Food Chain Magnate is the 2015 release from Splotter, a company that's famous for expensive, hard to find games with questionable component quality and fantastic game play. I have never played a Splotter game before due to the prohibitive cost here in the States, but this is one I had to have. Is this game worth tracking down? Let's find out.....
The theme is what really drove me to this game. Running a 50's style diner chain just sounded like a blast. Does the theme shine through? In a word: yes.
In more than a word? Ok, then. Some things don't [i]quite[/i] make thematic sense. However, while driving around town picking up drinks and some of the Milestone effects just don't make sense from a real world perspective, it all works perfectly in the game. When I play this game I feel like wild, evil capitalist. The Donald Trump of fast foods. I flood the mass's brains with ads, fire workers for no reason than to save $5, open up a new restaurant right by the competition and price cut them out of business. It's glorious.
Splotter lived up to it's reputation here. While playing the game at my FLGS, two different people asked if the game was a prototype. It's easy to see why the would think so. The map tiles' white background leaves them looking bland. The cardboard chits aren't great quality, feeling more like the chits from a game in the 70's than a modern game. Some of the advertising chits also have a minor misprinting, but it shouldn't effect the game to much. The cards are average at best in terms of quality, a little thin but not the worst I've seen. The wooden food tokens look great, but 40 of each was not nearly enough and the simple inclusion of some x5 and x10 chits would have easily solved this. The box itself is a little flimsy and has no art or text on the back, again, making it look like a 70's or 80's game rather than a modern one. The game also has paper money that is pretty generic looking, featuring not custom graphics but a text logo for the game. The rule book is solid. More examples and an FAQ would have been great, but it does it's job well enough. There's also more of some cards than needed, which isn't really a bad thing, but is a bit confusing when first looking at the game.
Where the components shine is the art. With the style of print ads from the 50's, the art helps bring the theme of the game home. The cards are color-coded well and the iconography is minimal and simple, but effective. The player aids are also great, looking like menus from diners. However, the English aids do not have the milestones one the back, which do decrease their effectiveness. I understand that new printings of the game are fixing this, along with the misprinted chits, and an upgrade pack is also available from Splotter.
To start off, setup time isn't bad at all if your cards are well organized. The rules are also pretty quick to learn for a game this heavy. Most of the time spent explaining the rules is just quickly going over each card and it's effect. All together, the setup and rules explanation shouldn't take more than 30-45 minutes if you go in depth.
Players pick out their opening restaurant placement and then the game throws you right in the deep end, the players pick their reserve cards which will end up determining game length and influencing long term strategy. This choice was a little bit overwhelming for some of the first time players I played with, but it adds a really cool element of planing to the game. Do you try for something more long term, slowly building up to have a few big turns at the end or focus purely on production and race to gobble up money in smaller chunks.
Each turn you start be restructuring your company, choosing which employees are working and which are having a nice break "on the beach". At the start of the game you'll only be able to have three employees work at a time, but you'll be able to hire managers that report directly to you, the CEO, that will let you send more. You then pick turn order and go to the "9 to 5" phase. In this phase two things happen: people make Dolly Parton jokes, and you'll take actions with your employees. Employees will gather and cook food and drinks, advertise, hire, train, build houses and new restaurants, and a lot more. Customers then go out to eat, which is a pretty math-y part of the game. The math is simple, adding price+distance with the customers going to the lowest score, but at the tail end of the game your brain will be sufficiently fried for simple addition to be a slight problem. You then pay you employees (and fire whoever you don't wish to pay).Then after consuming food the families go home and do the true American thing and consume advertising, which sets up each homes demand for the next round. After that you throw out any unused food and drink and get ready for the next round.
I've heard grand things of Splotter's depth, game balance, and replay-ability. Going into the game I was excited, but it was hard for me to buy into the hype. I was half expecting this to be made for people who are akin to euro-game hipsters, raising up good games to outstanding status because they are complicated, under produced, and hard to find.
Boy was I wrong.
The game, while long, just flies right by. You're always caught up in planing future turns, engaging in pricing wars, making shrewd advertising moves, and so much more all at once. This is one of the most open sandboxes I've ever seen in a board game.
The milestones are also brilliant. These work much like video game achievements, unlocking when you're the first to do something (you do it on the same turn as someone else). The milestones give you potentially game changing powers, and you'll always be upset at how great someone else's are.
This is a game I can't wait to play again and again, and is easily one of the best games of 2015.