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Backpacking and Beer Tasting With Meeple: A Review of The Belgian Beers Race Board Game

Today I review a game that feels like it was made just for me, The Belgian Beers Race from BYR Games and Grand Gamers Guild. This beer themed board game combines my two biggest hobbies, board gaming and craft beers.

The Belgian Beers Race has you backpacking around Belgium, visiting as many of its famous breweries as you can, toasting friends you meet along the way, collecting coasters and bottles, tasting various beers and even trying some local cheese.

Disclosure: Thank you Grand Gamers Guild for sending us a review copy of this beer themed board game. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases. 

 

About The Belgian Beers Race Board Game

The cover of The Belgian Beers RaceThe Belgian Beers Race was designed by Michaël Boutriaux and features artwork from Ammo (Amaury Dastarac), the official illustrator of the Cantillon and La Mule breweries in Brussels.

This beer themed board game plays two to four players with games taking about half an hour per player, maybe a bit more. The game is listed for ages fourteen and up but does have a beer theme which may mean limiting it to adults only. Mechanically I could see even younger kids being able to play.

The game was originally published by BYR Games in Belgium and then brought to North America by Grand Gamers Guild, where you can get the game for $54.99.

The copy of the game we received is the retail version of the game. There is also a Deluxe Kickstarter Edition out there that features multiple upgraded components.

The Belgian Beers Race has players backpacking around Belgium and visiting its many world famous breweries. Ride your bike, take the bus, or risk hitchhiking across the country, to visit breweries, taste beers, buy beers and cheese, toast your friends, collect glassware and coasters and accomplish objectives in this Euro point salad. Just be sure to watch your alcohol level and make it back to the Grand Palace of Brussels in time to catch your flight home.

For a look at each of the components in this beer themed board game check out our The Belgian Beers Race Unboxing Video on YouTube.

Everything you get with The Belgian Beers RaceThe first thing I noticed when opening up my copy is that there is no box insert to be found. All of the components were individually packaged and sliding around in the box. That said, nothing was actually damaged and the game does come with additional baggies which makes it relatively easy to organize the stuff once you get it all sorted. 

The bits in The Belgian Beers Race include a ton of wooden components. There are beer bottles in four colours (representing four different types of beers, Trappist, Brown, Blonde and Stout) and cubes in the same colours representing backpacked beers, plus components for each player including trackers for visiting special breweries, scoring and time track markers, cheese, alcohol level, toast and tasted beer trackers, and a hiker meeple. 

You also get a couple of punch boards with coaster tokens, visited brewery tokens and 50 point bottle caps. 

The game includes a huge two sided central board as well as thin single layer player boards. One side of the main board is used to play the game while the other side is a map of Belgium showing the beer labels for all of the breweries that the game features.

The custom wooden dice in The Belgian Beers RaceThere’s also a set of three custom D6 dice that are used when moving around the board, plus a deck of cards with various objective cards, both for in game and end of game scoring. 

In addition to a pretty clear rulebook, you also get a Beer Guide book with information on all of the breweries in the game. This even includes a checklist and tasting sheet that you could theoretically take with you on an actual trip to Belgium.

One thing I did appreciate is that the publisher took the time to choose red-green colourblind friendly colours for all of these components. 

 

The Belgian Beers Race Overview of Play

Set up and ready to play a four player game of The Belgian Beers RaceYou start a game of The Belgian Beers Race by seeding the board with coaster tiles. A number of these tiles are drawn randomly and placed onto the appropriate breweries. A wooden beer bottle is then placed in every brewery, including the ones that have coasters. 

The objective cards get sorted and shuffled. The level one objective deck is placed on the board face up and seven cards are drawn and placed onto the board.

Four of these cards will be available to be claimed while four will show objectives that can be claimed later. The level two objectives are put to the side for now and a set number of level three objectives, based on the player count, are drawn and placed on the board as end game scoring opportunities. 

Players take a player board, all of the wooden components in their colour plus a piece of cheese. The components are placed onto the player boards and main board as instructed in the rulebook. They track various things throughout the game like your alcohol level, number of tasted beers, etc. Each player’s hitchhiker meeple is placed in the Grand Palace in Brussels. 

Hikers at the Grand Palace in Brussels in The Belgian Beers RaceA game of The Belgian Beers Race is played over three days and two nights and uses a time track system to organize play. At the start of the game, everyone begins in the Grand Palace and everyone must try to end their trip back there on day three. 

Every action in the game takes a set number of time units and you only have so much time each day to accomplish things, with more time on the second day than the first and third (which represents getting into Brussels on the first and then having to catch your flight out on the last). 

