Reviewed by Herb Levy
BROOM SERVICE (Ravensburger/Alea, 2 to 5 players, ages 9 and up; 45-60 minutes; $45)
Back in 2008, Andreas Pelikan designed a game called Witch’s Brew in which players were witches and what they did depended on “action selection” and whether to take the favored or less favored action. The game garnered enough interest to be a Spiele des Jahres nominee. Flash forward nearly a decade later and now, teaming up with Alexander Pfister, Witch’s Brew gets a “reworking” resulting in it becoming the winner of the 2015 Kennerspiel des Jahres (the German “Advanced” Game of the Year award). Now this game has appeared on American shores with the Ravensburger release of the revised game retitled as Broom Service.
In Broom Service, players find themselves needing to deliver potions across a magical realm via, as might be suspected, broom travel. But travel is not without its obstacles and therein lies the tale. The board is divided into different types of land areas (mountains, hills, plains, forests) as well as areas where clouds (acting as barriers to broom travel) have been randomly placed.
Each player has 2 witch pieces (in their chosen color) with one in each of the two castles on the game board. Players also receive one of each of the three types of potions in the game (green, purple and orange) and one or two magic wands (depending on turn order). All players are also given an identical deck of 10 cards, each card specifying a certain role with two levels of action: a “brave action” and a “cowardly” action. Bravery is a more favorable action but cowardly may be the way to go in certain instances as you will see.
At the start of each round, an event card is revealed that will impact on victory points a player may earn for a variety of things (such as position on the board, number of resources on hand, etc.) Players will also choose which cards to play that round.
All players secretly choose four cards from their deck of 10 and the player leading the turn announces one of his chosen cards, declaring if he is going to take the “brave” action or the “cowardly” action. For example, the Fruit Gatherer will allow you to take 1 purple potion in stock for the cowardly action but will give you TWO purple potions and ANOTHER one of your choice if you are brave. Movement is done through use of the Witch cards so, for example, playing the Hill Witch card will allow you to move to an adjacent hill area (if cowardly) or move to an adjacent hill area AND deliver a potion in the same turn (if brave). Potions are delivered to towers in the area that a witch occupies. Towers have tops colored to match the potions and only matching colored potions may be delivered there. Towers with circular tops will accept ONE potion only and then are “closed for business”. Square topped towers will constantly accept potions. (Potions dropped off there are returned to supply.) In all cases, delivered potions result in Victory Points (tracked on the perimeter’s scoring track) and/or magic wands.
If choosing the cowardly action, the player takes the action immediately and the rest of the players, in turn, must “follow suit”. If they do NOT have the identical card, they simply pass. But if they DO have the identical card, they MUST play it and declare a “brave” or “cowardly” action. Again, if cowardly is chosen, the action is taken immediately – but if a player declares brave in order to reap the extras such an action would grant, their action may be in jeopardy.
The turn continues and again, in turn order, players MUST play that card if they have it. But if another player has the same card AND also declares brave, the first player is stymied and LOSES the ability to do the action at all, neither brave nor cowardly!
As the game continues, players will try to traverse the board as the richer towers generally lie farther away from the starting castles – but they are hard to reach because of those clouds. That’s where those magic wands come in.
Each cloud has a number on it indicating how many magic wands are needed to banish it from the board. There is also a lightning bolt (or two) on the cloud. To remove a cloud, a player must be adjacent to it AND play the Weather Fairy card: cowardly and the player collects the cloud; brave and the player collects the cloud AND gets 3 VPs.
The game continues with the last “brave” player in the previous round leading the next. At the conclusion of the seventh round, final scoring takes place. To the Victory Points already earned, players gets additional VPs for the number of lightning bolts collected from clouds (anywhere from 3 for a single bolt to a whopping 30 for 7 or more bolts) and additional VPs for sets of resources: 4 VPs for a complete set (1 each of the orange, purple and green potions AND a magic wand) and 2 VPs for a partial set (any three different resources). The player with the highest total wins!
The core mechanism of role selection is one that has been used to excellent effect in games as varied as Citadels and Puerto Rico. But Broom Service gives that device a clever twist with the “brave” and “cowardly” dynamic forcing you to consider the odds that someone following you will be playing the same card out of the 10 available. These odds can be estimated based on the positions players find themselves on the board but still, it is a gamble. Sometimes, you succumb to the temptation to go brave and find yourself severely hamstrung. This can put you far behind the more cautious players. Sometimes, discretion IS the better part of valor; you may be better going brave when you are less uncertain about the potential result. Another bit of uncertainly involves the board.
The towers are key locations as they are the places where potions will be delivered and a major source of Victory Points. Yet, in many cases, it is unclear precisely in which areas some towers are situated. The designers have said to consider the towers straddling multiple areas (and that’s how we play) but, even then, in some cases, this is an argument waiting to happen and something that could have easily been avoided.
Ironically, the game comes with a double-sided board so, the front for the “family friendly” game and the back for those gamers who want to add more variation to play. For some reason, the back of the board is clearer regarding tower position! There is no reason why clarity should have been stressed on both ends. Additional counters are provided (built-in variants, if you will) that ratchet up game play (such as “turbo” drive so a witch can jet across the board rather than to an adjacent space, a useful variant to overcome the frustration that impassible clouds can create in travelling across the board, amulets that can be collected to create an additional Victory Point stream and more). These can be incorporated, wholly or in part, so the game can be fine-tuned according to taste.
That Broom Service is a game that won the Kennerspiele Award (the German Gamer Game of the Year honor) is a little surprising if you just consider the base game which is one that seems more suitable for families than the hard core gamer. But, upon deeper examination, the temptation to stretch your luck and to take caluclated risks, helps elevate the game play to a higher level. Add the variants into the mix and the choice makes more perfect sense. But any way you want to play it, Broom Service is a game “witches” hard to resist. – – – – – Herb Levy
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Spring 2016 GA Report Articles