I sporadically review games...
... It's a running kidney... Kidneys are kind of my profession...
As usual in my reviews, I won’t be significantly rehashing the rules here, as those are readily available if people are interested. Instead I will be focusing on my opinion of the game itself, and the various gameplay mechanisms of the game.
Experience with the game: I backed the game on kickstarter and have played it multiple times since release. I haven’t played the solo version and I haven’t tried most of the mini expansions included. Not sure if I will on some of them as they don’t look that fun. I have enjoyed the Hungarian, greek, and fish cards though.
Rules clarity: Rules are fairly easy to understand. Nothing too hard. The rulebook layout is good for learning the rules, but it is actually a bit difficult to reference to check rules. Not a glaring problem but mildly annoying when trying to look something up. I do appreciate the examples provided though.
Components and Art: The art is good. Nothing that will blow you away but it looks fine and is adequate. The wooden pieces are great. Easy to distinguish. The player boards leave a little to be desired s they are very thin, but they get the job done. The unique piece of the game is the individual timers. It’s well documented here already but the timers are… strange. They work great for the game, but what is strange is that they all have wildly different amounts of sand in them. Yet I timed them all and all of mine fell between 26-32 seconds with some variation from time to time. It defies a good description, but as long as they work the same it doesn’t matter. Just… strange.
Gameplay: The game plays fast and furious. The basic gameplay is worker placement cooperative game where you are placing small sand timers as your workers. You can’t move your workers until the sand timer is up. The game is played over a period of 4 rounds, each one being 4 minutes, meaning you have a total of 16 minutes active time to play the entire game, and then 4 rounds of cleanup between. Each player has their own 2 workers (sand timers) and then there are up to 2 helper generic workers that everyone can share. The general concept for those not acquainted is that you are running a small restaurant and you have to do a little bit of everything with your limited number of workers. Seat new customers, take their orders, shop for food and spices, prepare dishes, cook the food, spice the food, clean the dishes, serve the food, and run the office. It’s a LOT to do. It certainly captures the essence of the running a small business in that you never feel like you have enough time to complete everything you want to complete, and you are frantically rushing at all times.
The timers are certainly a new twist on worker placement, and a new twist on real time games as well. There is nothing else I have ever played that is anything like this game. And that’s usually a good thing. The game is cooperative, but it doesn’t always feel like it. Your interests are always somewhat competing with the interests of your other players. The timing nature of the game makes so there is no room for an alpha player. Someone can try to be an alpha player but ultimately you are all frantically trying to prepare dishes and run the restaurant and nobody can just oversee what is going on. You have too much of your own things to do. Sure an alpha player can lay out a strategy at the beginning of the cleanup round but who knows if it will actually be followed and they certainly won’t have time to check during the round, at least not without being a serious detriment to the team. Even though you are all working on the same team you sometimes find yourself in conflict with your fellow workers. And talking constantly to each other.
“I need carrots, don’t take all of the carrots”
“Hey did you grab the last salt out of the spice bag? I needed salt for this order!”
“Can someone buy meat for me while I’m here in storage? I need it for this dish!”
Once your team starts working smoother together you learn to ask what someone else needs when you are going shopping, or announcing what you are leaving in the bag when you take spices, etc. Sending someone with an available worker to get new orders so you have money to go shopping. That communication is key. But you will still find yourself upset that someone took the helper worker when you were planning on using them, or that someone is using all of the ovens to quickly cook something when you need to get something going as well. It’s a bit of controlled madness.
The 4 minutes per round seem to be exhausting. It is just so little time. This isn’t a relaxing game to play. You have a few minutes to cool down before rounds and think about strategies, but then it’s 4 mad minutes again until the dust settles and you see what you have done right. The theme fits so well for this game. Just about everything you do seems to make perfect sense in the setting of running a restaurant. I’ve enjoyed it every time we’ve played it, and the game has plenty of variability available with the mini expansions available and with the various goals you can go after.
Scalability: Worker spaces scale based on number of players which means the game scales well 2-4 players. There are solo rules included with the game but I don’t have much interest in that. The madness increases obviously with more players. 2 is controlled madness and communication. 4 is craziness. Good craziness.
Final Thoughts: Kitchen Rush sets out to capture the feeling of frantically running a kitchen while also running the business aspects all as a real-time cooperative game. It accomplishes this goal, all with the use of unique mechanisms such as sand timers for your individual workers. The game is frantic fun, and is sure to cause more than a little anxiety and stress from round to round, but it delivers a great experience in all of that stress. I can’t help but really appreciate how unique this game is and how fun it is to play. I’m happy it’s in my collection and I especially appreciate how quickly new players grab onto the excitement. It’s a difficult cooperative game, but it’s fun even in a loss.
If you enjoyed my review, see my other reviews here.