Full disclosure: A review copy of Pie Town was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
I’m trying to expand my scope a bit and look at the occasional “longer” game (longer being a really vague term when you, like me, mostly only play short, light games). For me, these days, longer means 60 – 120 minutes, so games like Sol: Last Days of a Star, Near and Far, and Fog of Love would all qualify, as does Pie Town. So, here’s me taking a look and broadening my horizons. I’m growing as a person. Probably.
Anyways, in Pie Town, you’re a baker of some kind cooking pies with your friends and rivals, but unfortunately people misunderstood supply and demand and opted to take on the supply side of that relationship, so everyone in town makes pies. Everyone. Every single person in Pie Town. That’s why it’s called Pie Town. It would be weird if someone didn’t make pies. Obviously. Anyways, with all these pies to make and sell, do you have your work cut out for you? Or will it be a piece of cake?
There’s lots to do in Pie Town! First, pick a player color and take a Deduction Board, which is what I’m calling them, now:
You’ll want to take all the stuff of your color:
Also, take the dice in your color:
Not to mention the Pie Tokens:
You’ll want to place two of the dice on your Store Board, in the Break Room:
Have those set to 2 and 3. The other two should stay at 1, and off the board, for now. Also, put the chef’s hat token on the 1 in the Kitchen, put the apple on the 8 in Storage, and put the lock on the dotted-outline space in the Bake area. You did it! Place the pie player tokens (not the actual pie tokens) on 0 on the Score Board:
Also, add the absolute tiniest round marker in the world to the space for Round 1:
Place the Market Board next to the Score Board:
Add the Orchard Board underneath the Score and Market Boards:
You won’t do much with that, yet. Give everyone a Recipe Box:
And set out the ingredients in view of all players:
Once you’ve done that, you’re mostly ready to play! There’s a bit to do that I’ll cover in Gameplay.
So, the basic premise of the game is that you will acquire ingredients to bake pies and then sell pies to earn points. I’m told that’s a Euro, but I legitimately don’t do categorization of games well (given that I thought Above and Below was a worker placement game for 200,000 years), so I’m not going to weigh in on that too much.
Either way, there are two types of ingredients. Common ingredients:
Yes, they are all fancy apples, and rare ingredients:
Pies are made from combinations of these ingredients, as follows:
- Common + Common + Common
- Common + Common + Rare
- Common + Rare + Rare
- Common + Common + Rare (Secret Recipe)
The last one is the most intriguing, as it’s the Secret Recipe of your pie-making family, passed down from the Golden Age of Pie-racy to your Pieritanical ancestors who made their way to this country. Probably.
Anyways, you need to pick a secret recipe! Each player should secretly pick two Common ingredients (they can be the same color apple) and a Rare ingredient (why you would not pick pumpkin is literally beyond me) and put them into your Secret Recipe box. If you make pies using that ingredient combination, you will be able to sell them for more points.
Now, put the leftover ingredients (please don’t try to draw any conclusions about other players’ recipes from what’s left over; that’s not in the spirit of the game) into the handy, provided bag:
And fill up the Orchard Board by putting two ingredients randomly onto every hex on the board, avoiding the 3P and 4P spaces unless you’re playing with at least that many players. This is the final bit of setup, but I wanted to make sure you understood why you needed to do that before I told you to do it.
Anyways. Pie Town is played over 9 Rounds, with a Final Bake-Off at the end. In each round, as previously mentioned, you will run your pie shop. You’ll collect ingredients, upgrade your shop, hire workers, bake pies, sell pies, occasionally spy (s-pie?) on other players, and go to the Pie Convention. You may take one action with each die you have available, and I’ll explain each in turn. Unless otherwise stated, leave your die on the space until the end of the round, and then recall them to the Break Room.
This phase is easy. Place a die onto a spot on the Orchard Board. You may collect up to X ingredients from the 3 adjacent hexes, where X equals the number on the die. Not much else to say about that, other than you add the taken ingredients to your Storage. If your Storage is full, you don’t take the extra Ingredients. You just leave them on the tree; that’s responsible! Although then you start thinking about how pumpkins are growing on trees in this town and how that’s probably a crime against God and now you’ve got a lot on your mind.
Anyways. Your worker gains a level if you use this action.
