meta game.
Alewood took about 30 minutes to play with four players all new to the game. Adding the dueling rules would lengthen the game, but I didn’t feel that it was overly necessary. I felt like Alewood played at a nice clip, and took just as long as I wanted it to. What Alewood could use is a rule book that focuses more on teaching you how to play the game. Alewood’s rules aren’t complex, but they could be explained more clearly and the cheat sheets could use a revision.
I also feel that the blue Marksman dice were pretty underwhelming when playing. The base grey dice have 3 blank sides, 2 bullet sides and a dodge side. The blue dice have 3 blank sides, 1 two bullet side, 1 bullet side and 1 dodge side. You can re-roll the blue dice once per turn, but I’d really rather have the dice just be 5/6 filled instead. As it is they aren’t different enough from the grey dice to really feel like they’re worth finishing off that beer for.
Alewood is asking for $40 for a copy of the game on Kickstarter, which normally might feel high for what you’re getting from the game. But with all of the components to consider, I’d say that $40 is worth it. Though in all honesty, I would also like Alewood if instead of the gun, the game came with custom plastic cups and shot glasses in a box much like liquor gift boxes. That way you could just print the marks for how many dice to roll on the side of the cups, and people could use wet-erase markers to label their cup. You could even continue to sell plastic and glass versions on your website after the crowd-funding period ends.
If you’re are a person who likes to drink while playing board games, or if you like party games and are looking for something much more engaging than another Apples 2 Apples clone, you should give Alewood a try.