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I was initiated into the hobby gaming world by the usual gang of gateway games: King of Tokyo, Ticket to Ride, Dixit, etc. I found these as I slowly navigated the treaded path of “What’s out there other than Monopoly and Scrabble?”
I spent the next couple of years in the board game wilderness, hunting and domesticating new species of gameplay (new to me, anyway) that provided a taxonomy of this new world: deck-building, worker placement, drafting, auction - the list goes on. As I absorbed each of these into my newly-minted weekly game night, my taste in games began to crystalize in a rather amorphous way.
I still loved the introductory games that punched my ticket into the hobby, and I also enjoyed the slightly meatier titles I was picking up at an alarmingly rapid pace—games like Legendary, Pandemic, and Seasons. However, something was missing from my gaming life and I wasn’t quite sure what. It was like listening to an amazing song for the first time and realizing halfway through that there’s no drumbeat.
As my collection grew, the shape of the missing puzzle piece became more defined. The epiphany, not exactly sent with priority shipping, finally came: I needed a game option that didn’t just provide a social apparatus, as most light to medium games do, but served as its own end. I needed a game that was at the forefront of the night’s proceedings, as opposed to serving as its backdrop—a lightning rod for the (supposed) intellect of those playing it. I had metabolized a lot of light strategy over the past year or so that was now ready to be converted into something more substantive.
Now, I’m not here to say that Food Chain Magnate completes me—to be honest, it didn’t even have me at hello; it came with a hefty price tag for a production that looked almost prototypical—but it does fully represent what was missing in my life: the heavy euro game.
After reading and watching numerous reviews, and admittedly letting the buzz surrounding the game whisper in my ear, I forked over the cough cough dollars and sat down with the wife and a couple of friends to play it. At this point I am pretty well versed in hobby gaming, but I must admit that playing this game was like learning a new instrument. The questions was, was it a violin or a kazoo?
Object of the Game
In Food Chain Magnate, as you might assume, you are trying to be the most in-demand fast food chain in town. Having the most money at the end of the game will earn you the win.
Players start by selecting a restaurant chain and randomly determining player order. Then each player decides how much they want to augment the length of the game by secretly selecting from three cards showing different dollar amounts: 100, 200, and 300. At the beginning of the game, the bank is stocked with 50 dollars per player; when it runs out, an amount of money will be added back to it equal to the total of the cards selected. More on this later.
Employee and milestone cards are set aside in a way that they can be easily accessed. Organizing their layout to mirror that of the player reference is helpful, but not required.
The main board is comprised of randomly placed square tiles, the number of which depends on player count. Each shows a five by five grid with various road configurations and icons for houses and drinks. In reverse turn order, players will place one of their three restaurants on a tile, the stipulations being that the entrance to the restaurant (denoted by a half-square in one of the corners of the restaurant tile) faces a road and that no two people place a restaurant on the same tile (this rule applies to setup only; opposing restaurants can share the same tile should one be constructed or moved during the game). Each player takes a CEO card along with a player reference and the game is ready to begin.
Each round is comprised of several phases, which are as follows:
Here, players will decide who comes to work for the day and organize the structure of their employees for the round. When the game starts, players have only their CEO card (representing the players themselves), so that is the only one that gets played. As the game progresses, you will hire additional employees who can be added to the structure under the CEO or other managers in future rounds, adding their actions when you get to the Working phase.
Employees who come to work are played face down under your CEO in a pyramid format. The actions of these employees will be activated this round. All other employees are set aside (these are considered to be “on the beach”, as the game calls it—which simply means they are off for the day). Their actions will not be used this round.
As CEO, you can have any three employees report to you. To play additional employees, you will need to have one or more managers reporting to you, who themselves can have a number of employees reporting to them depending on their management type; for example, a Management Trainee can have two employees under him, while an Executive Vice president can have ten.
Once all players have reported all of their employees, they simultaneously flip them up, revealing their structure for the round. Note that the structure itself—i.e. who reports to who—is irrelevant. As long as the reporting capacities for the CEO and management are not exceeded, the actions of your employees and when they resolve are unaffected.
