Jobby recounts his first experience playing Food Chain Magnate.
Not Too Much Mayo!
I recently had the good fortune to stumble across a copy of Food Chain Magnate in a tiny games shop above a newsagents. Knowing that one of my gaming groups enjoys games on the heavier side I thought this would go down well. I brought this along to one of our meetups and the four of us all played this for the first time.
In Food Chain Magnate, players run a chain of fast food restaurants in 1950s USA. Starting with just a CEO and one restaurant players must build up their business to earn more and more money until the bank runs out. At the end of the game whoever has the most money wins. Sounds simple enough, right?
Players collect cards that represent their employees: different cards do different things. Each round a player will decide which of their employees is working; essentially a kind of action selection. Then players will work through those actions, hiring more employees, training them, getting food and drink and setting up marketing campaigns.
After that, each home will go to dinner – which player’s restaurant they visit will depend on what they want and the prices the players have set. Marketing campaigns then create demand and finally, wages must be paid and old food thrown out. Then it’s back to the top of the menu to start the next round.
Taking Our First Bite
After a quick rules explanation we got down to playing. The first point of confusion was demand – a couple of the players hadn’t realised that the homes won’t want anything until someone starts marketing stuff. This resulted in Simon producing a burger and Paul making a pizza but then having to throw them out straight away. On the bright side, FCM has lots of milestones or bonuses awarded to players who do something first. The guys who threw away food first were rewarded with a freezer each so they could store food for the rest of the game!
I decided to start marketing lemonade by using a billboard to advertise to a house right next to my restaurant. Normally marketing campaigns have a limited duration but if you’re the first to use a billboard then your marketing campaigns become ‘eternal’ and never end. This led to me happily supplying the house next to me with lemonade turn after turn making me feel smug and rich.
Martin, the fourth player, was concentrating on building up an army of waitresses. Being the first player to have played a waitress meant that his waitresses got extra tips. Martin just concentrated on using those tips to pay people’s wages as he trained employees higher and higher up the ladder without producing or selling anything!
As the game went on people settled into their strategies. Martin’s army of waitresses was working out well for him. Simon took up a standard marketing/selling cycle. Paul went down the route of dropping prices further and further to steal everyone else’s customers. I was trying to build up a lemonade empire but Paul’s price war meant that all I was doing was creating business for him! My smugness and richness wore off as I was unable to sell anything but I still had wages to pay.
And this was where I learnt the harshness of FCM. It took me a couple of turns to prepare a defence against Paul’s price war. Those couple of turns cost me dearly and set me back. I never recovered and finished the game far behind everybody else.
Finger Lickin’ Good?
FCM is rated on BoardGameGeek as a very complicated game which I would agree with. The complexity is not in the rules, they are straightforward. The complexity comes out of the decisions that must be made and the number of things to keep an eye on. Also, the sheer brutality of the game means it might not be for everyone – this is not a friendly co-op game!
I think FCM does what it sets out to do well. The rules make sense within the setting: marketing creates demand which leads to sales. However, creating demand doesn’t always lead to the sales coming your way and judging what to market, where and for how much is what this game is all about. I truly feel that I threw this game to Paul by marketing more and more without heed to whether I could sell to those customers.
This game went down well with my group and the obvious sign of this was we fell into analysing how the game went when it was over. There was quite some discussion. Martin felt that if the game had gone another round or two he would’ve been able to compete with Paul, and I felt certain I was getting close (indeed I had made some sales in the last round). The difference is that I was so far behind that I would never had caught up whereas Martin was at least not far off Paul’s score.
We were all very excited that the game seems to offer several different ways of playing and we’re all eager to crack it out again so that we can try to use what we’ve learnt. That I think is key: this definitely feels like a game where players will learn how to play better and part of the interest in the game will be the meta-game where strategies and counter-strategies are developed. I love that in a game!
First impressions? This game is great! I can’t wait to get it to the table again.