Monthly Archives: February 2016

Dinner for Two: two-player Food Chain Magnate

This Corbridge session deserves a post all of its own, partially because I actually remembered to take some photos, but mostly because Food Chain Magnate is such a very good game. Oh, and also because we finally got the opportunity to play on a table large enough to accommodate the recommended card layout (see photo above – employee tree on the right and Milestones along the top).

Knowing that the two-player map layout is a 3×3 grid and that radio campaigns conveniently cover a 3×3 grid, I went into the game on a mission to play the first radio campaign as early as possible (and being first to radio means your radio campaigns advertise two of the advertised good to each house). However, in order to maximise my earnings, I wanted to be first to market something (for the $5-per-item bonus it brings) and also get hold of the Luxuries Manager for a $10 boost on each item… which all meant that it would take a while to get a marketer up to Brand Director level to play that radio campaign. I decided I could get it done pretty quickly though, so I chose the $100/2-slot Reserve card at the start of the game.

The random map tiles gave us two separate roads with three houses attached to each, so John and I fairly naturally started out with our restaurants on different roads. The lack of interaction didn’t last long though. After a first turn in which John hired a Recruiting Girl (clearly going for the “First to Recruit Three People in One Turn” Milestone) and I took a Trainer, we were clearly going for different strategies. I kept my company structure lean and mean until the last couple of rounds, whereas John took advantage of that Milestone bonus (and the two free Management Trainees it brings) to utilise lots of employees in each round.

Of course, hiring and playing lots of employees meant lots of Milestones for John, and it was hard to keep my nerve and stick to my initial plan, especially when he plonked down the first airplane campaign and spread desire for pizza all across one side of the board. (Thankfully, the tile layout meant that airplanes weren’t that effective in this game.) Meanwhile, I’d managed to play a mailbox campaign for burgers across the one large central block, meaning I’d get a $5 bonus per burger sold for the rest of the game. Note that I’d avoided playing a billboard campaign – infinite marketing campaigns for the rest of the game was something that hadn’t necessarily worked out well in previous games! (John also avoided billboards until quite late in the game.)

My five Milestones; John had twelve. It just goes to show: Milestones aren't everything.

My five Milestones, near the end of the game; John had twelve. It just goes to show – Milestones aren’t everything. (In fact, the bonus for being first to $20 is almost nothing.)

I managed to snag the (single) Luxuries Manager early enough to be able to flog some burgers at premium prices on the back of that initial mailbox campaign, but it was clear that I’d need a way to reach the other road on the board in order to properly benefit from my radio plan. After all, there’s no point making people want loads of burgers if you can’t sell them any. Naturally, John had reached the same conclusion, and we both worked towards the Local Manager and/or Regional Manager… but more of that later.

I’d picked up a Coach to make my training strategy more efficient within a small business structure. That meant training an Errand Boy up to Zeppelin Pilot didn’t take long, and I ended up with a Burger Chef and Pizza Cook (the latter to deal with John’s pizza-plane advertising) in order to try to meet the massive demand I was hoping to imminently create. Frankly, I needed to get the radio campaign off the ground, because (a) John was training worryingly high up the marketing tree, (b) I had trained so many people that my Payday bill was terrifying compared to my sparse income at that point, and (c) we had broken the bank for the first time, so the end of the game wasn’t that far off ($300 total second bank, three slots for CEOs). Oh, and John had taken the “First to $100” Milestone, so he was getting the CFO 50% bonus on income. Yikes.

The timing was beautiful though. On the round after I’d set up the radio campaign right in the middle of the board, I played my recently acquired Regional Manager and opened up a new restaurant right on the other road. Being the Regional Manager, of course, the restaurant opened immediately; John’s Local Manager in the same round built a restaurant that wouldn’t open until the next round, and he didn’t have enough burger-producing capacity to cope with the two-burgers-per-household desire I’d just unleashed on the city.

