This indie 'adventure flight' game dares to ask, 'What if Crimson Skies was about making beer?'

The Brew Barons is a game built on an idea that is simultaneously very odd and so perfectly aimed at my specific interests that as soon as I saw the first trailer, I had to know more. It's a mashup of old-timey Crimson Skies-style aeroplanes and beer, and as weird as that sounds, it actually comes together pretty well.

The game is set amidst a small group of lovely, faux-Mediterranean islands whose drinking habits are being squeezed by a gang of pirates not unlike Dennis Hopper's bunch in Waterworld—except that instead of floating in water, this bunch mostly flies in the sky. These pirates aren't pillaging and plundering, though, but are instead trying to establish a monopoly on booze production with overpriced, low-quality product, and they don't take kindly to potential competitors.

Which is what you aim to be: With a beat-up biplane and a run-down brewpub, your goal is to establish your business and build up a clientele, make and deliver quality booze to sketchy dives and high-class hotels scattered throughout the islands, and do battle in the skies against the predatory forces of cheap liquor.

The flight model is all arcade—it pains the old flight-simmer in me to say so, but a mouse is perfectly fine for flying—and harvesting the ingredients you'll use in your alcoholic concoctions is done entirely from inside your plane, by shooting oversized plants with water, for instance, or using your propeller blade to chop down fields of wheat. Realism is definitely not on the menu, but hey, if I wanted a realistic experience I'd buy Microsoft Flight Simulator and spend my time with this glorious, doomed machine. (Which quite frankly would not be at all out of place in The Brew Barons.)

Brewing is also a very simplified process: Dump a mix of ingredients into a vat, add some yeast, press a button, and bam—maybe you get something good (especially if you use one of the game's many recipes) and maybe, if you try to wing it, you end up with a gooey mess that's better poured down the drain. Bottle it up and sell it at your own establishment, or sell it to one of the many other gin joints scattered throughout the islands. 

You can customize your pub in various ways and serve different sorts of alcohol that will attract or discourage various sorts of drinkers, earning you more or less money in the process. But if, like me, you're mainly here for fun in the skies, a more hands-off approach also works, especially if you manage to recruit a good bartender. It's a bit like Field of Dreams: As long as you've got something on tap, people will show up to drink it.

Likewise, your plane can be modified in all sorts of ways to make it a better fighter or harvester, and you'll also have the opportunity to hire different people to handle the various aspects of your business: A brewer, a bartender, an accountant, a better pilot, and so forth. Most of them seem to be roguish ne'er-do-wells in one way or another, but let's be honest, you're building a business on drinkin' and fightin', and that's naturally going to attract a certain type of personality.

There's quite a bit going on but it unfolds at a slow, manageable pace, and that overall simplicity of The Brew Barons is a big part of what I like about it. It's easy fun, an old-time adventure in the spirit of games like Crimson Skies but with more of an exploration/sightseeing angle (there are underwater wrecks to salvage, exotic recipes floating in bottles, bits of lore to discover, and other little sidelines that help keep things interesting) and, of course, making beer. Or whatever you like: You can brew all sorts of alcoholic beverages, like cider, whiskey, gin, wine, rum, whatever, but as the saying goes, I'm here for the beer. It's the kind of game that's easy to jump into and horse around with, without demanding a great investment in time or mental energy.

The pre-release build I played was a little rough in some spots. Some aspects of the brewing system aren't immediately intuitive, and a couple of times the mouse controls seemed to disconnect from the plane, resulting in a quick crash into the water. Landings were also tricky: Despite the arcade flight model, I had to be very careful and precise to avoid doing damage to my plane and valuable cargo while coming down on the water. Developer Lifetap Studios said they're still fine-tuning the game, and damage thresholds are something they were looking at for the final release.

I only put a few hours into The Brew Barons so I can't comment on how it holds up over the long haul, but the time I spent with it was good fun and I'm looking forward to more. The Brew Barons is out today on Steam.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.