The player who is furthest back on the time track is the active player that turn and will continue to take actions until they become the first player on the time track. Then the player that is now furthest back on the track will take actions until they are in first and so on. This continues until you hit the end of the track for that day. Note this is quite different from other time track games we’ve played in the past (and is an easy rule to mess up if you make assumptions and don’t read it carefully). 

 

Actions you can take on your turn include, travelling and arriving at a brewery, tasting a beer, buying beer and/or cheese, and camping for the night. 

The rather busy board in The Belgian Beers RaceThere are three ways to travel. Riding a bike is the safest and most reliable. It generally takes longer than the other two methods but it also guarantees you don’t waste more time than you were planning on. Keep in mind, once you’ve had enough to drink you can’t ride a bike anymore so this stop being an option. Before that point though taking a long bike ride can sober you up (you drop one on the breathalizer for every four time units in a row that you bike). 

The next option is taking the bus. The problem with this is that there’s a one in six chance that the bus will run late and the trip will cost you two extra time units. On a positive note in Belgium you can drink on the bus, so for every two time units you spend on a bus you can drink a beer from your backpack, which increases your beers tasted track and as well as your alcohol level.

The final, most risky, but potentially quickest, option is to hitchhike. Here you roll the dice and have a 50% per cent chance to be picked up. If you aren’t successfully picked up you lose two time units. You can then try again and roll an additional die with failure costing you another two time units. If you still haven’t been picked up you can continue to try with three dice with each failure costing you two more time units.  

When hitchhiking you can avoid this randomness by offering your ride beer. If you pay two beers per time unit required you get to travel without rolling the dice. Note we forgot this rule the first time we played and it makes a big difference. 

Lots of bottles and coasters ready to be collected in The Belgian Beers RaceAfter travel, you arrive at a brewery. If there’s still a beer bottle at that brewery you get to take it. If the beer bottle is gone but there’s a coaster there, you get to take that. If the brewery you arrived at is one of the special breweries you raise your trackers on your player board accordingly. There are a number of these special breweries on the map and some count for two categories. They include Trappist breweries, the designer’s favourite breweries, fan favourite breweries (voted on during the Kickstarter) and a brewery at each compass point. 

If another player is at the brewery you just arrived at and you both have beer in your backpacks you must toast each other. You give each other a beer cube and raise the following tracks: your alcohol level, beers tasted track and toast track. Then you both discard the cube you were handed. The colour of this cube only matters if it lets you claim an objective. 

 

Different breweries allow for different actions. Many of them let you taste beers, others let you buy beers and cheese, and there’s even a couple where all you can do is visit. 

 A player board from The Belgian Beers RaceEach brewery action costs one time unit. You can taste beer upping your tasted beer and alcohol tracks. Buying beer gives you three beer cubes to put in your backpack, and buying cheese makes you put your cheese counter up by one. Note you can’t buy or taste multiple times at the same brewery in a row, but you can leave and come back and repeat these actions. 

Cheese you collect is worth points at the end of the game or can be eaten at any time. Each time you eat cheese you increase your sobriety by one. 

Watching your sobriety level is a key part of this game. Once you drink enough beers you won’t be able to bike anywhere anymore. A couple of beers after that, taking the bus takes twice as long and the penalty for a failed hitchhiking attempt doubles. Drink a couple more beers than that, without sobering up first, and you will pass out losing out on the rest of the actions for the day. 

The last action you can take is to camp. When you camp you lay your backpacker meeple on its side and then you can spend time units drinking any beers in your backpack, on a one beer per time unit basis. 

Objective cards in The Belgian Beers RaceOn your turn, you can also collect objectives. The four objectives located on the right (full bottle) side of the track will be up for grabs. These include goals like buying or tasting beer at specific breweries, having specific types of beers in your backpack, having a set number of beer bottles or coasters, etc. Claimed objectives are placed on your player board face down. At the end of your turn replenish any chosen objectives by sliding them to the right and filling open spots from the deck. 

On the time track are three bottle tokens, the first player to pass one of these can “break the bottle” by flipping the token and then remove an available objective from play, if they chose not to break the bottle the next person that passes the token gets the same option. 

Once all players have reached the end of the time track or are camping the day ends. 

At the end of day one, the remaining level one objectives are shuffled in with the level two objectives and the new deck is placed faced up on the board. Players then score points.

Points are awarded for beers tasted as well as any beer bottles or coasters collected. The time track is reset (the order of the player tokens is flipped) and players who drank too much take a “slept in” penalty. Then everyone’s alcohol level drops by four levels. The game then continues into day two which plays identically to day one except for the fact that players have more time and there are now level two objectives in the mix. 

The time track from The Belgian Beers RaceAt the end of day two, players again get points for their beers tasted and for beer bottles and coasters collected. 

Day three is another short day, like the first. On this final day, no new objectives are added and by the end of this day players want to be in the Grand Palace. 

