February 22, 2017 by crew
PRE-REVIEW WARNING! Do NOT play this game on an empty stomach – be thoroughly prepared with a selection of culinary treats. You and your stomach have been advised!
The phrase ‘Beer and Pretzels’ is used a lot in gaming nomenclature. A combination of words attributed to a subsection of games that lean more towards light themes, varying elements of randomness and incorporating social aspects. I find this last element to be the most important in identifying these types of games, as their antithesis, the Eurogame, often relies on a heavy ruleset, competition and a minimal level of social gaming in its design. I’m not aiming to be disparaging about Eurogames, it’s just from personal experience.
However, I find myself in the fortuitous situation of describing a game as a ‘Beer and Pretzels’ game because this games theme is food…The best kind of food… Niché, independent pop-up food! So set your senses to ‘horizon-broadening’ because we are going to feast to find out who is the best Food Truck Champion!
First Course: The Setup
Food Truck Champion is the latest creation by Daily Magic Games, creators of games such as Swinging Jivecat Voodoo Lounge and Villages of Valeria. In their latest offering, Food Truck Champion sets you in the profession of a food truck owner aiming to satisfy customers with a wide array of treats, expanding your fledgeling business by hiring more staff and increasing productivity and ultimately beat the competition by gaining commercial and critical acclaim and become the best food truck!
To achieve the proverbial golden spatula (top chefs get golden spatulas, it’s a thing!) you’ll have an opening hand of cards from the game deck. The cards form the real meat of the game and instruct in everything from which recipes are to be cooked, staff members who play vital roles in the food production process and which ingredients are to be sourced in order to create your delightful treats.
From the outset, it might seem overwhelming to have all this information on the playing cards, but the mechanics of the game mean that the information is dealt with in a really superb manner.
Each player also receives an additional, faction specific wild card into their hand that can be used for any purpose and can give the decisive edge when required, but as it is the equivalent to you, the owner, stepping into the kitchen and concentrating on a specific task, it will mean that somewhere during the game you’ll have to take a turn to get that card back into your hand.
In the set up stage of this game, each player receives a handy tableau organiser card which informs each player of different elements of their business, from how big your fridge is, how many staff you have on your payroll, how many dishes can be prepared simultaneously and an active mechanic called “draw limit” for when you really need to dig for cards from the game deck. All of these elements can be upgraded to improve productivity. More on that later.
There is also a reference card to inform you what actions can be done as well as what each member of staff does if you were to play a card from your hand as a member of staff. I love games that provide organisational tools and reference guides. Pouring through even the smallest rulebook to find a rule breaks the flow of the game and when you have a game like Food Truck Champion that brings laughter to all playing, breaking that mood isn’t profitable to all involved. Having everything set out on the table is great and when the game is illustrated this beautifully, it’s a real treat to see.
You’ll also receive the aforementioned starting hand of those multi-informational cards, as well as a starting recipe card that is custom tailored towards your food truck that will sit in your plating area – Yes, there’s more information on the playing cards, but trust me, when the game gets going and you’re in the swing of cooking up a wide range of dishes, it becomes second nature.
You also have to setup the in-game marketplace by taking some of the cards from the deck and laying them out for all to see. This marketplace is multi-faceted, as it all depends on how you wish to utilise those cards available; you could pick a card based on its staff role, its ingredient component or take it as a recipe to complete. I enjoy games with a communal marketplace.
It’s why I prefer Quarriors! to the different varieties of Dice Masters, it adds an ever-shifting layer of competitiveness to games, and with the theme of Food Truck Champion it feels like ingredients aren’t available at an organic market, or the right people aren’t out there to hire.
The final components in Food Truck Champion are circular victory point tokens, and critique tokens, for when the choosiest of customers come along to give their honest opinion! These need to be setup in specific towers, 1VP, 2VP, 3VP, with the critique tokens placed incrementally in the towers. The size of the towers also depends on how many players there are in the game. These piles act as many functions in the game. More on that later.
The Main Course: How To Play
A turn in Food Truck Champion follows as so…
The lead player will decide one of three actions to take. If the lead player decides to take one of the following two actions, it means each subsequent player will be able to make a choice about which action, out of the following two, they want to take too.
- Market Research – this is the action in which you think “I haven’t got enough cards in my hand” and you draw cards equal to what your draw limit is, as mentioned before.
- Take Charge – this is the action in which you are able to take your owner ‘wild’ card back into your hand if you had previously committed that wild card to an action previously. Obviously, you won’t be doing that on the first turn.
Those two actions are relatively simple, and there will be periods in the game where players may just need to draw up.
The final main action that gets your food truck fired up and cooking is called “Lead a Staff Action”. The lead player on that turn decides to commit a card from their hand as one of a possible five members of staff; driver, cashier, manager, prep cook and executive chef. The subsequent players can then choose to commit a card from their hand as a matching member of staff.
Therefore, if the lead player sends a driver to go and get some fresh fruit from the marketplace to store in the fridge, other players can send their drivers to go and get an ingredient too.
As the game develops on, it is possible to hire permanent members of staff that, should a lead player commit a member of staff that matches your permanent member of staff, you get to do that action as a free Staff Action, as well as being able to do Market Research or Taking Charge.
