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Buzzworthiness: Stew – Boards and Bees

Video Stew card game

Thanks to Button Shy Games for providing a review copy of today’s game.

I’m hungry. Time for some…

image from

Stew is an upcoming game from designer Jason Glover and publisher Button Shy Games, fitting into their wallet line. It’s a 2-4 player game where players are attempting to make a hearty stew that only one can eat. Of course, there are also various vermin that need to be chased away. The game will be on Kickstarter starting on February 21.

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As is typical for games in the Button Shy wallet line, this is an 18-card game. Six of those cards are vermin – a raccoon, a rabbit, a gopher, a boar, a fox, and a vagabond. The other twelve are ingredients – two carrots, two leeks, two garlic, four potatoes, one chicken, and one stone. The vermin are laid out in a face up row, and the ingredients are shuffled together into a face down pile.

On your turn, you will draw one ingredient card, look at it, then play it. You can play it into the stew, which is a face down pile that will grow as the game goes. You could also choose to play it on a vermin, effectively feeding them and keeping them from stealing from your stew. If unfed, the raccoon will steal a potato from your stew, the rabbit will steal a carrot, the gopher will steal a leek, the boar will steal a garlic, and the fox will steal the chicken. The vagabond doesn’t steal anything from your stew, but if unfed, he will give you a three point bonus if the stew does not include chicken or a three point penalty if the stew does include chicken (he’s a vegetarian).

When someone calls “STEW”, the round is over, and that player will score the stew. If you are holding a card, you are the only one who can call “STEW”, and can play the card after you do. However, if no one is holding a card, anyone can call “STEW”.

If you call “STEW”, reveal the ingredients. Feed the unfed vermin, then count up the points that are left. A carrot scores two. A leek scores three. Potatoes score based on the number of potatoes in the stew (a single potato scores one, two potatoes score two points each, three potatoes score three points each, and four potatoes score four points each). Garlic scores six points if there’s only one in the stew; however, if there are two, you only get one point. The chicken scores five. The stone is worth -3. After adding up the score, and including the bonus or penalty from the vagabond, you win the round if it is 12 or more. This gets you two game points. If the stew is 11 or less, all other players get one point each. Play until someone has five points – they win.

COMPONENTS: I received a pre-production copy of Stew, so I can’t speak to final component quality. But from what I have, the art is good, the cards are clear, and there’s nothing that really hinders the game. There are currently a couple of clarifications in the rules to further explain cards – the wording on the garlic card, for example, makes it sound like each garlic gets you a point if there are two, but you actually only get a total of one point for having two garlic. The game will come in one of Button Shy’s traditional vinyl wallets, which are definitely a nice way to carry games around.

THEME: I like games with a food theme. I mean, it’s such a universal need for the human race, it makes sense to have games about it. This one very much has a Dust Bowl feel to it, with farmers trying to throw in enough ingredients to get a hearty stew that only one can eat. It also makes sense to have vermin making off with some of the ingredients. The only thematic thing here that I don’t really know about is the vegetarian vagabond. It’s kind of funny, but most vagabonds I know wouldn’t turn their nose up at any kind of food, and especially not chicken. Nevertheless, I enjoy the theme of Stew – I like how more potatoes make the stew more valuable while having too much garlic makes it less valuable. I even like that you can feed the vermin with ingredients, even the stone (which you can explain that you are throwing it at them to keep them away).

MECHANICS: Stew is a very simple push-your-luck style game. It boils down to draw a card and play a card. There’s a memory element as you try to remember what you have put in the stew and try to feed vermin accordingly. You also need to pay attention to what your opponents are doing – they fed the boar, so there must be a garlic in there. With only 12 ingredient cards, there’s not a lot of room for bluffing – it seems like a bit of a waste of time unless you’re actively trying to get someone else to take the stew. But since you only have partial information about the stew, it really comes down to when you think you can get it.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There’s not a lot of strategy in this game. A lot of it boils down to the random card draw and trying to decide what to do with it. But then, it’s a push-your-luck game. It really boils down to who has the most guts to call “STEW”. Each ingredient has their own special strategy, and provide some tough decisions. The garlic is my favorite because one is good, and two is bad. So do you feed the boar and hope no one else tried to add garlic to the stew, or do you let the boar free and hope someone else added garlic? Or do you just try to put in two AND feed the boar, then let someone else be upset that their stew is over-garlicked? There are some choices to be made, and while it does often come down to luck, there’s also some strategic maneuvering.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is not a complicated game to understand. I suggest teaching a round open-handed so people can understand how everything works, and they should get it by the time the stew is counted.

SCALABILITY: This is a 2-4 player game, and I’ve played at all three player counts. I noticed something. In my 2-player game, whoever called “STEW” got it right every time. In my 3-player game, whoever called “STEW” got it right about half the time. And in my 4-player game, whoever called “STEW” got it right only once. This kind of confirmed my suspicions about the game – it gets more random and harder to do any kind of meaningful deduction the more players you have. So I’d recommend it with 2 or 3 players, but not necessarily with 4 if you care about strategy. At the same time, it’s only a 10-minute game, so the randomness of a 4-player game is not a deal breaker.

REPLAYABILITY: I’m always surprised at the amount of replayability in these 18-card games. You’d think it would run out, but the random order of cards coming out really help keep it fresh every time, even every round. It’s not necessarily a game I’ll want to keep playing forever, probably, but it’s quick and it’s simple.

INTERACTION: The game has a lot of indirect interaction. There’s nothing really you can do to mess with other people’s game, other than trying to stone the stew or snipe someone else’s stew. I wouldn’t call it a no-interaction game, however, because you are definitely picking up clues from other players’ actions.

FOOTPRINT: All the space you need is for the six vermin cards, the draw pile, and the stew. A small table should be sufficient – this is a game that should be perfectly playable on an airplane tray.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I like it. I think there’s a good mixture of the known and the unknown to make a pretty intriguing game. It’s another good one from Button Shy, so be sure to check it out when the Kickstarter goes live on February 21.

Update: The Kickstarter project is live!

Thanks again to Button Shy for providing the review copy for today’s game, and thanks to you for reading!

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