Upgrade Your Shop
So you remember those three tokens you placed on the Bake, Storage, and Kitchen spaces of your Store Board? If you play a die here, you can upgrade those spots, for a slight fee:
- Bake: Unlock the second oven. You may now place another die on this space as an action.
- Storage: You may now store 14 ingredients instead of 8.
- Kitchen: Every pie you bake now earns you 2 Victory Points (VP) instead of 1.
That’s about it. Note that your worker loses a level if you take this action, meaning that your worker must be at Level 2 or higher in order to use this space.
You are running a business, and you could use an extra set of hands. If you play a die here, you may hire another worker, adding that Level 1 die to the “1” space on the Hire space. They’ll start working next round.
Note that your worker loses two levels if you take this action, meaning that your worker must be at Level 3 or higher in order to use this space. (3 -> 1, for instance.)
Well, I mean you’re here to bake pies, not to make friends (and certainly not to bake friends into pies; that’s horrifying). So bake some pies!
This is where the deduction part of the game comes in. When you bake pies, you bake X pies, where X is the number on the die. Each pie must have three ingredients (meaning you can bake 4 pies, max, and I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader) in one of these combinations:
- Common + Common + Common
- Common + Common + Rare
- Common + Rare + Rare
- Common + Common + Rare (Secret Recipe)
How do you bake a secret pie, you ask? Well, that’s simple. When you bake, naturally, you show your opponent(s) all of the ingredients you’re using, as a mass. Don’t specifically say, “this apple, this apple, and this banana are being used to make a Secret Recipe pie”; you want to say something more like, “I’m making three pies: Common, Common, Rare; Common, Rare, Rare; and Secret Recipe; and I’m using 2 Gold Apples, 2 Green Apples, 1 Red Apple, 1 Strawberry, 2 Pumpkins, and 1 Banana.” Your opponents should take some notes on their Deduction Boards, but I doubt they’ll get something super helpful from just that statement in isolation.
That said, if you think you know something, you can attempt to bake another player’s Secret Recipe! If you do, you must confirm (secretly) with that player by showing them the three ingredients you think comprise their Secret Recipe. If you’re right, carry on! If you’re wrong in any way, your opponent just says “incorrect”, and you return those Ingredients to the bag. Tough! But this might be a good thing to attempt to do if you’re in a bit of a bind.
Add pies that you bake to the Market Board, provided there’s space. If there’s not enough space for your pies, you cannot bake those pies. You can’t just … waste pies! That’s a capital offense, around here. Also, you gain VP immediately for each pie you bake, depending on your Kitchen. Your worker will also gain a level for baking pies.
The pies aren’t worth much until you sell them, though. Which, on that note:
Selling pies at the market is your primary method of making VP in this game. When you sell, however, you can only sell the bottom row of pies or a single column, which means that you might also sell some other player’s pies, too, and score some points for them. How generous of you.
Anyways, to make the deal a bit sweeter, whenever you play a die on the Market Board, you score X VP, where X is the value on the die, in addition to the value of the pies:
- Common + Common + Common: 2 points / pie
- Common + Common + Rare: 3 points / pie
- Common + Rare + Rare: 4 points / pie
- Common + Common + Rare (Secret Recipe): 7 points / pie
You also get to take 2 ingredients randomly from the bag. That’s a pretty great deal! Just make sure to sell those pies; unsold pies at the end of the game are only worth 1 VP / pie. If you sell another player’s pies, give them the points for their pie. Note, that if anyone passes the “50” zone on the board, you can give them one of these handy 50-point tokens:
As you might guess, you cannot take this action if you do not sell any pies; don’t think you can sell from an empty column.
Naturally, selling pies doesn’t make you a better baker, so any workers placed here do not level up or down. They just kinda stay the same.
Spy on Players
This is a very interesting action. Only super experienced (relatively, I suppose) pie employees can take this action, and only at certain times.
If you have a die that’s a higher level than an opponent’s die, and the opponent’s die is currently on the Orchard or Market boards, you can place your die on top of theirs to not only take the same action (optionally; you do not have to take the action), but also spy on their Secret Recipe. They must show you X ingredients, where X is the difference between your die’s level and their die’s level (max 3, obviously).
This is also a very helpful way to repeat certain actions, especially on the Market Board! It’s also a good way to prevent other players from repeating actions, as they must have a higher die than yours. Naturally, if there’s a 6, you can’t Spy on that — they’re too good at covert pie operations.
