Hailing from a centuries old tradition of cooking inspired dexterity card games, Wok on Fire is quite the little gem. That first bit isn’t true either but I’ve always wanted to write something like that. Here, you have a game that’s just 58 cards in size, including the player aid/scoring cards. Set for 2-4 players, the game takes less than 20 minutes to play and is good for people aged 8+.
The premise is this: All players are chefs, laboring over a fiery hot wok. With our spatulas we compete with each other to stir-fry, pick and plate the choicest ingredients. Our goals are to make the most complete and desirable meals – failing that we’ll settle for some great meats or collections of memorable spices. Worst case scenario, we end up scooping gobs of green peppers and broccoli – the stuff of nightmares for kids around the world.
How to play
Setup is pretty darned easy. There are 50 ingredients cards. Shuffle them all together. There are four Spatula cards – each player gets one, those not in use go back into the box. There are also four Player Aid cards – one goes in front of each player. If there are less than four players, the player aid cards are still used – as these define the edges of the shared Wok. Other objects (the edge of a round table, a few game boxes or in on memorable case, my cat) can also be used to define the limits of the Wok. This is important during game play.
One player takes 24 of the 50 cards in the deck and spreads them around the play area (your Wok) face down. The other 26 cards are placed to the side as your supply of ingredients. Then play begins.
Each player will have three phases per turn. Stir Fry, Pick and Chop. In the Stir Fry phase, you take your Spatula cards an flip over at least one card in the Wok. Do this twice. Cards must actually be flipped to qualify as really being stir fried. This should expose a bunch of cards (or hide others).
In the second phase, the Picking phase, you must pick one ingredient, and may pick up to two (depending on what's visible or not). Certain ingredients, like Chicken or Green Peppers allow you to pick all of the face up versions of that card, for better (chicken) or worse (green pepper).
In the Chopping phase, players take the supply deck and 'chop' two more ingredients into the Wok, by flipping the top card off of the deck with a downward, chopping motion and saying "Ha!" (At least, that's how we do it).
The Picking phase is really the only phase of the three that doesn't involve some dexterity. Flipping can take skill, particularly if you're trying to hide less savory ingredients and reveal more desirable cards. Chopping can be interesting as well - you can cover up existing ingredients causing your opponents to try and Stir Fry them back into view. Cards must have a least one corner and the center image visible for you to pick them. Unless it's Chicken - you can always make a guess that something is chicken. If you're right, you get a tasty meat ingredient. If you're wrong, back in the wok the card goes.
Ingredients stir fried or chopped out of the Wok remain outside the Wok until the next player's turn, where they are chopped back in. A practice I don't encourage while actually cooking.
What's the purpose of all this - besides making a delicious cardboard meal? Why - the card combos of course! At the end of the game players will arrange their cards into the most favorable combinations with full meals scoring tons of points and combos of meats, spices and sets of ingredients scoring points based on the number and variety of cards. Get to many of the less desirable ingredients and you'll be subtracting points too.
Play continues until the Supply deck is empty and then players pull out calculators or napkins and start working out their score.
Why you should play
Wok on Fire is a very quick, fairly easy game to play provided you have the space to flick around a bunch of cards. The game itself is quite fun and is reminiscent of Sushi Go but with a dexterity component. It can be fairly quick but doesn't involve a lot of players getting in each other's way - speed isn't an issue so much as accuracy is.
We very much enjoyed this aspect of the game. Scoring is a little fiddly though, as you look at the image above. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but we weren't expecting as complicated a schema as there is. What we found was that in our first few games, scoring took almost as long as the actual game itself. In later games however, we realized why the scoring is they way it is, and this is important. You can actually employ a good deal of strategy in your Stir Fry and Chop phases keeping the scoring in mind. Suddenly our games were a bit slower - more in line with the 20 minutes listed on the box.
We'd carefully flip in just the right way, and happily chop cards face down over important ingredients we knew our opponents could really use. So yes, the scoring can be a little bit of work at first but after a few plays, the end game is a presence throughout the actual game - directing us to try and aim better and make smarter choices in picking cards.
The one real complaint I have about this game is the box. It looks great, colorful and fun. It took us about five minutes of wrangling to get the darned thing open though. The top fits so snugly over the bottom that gravity just can't do it's thing. Forcing the box made me wary that I'd rip a corner (I didn't) but it's a tight fit. It's getting better with repeated openings. Other than this issue, the game is well made, with nice linen finished cards and a neat take out menu/rule book.
To see this review with pictures, including that of my cat playing this game, please visit my site.
Thanks so much for the review! Glad you enjoyed the game and found the same fun we did when we discovered it!
Also, for our future titles, we're exploring thumb notches for the boxes to help with the tightness. That's the kinda thing you don't really know is gonna be an issue until it's too late!