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Subject: [Review] Pizza Bake-Off rss

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Tom Vasel
United States
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Educational games usually leave me with a sneer on my lips, because the designers forget to infuse them with any sort of fun. Then, if fun IS included, the kids who play the game likely learn very little. Pizza Bake-Off (Dancing Baobab, 2008 - No designer credited) immediately had me and my children's attention because of the theme, but I was worried that the heavy "addition" theme of the game would drag it down. The game comes with two "settings" (different sides of the board), one with single digit addition and the other with double digit sums, but both sides play exactly the same - other than the difficulty level of addition.

I would best compare this game to a better version - the one that should have been created - of the typical children's game found in toy stores. There is still some luck involved in the game; but players have choices and can even make moves that are set-up moves, allowing them to make the best move on their next turn. The components are great; the idea of building pizzas is fun; and the addition and subtraction involved really do work and are helpful to children. This is a game that is likely best for kids. Adults won't mind the game as much, but it's very much geared to elementary age. It very much impressed me, and I'm looking forward to seeing other games from this company.

The board has one hundred spaces; each are numbered and split into groups based upon their last digit (i.e. "8", "18", "28", etc. are all placed together.) Three decks of cards are placed on the table - a Chef deck, a pile of Pizza order sheets, and "Add and Subtract" cards. There are six different toppings for the pizzas (black olives, green peppers, pineapples, mushrooms, tomatoes, and pepperoni); and a pile of tokens representing each are placed on six areas of the board. Each player is dealt three of the A&S cards to their hand as well as a Pizza order sheet, which is placed face up in front of them. Players take a pawn of their color and place it on the "50" square, and one player is chosen to go first.

On a player's turn, they simply play one of the cards from their hand, adding or subtracting (indicated by the card) the number there to the space their pawn currently resides. If the result is lower than "0" or higher than "100", they simply move to that space. Depending on where the player lands (which again is indicated by the last digit), they then take an action. If the digit is a
- "1", they add a tomato to their pizza if it's one of the three needed ingredients
- "2", same thing, but an olive
- "3", a pineapple
- "4", a piece of pepperoni
- "5", a pepper
- "6", a mushroom
(By the way, if a player does not need the ingredient or already has it, they place the ingredient in the "refrigerator" instead.)
- "7", the player rolls both dice and calls whether the sum will be odd or even. If correct they get an ingredient of their choice.
- "8" or "9", the player draws a Chef card and follows the instructions
- "0", the player can take one topping from the refrigerator if they need it.

After a player has gone, they draw a new A&S card. Once a player has all three toppings needed for their pizza, their pizza is "complete". The toppings are discarded, and the player draws a new order sheet. The first player to get three order sheets completed is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The game is of top-notch quality, and one that will have a high appeal to the younger set. The box is a bit larger than it should be, but it is good quality and holds all the components well. The cards are a bit thinner than I would like but still work well and have held up nicely under heavy usage. The tokens are double-sided and fairly easy to tell apart at a glance, although the tomatoes can occasionally look like pepperoni. The board is really neat with thematic drawings all over it; the whole thing looks like a kitchen. Everything has a bright colorful vibe to it, similar to a children's story book. One more thing - the game comes with a pad that gives little worksheets on which children who may not be able to add in their head can write down the formulas.

2.) Rules: The game rules occasionally have a few small quirks (due to translation from the original Korean), but the four pages are still quite easy to understand, mostly thanks to the excellent illustrations and examples. Teaching the game is easy, as long as the players understand basic addition and subtraction.

3.) Levels: One nice feature of the game is that the board is double-sided, and you can play with the "easier" side for those who have trouble with double-digit addition and subtraction. The easy side goes from "0" to "20", and only single digit addition (and possibly subtraction) cards are used. The Chef cards are also eliminated, and the whole game takes on a much simpler feel. This is perfect for those in first grade or so, who haven't yet learned larger addition problems, and certainly speeds the game up.

4.) Cards: The Chef cards certainly add a bit of randomness to the game, but in every game with children that I've played, they try to get them anyway for the novelty factor. Some cards give a random ingredient and others allow movement of ingredients - even from an opponent's pizza. This can be a bit more confrontational, but it's not tremendously common, and most kids will be able to handle it.

5.) Strategy: Players usually have three choices on their turn, and kids will soon recognize that it's really only the last digit that counts. Of course they are going to attempt to get the ingredients that they need or perhaps try for the random die roll. However, eventually they will learn that they can use one, or maybe even two cards, to set their pawn up to land on the spaces they need. More than that, children will learn to watch out for the other players. While they won't directly affect each other too much, to land on another ingredient that other players need - sending it to the refrigerator - is probably a move to avoid. The game is very simple in this regard, but it is more than simply luck.

6.) Education and Fun Factor: As with many games of this type, I doubt many adults would ever be interested in playing this game without children. But with children, this game is an entertaining one, despite the fact that they are learning and practicing addition with it. The theme of building pizzas is a universal attraction to children, causing this to become one of my most requested games. Interestingly enough, a very young child can still play the game, simply by choosing cards randomly. They probably won't win, but they can still build up their pizzas, having fun on the way.

My recommendation for this game is for families - it's a very nice quality, educational game that will appeal to children, especially those in the middle elementary classes. Many children are not big fans of math, but I think the theme of this game is enough to overcome that - who can withstand the allure of pizza? An excellent educational game for children, Pizza Bake-off still manages to retain quite a bit of fun.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
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