WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 1-5
Published by: Paverson Games
Designed by: Dave Beck
By Steve Godfrey
This is a free review copy. See our review policy here
There are a few food/drink games out in the world in which it would be almost rude not to pair them with the subject in question. Distilled is no exception. So set it up, sit down with your favourite drink (please drink responsibly) and you’ll be ready to play. The real question you have to ask yourself is, is the game worth pairing with a 60 year old MacCutcheon Whisky or is it only worth breaking out the cheap supermarket own brand?
How to make spirits……alcohol, not ghosts.
Give each player a player board and clip board, decide which set of spirits you’ll be using and give each player a card of that set to slot into their clipboard. Then deal each player two distiller identity cards to choose from, but only use the ones that match the regions of the spirits you’re using (there’s handy lists in the rule book for this). Once chosen, give each player their starting items based on their distiller and give them their signature recipe token and ingredient and a metal barrel and glass bottle card.
The game is played over seven rounds, each consisting of four phases. On your turn in the market phase you can buy a card from the basic market. Here you’ll find Yeast, water, one of each type of sugar and two different types of barrels. Some cards are free and a few have a cost to them but these are always available. You can buy at most two cards from the basic market per round.
You can also buy from the premium market. Upgrade cards let you upgrade your distillery. You can have at most three of these at any one time but you can replace existing ones if you find something better. Premium Ingredients which will go towards making your spirits and are the same types as the basic ingredients, except these are worth money and points if they’re used in your recipes. Items consist of premium barrels and different types of containers for your spirits. There’s no limit to the amount of things you can buy from the premium market; well apart from how much money you have.
The last thing you can buy is a new recipe. You can only make two recipes at the start of the game, Vodka and Moonshine. The rest of the recipes on your list have to be brought and fall into a bronze, silver or gold categories and each one being a different price to buy. The higher the price, the more points it’s worth when you sell it!
When you distil in the aptly named distil phase, you'll be adding ingredients to your washback to try and make a successful concoction. You’ll need to add at least one sugar, water and yeast to your spirit from your pantry. Any alcohol cards can be used in place of yeast or water. You can then throw in any number of other ingredients you want. You then take the same number of alcohol cards as you have sugars. Shuffle all the cards then take the top and the bottom card from the cards and put them back in your pantry. You then see which cards you have left in your hand and see which spirit you can make on your clipboard out of the recipes you’ve learned. Some will need only certain types of sugars or no sugars or certain types of containers. Each drink will earn you money or points or a combination of both. Certain other ingredients and items in your hand will also net you points and money which you. l collect during the sell phase. Some drinks will require ageing before you can sell them. If you have to age a spirit you place it in the appropriate barrel, take a flavour card from the deck and place it with that spirit unseen and place it in your cellar. You won’t be able to sell aged spirits in the round that you make them so be prepared for the fact that the next round you may be a little short on money unless you keep a little bit back. The more you age a spirit the more points/money it could be worth when you do sell it.
When you make and sell a spirit you’ll also gain a label of that type (if available) and use it to cover one of the bonus spaces on your player board. This is how you'll get your signature ingredient that you’ll need to make your signature drink.
At the end of a round you'll see if any players meet the criteria to score one of the public bonuses. After seven rounds you'll score end game points for your private bonus cards, money, certain upgrade cards and your bottle collection.
A game to raise your spirits
One of my favourite games is Viticulture and one of the reasons I love it is because it takes you through the process of making wine in order to get points. It tries to give you the sense that you're actually making the thing that the game’s about. Of course it’s an abstracted version of the whole thing because, of course it is. Distilled takes much the same approach in what it’s asking you to do, but it’s a lot more…distilled and has you focus even more on the production of the spirits than it does on the day to day running of the Distillery, but there's still that factor in it. I find it makes the game so much more thematic and gets you so much more invested in the whole thing if you feel like you're actually going through those motions rather than just, say, cashing in a couple ingredient cards to take a Gin card. It feels odd that the act of collecting some cards, shuffling them and ditching two will make a game feel more thematic but what can I say, it really does. Distilled has you doing this from round one, which in a seven round game is very much appreciated; but it throws you in and has you puzzling out how to make your first spirit straight from the off. Now granted your first concoction will most likely be some Moonshine or some Vodka but we’ve all gotta start somewhere. I don’t know about you but if I’d been given a run down distillery and had only a few quid to my name I’d be happy if I got some mildly alcoholic puddle water out of it.