That meant multiple sales without any sort of competition, with my Luxuries Manager and Milestone bonus pushing sales up to $25 per burger, or at least $50 per household. With John earning nothing that round (and with a CFO bonus of 50% of $0 = …nothing!), I went from a long way behind to a huge distance ahead in a single round, very nearly breaking the bank for the second time.

Radio Burger unleashing its uncontrollable meat lust across the city

Radio Burger broadcasting its uncontrollable meat lust across the city. This picture is from the last round.

Meanwhile, as you can see from the picture, John had tried to sabotage me a bit by placing billboard campaigns on the map. But no – Zeppelin Pilot to the rescue! I could pick up drinks from every source on the board, so I was ready for anything. And my Pizza Cook meant I could cover the pizza desire too.

I’d lost track of John’s ability to produce burgers though, so I hadn’t realised that in the last round he could cook up eight burgers (two cooks and two trainees), and with other items stored in his freezer he fulfilled four houses at dinner time; he always got priority because I’d played my Luxuries Manager and he was way cheaper than me. Of course, that left two houses for me, and at 3 items per house with two burgers in each, that was 3×$20 + 2×$5 burger bonus = $70 per house. That’s $140 from two houses, which was more than John took from the other four houses all together (not including his 50% CFO bonus though). Love that Luxuries Manager. Imagine if I’d put a garden or two out…

With the bank thoroughly, completely and utterly broken, we totted up the final score, but we could see who the winner would be before any maths took place.

Final score – Me: $405 / John: $253

The final situation: John's stuff (Gluttony Burgers) on the bottom left, mine (Fried Geese & Donkey) on the bottom right.

The final situation: John’s stuff and final-round structure (Gluttony Burgers) on the bottom left, mine (Fried Geese & Donkey) on the bottom right. The only Milestone unclaimed at the top is the “First to Lower Prices” – neither of us did. Note that my Zeppelin Pilot was actually no use in the end – John served all the drinks-wanting houses before I got involved.

What more can I say? I love this game. I’m looking forward to trying it out with more players too. The two- and three-player games have relatively tight board layouts; with five players, the city is 5×4 tiles, so a radio campaign won’t necessarily dominate the board… and the “1×” top-tier employees aren’t limited to just one for everybody to fight over. If it still works beautifully with more players (and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t), this is easily in my top ten games ever. Probably top five. Very, very clever stuff, and a large part of the catalyst for my pre-order of Splotter’s reprints of Indonesia and The Great Zimbabwe, coming later in the year. Can’t wait.

More January – Pfister Fun!

Continuing on from last time, more January gaming!

John Sh and I have managed a couple of Corbridge sessions in January (pretty impressive really, given how indisposed I’ve been by illness and child-rearing). The first featured My Village by Inka and Marcus Brand, an odd reworking of themes from their own Village, which I’ve played a few times and enjoyed a lot. My Village is, quite simply, better and more elegant. It’s like The Prodigals Club compared to Last Will – it’s clear that the theme works wonderfully, but it just needed a new set of mechanisms around it to really make it shine.

I tried to do a bit of everything with my villagers, which turns out to not be the way to play well. John specialised much more (he filled a massive church with monks), and it paid off in a 72–54 win for him. Great stuff – happy to play again.

Another Wednesday evening saw us playing Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, which is an unwieldy title for a fairly simple (yet quite thinky) tile-laying game from Austrian duo Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister. (More Pfister to come later.) I struggled massively, mainly by doing quite well for the first few rounds and ending up in a death-spiral of cash. Doing slightly better than John meant that he got a monetary boost in the last few rounds, which coupled with his whisky-heavy tile layout to mean that he could set prices on his tiles much higher than I could even afford. John overhauled me on points in the very last round to win 76–65.

I got him back in Roll for the Galaxy though, with a completely vanilla base-game-only match coming out in a 48–41 win to me. It was all about the Developments.