Once everyone has reached the end of the time track you calculate everyone’s final score. Here points are awarded for tasted beers, and collected bottles and coasters, for one final time. Players also score additional points for how high they got on their bonus brewery tracks, each beer in their backpack, the amount of cheese they saved, the total number of different breweries they visited, how high up on their toast track they reached, objective cards they collected during the game and any of the level three objectives they qualify for.

Note some of these things can award negative points. For example, if you never partake in a toast your score on the toast track will show negative five points.  Similarly, you will lose two points if you don’t visit a Trappist brewery. You can’t go on a beer trip in Belgium and not make it to at least one of these!

Enjoying some Trappist beer while playing The Belgian Beers RaceIf you did not make it to the Grand Palace before reaching the end of the time track you are penalized fifteen points per travel action required to get there. 

The player with the most points wins, with a tie being broken by the player who got to the Grand Palace first. 

In addition to these core rules the game also includes a shorter version. In the short version, there are no level three objectives, level two objectives are only used if the level one deck runs out, players decide where on the map they want to start off at the beginning of the game and you only play over two twenty-four slot turns, with only one mid game scoring opportunity. 

 

Who should look at picking up The Belgian Beers Race

Chimay is one of the breweries featured in The Belgian Beers RaceWhen I first saw The Belgian Beers Race I knew I had to get a copy and immediately started begging Marc from Grand Gamers Guild to send me one to review. My two main hobbies are Board Gaming and Craft Beer and here we have something that blends those two hobbies beautifully.

I was sold on this game before ever sitting down to play it.

It could have been terrible and I still would have appreciated owning it and the fact that it exists in the first place. Luckily the game is not at all terrible. It is actually a very solid, rather thematic, board game that has a great flow once you get the rules down.

What I like most about The Belgian Beers Race is the way the theme is so well integrated with the mechanics. What you do in this board game feels like what you would be doing if you really were backpacking across Belgium. This integration makes onboarding and teaching new players relatively easy as the concepts just make sense. I also find that even when there’s a large gap between plays I can remember the rules to this game.

Having fun playing The Belgian Beers RaceEven the scoring system makes sense here. To score well you need to hit as many different breweries as you can, but you also want to make sure to visit some specific ones. You want to watch for promotions (in the form of Objectives) and grab collectable bottles and coasters before they run out.

You are in Belgium and if you don’t hit up at least one Trappist brewery, and if you don’t meet up with friends at least once for a toast, you are just doing it wrong. The game recognizes this and penalizes you for missing out.

The Objectives add to this theme integration by having you want to try different beers or take different actions at the breweries you visit. They also help to make the game replayable as they will change up every game, both in the order they come up and which ones you see each game. The random coaster distribution also helps with this as which breweries have coasters and how many changes each game. In one game a specific brewery may only be worth visiting by the first player to get there whereas in another game that same brewery may be a worthwhile stop for every player.

Time for a Toast in The Belgian Beers RaceMechanically, I love the time track system in The Belgian Beers Race. For one it’s also thematic, with each time unit being half an hour. Shopping for beer and loading up your pack, half an hour. Doing a tasting, half an hour. Miss your bus? Doh! You just lost an hour! etc. I do have to admit though that some people I’ve played with couldn’t stop thinking that one time unit equates to one hour.

The other aspect of the time track system in this game is the way the active player continues to keep playing until they are in first. This is quite different from other time track games I’ve played like Tokaido or Glen More, where once you pass anyone it’s now their turn to go because they are now in last.

In The Belgian Beers Race, after the first couple actions of the game, you end up getting to do a lot more all in a row on your turn which feels more rewarding.

 

This system can also lead to another thematic tie-in, if you take a long bus ride you are going to be sitting there waiting for everyone else to catch up.  Especially if that bus is late due to a bad die roll.

Sean was dealing with some really bad rolls in The Belgian Beers RaceThis randomness in the travel system may be an issue for some players. While it is possible to play The Belgian Beers Race by biking everywhere and never pressing your luck, I don’t think this will lead to a winnable score. You won’t be able to hit enough different breweries for this to pan out. At some point, you are going to have to roll those dice and the winner here can be determined by good or bad rolls.

Thankfully the game does present some ways to avoid the dice, of which I want to specifically call out the “beer bribe” rule as we call it. Don’t miss the fact that you can pay in beer to avoid rolling when hitchhiking. We missed that rule the first time we played and it made for a longer, more frustrating, game, so take advantage of that rule when you can.

Another aspect I like about The Belgian Beers Race is that it’s a point salad. There are lots of different ways to score points and there doesn’t seem to be one specific winning strategy that’s better than any others. You get points for drinking beer, for collecting bottles and coasters, for toasting, for hoarding cheese, for visiting specific breweries, for the number of breweries you can get to, and for all of the random objectives. It has been fascinating playing with different players and seeing how each sets their own different objectives and how that has affected their scores.