Something I really appreciate in this game is that you can always make something, (providing you’ve got the basics) it may not necessarily be the thing you want, but I’d rather take something over nothing any day and it’s still going to net you some money at the very least.
The market phase is where the majority of the game is going to be. It’s where you decide which drink you're going to try and build with the ingredients you buy, how to upgrade your distillery and how you're going to store and present it to try and flog it to the booze loving public. With four different markets out there you’re going to have quite a few options to choose from but be warned, money can be tight in this game, especially in the early rounds as your alcoholic empire is beginning to grow. But it makes every decision you make so important. Distillery upgrades are great long term, but spending that cash now means that you may not get the ingredients or storage to make what you want this round. That tightness of only being able to make one spirit per round means that you want to try and make the best you can every time to get those all important points, but that little economic game that sits underneath makes you constantly aware that this game is still about running a business.
Is it Whisky or Whiskey?
I enjoy whisky but I couldn’t begin to tell you how it’s made. Perhaps this is an excuse to go on a few whisky tours? you know, for research purposes. In the interim though distilled is peppered with little alcohol related facts throughout the rule book and cards. The most interesting and relevant one relates to making the spirit itself. When you’ve got your elements together you shuffle your cards and remove the top and the bottom card and place them back in your pantry. What’s left is what you have to make a drink with. It’s very thematic in the sense that that’s inherent to the process of making a spirit. They remove the poisonous top and bottom of the mix. It’s a really clever way of integrating a little thematic touch to the game and it also stops that distilling phase from becoming a mechanical hoop to jump through each round. If it wasn’t there then just putting your drink together wouldn’t be as interesting. There’s so many thematic touches throughout the game that prove that this has been a labour of love from the designer. It goes hand in hand with the production that is just as lovingly put together. Little things like storing tokens in whisky barrel shaped trays always bring a rye smile to my face. It all comes from a first time publisher and designer. It makes me really excited to see what’s coming next from them.
If I’ve got any complaint is that there’s not really any room in this otherwise well thought out insert for me to store any whisky bottles to take to game night, but I’ll let them off on this occasion.
They’ve brought forth Juniper berries!
So let’s talk about the empty gin bottle in the room (I know a few gin drinkers who will have shuddered at the thought of that sentence) The distilling mechanic is very random. Spending an entire round to pull together everything you need to make a big point scorer, only to see it turn to vodka all because of a bad draw can be really frustrating. Because of that I can easily see people being put off of this game based just on that alone, and honestly, I wouldn’t blame you. Personally though, I kinda like it. As I said earlier, it makes the whole distilling process a little bit more interesting and adds a tension to the game that can lead each player to have their own private little “yay or nay” moments. There are of course ways to help with this.
Some upgrades help you mitigate things in this phase and, finding ways to add more sugars and ingredients into the mix to bulk out the deck and make those bad draws less likely.
I will say that for your first couple of plays it will certainly feel like there’s a lot to keep a track of and certainly teaching it, it felt like a lot. You know those teaches where you feel like Columbo and you're using the phrase “just one more thing” a bit too much. With two sets of goals (public and private) and also the bottle set collection and the different regions and signature recipes and trying to remember the scoring on your upgrade cards, I felt there were a lot of little things that could easily get lost in the mix, especially as you're trying to get your head round how distilling works. Not that the distil phase is difficult but that alone may take a round or two until everyone knows what they’re doing. All that being said, the game itself doesn’t feel overly complex once you get into the rhythm of it.
We also found the private goals to be a little fiddly and trying to figure them out meant end game scoring took a bit longer than I’d like. Personally I’d be tempted to to leave out the private goals and maybe the bottle set collection for a first game.
The icons on the cards and the end game scoring on the bottom of the upgrade cards is too small though. There’s not that many of the icons so it won’t be long before you know what each does. But in both cases they are small enough that it will become a problem unless you sit real close to them, which isn’t always easy with a big game like this. On a few occasions I found myself almost not scoring some of my upgrade cards because the scoring condition is tucked away at the bottom of the card.
On the flip side there is a first game guide which will take each player through a few turns to get them into it, in much the same vein as Wingspans Quick Start guide. I’ve personally not used it but I love the fact that it’s there to ease people into the game, especially if you’ve got multiple new players at the table.
Distilled is a game that’s been designed with the theme in mind from the start. It works great at taking you through the process of making different spirits whilst giving you enough of an economic puzzle to back up the fun of getting the best out of your booze. If you're looking for a good time with no alcohol required then this is well worth a look.
On second thought, if I move some cards around I could get some miniatures in that insert!