Order of Business
In this phase, whoever has the most open slots (CEO and/or management slots that were not used to report an employee) decides where they want to be in turn order. Then, the player with the second most open slots decides, and so on. Ties are broken by whoever occupied the highest position in turn order in the previous round.
This is where the actions of your employees gets resolved. In turn order, players will take all actions associated with the employees they reported this round. Actions are executed in a fixed order, regardless of where your employees are in your structure. If your structure doesn’t have an employee who performs one of these actions, you simply move to the next one, until all actions have been taken.
The actions, in order, are:
• Recruit: Your CEO can hire one person each round. Other employees, such as the Recruiting Girl, can add to the number of people you can hire. Recruited employees must be entry-level (indicated by a triangular symbol in the upper right-hand corner of their card) and will be available to report starting next turn.
• Train: For each training action provided by your reported employees, you can train one of your employees who were not reported (think of them as being in an off-site training workshop). The same player cannot be trained multiple times unless you are using a Coach or Guru.
• Initiate Marketing Campaigns: All reported marketing employees now launch a campaign. The marketing medium available depends on which employee is being played: the Marketing Trainee can only use billboards while the Brand Director can use any of the four.
The player will take one of the available tiles associated with the chosen medium and place it on or (in the case of the plane) beside the board.
The different mediums are:
o Billboard: This will market to any house to which it is adjacent, including gardens.
o Mailbox: This will market to all houses on a “block”, i.e. all houses the mailbox can reach without crossing a road.
o Plane: This “flies over” an entire column or row of the board, the length of which is determined by the plane tile being used. Any house wholly or partially included in the column or row will receive the marketing.
o Radio: This markets to all houses that share the same tile as the radio, as well as all adjacent tiles.
After placing the marketing tile, the player puts a number of the same food or drink tokens (their choice) on the tile equal to the duration provided by the employee. For example, the Campaign Manager provides a duration of three. So if you wanted to market lemonade, you would place three lemonade tokens when using that employee. During the Marketing Campaigns phase (described below), one of these tokens will be removed. This provides a timer for the marketing campaign.
Then, the marketing employee who was just used is set aside and a “busy tile” is placed on their card. The busy tile shows a number that matches the marketing tile used. This serves as a reminder that the marketing employee is busy with the corresponding campaign. The marketing employee will not be available until the campaign is over (but they must still be paid each round).
• Get Food and Drinks: Retrieve food and drink tokens as determined by the employees you reported who provide access to these items. For example, the Errand Boy provides one drink (beer, soda, or lemonade), and the Kitchen Trainee provides one burger or pizza. These employees can be trained to increase the output of the items they provide.
The Cart Operator, Truck Driver, and Zeppelin Pilot all make use of the icons printed on the main board to retrieve drinks: the Cart Operator and Truck Driver drive a route on the roads and pick up a number of drinks for each drink icon they pass. The Zeppelin Driver flies over entire tiles and picks up drinks for every icon printed on each tile.
• Place New Houses and Gardens: Your New Business Developer can add a new house to the main board, or a garden to an existing house. Houses must be placed adjacent to at least one road. Gardens essentially extend the area of a house from 2x2 to 3x2. This can make marketing to that house (described below) easier. It also increases the maximum number of demand tokens for that house (also described below) from three to five.
• Place or Move Restaurants: If you played a Local Manager, you can now build a new restaurant. It must be placed on its “coming soon” side and will not open until the end of the round.
If you played a Regional Manager, you can now build a new restaurant or move an existing one to a new spot on the board. In either case, the restaurant is immediately open and is not placed on its “coming soon” side.
In this phase, customers look for restaurants that match their demands, which are determined by the food items being marketed to them.
Each house on the board is numbered, and customers’ demands will be resolved in numerical order, beginning with the lowest-numbered house.
For each house, players determine which restaurants, if any, have the food and drink items matching the type and quantity of demand tokens (explained under Marketing Campaigns below) placed on that house. If only one player has the items the house is looking for, they automatically sell their items by removing the demand tokens from the house, as well as the same type and quantity from their personal supply, and taking the appropriate sum from the bank.
The standard price for all food items sold is ten dollars, but this can be made cheaper by playing the Pricing Manager (-$1) or the Discount Manager (-$3), or more expensive by playing the Luxuries Manager (+$10).
