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The Game of Gaming

Review: A La Carte

Posted by Eisley on 29th November 2009

There were quite a few stands at Essen with people in costume promoting games and the chef on the A La Carte stand was a memorable one.

A La Carte is part-dexterity and part-push-your-luck.  The goal is to score the most points or complete 3 recipes perfectly.  Each player has a stove on which to cook and a small saucepan too.  These are fantastic as the stove is a 3D hot plate constructed from thick card with a dial for the heat setting, plus the saucepan is a mini, metal saucepan.  In addition, there are 4 small seasoning bottles which each contain plastic, pea-sized nuggets – each bottle starts with 15 nuggets of a single colour of seasoning (black, red, yellow or green) and 5 clear nuggets (representing salt).

Each players selects a recipe to make and place it in their saucepan.  Each recipe shows what seasonings and heat level are required to complete it, plus how many points the player will score for its completion.  For example, a recipe may require 2 green seasonings, 1 black seasoning and the heat to be between 2 and 4.  The harder the recipe, the more points it is worth.

Each turn a player takes 3 actions in any combination or order and these are (a) to heat the stove or (b) to season the dish.  When a player heats the stove, they roll a dice and increase the stove heat setting accordingly.  The dice roll sometimes makes all players’ heat settings increase by 1, or may give the player a coffee break token (which is a special action to use when they want).  When a player adds seasoning, they take one of the small seasoning jars and shake it once into their saucepan.  This is a quick shake so the bottle is turned upside down and whatever goes into the pan stays.  Sometimes you get exactly what you want, sometimes nothing comes out at all, sometimes more seasoning than you wanted goes in, and sometimes you add salt and not seasoning.  Adding seasonings is the core fun of A La Carte – you want to get just the right amount of each seasoning out of the jar and this is not as easy as it sounds and a is a lot of fun.

A recipe is ruined if the heat goes too high (burnt), contains 3 or more salts (over-salted) or contains 3 or more of any one colour seasoning (over-seasoned).  A ruined recipe is immediately thrown away and the player selects a new recipe.  When a dish is completed or ruined, the salt and seasoning used are put in the ‘sink’ which is a holding area for used items.  So, the ratio of salt to seasoning in each jar changes as some get used.  This can make a difference to the order in which you want to use the seasonings.

If the dish is not ruined but meets the minimum requirements, the player has completed it, earns the points for the recipe and starts a new recipe.  If the ingredients in the pan and heat setting are exactly right, the player also gets a star because the recipe has been completed perfectly.  Any player that has 3 stars, immediately wins the game.

There is one special recipe too – the crepe.  This  does not require any seasoning but does need flipping.  If a player is making a crepe, they roll the heat die once and then get two attempts to physically flip the crepe so that the recipe in their pan lands back in their pan face-down.  This is much harder than it sounds and a lot of fun.  As the heat always goes up each turn, it is a race against time.

One coffee break token can be used each turn and these give special powers like scoring a bonus point,  extra actions, season another player’s dish, decrease the heat, and even swap stoves (and saucepans) with another player.

The game ends when a player has collected three stars, or a player has completed 5 recipes (each must be of a different colour).  If it is the latter, the player with the most points wins.

Overall, A La Carte is a charming, fun game.  The components add so much to the fun – the stoves are just superb and the seasonings and bottles look great – making it a very tactile game.  To track how many actions a player has taken, there are three thick card spoons and a spoon is passed to the next player when a player takes an action.  The rules say that the next player should bang the spoons on the table to show their impatience as soon as they have them.  This is a lot of fun too.

There isn’t much strategy in A La Carte.  The ratio of seasoning to salt in the bottles can affect when you use a seasoning and even which recipe you pick, plus the effects of coffee breaks to further your progress (or hinder other’s) can be maximised with good timing.  However, the game doesn’t need more than that for it to be fun.  A La Carte is about manual dexterity and trying to shake exactly what you want into your pan feeels like a challenge.  The crepes are especially entertaining, as is swapping your almost ruined concoction for your opponent’s almost complete one.

A La Carte is a superb and very funny game for any audience – it was really enjoyable with our group of gamers as a filler and I can imagine it being great as a family game too.  I didn’t buy the game at Spiel but I look forwards to obatining a copy.

A La Carte is one of my Top 5 Games for a Family Christmas.

James.

[Played with 3 players]

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