STEW is a card game designed by Jason Glover of Grey Gnome Games for 2 to 4 players ages 10 and up. Consisting of just 18 cards, STEW plays in under 20 minutes. I got my hands on a print-and-play copy for a little playtesting and thought I would share my thoughts on STEW with you.
Players are farmers with the objective of gathering ingredients for a communal stew. Ingredient cards are draw and either added to the pot or used to feed vermin. When a player thinks the stew is ready, they yell “STEW!” and reveal the contents of the pot. Any vermin not fed when the stew is ready will eat a specified ingredient from the pot. The remaining ingredients are scored and if the stew is good enough, that player scores 2 points. If it is a bad stew, all other players score 1 point.
As you might be able to tell from that brief explanation, STEW is a press your luck game where players have to decide whether to risk waiting a few more turns or to call “STEW” now. However, it isn’t purely about pushing your luck as more ingredients in the pot doesn’t necessarily make it a better stew. Cards like the Bella mushroom are worth significantly less points if both are in the stew. The stone also adds negative points to the stew, so sometimes a stew with less cards is more valuable.
Players can opt to try to make the best stew possible, adding high value cards and hoping to call “STEW” before anyone else. Or they can attempt to sabotage the stew and wait for someone else to call “STEW.” Although, this only earns them (and others) one point, it is rather satisfying to trick someone into thinking the stew is ready. Nothing worse than turning over a stack of cards in the pot and finding someone put a stone in the stew.
The mechanic of the vermin cards is what really makes the game interesting. Some players will start with the strategy that the less vermin eating from the pot, the better. However, the vermin can be used in different ways to take a bad stew and make it good. Once a player calls “STEW,” the unfed vermin eat from the pot, and then the vagabond appears. A player can add a card, such a the Bella (worth 6 points alone) to the stew knowing the Boar will eat it. Then if they feel the stew is ready by their next turn, feed the Boar (who eats Bella) and call “STEW.” Or the Boar can be used to eat one of the Bellas, so they are worth 6 and not 1 each. The Fox can also be left unfed as a safety mechanism to ensure the chicken won’t remain in the stew, which causes a negative bonus from the Vagabond (as he is vegetarian). They create some options in the game, instead of it being a straight forward press your luck game. These vermin cards are also useful in deducing what cards a player has put in the pot. If a player feeds the Fox, you have to wonder if they know the chicken is in the stew. In which case, it may be worth feeding the vagabond and calling “STEW” to get the 5 points for the chicken.
New players will have a few minor questions, but after a game or two, STEW plays at a very quick pace. Players have to stay engaged to see what opponents do, which could tip you off on their knowledge of the pot’s contents, or to be ready to call “STEW” between turns. In 2-player games, there is no need to call “STEW” between turns instead of just calling it on your turn, which lessens the excitement slightly. Luck also had more of an effect in 2-player games. If one player happens to draw both Bellas and the Chicken, they have the best knowledge of the pot’s value. There is still the potential to deduce that your opponent drew those cards if you didn’t, but they could also be at the bottom of the deck. Playing with more players reduces the odds of one player drawing the high value cards. After several games of playtesting, I never felt cheated after a lost round because of the cards I drew.
The card design is simple, but effective in communicating what players need to know, and great artwork makes STEW a full package. STEW is a great micro-game for some quick, competitive fun. As such, it was no surprise to learn that Button Shy Games will be publishing STEW in 2018. Button Shy Games has a deep lineup of excellent pocket games including Circle the Wagons and Avignon: A Clash of Popes. Grab a full colour print-and-play version of STEW from Grey Gnome Games (while available) and try it out for yourself.