Board game publisher Alea is responsible for some of the greatest games in the hobby, including Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, In the Year of the Dragon, and Castles of Burgundy. But for some reason they'd never been graced with the most prestigious award in gaming: the Spiel des Jahres. But in 2015 they finally snagged the coveted award, in the Kennerspiel category, which is for games of slightly more complexity than your typical Spiel des Jahres game.
The winner was actually a reworking of an older game, called Witch's Brew. Now there are a few new wrinkles, including a board and slightly different role mechanisms. So will Broom Service put a spell on you, or just fizzle out? Let's find out!
The new board consists of towers and castles spread across four different terrains: forest, prairie, mountain, and hill.
Everyone has the same set of 10 cards: 4 witches that match the four terrains, 3 gatherers who get players ingredients, 2 druids who deliver potions, and 1 weather fairy.
The game takes place over seven rounds. At the beginning of each round, players secretly choose 4 of their 10 role cards, setting aside the other 6 facedown. Now the starting player chooses one of her 4 roles and plays it.
This is where the game gets exceedingly clever.
When a player plays a role card, it's almost like playing a card in a trick-taking game. If other players have that card in their set in of 4 cards for that turn, they must follow "suit."
Each card has two actions on it--a brave and a cowardly one--and you choose which way you'll play the card. If you say you're playing the card bravely, then you'll get the best action, but if a player after you also plays that role (and they must if they have it), and they play it bravely, then you get nothing, and they get that better thing. Unless someone plays over them!
If you play the card cowardly, then you get a less-great action, but you're guaranteed to get it. So there's tons of trying to figure out which cards your opponents might have picked for the turn, and figuring out when to play cards and when to wait, hoping you can "trump" someone's brave play. It's terrific.
So what do the roles do? Gatherers let you gather resources. Witches help move your pawns around the board, and deliver potions. Druids let you deliver potions, too. The weather fairy lets you remove clouds from the board, opening up new areas for pawns to move through, and giving the player cool special powers.
You'll also see Events every round that affect gameplay. And there are three different modular variations that add new twists to the game. (I'm a fan of playing with these variations in every game.)
The game ends at the end of seven rounds, and you add up VPs and declare a winner.
As I mentioned, the cardplay is the best aspect of Broom Service. There's a ton of angst as you're picking which cards to use in a round, and then which order to play them, and finally if you're going to play the card "bravely" or "cowardly." I love angst in games, and this one delivers.
If there's one thing I dislike, it's that the penalty for losing out on a missed brave play is just so brutal. Getting nothing is a butt-kicker--especially in a game with only seven rounds.
I played Witch's Brew years ago, but didn't find it particularly compelling. The changes to the cardplay, and the addition of the board aspects, makes this a better game.
I've played Broom Service as a short game with my game group, but it also works well as a family game. The Kennerspiel award is for "next-step" games, and Broom Service certainly fits the bill.
I need to state the obvious here: This game involves witches and druids. It's very abstracted, as you're simply using these roles to deliver potions. I have no problem with this. I have no problem with my kids playing this. You might.
Firestone's Final Verdict--Broom Service is a throwback to simple, elegant, and angst-filled Euros. I love the clever cardplay, and the board elements are a win for me, too. Broom Service is a very good game.
Thanks for reading!