If two or more players can satisfy the demands of the household, they each add the total price of their items, applying any modifications from the managers described above, and the distance from the customer’s house to their restaurant (each tile is considered to be a range of one, not including the tile the house is on). Whoever has the lowest total serves the customer and sells their items. If there is a tie, the player with the most reported Waitresses wins. If there is still a tie, whoever is higher in turn order wins.
Each employee—both at work and off—that has the cash icon printed on its card must be paid five dollars. Players turn in employee salaries to the bank.
Before paying salaries, players can fire any number of their employees, reported or not. Fired employees go back to the main card supply and do not require a salary during payout.
If a player does not have enough money to pay all of their employees, they will need to fire the appropriate number of employees so that their cash total is enough to pay all applicable salaries.
The Recruiting Manager and HR Director can provide salary discounts that allow the player to keep a number of their employees without having to pay them.
Here, all active marketing campaigns run their ads in the order of the numbers printed on their tiles. This is done by placing a food or drink token on the house for each marketing campaign by which it is affected. Each of these tokens is considered a “demand token”. Each house has a limit of three demand tokens—unless it has a garden, in which case five demand tokens can be placed on it.
Each round, a token is removed from all marketing tiles. When the last token is removed from a tile, the tile is returned to the supply and the marketing employee is returned to the player’s hand.
This phase is comprised of several actions that players take simultaneously. They are detailed as follows:
• Players discard all unused food tokens in their supply.
• All employees are returned to their players’ hands.
• All restaurants on their “coming soon” side are flipped and now open.
• All milestone cards (explained below) for which the milestone was achieved by one or more players this round are turned upside down, indicating they are no longer attainable for the remainder of the game.
The next turn commences after the Clean Up phase.
Once all of the money has been depleted from the bank, it is restocked with an amount equal to the sum of all of the cards each player secretly chose during setup. Depending on the majority of which amount was chosen, this can affect how many open slots the CEO has available for the remainder of the game. It can be reduced to two (300), stay the same (200), or be increased to four (100).
When the bank is depleted a second time, this signals the end of the game. Players can take money from outside the game or use virtual money to finish out the current round. Then, totals are calculated and the player with the most money wins.
Throughout the game, players can achieve milestones that provide them a permanent benefit. These are achieved by being the first player to accomplish a particular task. For example, the first player who initiates a marketing campaign using a billboard receives the “First Billboard Placed” milestone, which provides eternal marketing for that player going forward (they no longer pay their marketing employees and their marketing campaigns no longer have a limited duration).
Another example is the First to Throw Away Drink/Food milestone, which provides the player a freezer that can hold up to ten food and/or drink tokens, saving them from being discarded during the Clean Up phase.
If two or more players meet the requirements for a milestone during the same round, they all receive the milestone.
This may or may not have come through in the overview above, but there are a lot of different employees you can have in this game. 32, in fact. Managing who you hire and how you use them is the crux of what you’re trying to do. It sounds straightforward, but with the numerous paths many of your employees can take, the game really demands—and rewards—foresight. You need to plan your strategy well ahead, and not take an employee just because they sound good for the moment. Of course, this is what provides the game its depth; all of the different options present a plethora of strategies.
For example, I went for the Errand Boy first so I could be the first player to discard a drink, which provided me the freezer. Being that no one else took the Errand Boy when I did, I was the only player during the game that could hold onto ten food items from round to round.
One of our friends, meanwhile, went for the marketing milestone and gained eternal marketing the whole game.
My wife loaded up on Waitresses, who provide direct income.
I have to praise the game’s breadth of choices, which are powered by the hiring and training, but are ultimately validated by how you use your employees. Who reports this round? Who gets trained? Who gets fired? Where do I market? It can be a maze if you let it, but careful planning and having a vision for what you want to do help keep it focused, to an extent—the extent being where your strategy intersects with that of your opponents.
And that brings us to where this game might not be for everyone. Don’t let the cute food and drink tokens and the inviting card artwork fool you. This game can be a gladiator arena of competitive, corporate brutality, and it is almost impossible to avoid suffering financial bloodshed throughout. At some point, the focus of your strategy will not only be to outperform your opponents, but outright undermine them. This is an imminent eventuality because the currency for victory in the game (the money) comes from a finite pool and at its core, the gameplay is about finding ways to get the lion’s share. This often has just as much to do with disrupting the efforts of your opponents as it does perfecting your own money-generating machine.