Note that other players can Spy on your dice, even if those dice are currently Spying! (6 on a 5 on a 4, for instance.) In that case, you always Spy on the player immediately below your die, not the bottommost player.
Your workers gain levels (or don’t) as though they were on the original space.
The last available action is on the Score Board, at the Pie Convention! When you go here, you may do one of two actions:
Choose Starting Player
You may pick any player (including yourself) to be the Starting Player for the next round, and give them the Start Player token:
If nobody picks this space during a round, Starting Player moves clockwise. Your worker gains a level for taking this action.
Change a Secret Recipe Ingredient
Feeling like players have guessed your Secret Recipe, or just want to maybe trick them before the end of the game? You can also modify your literally-thousands-of-years-old family recipe here, at the Pie Convention. Swap out an ingredient for a new one from the bag (just making sure your recipe is still Common-Common-Rare). Your worker loses a level for taking this action, as they have to learn how to cook a whole new set of pies.
Note that other players’ workers cannot Spy on players at the Pie Convention. It’s neutral territory.
Play continues until 9 Rounds have passed, at which point it’s time for the Final Bake-Off! Return all ingredients in players’ Storage to the bag and sell off any remaining pies for 1 VP each.
Now, the Final Bake-Off! If you’d like to participate, you may attempt to guess what other players’ Secret Recipes are. You may opt to not participate in some or any of these guesses. If you are participating, grab ingredients and build another player’s Secret Recipe, and then confirm it with them for extra points! (Or specifically not.)
- 3 / 3 Ingredients Correct: Gain 4 VP.
- 2 / 3 Ingredients Correct: Gain 2 VP.
- 1 / 3 Ingredients Correct: Nothing happens. Come on, only one ingredient?
- 0 / 3 Ingredients Correct: Lose 2 VP. Seriously; how did you manage this?
The player at the end with the most VP wins!
Player Count Differences
I kind of like it at higher player counts! It takes longer, sure, but the extra contention is fun — it also means the scores go up a bit because more pies are getting sold (to try and ease the market’s congestion). It makes it more chaotic, which I think fits in well with what the game is trying to do. In the first of many Ex Libris comparisons, I generally prefer that at two, but I think I’d like this best at 3+. I suppose that’s more a contrast than a comparison, but hey, whatever. At two, you might as well just tell the other player your Secret Recipe, because it will eventually not be that hard to deduce at least 2 / 3s of it. With more players, there’s more notes, more Spying, and, obviously, more pies.
- Don’t hire or upgrade too early. You don’t want a bunch of 1s around, as other players can cap them and spy on you for cheap. Also, you can’t get as many good ingredients for your pies, so your process will be slowed down.
- It’s probably worth just guessing for the Final Bake-Off. Every time I’ve played I’ve just guessed whatever I thought their Secret Recipe was and gotten 2 / 3 – 3 / 3 right, even if they’ve changed it. The deduction aspect of the game isn’t particularly difficult if you’re just shooting for 2 / 3.
- It’s not a bad idea to double-up on your Secret Recipe. I think generally people assume that you’ll pick two different colors of apples, but you don’t have to. It might be an option worth exploring.
- Obfuscate your pie baking. Naturally / obviously, you should never bake 1 Secret Recipe pie and nothing else (since that gives away your Secret Recipe), but you should try to bake 3 Pies when you can, as that’s enough ingredients that it can be hard to get useful information out of what you’re baking. If you can confuse them, then you might be able to throw them off completely!
- If you’re going to obfuscate your pie baking, be smart about the ingredients you take. If your Secret Recipe is yellow apple – yellow apple – pumpkin, don’t only take yellow apples; mix it up a bit! Try to bake pies with red and green apples, too.
- Try to remember what pies you’ve already baked. This just prevents you making two sets of pies where the only intersection is your Secret Recipe and making it obvious what that recipe is. You can use your own Deduction Board to help yourself!
- Spying is super useful for selling extra pies. It lets you use occupied Market Spaces, so if you need to sell pies, that might not be a bad avenue to explore, especially near the end of the game.
- In the same vein, using a 6 to clog the Market is an evil but useful maneuver. If you use a 6, nobody can Spy on that, so they also can’t use that Market space. This means that you might be able to prevent a player selling their pies and earning a bunch of points. Plus, using a 6 on the Market means you get 6 points in addition to whatever pies you sell.
