Well I’m back with another review after a brief year-long hiatus. So let’s not wait any longer to plunge into this deep dive review of Broom Service the 2015 hit board game by designers Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister and published by Ravensburger.
Broom Service is an incredible game – sleek design, amazing mechanics, and filled with delicious decisions to agonize over. Since picking this up a year ago, as I was first getting into board games, Broom Service has consistently flown from the shelf to my table. So often, in fact, that I’m compelled to write this review in part to talk about when you should not play it!
If you, dear reader, haven’t tried this one out yet, you should really give it a look!
Now let’s talk about what makes this game so great.
Design (25 ft)
For starters, it just looks damn good on the table.
The art has a whimsical, family-friendly fantasy vibe that welcomes any player in. Take a look at these adorable almost Miyazaki-esque characters on the cards.
It’s a breath of fresh air compared to the washed out beige styling of so many of our beloved classic Eurogames or the down right panic inducing layout, bits, and iconography of many others.
Only seven rounds of play ensure you’ll still be having fun at the end of the games incredibly reasonable 30-75 minute run time. (Wait that says 30 minutes?! Okay that is a bit of a stretch. Maybe if you are just two players with a background in speed chess.) But it isn’t just rounds constraints that makes this game quick, it plays fast (and feels faster) thanks to some ingenious mechanics that pack fun, meaningful decisions into every moment of play.
Mechanics (50 ft)
How are the mechanics then? Oh my god, I love them so much. I’ll just talk bout the two that really give this game shape: the Brave/Cowardly system and the hidden action selection.
1. The Brave/Cowardly system, unique to this game, works like this: whenever you play a card, which represent one of your four action in a round, you must declare whether you are brave or cowardly.
For example, lets say you play the mountain witch card. If you choose cowardly, you take your action immediately. Your witch meeple dutifully flies to a mountain territory. However, if you play brave, you must wait until each other player reveals whether or not they are holding the mountain witch card. If someone reveals a mountain witch of their own, they can now bravely play it and cancel out your action entirely. You see, there can be only one brave mountain witch, but it gets to fly to a territory & deliver a potion there. Think of the value!
On each of your ≈28 actions of the game, you face this crucial gambit. A choice that evokes all the emotions of rolling dice or playing poker. Do I push my chips in the middle and let ’em ride, or fold to the pressure of my opponents unrevealed card?
Of course it isn’t really luck, is it? Because unlike Texas Hold’em, my opponent in Broom Service isn’t holding a random card. She is holding the cards she chose at the beginning of the round, adding an element of deduction to the decision unlike anything you’ll find at a poker table.
What you end up with is a unique Euro-style mechanic, dressed up in the lights and action of Las Vegas. And it all boils down to this scene: you sitting at a table of friends declaring, triumphantly, “No, I am the brave weather fairy!” Beautiful.
2. The second mechanic I want to touch on is the choice to use hidden action selection because it is really what makes the game tick. It’s very straightforward. Before each rounds, each player secretly chooses four of the ten available action cards. Those are the actions they will take during the round of play.
This turns the action selection mechanic almost into programming, where good players will visualize not just what they need right now but also four, five moves from now. Not to mention, thinking about the actions your opponents will likely take, how you may be able to force them to play cards out of order, and how your opponents may attempt to blow up your own well laid plans.
But it isn’t just a fun and strategic way of doing action selection, its also what moves the game along at such a rapid clip, despite how heady these decisions are. Separating the action selection from the round of play essentially removes the one question players AP (analysis paralysis) over the most, interrupting play and frustrating players everywhere – what’s my next move?
Sorry folks, you already made that bed at the beginning of the round, and now nothing to do but lie in it.
The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Everything I’ve said so far indicates that this is a perfect introduction to the board game hobby: inviting artistic design, short runtime, familiar mechanics, and easy to understand game play. All of this is 100% accurate.
Now say you’ve been cultivating your friend, Ben’s interest in gaming for the past few weeks and now he’s shown up to his first ever game night.
The trap has been set.
You suggest tried and true games from your collection for new players: Catan, Pandemic, and Ticket to Ride. Ben looks through your Ikea shelving packed with all manner of games. He stops to look at another box more closely. How about this, Ben inquires, sliding out your beloved copy of Broom Service. Well, you think, I am getting a little tired of Catan, maybe this is a good option.
And… the trap has been sprung.
Don’t worry, I’ve fallen into this trap more than once myself. It’s easy to do, because Broom Service has all the necessary pieces for an excellent intro game; yet, these parts just aren’t put together in the right way for that experience.
For one, Broom Service is unforgiving – like the brutal-savage-rekt kind of unforgiving.
You only get 28 actions to complete whatever you set out to do in the game. And if it is your first go, Broom Service effectively takes your hopes and dreams of what you might accomplish, wads them up into a tiny ball, and dunks them in the trash can as you watch, mouth ajar.
New players might not realize that as many as 1/3rd of those 28 actions, sometimes even more, will get straight up denied by your opponents. Your opponents either canceling out your brave action with their own or forcing you to play your Valley Druid card before you’d planned, and now don’t have the potion you need to deliver with the druid messing up your entire round. Yeah, it can be rough.
To make matters worse, there’s no catch up mechanic here, and playing from behind is actually just far worse. Now you are forced to take unsafe actions to make up ground. Well, you can probably already see the problem there.
I want to be clear, I don’t think this is a problem with the game. I love how challenging Broom Service is and, thus, rewarding when you pull off an incredible sequence. I love the tension that comes from taking the risk during action selection to make that possible, and I recognize this is only possible because of all the other time my grand designs were smacked down in the first couple rounds.
A new player, however, probably won’t feel this affection. When Ben is sitting in last place by a sizable margin, instead of recognizing everything that makes this game great, he might just think this isn’t fun.
The Verdict (Depth: 100 ft)
I’ve had many great plays of Broom Service, but I have had a few bad experiences. The good news is those bad plays are completely avoidable now that you know about the trap. Instead, of starting a new player off with Broom Service, play those tried and true intro games. Ticket to Ride is my personal favorite. It’s not my favorite game, but I still have fun every time I play it. Other people choose Catan or Pandemic or Splendor or-
My advice, get them hooked on these first. And once Ben has a few plays under his belt and starts to realize that board games are actually awesome, you will have Broom Service teed up to blow his frickin’ mind.
Oh and one more word about content. Broom Service comes with so much content in addition to the standard game that it was probably just a poor business decision not to hold some of it back for an expansion, but hey I’ll take it! (Thank you Ravensburger games!) It comes with an advanced board on the reverse side of the standard board, storm clouds tiles, hill tiles, mountain tiles, forest tiles, and amulets. All of these components can be added or subtracted to to your taste, but all change the gameplay significantly, and are all really fun to play with.
Once you’ve played through the base game a couple of times, just add in everything and jump to the advanced board for the full experience. It’s incredible, and I waited far too long before trying out the complete game myself. Regret!
However, when it comes to buying Broom Service absolutely no regrets at all. I’d give it four brave witches out of five and put it right up there with my favorite euro games, like Five Tribes and Castles of Burgundy. For its value though, Broom Service is a ten on any scale. You can get it for $25 on Amazon right now. So if you are someone who loves great games, and are currently throwing hundreds of dollars at Rising Sun miniatures, but don’t have this one yet, I don’t know what else to say but jeeze.
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