For example, one of our friends spent the first half of the game focusing on beer, while I concentrated on burgers. We were the only providers of our respective products, and this worked for a good while: he had his First Drink Marketed milestone, which gave him an extra five dollars per drink sold, while I had its burger equivalent. I didn’t have to discard food, he had eternal marketing. We were content in our corners of town, more or less generating money in parallel fashion each round.
Then I picked up the Luxuries Manager.
This is when the pin in the grenade was pulled, as I could now double the money I was getting for my burgers. He countered by doing the same and getting into the lemonade business as well. In addition, he was the first player to have 100 dollars, so he got the matching milestone, which provided him an additional 50 percent in income each round. So, naturally, I trained my Errand Boy all the way up to a Zeppelin Pilot, allowing me to scoop up tons of beer and lemonade—his bread and butter—which I could keep from round to round. Then I marketed my burgers to his customers and they happily passed his drink-only restaurants to get a more well-rounded meal. In response, he got into the burger business as well and eventually won them back.
And this was just two out of the four players in the game.
One of the things that makes this game so compelling is that your choices form a current that you can direct toward different goals, depending on if you’re focusing on building up your own franchise or if you need to go after someone else’s. The Luxury Manager is a good example. She raises the price of your products by ten dollars. This could make you a killing as long as you’re the best deal in town. The Pricing Manager, on the other hand, who reduces the price of your goods by a dollar, could potentially steal customers out of your competitors’ restaurants.
Now, you could technically make some kind of agreement where each player focuses on a different food item and you could spend the game building the best little restaurants you can and seeing who does the best, which I suppose is a valid option. But that’s kind of like going to the movies, getting your tickets and popcorn, and then leaving the theater; it omits the experience the game was meant to provide. This game was designed with direct interaction in mind—the theme aside, you are fighting over a pool of points, plain and simple. If you’re playing with experience, competent players, you will have to outperform AND subvert your opponents to win.
I am not a super competitive gamer. I typically enjoy more compartmentalized styles of play that let players choose how direct they want to be in their impact on other players. But this game uniquely seduces my sense of competitiveness. Instead of standing back and letting me build and then compare, as many other games do, it compels me to constantly measure my progress against that of my neighbors, and when needed, modify my strategy so that it is in direct conflict with theirs.
Again I think this comes from the limited point pool. Every time you make money, you make that much less available to your opponents and bring the game that much closer to an end (yes, some money will be put back as employees are paid but in my experience, it has a minimal impact). There might be a little breathing room should several people add two or three hundred dollars to the bank after it’s depleted the first time, but this is not a guarantee and even if it is the case, that money can go fast if players have all their pistons firing.
Whereas strategic card play serves as the game’s engine, I think the mortality of the money bank maintains its acceleration. It creates a Darwinian environment where you have to not only get your share, but try to stop others from getting theirs. If someone is about to sell a burger and two beers with a Luxury Manager and a CFO out, they’re looking at a 90 dollar haul for that restaurant alone. If you aren’t making what they’re selling, you better start. Get a Zeppelin Pilot to pick up more drinks. Put a new restaurant down that’s closer their customers. Get a Pricing Manager who can undercut them just in case it comes down to price.
9 out of 10
This is a tale of two opinions. One good, one bad.
Let’s start with the bad. The tiles that make up the main board are painfully basic: simple icons on a black and white board that offer no more dimension than the cardboard they’re printed on. This is also true for the marketing tiles, which have very simple artwork and about as much life as a checker piece. Both are purely functional and, unless you want to put the “less is more” spin on it, leave you wanting a bit more.
Also, the currency in the game is paper money. As paper money goes, it’s pretty nice. But it’s paper money.
We replaced this with different colored Fantasy Flight tokens and it worked beautifully.
Now the good. The cards, food and drink tokens, and player aids more than make up for it. The simple artwork is still present on the cards, but comes across—perhaps incidentally—as more thematically appropriate. Each boasts the 50’s era caricature style aesthetic in depicting its employee, which adds a kind of beauty to the game.