- Try to get other players to sell some of your pies. You want to have your pies on every column, as that forces players to give you points whenever they get points. Sometimes, that manages to disincentivize them going for points at all, which is great, especially if you’re in the lead.
- Using the Pie Convention to take first player is a good way to level up weak dice. Since nobody can Spy on you, your Store Board and the Pie Convention are great places to send your Level 1 Dice.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. I mean, it’s pies. What’s not to like? I think this may accidentally make people think that the game is lighter or shorter than it actually is, as it’s a remarkably light and cute theme for what is essentially a mid-weight worker placement game, but, the theme is pretty great.
- The art is also wonderful. The characters are bright, vibrant, colorful, and diverse, and I really appreciate that. It’s nice to see companies making that a part of their games.
- Nice components, generally. The dice are really nice and chunky, the boards are well-made, and the Orchard Board in particular is a really nice construction. The Secret Recipe boxes are a bit flimsy, but they’re also, I think, not meant to be more than fancier envelopes, so I’ll give them a pass.
- Fairly easy to learn, for the time length. There aren’t a ton of actions you can take and the whole thing is pretty straightforward (and fairly light on text of any kind, which is pretty helpful). It makes you kind of aware of the length of the game, though, which I go into a bit more further down.
- The strategy aspects are pleasant. It’s a neat little puzzle to have to try and figure out how to obfuscate your recipe or trick other players into selling your valuable pies for points. Plus, the Spy aspect means it’s not as block-heavy as traditional worker-placement games, which gives you some breathing room.
- I don’t want to eat a strawberry pumpkin pie. It sounds unpleasant. It reminds me somewhat of the ketchup and lettuce sandwich I made to win a game of Burger Up.
- Trying to deduce the other players’ recipes doesn’t seem explicitly that useful of a task. You’re much better off trying to Spy on them, as they’ll usually have low-level dice from upgrading or hiring. I’ve never seen anyone guess 0 Ingredients correctly, so that seems to be sufficient. There’s some chance they can mess with you by swapping their ingredients around, but I’ve never seen someone do that more than once.
- The round marker is way too small. I’ve almost lost it a few times, and now whenever I see it my brain starts making “rolling pin for ants” jokes. Given how large the dice are, it would be nice if the Start Player marker and the round marker were also much larger. It would also help me not forget to move the round marker, which I’m pretty sure needlessly extended my first game.
- The dice aren’t really used for … dice things. I get that the dice are nice (so nice I even mentioned it earlier!), but one affordance they suggest is being rolled, and that’s never really … done. Given how weighty and nice they are, it seems like an extra expense for a kind of tangential thing, though the same is kind of done with Sentient, so at least it’s consistent. I find it a bit irritating in Sentient, as well, though, but at least you roll the Sentient dice at some point. You never roll these, so their being custom dice is kind of confusing.
- It’s kind of long, for what it is. I feel as though the first few rounds of the game are mostly setting up and getting the engine running, and they feel almost a bit … superfluous? It’s kind of odd to compare this to Ex Libris, since they’re both Renegade worker placement games, but I think Ex Libris has a bit more meat to it despite being a much shorter game? It’s an odd sensation. To be fair, it would also be an odd move to release two worker placement games at about the same weight and length within a few months of each other, so, it makes some sense, in that regard. I think I would just enjoy it more / break it out more if it were shorter, as it has a significant advantage over Ex Libris in that it is not very text-heavy. I’ll talk a bit more about that when I get around to reviewing Ex Libris.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, Pie Town is fun, but I think, ironically, that I wish it had swapped its length with Ex Libris, as Ex Libris is a bit denser, more text-heavy, and harder to learn (in my opinion), whereas this is a light, fun, and upbeat game that’s simple and straightfoward but takes a fairly long time to build up its engine. Once you get going, it’s fun and heated (even if I’m not convinced the deduction element of it always lands, for me), but those first couple rounds feel like they could be streamlined, and that might be something I try in the future. On the other hand, if you’re trying to convince someone to try more Euros (I guess? I don’t know if I understand the distinction and I’m not looking to learn so don’t @ me.) and want to bring them in with a friendlier theme than “whatever Renaissance thing”, this is definitely a very welcoming game. I just wish the round marker were a little bit bigger.