Food Chain Magnate
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Food Chain Magnate

RRP: 75.00
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Food Chain Magnate is a heavy strategy game about building a fast food chain. The focus is on building your company using a card-driven (human) resource management system. Players compete on a variable city map through purchasing, marketing and sales, and on a job market for key staff members. “Lemonade? They want lemonade? What is the world coming to? I want commercials for b…
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Awards

Golden Pear

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • The challenge of outwitting other players every turn
  • Building your strategy over a number of turns
  • The complete lack of any random element

Might Not Like

  • The cut-throat nature of the game
  • The minimalist board tiles
  • The 3-4 hours probable play time
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Description

Food Chain Magnate is a heavy strategy game about building a fast food chain. The focus is on building your company using a card-driven (human) resource management system. Players compete on a variable city map through purchasing, marketing and sales, and on a job market for key staff members.

"Lemonade? They want lemonade? What is the world coming to? I want commercials for burgers on all channels, every 15 minutes. We are the Home of the Original Burger, not a hippie health haven. And place a billboard next to that new house on the corner. I want them craving beer every second they sit in their posh new garden." The new management trainee trembles in front of the CEO and tries to politely point out that... "How do you mean, we don't have enough staff? The HR director reports to you. Hire more people! Train them! But whatever you do, don't pay them any real wages. I did not go into business to become poor. And fire that discount manager, she is only costing me money."

  • Ages 14+
  • 2-5 players
  • 120-240 minutes playing time

 

Food-chain-magnate

Food Chain Magnate has built up a bit of a reputation in the board gaming world, partly earned but also partly as a result of the mythology that surrounds any challenging game.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll start by stating my position for the record – I think this game is one of the best economic games out there… so, let’s have a look at it why I think that.

The Game and Set Up

Suitable for 2-5 players, Food Chain Magnate is all about making the most money by the end of the game.  There are only two ways to make money in the game – either from waitress tips, or from selling your fast food products to the ever-hungry public.   Most games will be won by the latter.

The board is randomly created by the players from a series of neighbourhood tiles, with the number of these tiles being determined by the number of players (more players = more tiles).  A common critique aimed at the game is how plain these tiles look.  True, the graphics are minimalist, but this actually avoids any confusion when choosing where to place restaurants etc. as the game develops.

A player turn tracker is placed near the board, along with a tile for each of the players.  These tiles will indicate where each player goes in the turn order.  The initial turn order is randomly determined and the tiles are placed on the tracker so that everyone knows the order of play for the first turn.

A number of chits of various sizes that represent various types of advertising (postal, billboard, airplane banners and radio) and extra customer houses and gardens are also placed next to the board.

The two-hundred chunky wooden food and drink components are sorted into piles.

The 18 different milestone and the 32 different job role cards are sorted into piles and placed where everyone can reach them.

If you lay-out all of the cards, this game is definitely a table hog, but it certainly looks impressive.

The Bank is created, with the amount available in the bank being set by the number of players.

Food-chain-cards

Lastly, each player receives three tiles to represent their restaurants, a CEO card (this is just one of the job roles), three bank reserve cards and a highly thematic player menu that clearly explains the steps in each turn, all of the milestones that can be earned and the various job role cards that will be available to purchase during the game.

On the first turn, each player places one of their three restaurants on the board, adhering to a few simple constraints.

Once the initial restaurants are placed, each player selects one of their bank reserves cards.  The selected cards are then all revealed at the same time and the total of the revealed cards sets the reserve funds possessed by the bank.  If the players put in larger amounts, the game will tend to play longer, smaller amounts tend to mean a shorter game.  Winning by collecting waitress tips is easier in shorter games, much harder in longer games.

After that, you are all set and ready to play!

How to play

Turns are resolved in a series of phases, roughly following the activities of a fast food business.

All players first choose which of their employees (represented by employee job role cards that they have acquired in previous turns) will go to work and which will take a day off.

Some cards (including the CEO) are managers.  They can have other cards reporting to them.

Each player then creates a hierarchy of employees, starting from your CEO at the top, including all of those employees that you have sent to work.

The order of play is determined by the number of empty “slots” in the hierarchy (i.e. places that you could have put an employee card but choose to leave blank).  This allows players to manipulate their position in the order of play (which can be key to your success as the game progresses).

