By Chris Bowler
As some of you know, I have a little brother with Worster Drought Syndrome, a condition that severely affects his speech, as well as affecting learning and hand-eye coordination. However, he loves games, LOVES them. His favourites are Talisman and Zooloretto, although he also enjoys Aquaretto, the Adventurers, Descent,Dungeons and Dragons the Board Game and many others.
However, for his birthday I wanted to get him a new game and after watching Tom Vasel’s review of A La Carte, I knew which game I wanted… And yes, I do mean “I wanted”. I fell in love instantly with the components and I knew I wanted to own the game, so I used my little brother’s birthday as an excuse to obtain it…
I quickly convinced myself that it would help him improve his dexterity and that he’d have fun matching the coloured ingredients and the numbers to the Dishes, but deep down I knew this was for me, my own, my precious!
Right, that’s enough of that, let’s look at the game. In A La Carte you are a Chef, working in a busy restaurant that serves such delicacies as Elephant’s Trunk wrapped in Spinach. Your job is to become a Three Star Chef by cooking three perfect dishes, failing that you can just beat all the other Chefs by being the first to get all five of your dishes to the paying public. Of course, the more adventurous you are with your cooking more points you’ll score.
Of course, the other Chefs are not just going to stand idly by while you walk away with their Michelin Stars. So they’ll swap their pans with yours while you’re not looking, or perhaps just add a sprinkle of salt & pepper to that chocolate mousse your preparing.
Firstly, I should point out this game is only available, currently, as a German Language edition, that doesn’t matter too much as the rules in English can be found here. The rest of the game requires no translation, unless you really want to know what dish you’re cooking. So far as I know the game is only available in the UK at Board Game Guru.
Inside the box:
- 4 Metal Pans
- 4 Stoves
- 4 Condiment Dispensers
- 80 Condiment Crystals (20 in each of 4 colours)
- 25 Salt Crystals
- 20 Recipes (4 in each of 5 colours)
- 3 Spoons
- 4 Crepes
- 13 Coffee Cups
- 2 Sinks
- 1 Trash Can
- 4 Serving Trays
- 9 Stars
- 1 Die
This game is all about the components, unlike some games which have beautiful components just because they can, in this game each component serves a function and looks great. The metal pans are a great touch and something very unique in board games.
The plastic pots and condiment crystals work very well together. The irregular shapes of the condiments, mixed with the smallish opening in the shakers means that you never know how many condiments will fall out, even zero is a possibility.
The rest of the components are printed on very thick cardstock, although I would suggest being very careful punching it out and especially when assembling the stoves. Some of the stove parts fit very, very snuggly, others were a little loose, in the end I used a dab of superglue to hold things together. This isn’t necessary by any means though.
The art on the components, what there is of it, is very nice and all the symbols are very clear and easy to understand. All in all it comes together to form a beautiful package that looks great and makes for a fun and function set.
Playing the Game
To win at A La Carte you either need to be the player with the most points or the first to get three Stars. Other than knowing when to best use your coffee cups there is very little skill involved in this game, so the winning conditions feel rather like an after thought, this game is all about the playing rather than the winning.
To set up the game each player takes a pan, a stove and a recipe of their choice, along with 1 crepe and a coffee cup. The coffee cup is placed face up and depicts one of several actions you can take as a bonus during your turn (or it shows a Victory Point). This means that all players will always know what Coffee Cups you have.
The starting player then takes the three spoons. For each spoon he may take 1 action. When he takes an action the player to his left is responsible for taking a spoon from him. There are only two actions you can take.
1. Heat Your Stove. To do this you roll the die. It will either show a 1, 2, or 3 or a 1-3 in these cases you turn your stove up the correct number of positions. Alternatively it could show a symbol that heats everyone’s stoves by 1, or a Coffee Cup, in which case you take an additional Coffee Cup.
2. Season Your Dish. To do this you take any condiment of your choice and turn it upside down over your pan in a single movement. The shaker must be turned so that it is vertically above your pan and you are forbidden to shake it. Any condiment crystals that come out of the shaker are placed in your pan, even if they fall onto the table.
Each recipe shows a certain number of Condiments and a specific heat level. This is what you are trying to achieve with your actions. For example, one recipe, a salad, might call for 1 Pepper (Black) and 1 Herbs (Green) and a heat of 0. It doesn’t matter if you get 2 Black, and 1 Green and a heat of 0, the dish is still complete it’s just not perfect. As long as you have the right heat and at least the ingredients on the recipe the dish is complete and is placed onto your serving tray.
If you do have the exact ingredients you will also get a star, remembering that 3 Stars wins you the game instantly.
However, each card also shows a number at which the dish is burnt. For example the salad I mentioned earlier is ruined if the heat goes up to 1. In addition, a dish is also ruined if you ever have 3 or more of the same colour condiment in your pan. This includes Salt, there are 5 Salt Crystals in each condiment shaker, which makes it a very dangerous ingredient. In addition Salt doesn’t feature in any of the recipes so if you get Salt in your pan you cannot score a perfect dish.
Once you have taken your three actions play passes to the next player. Whenever a player completes a dish he must place a new recipe in his pan, if he cannot the game ends and the points are tallied.
There are two final things you can do during your turn. You can take a coffee break, this requires no actions, you simply play one of your coffee cups to take the action depicted on it. These include: 3 additional spoons, Season another players dish, Swap Stoves and Pans with another player or Reduce the Heat of your Stove by up to 3.
The final option is you can place your Crepe in your pan. This requires an action and ends your turn. (Normally placing a new dish does not require an action, nor does it end your turn.) On your next turn you must spend your first spoon to roll the die, should your heat ever hit 7 your crepe is burnt and ruined. You can now spend the next two spoons to attempt to flip the crepe so that it lands picture side up in your pan, this is more difficult than you may imagine.
Successfully doing this will score you 5 points but you cannot score a star for it and it does not count towards the the 5 different coloured dishes for ending the game. If you fail, on each subsequent turn you continue to roll, flip, flip until you either succeed or your crepe is ruined. You may not take a coffee break while cooking your crepe.
And that’s it. Play continues until one player has cooked a dish in each of the 5 colours, or scored 3 stars or the current player cannot place a recipe in his pan.
As I said before, this is a light game, very light, even the backstabbing parts of it are fun rather than spiteful. There is very little skill involved, even in the dexterity parts of the game, with the possible exception of crepe flipping.
In the end this game is exactly what it looks like it should be, fast, fun and light-hearted. As a family game it’s great, although I suspect that drunken adults would get as much, if not more, enjoyment from it.
But What About My Brother?
He loves it. He was a bit bewildered at first, it took a while for him to understand that not getting a perfect dish was ok. But by the third game he was playing without any help and laughing hysterically when he got the chance to ruin Dad’s dish. I already have the expansion in my cart at Board Game Guru just waiting for pay day so that we can play with all five of us. Would I recommend the game, yes, but perhaps only to preteens and adults with a sense of fun!