I'm not even going to try to pretend that I know a lot about beer. This isn't one of those fields where you can fudge it and get away with it. Beer fans seem to be walking encyclopedias of information, and when you get in the habit of actually brewing your own frequently, you've officially hit nuclear physicist levels of knowledge in the topic as near as I can tell. I only drink it, and given my geographical limitations, I don't have access to a large variety. Thankfully, through the power of video game simulation technology, I can finally see what it's like to be a beer connaisseur, and... oh wait, no, I'm still in over my head.
Fiz: The Brewery Management Game [$1.99] is exactly what it says on the bottle. At first glance, it feels very similar to Kairosoft sim games like Game Dev Story [$4.99], and in some ways it is, but after playing for a while, a few big differences are apparent. At a basic level, gameplay isn't terribly far from the old classic Lemonade Stand. Develop your product, sell your product at a price you set, hopefully earn profits, use the profits to improve your facilities/product, repeat. Of course, there's a lot more to Fiz than that, but that's the outline. Events pop up pretty frequently, asking you make beer of particular types or parameters, and you'll be given a pretty steady dripfeed of challenges that you can complete for a reward of some type.
The main way this game differs from most of Kairosoft's fare is in how deep it goes. I don't imagine anyone at Kairosoft actually knows much about running a shopping mall or a hot spring, but it's clear the people at Bit By Bit Studios are serious beer fans. There is a huge variety of beers you can brew once you've found the recipes, and the needs of different markets and events means you'll need to get comfortable with the whole spread. Each beer requires the correct ingredients in the correct amounts, and while you can discover beers on your own, most of your recipes will be earned as rewards or picked up off of the vermin infesting your brewery.
Aside from the recipes and beers themselves, there are a lot of other things you need to manage. Your brewery needs a staff, which you'll initially choose from a group of friends with pretty weak stats. You can hire new employees later, and there are some strangely familiar faces in the lot if you look hard enough. There are four jobs to be assigned for each brewing job, and each one depends on particular stats. Each batch brewed earns some experience points for participating employees, and when they level up, you'll get to add a point to the stat of your choice. It's probably a good idea to go for extreme specialization here, by the way. There's no real advantage to creating a jack of all trades. Employees also come with one of an assortment of special abilities that help out in different ways.
It's also important to upgrade and replace your equipment for each stage of the brewing process whenever you can afford to. Equipment gives a bonus modifier to various properties of your final product, including its quality and shelf life. You'll also need to research and open new locations to sell your beer, and you might want to spend a few coins expanding your storage capacity. There's a lot of stuff you can worry about if you feel the need to, and this is where another key difference from Kairosoft games pops up. With Kairosoft games, it's pretty hard to not win. They're designed carefully to ensure that you feel like what you're doing is important, but no matter what, you'll always end up ahead in some way as you play. Fiz is not like that. If you don't invest some energy into learning how to play it well, you're going to end up spinning your wheels pretty fast. It's pretty overwhelming at first, but in the long run, I appreciate the extra bite this game has.
There's a lot of in-game help that will advise you, but I feel like it tries to teach too much too fast at times. It took a lot of fiddling around and re-checking things to get a handle on all the things going on, and until I did, I had a lot of trouble eking out much profit brewing. Luckily, there is a safety net if you're taking some time to get your brewing business up to speed. While you're making a batch of beer, little mice will sometimes run around on the floor. Touching them will earn you some decent cash along with scraps of new recipes. You don't want a mouse to find its way into a bottle, do you? I heard when that happens you get your beer free. It's in the Canadian Criminal Code. Like, there's legal precedence set in cases in law.
It might seem a bit absurd that you'll make more money catching mice than selling beer at first, but I think it serves a nice dual purpose of giving you something to do during the brewing process and giving you a bit of cash to keep you solvent while you figure out the game's deeper aspects. In spite of what I said in the last paragraph, there's no punishment for ignoring them, as far as I can tell. Anyway, make sure you pay careful attention to what you're making and the markets you're selling in, or you're going to end up with a whole lot of spoiled beer and losses on your hands, leaving you with no option but to abandon your brewery dreams and become an Orkin Man.
There are tons of events with a good mix of goals to shoot for, but one aspect I don't like is that you can permanently miss out on some of them if you don't finish them fast enough. The game throws so many events at you, and in the beginning while you're trying to get your bearings, it's hard to stay on top of all of them. I understand it's more realistic that certain events have expiry dates, but as a gamer, permanantly missable things are what cause me to wake up in cold shivers in the middle of the night. They're what I threaten my son with if he doesn't finish all his vegetables at dinner. They're certainly not something you toss into the early stages of a game.
Many of the events aren't like that, however, giving you plenty of time to put together the required brew. Clearing events will open up new ones and, again unlike similar games, eventually leads to a conclusion. Once you've finished the game, you're free to start again with a New Game Plus mode, but I was kind of surprised by the game actually ending. I know a New Game Plus serves a nearly identical purpose, but it would be nice to have the option of simply carrying on forever if you want. The mechanics are certainly deep enough to support it. At any rate, it's a fairly long journey to the end, so it's not like you'll feel rushed or strapped for time. It feels like it goes by pretty fast, but this game has a clock to confirm that I just have a time perception problem when it comes to simulation games.
The game has nice, clean, sprite-based visuals. What's here looks really good, but there really isn't much to see. You'll mostly be looking at your brewery, with your motley crew of employees and slight variations of the same old equipment. Each brewery has a few cute little cosmetic details to look for, which gives them some extra personality. More importantly for this type of game, the interface is really well-designed. Everything is clearly marked and I never had trouble finding the information I needed. Like the graphics, I could have done with a bit more variety in the music. I know it's the norm for this genre to have only one or two songs, but it would be awfully nice if people would break that norm more often.
I feel like on iOS, this genre is largely occupied by Kairosoft and a lot of F2P games with timers, so it's nice to get a well-done sim that feels meaningfully different from the usual at a fair price without any extra demands on your wallet. It also accomplishes the sometimes-difficult goal of taking a subject matter I generally don't know much about and making it very interesting for me. I can't speak to its faithfulness to the subject matter, but it feels like it's very respectful towards it, while still keeping things approachable and fun for the layperson. Fiz: The Brewery Management Game isn't perfect, but it's a very strong first effort for Bit By Bit Studios, and I hope they stick around in the sim scene. If you pick this up, be sure to check out the thread in our forums, where one of the developers and some of our members are dropping some very useful strategy.
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