The tokens are of your basic painted wood variety, but I love them. This might be for no other reason than that they come in the shapes and colors of the game’s food. Where else are you going to see a burger or pizza token?
And then there’s the player aids. They have a streamlined overview of the different phases, as well as a nicely laid out career path for the different employees. Each employee’s action is provided, as are the abilities granted by the milestones, so you will never have to rifle through the cards to see what you need.
Oh yeah, and the player aids are in the guise of a fold-out diner menu. This along with the comprehensive information included makes them my single favorite component in the game.
I must also mention the box. Beyond its simple color palette lies some very thematic, very clever artwork and text. “The modern way to old fashioned gaming” and “100% dice free” are a couple of the mini-slogans printed across the front, along with some 50’s style illustrations. The effect is very inviting packaging that plays well off of the game's theme.
6.5 out of 10
When I first saw the main board for this game, its minimalism reminded me of the heavy war games I see people play at the game store. They’re usually on a basic cardboard battlefield with basic chits serving as the infantry, tanks, etc.
Well, this is definitely a cardboard battlefield. And, despite my criticism of the board’s aesthetics, the corporate warfare that takes place on it is immersive and dynamic. The pressure to outperform, outproduce, and outsell your opponents builds throughout the game as the money supply diminishes, and this really does bring to life the sense that you are running a company whose livelihood rests on your ability to get customers. And whatever thematic vacuum the board creates is quickly filled by the cards, tokens, and player guides (Please note that I don’t mean to suggest that component quality is the sole factor in appraising a game’s theme, but it is part of what’s placed on the scale. And the board—for me, at least—was feather-light in that respect).
Overall, I found this to be an incredibly thematic game.
9 out of 10
This game is not a home run derby. It’s a full contact, commercial flavored brawl.
And it is awesome.
It definitely satisfied my craving for a game with more meat on its bones, and served as an excellent conduit into the sub-genre of heavy euro games. I’m going to have to do some more exploring, but I figure this will be the first of several, if not many.
I know my wife didn’t particularly enjoy it, as it basically tazered her with one too many volts of forced competitiveness, and I can completely understand that mindset. I myself am not especially competitive, but we differ in that I sometimes go on my little excursions into more cut-throat territory.
If you’re looking for the bottom line, here it is: this game is excellent—brilliant, even—and is a must-buy if you’re looking for something that’s thematic, heavy, and strategically diverse—as long you don’t mind being thrown into a Kirk vs. Spock type situation with your friends along the way. It is now one of my favorite games that I own and, when the crowd is right, will see the table much more in the future.
8.5 out of 10
- Last edited Sun Oct 2, 2016 10:08 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon Sep 26, 2016 2:26 am
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Great review of an awesome game. It's interesting that you have chosen, for your first 2 reviews, my 2 favourite games. I'll be watching for more reviews with interest!
Thank you John! I love me some heavy euros, though I don't get to play them as much as I would like. Hopefully I'll get to review some more.
6.5 for components and 9.0 for theme...............generous. But hey, regardless of my hatred for it, an interesting read which is the main thing.
- Last edited Mon Sep 26, 2016 9:16 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon Sep 26, 2016 9:15 pm
To me, FCM is a true wargame disguised as an economic euro.
Which makes both the price tag and the components even more in line with the competition
- Last edited Mon Sep 26, 2016 9:50 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Mon Sep 26, 2016 9:32 pm
Thanks Luke. The components undeniably leave you wanting more, for sure. That player aid saves the overall component quality from being a complete punch line. Still, I feel the theme comes through in the gameplay itself. Hiring, training and firing employees, managing multiple restaurant locations, and competing with other chains for specific items all really drive it home. Enough to overcome the near homemade look of the game.
- Last edited Tue Sep 27, 2016 11:33 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Sep 27, 2016 12:41 am
In another time, forgotten space...
Roll away, the dew...
Fantastic review! Recently split the cost of this with one of my game group guys and we are really looking forward to playing it.
Fantastic review! Recently split the cost of this with one of my game group guys and we are really looking forward to playing it.
Thanks Patrick! I'm sure you'll love it!