Pie Town (Brandon Kempf)
Disclaimer: this review is from plays with a copy of Pie Town provided by Renegade Games. Box cover used with permissions by Renegade Games and Board Game Geek
Designed by Daniel Fremgen
Art by Charlie Bink & Jeanne Torres
Published by Renegade Games
Welcome to Pie Town, a community built on apples and butter. Business here is no cake walk, so manage your operation well and keep your secret recipe secret.
Pie Town is the first published design from new designer Daniel Fremgen and he found a fantastic publisher to do a first time design in Renegade Games as this game is just absolutely phenomenally produced. But we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves, first, what is Pie Town?
Pie Town is a worker placement game where players will use dice to perform actions to gather resources, to bake pies, to upgrade their areas and to even spy on the other players. Yes, it's a worker placement game with a bit of deduction involved. At the beginning of the game each player gets to choose a Secret Recipe and throughout the game, other players will gain knowledge about this Secret Recipe of yours and may even get to try to bake a pie using your personal recipe to gain lots of points.
As the game starts, everyone will have two dice active in their Break Room on their player board. These dice will be pre-set to values of 3 and 2. You see, in Pie Town you never get to roll these beautifully produced dice, the value on them is changed due to which actions you take. The values on these dice, which we can call your Assistants, or your Workers, dictate how powerful the action is that you are going to take. So if you want to visit the Orchard and gather some ingredients, the value showing on the die indicates how many ingredients you may pick up from the three hexes that are adjacent to the die placed. Each player gets to assign each of their workers over a round, one at a time in a clockwise order. When everyone has completed assigning their Workers, you bring those dice back into the break room, but you adjust the die value based on where they were placed, so the Orchard will increase the value of the die by one when brought back.
The Ingredients are super important as that is what your pies are made of. At the beginning of the game on your player board, you have a Storage Room and that Storage Room can store at most, 8 ingredients, but through the Upgrade action, you can increase the storage space in your Storage Room to 14. Ingredients will come in two flavors, Common and Rare. The apples are Common Ingredients and the Strawberries, Pumpkins and Bananas are the Rare Ingredients. When you selected your Secret Recipe, you used two Common Ingredients and one Rare one. To increase the Storage Area to 14, you would have to assign a worker of 3 or higher to the Upgrade spot on your board, when that worker returns to the break room, they lose 2 to their value, so a 3 would become a 1.
What are you going to do with those ingredients? You are going to bake them into pies of course, and to do this you need to have a worker placed in the bake section of your area. Until you upgrade the bake area, you only have access to 1 oven, so use it wisely. When taking the bake action you have the ability to bake as many pies as the value of the worker placed there. There are 4 different types of pies that you can bake, you can bake:
- Secret Recipe
When you bake pies, you get all of your ingredients and you announce to everyone at the table which pies you are backing and show them the ingredients, but make sure you mix them up, you don't want anyone figuring out your Secret Recipe too easily. Also, when you bake a pie you can bake an opponents Secret Recipe if you think you know the correct ingredients. If you do this, show that opponent the ingredients and they will then confirm if you are correct or not, if not, you lose the ingredients, but if so, you have baked their Secret Recipe and can place one of your pie tokens on the Market board in the appropriate spot. You place each of the pies you baked this way and gain 1 point per pie baked, unless you have upgraded your Kitchen, which allows you to gain 2 points per pie baked. When a worker is returned to the Break Room from the Bake area, they increase their value by 1.
So now that you've baked some pies you know what's the best thing to do with them, no not eat them, we sell them from the market. This is how you are going to get a lot of points, trust me. You will place one of your workers on an available space on the Market board and you will then do what the space tells you, which is either sell all of the pies from one column or sell all the pies from the bottom row. When doing this, everyone who has pies in the location that you are selling will gain points equivalent to the column they are in:
- Common-Common-Common gains 2 points
- Common-Common-Rare gains 3 points
- Common-Rare-Rare gains 4 points
- Secret Recipes gain 7 points
Return those pies sold to the appropriate players and score their points on the point track, the player who assigned the the Worker there to sell will also gain points equivalent to the value of the Worker and draw two random ingredients from the bag. The worker returned from the Market stays the same level as when they were placed.
You may notice that this is an awful lot to do with you just bossing around 2 Workers, so with the Upgrade action you can also hire additional workers, you can at most have 4 of them working for you during the game and I am not going to lie, you want those workers.
If you want first player or if you want to change an ingredient for your Secret Recipe because some conniving pie maker has yours figured out, go to the Pie Convention. If you chose First player your die will return to the Break Room and increase it's value by 1. If you chose change your Secret Recipe, choose one ingredient from your secret recipe and swap it with another ingredient of the same "value". For example, if you change the rare ingredient, take another rare ingredient from the bag. When that worker returns to the Break Room, they will drop in value by 1.
