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The TAVERN in the DEEP VALLEY is a dice and card collecting/building game by Wolfgang Warsch for 2-4 players aged 12+ published by Schmidt Spiele

You can find it online for €36.00 / £35.00 or in Your Local Games Store and I'm pretty sure if you like games with options, luck and frustration you won't be disappointed. 

One question often asked about board games is "has it got playable longevity?"  The Tavern in the Deep Valley is a game that we played to review and then continue to play for the fun and enjoyment it supplies. I suppose that if it is played a lot in a short period of time by experienced board games players then a pattern or two will eventually emerge, though the rolling of dice and the turning of shuffled cards will have a big say in which way you choose to play. There are also several additional components that add to the basic game (aka Module One) which are used for Modules 2, 3, 4 and 5. 

The game runs in Module Order; thus if you play Module One you need all the basic components. If you want to play Module Two you need to add those components into the game and play accordingly. If you are inclined to play Module 5 then you must already have played Modules 1, 2, 3 & 4 in order first. You are required to learn the game one step (Module) at a time, a bit like adding ingredients to a cake; you have to begin with the Flour, but you can't go straight to the fruit and use that as your cake mix - you need to add the Fat, Sugar, Eggs and possibly also Water or Milk. In other words for the full and complete game experience you have to play it in the order of each Module, it's fluidity is an outstanding piece of game design.

The central board (aka the Monastery Board) has the Round Track, 8 Rounds per game, that determines the free resource all players get at the beginning of a new Round. There is also a numbered running track around the lower half of this board but although it looks like a score track it actually isn't - points on this track are not added to Victory Points collected by players on the cards they gather throughout play. The purpose of this 'Monastery' track is to gift players other resources as they reach certain numbers on it; unlike the Round track gifts thes Monastery Track only gives resources to the players when their marker reaches the associated number. This is something worth remembering as it is easy to push for additional points on the Monastery Track forgetting that they are of no value as Victory Points.

Players have their own deck of cards in their own colour and a Tavern, represented by a personal board. These boards show where customers can sit, various items are stored, places where staff work and areas that can be expanded either temporarily or permanently - temporary expansions last only for the turn in which they are bought and give useful but single use bonuses that usually affect dice.

  

The game features a Take-and-Pass mechanic whereby each player rolls their own four white dice, keeps one and passes the others to his left-side neighbour (aka Clockwise). They take one and pass on the remainder until all players have four White dice. They may also have up to three dice in their own chosen colour - Green, Blue, Yellow or Red (never more than three) given to them by a Temporary or Permanent bonus building.

The White dice are rolled at the beginning of every Round after the dealing of cards, any coloured dice you own at this time being rolled with them. The dice chosen by each player are placed beneath their personal Taverns until all players have four White dice (plus any coloured dice they rolled). These are then placed, according to die-face results - note that these die-faces are never altered though they may be affected by Bonuses. For example, the Dishwasher allows the addition of one point to the die result (never above six) so a 3 could be counted as a 4, or a 4 as a 5 etc but the die itself is not flipped over to represent this; the Rules say that as you can use more than one Dishwasher on a single die it's so you can tell how many Dishwashers you have used. I imagine that during play-testing players were changing their minds and not keeping up with their die flipping.

  

One of the previously well used mechanics that Tavern in the Deep Valley relies on is the card Reveal-and-Place. All players take cards, one at a time from the top of their personal decks and place them in the associated positions on their Tavern boards. These Tavern cards may be customers - this phase ends for each of the players when their tables are full - tables (allowing for extra customers) - Waitresses (roll one of your coloured dice and add it to your dice pool) - Dishwashers, Beer Handlers and/or Beer Suppliers.

Every player has their own (colour) personal deck of cards to which they can add extra Guests and Nobles by spending the virtual Beer that they make, or buy Tavern cards (as listed above) with this Rounds (plus any saved) virtual coin gain. An amount of the Beer and Coins left over at the end of a player's turn can be saved for use. Before the Bonus Safe or Beer Storage have been built you can hold 2 Coins and 2 Beer, with the Bonuses the amounts are 5 Beer and 5 Coins. Every Bonus seems small and at first maybe not worth spending your dice on, but actually it is far better to get the bonuses as often and as quick as you can.

When upgrading your Tavern, placing extra Tables, hiring staff, by spending coins, you may only buy one of each type (that you can afford), thus you cannot buy 2 Tables or 2 Waitresses but you could by 1 Table and 1 Waitress and/or others if you have the cash available (generally unlikely), but when adding a Customer you may only entice ONE, though your actions during the Round may already have induced a Noble to drop in. Nobles require a lot of Beer. Nine Beers will entice one Noble to your Inn but if you can afford 14 or 18 Beers they will bring a friend or friends (2 or 3 Nobles now enter your establishment). You also acquire the interest of Nobles by expanding and upgrading your Tavern and by 'meeting' them on the Monastery track and expounding the virtues of your Ale. Remember that Nobles are the points getters - 10 VP each.