This is the mechanic of the game that I personally love the most. It has a great impetus to it, it feels really engaging and it feels somewhat akin to Race for the Galaxy in its completion; You are looking to get ahead of the competition by playing the card, but other players may profit off your actions, so as the game progresses, choices about what cards to play increases.
Like any delicious meal, the whole process from conception to service takes time. The staff chain takes a variable time to build; from the driver collecting your ingredients from the in-game marketplace, the prep cook moving those ingredients to a dish at your plating area, or the cashier moving more orders to your plating area in preparation for the next customer.
You might be fortunate and be able to play cards thanks to your opponents. You may have to play cards to ensure your own success, but when you have finally completed a dish, that dish is set aside next to your tableau and you may rejoice in the satisfaction of sating a customer’s hunger and importantly, you get victory points!
The victory point system in Food Truck Champion is a brilliant double-edged sword for all players involved and it all depends on how each player is playing. Some recipe cards have one ingredient symbol on them, some have two, some have three. Depending on how many ingredients there are in the recipe, it indicates what VP token you take from one of the towers; more time spent on a recipe, more reward in VP.
Some player may choose to power through the quick recipes and draw all the 1VP tokens to try and end the game quickly as well as make all remaining quick recipes not worth doing and others may take their time in the pursuit of higher VP dishes, so the token system also acts as the game’s clock. Game mechanics such as this are great as it keeps the game in a reasonable time length and the inclusion of the critique tokens in Food Truck Champion add a level of flavour and theme to this mechanic.
As well as acting as victory points, the tokens act as free upgrades. The tokens are placed number-side down on your tableau organiser in any region you wish to upgrade; do you wish to be better at Market Research and search the deck for more cards? Do you want to be able to store more ingredients in the fridge?
The free-will choice in this aspect of the game is great. Though you all start as essentially the same truck except for design and iconography, the choice in which areas to upgrade make each truck and each game unique in its design and breeds comedy – for the most part, I never upgrade my staff area and I’m often a one-man truck and the imagery of me waving my hands about trying to cook multiple recipes is hilarious to me.
When a critique token is revealed, a rather particular customer has arrived to judge your completed offerings. Any set aside completed dish may be slotted beneath the top of your tableau organiser if it matches your trucks flavour profile, for example, the Tacos De Muertos team places cheese, vegetables and fruit flavours above all others. If a completed recipe has a matching symbol, you can slot it underneath the board in order to try and earn more VP, an extra 5VP per completed set.
Dessert: Final Scoring
The totalling of scores is simple in Food Truck Champion. First of all, total up all the value of your VP tokens that you have used as upgrades.
Secondly, if you completed any dishes that have the same logo on them that match the logo of your food truck, each of those recipes gains you an extra 1VP.
Thirdly, if you have managed to complete enough appropriate recipes in order to provide you with a complete flavour profile set (or maybe multiple sets) you receive 5VP.
There are some tiebreaker caveats – most completed orders that match your own truck logo, or most popularity tokens. If there is still a tie after these two, then those players tied to share the victory.
The After-Dinner Mint: Final Thoughts
As stated within this Kickstarter, Food Truck Champion is inspired by Glory to Rome. While I am a fan of a game that adopts elements of ancient Italy into its theme, Food Truck Champion transcends its predecessor and inspiration. The universal theme is all encompassing and incredibly inviting to different levels of gamers; who doesn’t love food?!
Claire Donaldson has done Daily Magic Games an incredible service by adding her artistic talents to this game. Each individual component is gorgeous and when the game is ticking along its hard not to take a pause and be distracted by the vibrant artwork and colour palette. I personally had issues with the colour choices made, but I am quite colour blind and I believe issues such as this need to be addressed industry-wide, but I can’t fault the designers for their colour choices, it would be incredibly pedantic of me.
Nicole Jeckich and Luke Turpeinen have created something quite sublime in Food Truck Champion. The game is incredibly immersive in its social reach and could be one of those games that are used as a gateway game, to draw more people into the hobby of board gaming through its theme, keep them engaged through the social aspect, challenge them to succeed through the tactics.
I must confess, however, that I do feel I have to lead you, dear reader, on a merry path.
While Food Truck Champion does offer the beer and pretzel experience through its theme and its innate ability to create an engaging social dynamic, the game does offer up the option for players to stretch their gaming muscles and play quite tactically and deeply. Much like a beautifully cooked meal, Food Truck Champion balances the heavier game aspects with its lighter gaming feel.
Food Truck Champion is worthy of backing, it’s ability for replay upon replay, it’s theme and levels of immersive gameplay are some of the many reasons to do so. Daily Magic has a strong record of Kickstarter success; Manasurge, Merchants of Araby, and Valeria: Card Kingdoms being a Staff Pick most notably. I wholeheartedly would recommend this game worthy of your Kickstarter attention. Back it today, before the food trucks drive away from your street.
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"Food Truck Champion sets you in the profession of a food truck owner aiming to satisfy customers with a wide array of treats..."
"Much like a beautifully cooked meal, Food Truck Champion balances the heavier game aspects with its lighter gaming feel..."