- Number of Plays: 16
- Game Length: 120-240 minutes
- Mechanics: card drafting, economic market, action selection
- Release Year: 2015
- Designer: Jeroen Doumen, Joris Wiersinga
- Artist: Iris de Haan, Ynze Moedt
Let’s flash back to 2008. I was 17 and had just moved into my first apartment in Winnipeg, leaving behind the tiny village in northern Manitoba that I had called home for my entire life. I desperately needed a job to pay the rent for my super sketchy apartment, and the only place that would hire me was the local Pita Pit, paying minimum wage.
With the experience I got From Pita Pit, I moved onto other restaurant jobs, including Joey’s Only Seafood, Chesters Chicken, and Wendy’s. It wasn’t long before I was promoted to shift supervisor at Wendys. I took their training seriously and for two years it was a good enough job to keep my bills paid and food on my table. Unfortunately the training stopped and rather than waiting to move into higher management, I chose to pursue a diploma in Culinary Arts.
I left Wendys part way into my first year of college. When I left, I described working in fast food as ‘absolutely soul grinding’ and I couldn’t get out of that restaurant fast enough. Looking back on that period of my life, I have an odd sense of bittersweet melancholy. For some reason, I miss my Wendys. I’m sure I’m just lumping my time at that job together with a time in my life where I was excited about my schooling and all the new friendships I was developing.
It’s with those rose-coloured glasses that I picked up Food Chain Magnate. This was early in my gaming career and easily my most expensive game. With almost no information other than a fast food theme that I felt drawn to, I payed the $120 and brought it home. After all, I love food and restaurants, any game with this theme is sure to be a hit for me! How bad could it be?
How to Play
Food Chain Magnate is an economic game where the player with the most money wins. That’s the goal, make the most money, there are no alternate objectives, no prizes for having the best food or the most restaurants or the most brand recognition. The only thing that matters is money. Every round of Food Chain Magnate moves through its 7 phases, and if there is still money to be earned from the central bank, a new round is started. On and on it goes until the bank has been depleted and one player stands richer than the rest.
I’ll be honest, I wrote out a ‘how to play’ summary that ended up being nearly 2,000 words long. I’m going to wager that if you found yourself on this page, it’s because you already have an opinion on Food Chain Magnate and aren’t here to learn how to play. If you’re intrested in learning how to play, I’d recommend just reading the rulebook. It’s only like, 7 pages long and does an incredibly good job in laying out how to play in an easy to digest manner.
The gang’s all here!
I will say that playing Food Chain Magnate isn’t difficult for the average player. If you have someone who knows how to manage the phases and can shepherd the game along, most of your questions can be answered by just reading the cards. The trick comes in playing well.
The first time I cracked Food Chain Magnate‘s box open and laid everything out on my table, it was almost too much to bear. I found a solo variant on Board Game Geek and slowly played it, spending the better part of an afternoon and a literal litre of coffee to learn how to play Food Chain Magnate.
The very first time I laid everything out on my table
Where I’m at now in my gaming career, and with 16 plays of Food Chain Magnate under my belt, I’m ready to argue that it’s actually not technically difficult. The flow of each round is smooth and the natural progression of the game eases players into the tempo. The tempo ramps up considerably, but it’s rare for something to happen that you didn’t expect or at the very least couldn’t see coming. Unless of course you’ve been playing on your phone during someone else’s turn, at which point I have no sympathy for you.
To begin my review proper, I need to say that while I just said that Food Chain Magnate isn’t a difficult game to play, it is HARD. Being a no-luck, perfect information game, Food Chain Magnate is merciless in its punishment. Splotter’s design philosophy is “if you can’t lose on the first turn, what’s even the point of turn one?”. Food Chain Magnate doesn’t care that a poor initial restaurant placement can sink your entire game, or that the person in the lead gets rewards for doing well and there is no welfare system in place to assist those who are struggling. It is absolutely, 100% the case that someone new to Food Chain Magnate playing at a table with a group of experienced players will get stomped into the ground and walk away from this experience with a poor taste in their mouth.
Decide if you’re planning for a short or long game before you even take your first turn
Listen, I love Food Chain Magnate. I love Splotter’s design philosophy and mostly agree with their train of thought of ‘no mercy’. I can tell you that I I don’t want all my games to require such careful considerations and harsh punishments. Food Chain Magnate isn’t a game I recommend to everyone, or even want to play every single day, but under the sharp shell lies a delicious puzzle where every thread you pull can have wild and drastic effects on gameplay.
Food Chain Magnate is one of the few games where I’ve actually sat and pondered what optimal openings exist and how to counter particular strategies right from the start. You see, aside from the 30+ possible employees, there are 16 milestones that everyone is racing towards. These milestones can be incredibly powerful, and missing out some of the key ones absolutely could cost you the game.
