THE TAVERNS OF TIEFENTHAL

Reviewed by Herb Levy

THE TAVERNS OF TIEFENTHAL (North Star Games, 2 to 4 players ages 12 and up, 60 minutes; $49.99)

 

In the thriving German town of Tiefenthal, the tavern is a center of social activity. While socialization is all well and good, as a tavern owner, your concern is making money and you have competition. Your challenge is to be more successful in attracting upscale clientele to be more prestigious and profitable than anyone else! That is the situation you find yourself in the latest design from Wolfgang Warsch: The Taverns of Tiefenthal.

In The Taverns of Tiefenthal, there is a central “Monastery” board (used to note rounds of play) with a track (which offers rewards as you journey along it).  All players start at 0 on that track. Three “counter guest” tokens per player are placed by the Monastery board.

A lot of cards depict Guests. Eight of them cost 3 “Beers” (Beers as well as Thalers are the currencies of the game) and these are placed in their own face up pile. Nobles are special Guests and have their own separate stack. The rest of the Guests are shuffled together and, from their own face down stack, four are revealed and placed on display between the 3 Beer Guests and the Nobles. (All of this card separation for set up does take a bit of time.)

Each player has their own Tavern board with areas denoted for specific functions: Tables (to seat guests), Servers, Cashier, Dishwasher, Safe, Bartender, Barrel, Brewer, Beer Storage and Monk (to help you advance on the Monastery Track). Cards depicting additional workers that may be hired (Barbacks, Dishwashers, Servers and Brewers) and Tables are placed in their own piles (in ascending order) Markers are placed at 0 at the Safe and Beer Storage areas. Every player is given 4 white dice and a “dice coaster” to hold them. (There are colored dice in  each player’s colors which may come into play later.) Finally, all players build their individual starting deck, taking their 7 “Regulars” (cards noted by tablecloths in that player’s color) and adding 1 each of a Server, Table and Brewer from supply. This deck is shuffled and placed face down next to the Tavern Board.

Eight rounds make for a full game and each round consists of 7 phases. While this may seem daunting, phases are relatively simple and straightforward.  First, the marker for the round advances and the bonus for the round activated. Bonuses include claiming a Guest counter (and using one of its powers then or later), taking a specified card for free and more. Then “the Guests Arrive” phase, played simultaneously, gets the action started.

During this phase, players draw cards from their deck, one by one, and place them in their appropriate spaces on  their Tavern  board. Cards keep being drawn until ALL Tables are occupied. (Each Table can hold one Guest only but all Nobles will sit at the same Table.) For EACH Server drawn, a colored die of that player (up to a maximum of 3) is rolled and added to his/her holdings.

All players roll their 4 white dice and choose 1. Remaining dice are passed (on the dice coaster) clockwise to the next player who, in turn, picks one and passes the rest along. This continues until all players have drafted a set of four white dice. 

At this point, all white dice (and any colored dice you may have) are assigned positions on the Tavern Board. Some areas allow any number die to be placed there while others specify a precise number needed. Generally, only 1 die can be assigned to an area but, in some cases, multiple dice are allowed. (Some modifications are possible to mitigate dice rolling luck. For example, for each Dishwasher in your Tavern, you can play a die as 1 pip HIGHER than its face value,) These actions will result in Beer and Thalers being generated. Now it is time to spend them!

Thalers allow you to purchase Tavern cards on display. (But a maximum of only 1 per type is permitted.) Thalers also can be spent to upgrade various Tavern areas. Beer can be used to recruit more Guests (1 per round) and/or (up to 3) Nobles. (Guests and Nobles so recruited go to the top of a players’s draw deck.) Unspent Beer and Thalers may be stored in a player’s Beer Storage or Safe (respectively) but if there is not enough room to hold the excess, that excess is lost!

Once all players have finished spending resources, that round ends, the round marker advances (bestowing a new bonus for that round) and play continues. But if this is the 8th round, the game is over and we score!

Cards have Victory Point values and all cards held by a player are added. The player with the highest total has the most successful tavern in in the town and wins! Tie? ? Then the player with the most stored Beer and Thalers claims the win! Still tied? Then players share the victory!

Wolfgang Warsch has been successful in using dice (in Ganz Schoen Clever) and cards (with Illusion) in relatively simple games. This time around, he combines both of those elements (as well as a bit of “worker placement” using dice as “workers” to activate various abilities in the tavern) into a much more demanding framework. (And if that wasn’t enough, the game comes with FOUR additional expansions/modules that add schnapps, a “reputation bar”, a Guestbook and more to further decision-making in the gain.) Such involved interactions may not be what fans of those simpler releases may expect. Plus, in a design such as this, there is an additional risk.

Any game relying on heavy use of dice rolling and card drawing may fall victim to excessive swings in luck that mar the design and leaves players feeling they are the victims of circumstances rather than the masters of their own destinies. But in this case, Warsch has provided several ways to mitigate the luck factor, giving players a stronger sense of control. As mentioned, Dishwashers can modify a dice roll. But players can also move assigned dice to others positions if they feel an alternative legal move is more advantageous (an unusual feature not found in many other games). Don’t like the cards drawn on a turn? Counter Guests can be played as a “mulligan”. These one use tokens allow you to discard all of the cards drawn that turn and you get to draw new ones, a sanctioned “do over”! (Alternatively, a counter Guest may be used to advance your marker on the Monk track which helps you get more tangible rewards – including the ability to  “trash” a card of less value being held, a valuable ability in a deck-building game as cards get recycled as you go through the deck and you can eliminate some of the “dead wood” you may have accumulated.)

Beer and taverns must strike a responsive chord in German life as evidenced by other games that use that theme for inspiration such as Goldbrau . In The Taverns of Tiefenthal, Wolfgang Warsch has taken a different approach to a similar topic, successfully melding three of the most currently popular mechanisms out there – dice drafting, deck building and worker placement – to craft a solid and rewarding artisanal brew.  – – – Herb Levy


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