The Copper Puzzle

Microbrew is hybrid puzzle / worker-placement game.

The puzzle is about brewing beer. Each player has a copper brewing kettle where they make their own beer by taking the “Brew” action in the shared brewery.

Each player has recipes that they can make from a pattern of 4 “wort” tokens. Their Copper is filled with worts and they can be swapped around, but the rules of the Copper mean that darker worts want to sink to the bottom and lighter worts want to rise to the top. The puzzle is how do they match their recipes to the worts in their Copper using as few precious Brew actions as possible?

Design Notes

When we start out to make a game, we usually work “theme first”. We think “What’s fun about (in this case) running a Microbrewery?” and build systems to reflect that fun. The one we’re going to talk about today is experimenting with flavours and actually coming up with the beer.

Other games have tried this where you just gather up the appropriate resources and basically hand them in in exchange for a finished product. We didn’t think that really reflected what we wanted to see: There’s no experimentation, there’s no real thinking and there’s definitely no swirling cauldron of ingredients.

We also like games where you switch focus between your own little “world” directly in front of you and a shared “battleground” where everyone competes over resources or jostles for position. This sort of gameplay often appears in “tableau builders” games like Castles of Mad King Ludwig. The great thing about Castles of Mad King Ludwig is you get caught up in your Castle – downtime is less annoying because you’ve got planning to do and it matters less if you don’t win because *look at the cool castle I built*.

For that to work the “little world” (in our case the puzzle in the Kettle) has to be absorbing and flexible, but not overwhelming.

I’d like to say that we used formal design principles to create this puzzle but we didn’t. The puzzle needed refined multiple times to be suitable to a board game experience so we tested it, refined it and then tested it again. And again. And again. Each time we were mostly simplifying and making the puzzle easier.

In its final (and we like to think purest!) form, there is only four rules to Brewing - three about moving the worts and one about “chaining” moves. This feels great when you play. When you come up with a one-brew-action “solution” to the puzzle that will let you fill one of your recipes on the next turn, you feel like the King of Brewers and that’s exactly what we wanted!

As time goes on, you drain your Copper into your bottles, which ferment over time and then you can sell them into a little army of happy, loyal customers and you end up feeling like you’ve achieved a good days work - even if you don’t actually win.