Too many family games to mention scattered throughout the month, but highlights included Ticket to Ride: Europe (with everyone old enough to play getting a solid drubbing from me) and a whole afternoon of games with 8-year-old J, featuring K2 and a bit of Small World.

Oddly, the last Saturday of the month brought more family gaming… except with someone else’s family at Newcastle Gamers. John Sh and I happened to end up at a table with Ruth and her sons L and J (feels natural to just use initials for the under-18s), which meant that probably the entire Hexham/Corbridge-area contingent was playing together. And what were we playing? Concordia!

I’d been umming and ahhing about Concordia for a while, given that it’s often recommended to people who like games that I like. When Shut Up & Sit Down gave it a positive review, I quickly jumped and ordered it before it sold out, as often happens. So this was my first play and my first time teaching the game. Thankfully, the rules are incredibly simple (play a card and do the thing written on the card), so we were quickly up and running, even with the slightly fiddly setup process.

And it turns out it’s a little gem of a game. Turns are quick and simple (although they can be very thinky beforehand), downtime is minimal even with five players and it always feels like there’s something useful you can do. The big stack of cards for purchase all give boosts to your end-game scoring as well as increasing the power of your deck of cards, so it’s not too hard to develop a coherent strategy. Mine involved building in all the cloth-producing cities and acquiring the Weaver card, which gave me a Minerva bonus of 5 VPs per cloth city (i.e. 20 VPs by the end of the game) and let me produce loads of cloth by playing the card. 4 cloth = 28 cash = lots of other buildings, so after a slow start I could rapidly increase my building portfolio.

It turned out to be a decent strategy and I won by a reasonable margin (I think I had 137 and John was in second place with 110-something). J came in a very respectable third place, just over 100 – he’d been planning well throughout the game – then Ruth and finally L bringing up the rear. A really fun game with a “classic euro” feel to it. Must play it again soon.

We followed that with the return of Mister Pfister and Isle of Skye. It was quite a different beast with five players, and I managed to avoid the cash-death-spiral this time round. L seemed to be following a similar path to the one he trod in Concordia – acquire cash and hoard it – which meant he didn’t price his tiles very highly and I snagged one or two at bargain prices to complete various handy scoring features on my layout.

And as it turned out, I demolished everyone with a final score of 77. To be honest, I’m not sure what I think of Isle of Skye, but that might be because I still haven’t quite figured out how to play it properly yet. Maybe a 3- or 4-player game (without rogue tweens using degenerate cash strategies) would help me decide.

After Ruth and the boys left, John and I teamed up with Camo and Lloyd for more Pfister, this time in the form of his execrably named compact engine/tableau-builder Oh My Goods! Ugh. While the original title of Royal Goods was dull, at least it connected back to Pfister’s game Port Royal and it didn’t make me want to eat my own face off. Oh My Goods!? No. It makes it sound like some sort of party game or Munchkin-style take-that-fest.

Cards for buildings, cards for goods, cards for workers... cards for everything!

Cards for buildings, cards for goods, cards for workers… cards for everything! (Photo by John Sh)

Which is something that it very much isn’t. It takes elements from San Juan and marries them to bits of every engine-building and resource-conversion euro you’ve ever played, producing a fairly simple and elegant little maxi-filler. There’s a bit of push-your-luck involved with the morning and afternoon markets being revealed, which slightly grated with me, but it’s a light enough game that it didn’t matter. Camo ran away with it, with his seemingly magical cow-production line.

And last but never least, The King of Frontier. Although I managed to snag my beloved Altar by making sure I had a massive field completed very early on, and although I went full-on heavy on the Consume action (albeit with only one very small city), it wasn’t enough to outdo John’s little collection of VP-producing buildings. He beat me by just two points, with Camo and Lloyd a fair bit further back.

The King of Jauntily-Angled Frontier

The King of Jauntily-Angled Frontier (Photo by John Sh)

And that was January. February’s already underway, so I’m sure I’ll be back soon with more.