  

The rolled dice are placed on the cards according to the number required - each card has either a specific number required or can take any number. For Example; a customer with a #2 on it will pay you $2 in virtual coin when a die bearing the '2' result is placed on it. Nobles, both Male and Female, cost 10 Beers to obtain (they can also be gained from the central board) and give $2 coinage when a 2 die is placed on them, the difference between them and the common-folk is the value of the VPs they give when the endgame is reached; remember only VPs count at the end. It should also be remembered that apart from the storage spaces on the board there are no actual Coins or Beer tokens, they are all 'virtual' thus you count them up from your Tavern board and then spend them each Round. Upgrading and Hiring Staff as quickly as you can (mostly by luck to begin with I will admit) allows you to make plans for future Rounds.

There is a lot of luck involved. Starting with turning over the cards and then the rolling of the dice. As each player has the same set of cards in their personal decks everyone will eventually draw the same cards, as in the majority of deck-builder games - though once new cards have been added and shuffled in with the original sets each player's game options will subsequently differ. Unlike many deck-builder games the cards bought in a Round go directly to the TOP of your draw pile, not into the Discard pile, thus you know that whatever you buy will be available at the beginning of the next Round. I like this different approach to drafting because you know the card you bought will be there for you almost immediately. It often gets frustrating (in other drafting games) when you buy a decent card and it gets discarded and you have to wait until it has been shuffled in and found its way to the top of the draw deck before you get the opportunity to use it.

Played with a regular group of people it shouldn't be that long before you have played your way through to the fifth Module, but if you entertain more than one group of players then you need to begin from the first Module each time you begin. I have to admit that we do keep returning to the first Module because even without any expansion pieces (Modules) it certainly feels like the complete package.

  

The illustrative artwork and component design somehow manage to actually convey the dinginess of a dark, dank, cellar Inn. The game mechanics meld together to create an enjoyable and playable challenge for all players. At first glance, as in seeing other folk playing, it looks interesting but not particularly eye-catching, but playing it offers many opportunities for fun and disaster (mainly fun & frustration) as it certainly does have that "if only..." quality about it.

Speaking of 'quality' this  is a game that has been purpose built, designed and produced to last. Schmidt expect it to be well played and have created game components that are sturdy and strong so that it remains like new with just a little tlc by the players. A 'quality' game of deck building and dice manipulating that with its exceptional 'quality' pieces, board and cards has been marketed with a solid, popular, medieval style theme. This is one of the latest genre of games to come from Europe, the genre that is part family game, part gamer's game; playable at high levels by players who understand strategies and who can formulate their own tactics from what they are given (rolled/drawn) each Round.

The Modules: 
I have concentrated (above) on the first Module, the Basic game, because that is the one that will be played the most and because that is how new players will be introduced to the game. Here is a brief expose on what to expect as you progress.

Module 2: This flips the Monastery board to its Winter side and introduces Schnapps Tokens and Entertainer Tiles. Entertainers will keep your customers happy for a payment in Schnapps, and in return will reward you with a) Coin or Beer b) An upgrade or the removal of an unwanted Customer or c) Minor deck or die manipulation. The Entertainer Tokens are double-sided (hence the 'or') and cannot be flipped once placed.
Module 3: It's still Winter at the Monastery, everything remains as it began in Module 2 but now your Reputation has grown, bringing with it new customers. Because of the continued cold snap the Schnapps flows freely and the Bards begin to sing. Bards can be hired for Coin, the Entertainers are still happy to be plied with Beer - a sort of Battle of the Bands in your Tavern for the delight of your patronage.
Module 4: The weather has taken its toll and the game begins on a more random note as players are dealt 'Start' cards rather than having a balanced starter set.
Module 5: Every Tavern owner likes to boast about their clientele and what better way than to have 'selfie' photographs of themselves with the posh and famous hanging on the walls of the bar? Sadly photography and 'selfies' are a long way off into the future (someone needs to develop the camera first) and so the next best thing is a book filled with significant signatory signatures. The better your Autograph book, the better the bonuses.

Remember that you should not just add any one of these to your game but instead you should game-build by adding them in order and playing one or more games with each Module. The more games you play per Module the less chance there is of you tiring of this game. As I said earlier though, we have played through these Modules and are generally happy to enjoy just the Base game as there are enough options brought about by the luck of the dice and the thought of the spend. 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015