You Thought Running A Business Was Easy?
Infamous for its complexity and lengthy gameplay, Food Chain Magnate is feared by many but lauded by almost everyone who gives it a chance and takes the time to learn it. This is a heavy strategy, economic game from 2015 that solidified its place among the finest board games out there. Here you will be trying to establish a fast-food restaurant chain, which will involve opening restaurants, hiring and training staff, producing, marketing and delivering food and even facilitating development of the neighbourhood which could bolster your clientele, all the while competing with up to four rival entrepreneurs. But is its reputation fair? Is it as complex as people make it out to be?
The Infamous Complexity
Short answer: yes. It is complex. But it is not convoluted. The tasks mentioned above really are everything you can do, there is no hidden feature or anything that unlocks during a certain phase of the moon or when the planets align. During the setup, it is recommended that you lay out every card included in the game, stacked by type, in their possible organizational progression. The guide includes a drawing of what this should look like, but for example, you’ll be taking every Waitress card and putting it on a pile, then every Trainer, every Errand Boy, and so on. Out of those, the ones who can be trained into a higher position will have their possible trained/upgraded version laid next to them, so beside your Errand Boy stack, you will have a Burger Cook and a Pizza Cook pile, and beside those, your Burger Chef and your Pizza Chef pile. All of this is face up for everyone to always have a full view of what career paths they can take their staff in and what professionals are about to run out, since their stocks are limited.
What each of these resources, which in this game are people, does is written on the cards. If they require salary (entry positions don’t, it’s hard out here for a trainee), that will be indicated as well by a money icon, and salary must be paid at the end of each turn. If they can be trained into something else, those possible promotions will be stated at the bottom of the card. And where it’s relevant, there will also be information on whether only one of a certain role can be played in the game, or how far and for how long a marketing professional can promote your products for, or how far a buyer can travel in order to procure food items for you to sell in your restaurants.
That Doesn’t Sound That Complicated
That’s because the game is complex, but the rules aren’t complicated. If you read the guide, it’s not even that long. But by showing you everything you can do and giving you no boundaries other than your hiring capacity, the game puts in you in a position of complete freedom, which can be daunting for players. It is easy when your turn is very constricted: roll the dice, move your meeple, draw a card, resolve some stuff. In this game, your turn goes like this: it’s a new day, you can hire up to X people and have up to Y working today, go. Will you hire more recruiters to increase your staff numbers further? Or will you train your existing staff to make them more efficient? Can you afford their salaries then? Without marketing, there will be no demand for your products, will you prioritize that? If you do, will your supply meet that demand? Do you have enough managers to even allow all your hired staff to work? Will you focus on putting waitresses to work, to get more tips? Or will you favour developers who will get more houses in the area, in an attempt to gain more clients? Your ultimate goal is to end the game with more money than anybody else, so will you raise the price of your products? If you do and the competition can provide the same products at a lower price, the customers will go to them instead, but they’ll be making less money per sale. You could always open a new restaurant closer to the houses your rivals often serve and try to undercut them. Decisions, decisions.
If you still think you could wing it, maybe you could. An unexpected strategy could pay off. But it is imperative that you at least keep an eye for the biggest game changer: milestones. The rule guide is emphatic in their importance, and that is warranted. The game will likely be won by the person who secures key milestones. They change your engine in very significant ways. For example, if you’re the first player to train an employee, you will for the rest of the game pay $15 less in total salaries. That opens up your early game in ways that other players may find impossible to catch up to. Likewise, if you’re the first to throw food away, which happens to any food item not sold on the day it’s produced, you will get a freezer, which allows you to bypass that game rule by storing up to 10 unsold food items. So you could overproduce and then give your kitchen staff a break to focus on marketing instead, and so on. If every big problem can be seen as a group of small problems, winning Food Chain Magnate is in many ways a matter of securing many key milestones. An early game error that causes you to miss out of one of those may be impossible to recover from. And that’s what makes the game unforgiving.
Is It All Too Much?
It is a lot, but in an extraordinary way. There are games out there that require you to read 40 pages of rules, then watch 3 videos to even feel like you can dip your toes in them. That is not the case here. You can play knowing even very little. You won’t be great at it, but you’ll be doing it. One of its biggest accomplishments is that there is zero luck or randomness involved, and this is more uncommon than people think. There are no dice, no cards drawn, no character specific ability or powerup, everything available to you is available to everyone else. All cards are on the table at all times. It’s like a game of chess, but with different pieces. So you can’t count on fortune, but neither can anyone else. A win is a testament to your skill alone. Given you have the room to set up a very spacious game, Food Chain Magnate really can be enjoyed by hardcore or casual gamers, with some care given to compatible skill levels, and a victory feels incredibly satisfying.
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