Players then take turns working through all of the abilities on the cards that they have put into their hierarchy.  These might allow you to hire more employees (for example, the CEO has this ability), make pizzas or burgers, send lorries out to buy beer, lemonade or pop from third-party suppliers, train your employees to make them more effective, initiate a marketing campaign etc.  These abilities drive the entire game and you shape your organisation’s hierarchy and employees to fit the strategy you want to follow.  This allows for an incredibly flexible game and you are continually having to plan your own strategy whilst making adjustments to try and counter the emerging strategies of your opponents.

Once everyone has completed all their employee abilities, your hungry customers start to appear.  Demand for fast food in the game is purely driven by marketing.  If someone markets burgers to a property, that property will want to buy a burger next turn.   If someone else markets beer to that same property, then next turn they will only buy from a restaurant that can provide both burgers and beer.  Marketing campaigns can become incredibly powerful, controlling the demand in large parts of the board.  Of course, anyone that has the required products can sell to the market. Once it has been created and this gives wonderful opportunities to steal customers from the person doing the marketing.

Food-chain-board

If more than one restaurant can provide the required product, the distance from the buyer to the restaurant and the price per item will determine which restaurant actually gets the sale.  Of course, some employees are masters of pricing and are able to undercut your competition’s price. Netting you the sale and them some anxiety.  A particularly canny player might manipulate you into a situation where you are getting the sale. But at such a low price that you are making a loss on every sale and end up going bankrupt (which knocks you out of the game).  This is a fairly rare event – in 10+ games, I’ve never seen someone go bankrupt.

Every product sold gives you cash, which is the proxy for your score in the game.  If you train employees, they upgrade to more powerful variations on the same theme. But once upgraded, you may also need cash to pay them a salary each turn.

Conversely, if you spent your turn making pizzas and nobody has marketed a pizza, then your pizzas are thrown in the bin at the end of the turn.

Other employees let you open new restaurants of place new buyers onto the board.

Alongside all of this player and employee action, there are a set of milestones.  A given milestone can only be claimed in a single turn.  More than one player can get the milestone if they all get it in the same turn. After that turn, the milestone is removed.  Each milestone gives a one-off. (e.g. you immediately gain a pizza chef who makes lots of pizzas but costs money to keep employed.) Or a permanent boost to the player that achieved it. Your radio marketing campaigns generate twice as much demand for a product as normal.  Some of these can be extremely powerful (you get a CFO who increases all cash you earn by 50%) so they are an important element in the game.

Each rule is simple in itself, but they all add up to deliciously fluid gameplay.  However, this raises a potential problem for players – an experienced player will almost certainly destroy less experienced  players as they will know how to make the most of their employees, marketing campaigns etc.  This can be very disheartening for new players.  It is also very difficult to recover from bad decisions unless everyone is making them.  We’ll come back to that…

Food-chain

Final Thoughts on Food Chain Magnate

There is a myth that it is a complex game.  That isn’t really true – the rules of the game are actually very straight-forward.  It is however difficult to reliably win against equally experienced players, but that difficulty comes from trying to predict the strategies and actions of the other players.

This is a great game but is definitely not for everyone.  Firstly, if you like direct and aggressive competition where you are trying to out-think everyone else every turn, this game could well be for you.  If you want a co-operative experience, look elsewhere – this is about as far as you can get from that.

If you have a highly competitive playgroup who are willing to play the game multiple times and develop their own strategies over time, then it will be very rewarding and you should buy it.

A quick explanation of the scores (below):  The artwork score refers to the employee cards and the player aids.  Both are very evocative of the 1960s theming.  The component quality is referring to the map tiles, which a probably a bit too spartan.  The chunky wooden food and drink tokens are nice but don’t really add to the gameplay significant.

Related Product (Games That Are Similar)

In my opinion, Food Chain Magnate is pretty unique.  There are other economic games where you have to think about supply and demand or cornering a market (e.g. Smartphone Inc. or Kanban) but neither quite captures it in the same way as Food Chain Magnate does.

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.

Milestones

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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Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • The challenge of outwitting other players every turn
  • Building your strategy over a number of turns
  • The complete lack of any random element

Might not like

  • The cut-throat nature of the game
  • The minimalist board tiles
  • The 3-4 hours probable play time