The Belgian Beers Race board is very busy.On the negative side of things, we found the graphic design in The Belgian Beers Race to leave a lot to be desired. While I fully understand getting a famous Belgian beer label maker to do the artwork for a game based on Belgian beers, and yes, this does give a certain aesthetic to the game, we found that the overall design can hinder gameplay. First off, the board itself is just busy, very busy, and overwhelming due to that busyness.

Each route has three different icons on it for the three transportation modes and each brewery is presented as a poker chip looking circle that’s trying to fit far too much information in a far too small space. This information includes the brewery number, its type, if you can or cannot buy or taste beer there, and any special brewery symbols. These can be very hard to see from across the table. In every game I’ve played we’ve had players constantly asking for help in determining what they can do where.

The super tiny tokens in The Belgian Beers RaceAnother annoyance came in the form of the visited brewery tokens. These are super tiny. They are some of the smallest tokens we’ve seen since Disney Sidekicks. Not only am I worried about losing them, but there’s also no good place to put them on the board. The brewery information is already hard enough to see without everyone tossing tokens on top of it.

My final complaint about The Belgian Beers Race is the player boards. These are very thin and slippery and you have to track a lot of things on them. You’ve got your toast track, your cheese track, your tasted beers track, five tracks for visited special breweries, all your beer cubes in your backpack and your sobriety level. If that board gets bumped there’s a lot of tracked information that can be lost.

 

Overall I really dig this game but I was predisposed to like it. It falls at the intersection of two of my biggest hobbies. The real question here is if non-beer fans would enjoy this and so far I would say yes, definitely.

Kat doesn't even drink beer but liked The Belgian Beers RaceWhile the majority of the people I have played The Belgian Beers Race with are beer fans, none of them are really as into brewing as I am and only one other person I’ve played with knows or cares what a Trappist beer is. More importantly, I’ve also played the game with a couple of non-drinkers and they also quite enjoyed it.

For my non-beer fan friends, this was a really solid travel game as much about backpacking and getting around as it was about the beers. Everyone I’ve played with has really loved the time track system and the player interaction involved. Whether this played out through grabbing a beer bottle before another player, grabbing or smashing an objective before someone else claimed it or forcing someone to do a toast when they had other plans. Toasting in particular can be right nasty as it’s a required action, not optional, as long as both players have beer in their backpacks.

Another aspect of The Belgian Beers Race that people have a lot of fun with is the tension of making sure you make your flight at the end of the game. The final part of The Belgian Beers Race, where everyone is trying to get back to the Grand Palace in Brussels before running out of time, is always tense. While there are players who play it safe, there are also always other players who try to squeeze in just one last tasting or shopping trip before making their flight, and sometimes they don’t make it.

The beer book that comes with The Belgian Beers RaceIf you are a beer fan and know why Belgian beers are considered some of the best beers in the world and how rare true Trappist beers are becoming, and you play board games, you should pick up a copy of The Belgian Beers Race. You are going to love it for the theme alone and will likely also get a kick out of the beer guide that comes inside. Even if you can’t convince your friends to play it often, it’s just a cool game to own and to have on your shelf.

Even if that’s not you, don’t overlook this game. The Belgian Beers Race is actually a very good point salad Euro. It’s one of the best time track games I’ve played. If the theme of travel and hiking around Belgium sounds fun to you, whether you actually care about Belgian beer or not, there’s a lot to like in this game.

That said, this game isn’t super simple. Even though it’s about beer, it is definitely not a drinking game or a party game. This is a medium weight euro with all of the complexity that goes with that designation. This is not a game to pick up for your drinking buddies or your aunt who likes to try new beers now and then. While casual drinking may be encouraged by the theme, this is not a casual game.

The beer book that comes with The Belgian Beers RaceYou are also going to want to avoid this if you don’t want or allow alcohol references at your table for whatever reason. You don’t want to knock someone off the wagon because you played a beer themed board game with them, and getting pass out drunk is probably not a good gaming topic for playing with kids. Though I will note that passing out in the game is penalized and not encouraged.

My only regret about this game is that I missed out on the Kickstarter and didn’t get the deluxe edition. I would have loved the dual layer player boards, the three mini-expansions, the actual bottle caps for the 50+ point tokens, and other upgrades.

 

With how much my regular game group has been enjoying The Belgian Beers Race what I would love to see come out are some other Beer Race games from this same publisher. For example, I would love to play The German Beers Race game starting and ending in Munich and including the Five Seidla Climb. 

Have you ever played a thematic game and thought that you would love to see something similar done for another region or perhaps even another time period? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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