Game Review: Tavern Masters & Expansions

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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# of Players 1-6
Time: 20-30 Mins
Age: 14+
Gamer Type: Casual to Moderate
Game Type: Resource Management/Engine building
Complexity: 4.5

Introduction

One of the most common settings of any adventure, sci-fi or fantasy game, especially role playing games is the bar. This is where you have fights, get quests, fall in love and forget the pains of a day. Juxtapose this with real life, with bars where you have fights, get jobs, fall in love and forget the pains of the day. Let’s face it, our society is addicted to bars, pubs, saloons and other establishments that sell spirits and booze. In the gaming community (and real life), however, very little attention is paid to the bartender. That changes with Tavern Masters from Dann Kriss Games.

Story

In Tavern Masters, you are the bartender in a bustling town. There are two modes of play, competitive and cooperative. In both modes, your goal is to collect money. In the cooperative game, you want to collect 20 gold before the Orcs destroy your village. In the competitive game, you want to collect 20 gold before the other bar tenders in town.

The game is especially fun because you recruit workers, purchase supplies and try to attract patrons. This is like a real establishment with fantasy elements tossed in. Cheers meets Lord of the Rings. This game is a about business and business is booming. 6.5 out of 10 for Story.

Artwork

The artwork for Tavern Masters is extremely well done. Each card adds to the feel of a cheerful medieval bar lit by firelight. There are heroes, villains, wenches and drifters, each drawn painstakingly in fantasy style. The only knock is that the card backgrounds sometimes are a little too close in color.

This can make sorting them out difficult during the game. The box is made to fit the game, and is a standard size with great art, so a big plus there. Each card is worthy of an illustration in a fantasy novel. Overall, the art is fantastic, which makes sense as the designer is an artist, 8 out of 10.

Mechanics

The game is played in three phases; day, night and till. In the day phase, the players collect tavern cards. These cards represent the food, games and servers you have within your bar. These cards are bought (with food and games) or hired (with servers or entertainers) to prepare your bar for the night phase.

When the game enters into night, you attract patrons to your bar to ensure that you are making money. Whether you are playing against other players or the orcish hordes, this is very important. You find out how much money you make in the “till” phase, when you collect your gold, throw out the patrons who are not spending the night and clear your bar. The Mechanics work well together and earn a 7 out of 10.

Strategy

Tavern Masters is basically an engine-building card game. You want to attract patrons and keep them at your bar. This means that you want good food, good fun and good people working your bar. As a result, there is not much offense or defense in the base game (expansions fix this). You have limited options in rush play, but all and all, you are looking at a strong engine builder. This earns a 5.5 out of 10.

Novelty

This game is novel. There are not many games out there where you look at the day to day business of a bar. This makes it very interesting (and fun) as you play an aspect that is often looked over in many fantasy games. The mechanics in the base game are interesting, the cards follow card mechanics. However, the integration is rather unique. This earns Tavern Masters a 6 out 10 for Novelty.

Conclusion

Tavern Masters is a great game that anyone who is experienced in gaming can play. It is a little more advanced than a gateway game, so you may want to play with casual gamers, who have played competitive engine building card games before. That being said, it is not too complex that you could not bring new people in to play the game, just expect a slow start. With a total score of 33, Dann Kriss Games has a great little game here.

Expansions

There are four expansions for Tavern Master, which really add to the game. Since I do not review expansions very often, the format is I will describe the expansion and then give the game a score with the expansion.

Tavern Menu

Tavern Menu is a mini-expansion, which is based on A-la-carte rules. This is an amazingly novel expansion that brings house rules into the official canon. It allows players to adjust starting gold, the way patrons are handed out, or even play marathon games to 40 gold. The menu allows players to have more control over their games. This expansion changes the mechanics score and the novelty score raising the score for Tavern Masters with the Tavern Menu expansion to a 34.5 out of 50.

Game of Chance

This expansion adds a new randomizer, which in turn changes several elements of the game. The new randomizer only really applies to the new cards, which limits its utility but adds some new strategy to the game. This increases the strategy score and the novelty score, but it does take a hit on the mechanics score as there are limited cards with this mechanics. The score with this expansion is 34 out of 50.

Dirty Deeds

Dirty deeds is my favorite of the expansions for Tavern Masters. This brings into play cards that can mess with your opponents and defend your bar. Yep, this gives the strategy score a much-needed boost. Being a larger expansion than Game of Chance, this also increase the card count for the mechanics, which helps in that category too. This gives the game a boost of 6 points and a score of 38.5 when played with this expansion.

Dockside

Dockside is the biggest expansion of Tavern Masters and adds some very good cards to the mix. Although it changes the mechanics and strategy, but in a balanced way. It changes the art and story, but also in a balanced way. This expansion is one of the most balanced expansions I have ever seen. This means that it is quite novel, so it increases the game’s overall score to 34.5 when played with this expansion.

Songs from the Tavern

This is not really an expansion, but it fits in this section. Tavern Masters is the first game company to send me a soundtrack for the game. These bar songs have a great feel and add to the game. Since this is not an expansion, I cannot give it an “official” score. However, this maxes out novelty and increases the art score to 9.5 which, well you can figure out the numbers. This is a great addition to the game and makes it even more fun.

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Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer

Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer

Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer is a writer for NRN and an adjunct professor at both Penn State University and the University of South Florida. He is the author of several books, most recently “A Criminal History of the Democrat Party” which is available on Amazon and via the publisher, Elite Exclusivity. Follow on Twitter at @Acriminalhisto1

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