Designer Diary: Designing the Whimsical Wilds of Brew

I really enjoy prototyping with circular colored stickers -- you know, the cheap kind you would use for a garage sale. The process is somewhat meditative and feels very intuitive, creating a nice starting place for quickly testing out an idea. While placing each sticker by hand, ideas can flow, imagining how interactions might take place. Brew began its journey with this approach. Mocking up a handful of tiles and a couple of dice, each sticker coincided with a cube and die face. The few tiles and dice allowed for enough variance to be played at a very basic level, without wasting time and energy worrying about anything outside of core mechanics. Thus a little game codenamed, “kids treasure game” was born.

At the beginning, it was a simple push your luck game for children. Players would need to roll their dice and match the symbols along a path, trying to reach the end. Each time a die was placed, you would collect a gem and have 1 fewer die to roll for the next space. The goal was to get to the end and gain the biggest treasure. If you had a bad roll, you could use your collected gems to reroll, so long as they matched the space you were attempting to reroll. 

While this game was fun for kiddos, it did not scratch the itch for the types of games I personally enjoyed. At the time, I did not realize that this would be the core of Brew, but I continued iterating and experimenting with the ideas of area majority and set collection. In subsequent versions, players still raced to complete the tiles, but now each card completed would act as a space on a map that could be claimed. Mechanically, this worked fine, but players felt very disconnected, with little to no player interaction whatsoever.

The next version was where Brew really began to take shape, and is the base for what you see today. I remember this moment vividly, because it felt like I had broken through. The game no longer felt like an exercise and began offering players meaningful decisions and interactions. Keeping the dice rolling and placement core, I scrapped the push-your-luck element and moved the area majority from a separate board to the cards themselves. I changed the gems from victory points to resources that could be spent on cards and provide “take-that” actions, dice manipulation, and additional scoring opportunities. 

 It was also at this stage of prototyping that the theme of “brewing potions” took shape. The goal in this version was to collect sets of the different types of forest cards (orange, teal, purple, maroon) by fighting for the majority of each card. The more of a specific type won, the more points you would earn at game end. Collecting one of each would also score points. This scoring method stayed intact for several versions before ultimately being replaced with a simplified option. Players also had small objectives worth points once achieved.   

While this was a major improvement from the previous version, there was still something missing. 3 and 4 player games played out fine, but 2 player games were lacking the same tension. To address this problem, I added a new die type that both simulated a 3rd player and served as a “wild” die. It also allowed me to incorporate a series of worker placement spaces in the form of tiles. These were separate from the cards players were fighting to claim and acted as additional, more powerful actions. 

With the additional dice and new worker placement spaces, gameplay really opened up. It was a pleasant surprise when these dice made the 3-4 player experience improve as well. Allowing players more options, they would choose between using their wild dice to cause havoc in the forest, or use special actions on the worker placement spaces. Originally, the worker placement spaces were tiles that would rotate every round, revealing 3 new tiles. This quickly became overwhelming and slowed the flow of the game considerably. Eventually I landed on incorporating the spaces into an actual game board, which stuck. 

After about 8 months of iterations and playtesting locally, at UNPUB, PAX, and BGG.Con, I felt comfortable with the idea of pitching Brew to some publishers. It also helped that I received very positive feedback from fellow designers Alex Cutler and Jason Kingsley, who encouraged me to push on with the game. A few months later, after submitting my sell sheet, Jon Gilmour from Pandasaurus Games responded to my submission. In November of 2018 we met up at Pax Unplugged and played Brew. I was pleasantly surprised when he asked to keep the prototype for further review. The following January, at PAX south I played once again with Pandasaurus owners Nathan & Molly. Soon after, Brew was signed! 

That year I volunteered to demo games for Pandasaurus at GAMA. Little did I know that an opportunity of a lifetime would present itself. It happened to be that Pandasaurus was in search of a full time Graphic Designer. Long story short, I was hired a month later as Head of Graphic Design. I never imagined getting a game signed with Pandasaurus, let alone working full time for the company. This also meant that I would be working on the game’s graphic design and art direction as well! While hard work and persistence certainly pays off, being in the right place at the right time doesn't hurt either! 

Brew went into development later that year, at which point Jon Gilmour and I began working together. It was during this time that the creatures were introduced into the game, serving as an alternate route within the core loop. Major adjustments during development with Jon included balancing of forest cards, player abilities, potion powers, creature powers, end game scoring, and a handful of other tweaks.

Development continued on with Jeff Fraser, which resulted in changes to end game scoring, dice powers, creature powers, day and night phase village actions, and taming/releasing creatures. While Jeff was hard at work in the final development pass, I began focusing more heavily on the graphic design and art direction alongside Nathan and Molly. I ran across Jake Morrison’s art on Instagram and immediately fell in love with his work. Jake signed on soon after to illustrate the game. His style and imagination brought this game to life and provided a whimsical look that really stands out. I worked directly with Jake establishing the world. We took a “sprite sheet” approach to the illustrations. Similar to what one might do when creating an isometric video game. He provided a series of asset sheets that I was able to use to create all the forest scenes. This helped tremendously when laying out each card - allowing for much more flexibility. 

With this method, I was able to make unique scenes for each forest card. The creatures and potions took on a similar approach. Jake created a set of base illustrations then added additional features to make each creature feel unique and match the actions of the cards. This also allowed us to make additional content as needed. Andrew Thompson was later brought on to help finish out some creatures and details with the world. 

Brew has been on a long journey and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support and hard work of my family, friends, playtesters, and coworkers. I cannot be more pleased with how the game has turned out and I’m excited for folks to get their hands on Brew on June 16, 2021! 

- Stevo Torres, designer of Brew

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