The final action you can do is you can spy on other players and try to figure out their Secret Recipe, you can only Spy in the Market and in the Orchard. You do this by placing a Worker of higher value on top of an opponent's worker, you then get to see ingredients, equal to the difference in worker values from their secret recipe, and then you can take the action of the space as normal.
Whew, that's a lot to know, and it's kind of a lot to process, so lets just relax and tell you how final points are tallied. First off, you will all take turns guessing the Secret Recipes of your opponents. If you get nothing correct and you guess, you get -2 points. If you get 1 ingredient correct or if you offer no guess, you get 0 points. If you get 2 out of the 3 ingredients of an opponent correct you get 2 points, and if you get all 3 correct, you get 4 points. So at most, in a 4 player game you could score an extra 12 points at this point. After that, any other pies that remain unsold are sold for 1 point per pie and the player with the highest total of points is the finest pie maker in all of Pie Town.
1400 words, I think that's about what we've got here so far just to tell you how to play Pie Town. Now, looking at that box, and that theme, would think it would take that long? I didn't. This game has the look of a 30-45 minute game, it really does. But it's not, our plays have been over an hour and closer to an hour and a half with 3 and 4 players, I've yet to try it at two, I worry about it a bit at that player count. So right off the bat you have an issue with players expecting something that will play quicker than it really does. Is this the fault of the publisher? I don't know, I just think that the look and feel of this scream Gateway length and usually that's sub one hour.
Pie Town plays smoothly, the interactions you have on the various boards are intuitive and you know what you are doing right off the bat, you have to collect ingredients, and you have to be able to store those ingredients so you can bake a variety of pies for the most points possible when you sell them. You want to do this as efficiently as possible, so you are going to right off the bat begin adding workers to your board. Which in our games you generally have done 3-4 rounds in, it's almost programmed to be that way. You have to have flexibility in your workforce to do everything necessary to compete.
First player is really important, especially the later you get in the game. Those ingredients disappear from the Orchard really quickly when the first two players send a 6 level worker there. Late in a 4 player game it usually goes like this, first player grabs 6 ingredients, second player grabs 6 ingredients, then the next player at most can get 4, then the last player at most can get 2. So it's a huge boon late in the game for players to keep that first player marker with them if they want the most ingredients and you absolutely do want more ingredients. You can get other ingredients randomly when you sell pies, but that's not going to really make up for that loss of ingredients if you are constantly to the right of the 1st player. The rare ingredients are indeed rare, half the number of the common ingredients, so a lot of the time, you'll just be grabbing ingredients regardless of what they are because you just need to bake pies. Which also can lead to just grabbing what's available in the orchard and not really paying a lot of attention to what you pick up, since ingredients for your Secret Recipe may not be available.
The Secret Recipes adds something somewhat fun to the mix, but I'm not entirely sure that they are necessary. At most you will gain 12 points at the end of the game(4 player) for correctly deducing each other player's ingredients, so there it doesn't look like a huge thing to mess with. But the flexibility in baking that it provides can make up for that a bit. So you have a pantry full of ingredients and only enough to bake one of your Secret Recipes, go ahead and put together the ingredients to bake an opponents as well to get those 7 points selling down the road. So I can see what they were doing with the Secret Recipes, I just don't know that it's that necessary.
As I said up at the beginning, Pie Town is an absolutely beautiful game. Renegade Games always knocks it out of the park with art(which is always thoughtful and inclusive), design and table presence, there is no doubt about that. But ultimately Pie Town feels to me, like a game that was developed into something it wasn't meant to be, this is purely just speculation on my part. Each time we have played Pie Town we've all agreed that the game goes about half an hour or forty five minutes longer than it should, it just feels that way to us. 9 rounds takes a long time, especially once everyone has 4 workers to assign at around 4 rounds in. Spaces are limited, so while there are usually options for your worker to do, the choices you have to make sometimes feel forced, like you are doing them just because you have a worker, you aren't really benefiting all that much from the action at that point. The game isn't heavy or deep, so the mechanisms here didn't stand up over the long haul for us. Whereas if the game time was more compact, like 45 minute game or 6 rounds instead of 9, it would and this would thrive in our collection, as an hour and half game, I just don't know when we'll reach for it.
I really like the idea that designer Daniel Fremgen has come up with here, I think it's mechanically solid and the theme is fun, with a capital F, even if I didn't spell it with one. But I can't help but wonder where the design took the turn. Was it his idea for this to go this long, or was that in development, who knows. Ultimately it didn't seem to hold up for us over the long haul. I know there is some positive buzz going on for it, I've seen it surprisingly pop up in a Top 10 list or two for 2017, so take my thoughts on this with a grain of salt, or sugar in this instance, as you should with every review, everywhere.