TLDR: A rant, (containing elements of a review, without any claim to objectivity) on why Broken & Beautiful might be the best intro drafting game, or hate-drafting game, or drafting game, or small box game, this-
“I love this Broken and Beautiful so much that it is a draft to collect sets game I like,” I got out before Tom started laughing.
I hope to teach my mother B&B. I backed it soon after she insisted I teach her two players Sushi Go and had to improvise a simplified rule set so as to minimize my imposition, given her insistence was driven by her realization that no one in my family wants to play games with me. After two weeks in which I’ve played it six times I logged on bgg, (yes, that’s a lot, shut up), it’s one of my favorite short games at two. I showed it to 5 people at Dice Tower West ’23, one of whom was my demoing roommate, who whipped me twice in a row and bought the deluxe edition the next day.
The designer, Patrick Rauland, was at DTW and signed my copy with a gold pen that is distinguishable from the gorgeous cover art only when you tilt the box just so and it winks at you. He said he designed B&B to be played with family who are not used to hobby-game rulestes while providing tactical depth for gamers… because he spends a lot of time with family, and less than he would like with gamers. To be fair, he’s such an enthusiastic guy, I’d liked him before I heard that. Patrick likes it best at three, and I’ve only gotten to play it at three once, with a couple who were demoing different booths and I think said they intended to buy it. When I’d only played it at two, I didn’t believe that the 46 cards would work at three, much less four, and after teaching that couple I was back at Left Justified’s booth the next day ranting about how well it works at three.
Broken and Beautifuls tactical depth is so multifaceted that every time I went by Left Justified and engaged with the designer I ended up ranting at him about another aspect of how the game’s few rules interact to produce yet another cool effect I had to compliment him on. When I was trying to teach B&B to that poor couple I had to keep stopping myself when I realized I was ranting about how the mechanics interconnected after teaching each rule instead of teaching the next. Said rules go roughly: put out two cards per player plus one, snake draft cards for either their gold value, (identical to their repair cost in gold), or your tableau, break any cards matching the undrafted card or the next up on the draw deck, pay to repair broken cards in your tableau, flipping them to their, (yet more gorgeous) gold glazed side, and pass first player. Yes, it takes longer to explain the scoring conditions of the nine card types, (and non scoring gold cards).
Adding the dual use gold/tableau building cards and break/repair mechanism to a snake draft and established set types results in layers of rich decisions, both within your tableau and out on the table. At the same time, you don’t need any understanding of how multifaceted and complex the interlocking gears of this wheelset are to make meaningful decisions and feel the joy of agency. It is both the Strike! and Lacerda of drafting games, if you accept that it as far off on the Strike! as Lacerda sides. I’ve been thinking about what ‘depth’ means when you can play a game 12 times in a row, in the time it would take to play a game once. While the measuring stick is new to me, Broken & Beautiful does push up against the meaningful decisions per minute, (copyright MDM), benchmarks I have.
Fairy Tales is a gold standard for drafting games, despite its age and imparsability, because it allows hate drafting to blossom as a legitimate tactic. In B&B you must spend some cards for their gold value regardless, so their type and suit are, (largely), meaningless to you outside the shifting tableau of your competitors. The contents of those tableau change during gameplay due to the cards you help decide to leave on the table and the gold you allow them access to. Those traditional sets never feel staid because how much their value is increased by being glazed in gold changes between those types of set. You’re working to figure the chance that a card you need comes down the river and chance that cards you need to break cards already in your tableau come up and stay.
Physically, Broken & Beautiful is gorgeous, not beautiful. The art is stunning, and the graphic design, subtracting the iconography issues I’m about to mention, is elegant and easy to parse. The deluxe edition is lux, (like my roommate), with a toothsome metal teapot first player token and shiny gold ingots. My base version is a 4x4x1 1/2in box, with functional wooden bits, and I cannot tell you the joy that gives me. That base version is sixteen bucks from their website, (and if you support your friendly local game store, support friendly designers working with small publishers with direct sales), https://prolificgames.net/. I did get the fancy metal teapot start player token for backing the kickstarter, which I do love and you’d have to buy as an add on to the base version to have what I play it with. I wish I could buy the shiny ingots as an add-on, because I like small boxes, also can I use your pictures in this? Outside that, you get four player aid cards with each card type and its frequency on one side and some rules reminders for new players on the other and a rulebook describing a very simple ruleset very simply with any possible confusion and edge cases clearly resolved. A baggie for the ingots, a baggie for the teapot. That rule-sheet includes a card image with labeled icons, an example scoring, a picture of setup, and a diagram of scoring on a 6″x6″ double sided sheet of paper. If someone hasn’t heard of the theme they will think it and you are cool when you explain it. Said theme also inspired mature, delicate, tranquil art on both sides of the cards, (which is also necessary mechanically- name another draft/set collection game that is thematic in that its theme is reflected in its mechanics). And because of that, best of all, the theme also helps you teach, and new players remember, the rules of the game.
B&B has only two problems, and those are in its iconography. Specifically, the Cup and Bowl are too difficult to parse from the card art and the difference between their icons is trivial, especially the first time you see it. The Vase and Tea Jar cards are also difficult for some people to parse on the first play, although it’s not as bad. Since there are 10 card types I lay them all out for the teach, (if you take one of each card type and put them at the front of your deck to prep your next teach at the end of the game it’s quick), and point out both those card pairs. It’s also an opportunity to re-emphasize that there are icons on the bottom of the cards indicating their gold value/repair cost and scoring conditions, as those are the simplest way to check card type. And for a single production mistake, one that can easily be rectified by slightly modifying your teach is about the best I hope for.
B&B can be ten minutes of breaking your brain with a core hobbyist or a half hour of looking at the pretty cards you play with family/brain dead core hobbyists on Sunday night of a con. Before DTW I only got it out once with a buddy who owns a game shop, and she also insisted on playing a second game immediately. Showing people this game at DTW ’23 felt like when I was demoed a round of Draftasouras the first afternoon of Gencon 2019, went right to their booth to find out they’d sold out. I sent everyone I knew to that demo table, and by Sunday, (they never did get more stock in), we’d pooled money for ten copies and got someone with a vendor badge to try before the rest of us could get in. I fear that Broken & Beautiful will not find that kind of buzz, because it is a small and subtle and beautiful game, in an appropriately-sized box. Or maybe it shouldn’t buzz, because it doesn’t need to; there’s a difference between the game you want to get home first so that you can show it to everybody, (look, a roll and write with drafting! drafting meeples!), and a game you want to enjoy playing with your friends, watching the gears click.