A milestone is claimed when someone fulfills it’s requirement. Everyone who managed acheive the milestone on the same turn gets to claim the milestone. That milestone then becomes ‘locked’ for the rest of the game, permanently unavailable for everyone else. This makes the first few turns of Food Chain Magnate critical. On one hand players can copy what everyone is doing to ensure you get access to the same milestones. On on the other hand if you do something completely different you may find yourself as the sole owner of a very powerful persistent benefit.
These milestones include things like a freezer that lets you store food (everyone else has to discard unsold food at the end of each round), adding $5 for every burger, pizza, or drink sold, granting you the ability to use multiple trainers on the same person, rocketing them up the corporate ladder, or permanently offering a $15 discount on salaries, allowing you to have talented staff early in the game. Some of these milestones are legendary, and exploiting properly them is the key to winning Food Chain Magnate.
The quiet before the storm
The very first turn of Food Chain Magnate sets the foundation for the rest of your game. Like a massive ship, it can be incredibly difficult to turn quickly or react to sudden changes. A food chain CEO needs to be like a ship captain. When a sailor sees trouble ahead, calls for the sails to be adjusted, the rudder gets cranked all the way to the side, and the massive ship turns very slowly. In Food Chain Magnate you need to anticipate and be ready for the demands of your guests. You need to be catering to their demands before they even knew they had demands. Just reacting to other players actions is a sure fire way to miss. If you’re planning your next turn’s productions based on the demands of the current round, then you’re already two turns behind.
The first turn of Food Chain Magnate can feel like a whimper. Each player gets to recruit one entry level employee. That’s not very exciting at all! Company growth is almost exponential, every employee that you add gives you another action, allowing you to control the situation on the board and hopefully earn the hard earned cash that will win you the game.
It’s difficult to see how the gears of Food Chain Magnate‘s mechanics are interlocked and how each action changes how each future action will be taken. Every player is trying to suss out your strategy and either build their own exploitive engine whose growth will eclipse yours, or try to undercut you and steal your business.
Turn order feels critical in every round. at the beginning Food Chain Magnate it’s incredibly advantageous to go last, as you have the ability to react to anything anyone else did on their turn, You can also use the fact that no one is after you to choose to do something completely different, knowing that no one has a chance to react. midway though the game however, it becomes critical to be first, as turn order is the tie breaker for almost everything, and Food Chain Magnate often comes down to ties.
Pricing wars in Food Chain Magnate are not uncommon, if you and an opponent are the same distance from a house that keeps demanding food, it’s tempting to lower your price as getting $4 per sale is better than making no sales at all.
Gluttony Burgers is going to milk these two houses for all they’re worth
So this begs the question, do you go the McDonalds route and try to sell one hundred million $4 burgers, or do you posture yourself as the cream of the crop, and only sell a dozen $40 burgers? All this will depend on your opponents, as everything they do will push and pull you, forcing you into a dastardly dance of capitalism.
One of the things I love about Food Chain Magnate is that every employee can be the one that wins you the game if you find yourself properly prepared and in the right situation. if two people are racing to the bottom in a pricing war, you can eclipse their profits by flooding the market with demand, and use the Luxuries Manager to boost your price by $10. Couple that with a garden and CFO and all you need is a handful of sales to make a lot of money.
I can keep going on and on about the various situations and how Food Chain Magnate creates fascinating scenarios, but I’ve rambled on for long enough. The long story made short is that Food Chain Magnate is a wonderful, brutal design. The tempo of the games grows organically and exponentially, and I never feel like the game obfuscated what the consequences of my actions are. Every mistake I make is my own fault. A two player game is a cutthroat knife fight as you battle for control of the 9 square hamlet. A 5 player game feels like an all out war, with all the treachery and backstabbing you’d expect from corporations fiercely competing to carve out a section of market share.
Food Chain magnate has no mechanisms to help those falling behind. If you make a mistake and it puts you a turn behind everyone else, you very well may be unable to ever catch up. It’s entirely up to you to make the best of the situation you created. This also has the effect of making someone feel like they’re ‘out of the game’ 30 minutes in, and it’s no fun to sit in a game watching everyone else vye for the crown for 2 hours. And personally, even if I’m doing well in a game, I feel bad when someone is disengaged and obviously not having a good time.
Another common criticism of Food Chain Magnate is with the art. A lot of people are turned off by the way this game looks, calling it boring or bland. Personally, I love the 1950’s aesthetic, tying in the golden age of advertising really drives home the theme. I also recognize that at the start of the game the board is very plain looking. I maintain that Food Chain Magnate has a lot of important information to convey to players and it’s simple design aesthetic was chosen to minimize the information overload for an easier play over-all.
That’s a lot of demands
Another point I really want to bring up is the playtime. Everytime I think about playing Food Chain Magnate, I wince at the time commitment. Food Chain Magnate feels like a four or five hour game. Lately I’ve been recording just how long games actually take to play, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the average game of Food Chain Magnate is only two and a half hours (with 4 players). Food Chain Magnate does an amazing job of giving you a board game experience full of decisions and interactions and depth in a relatively shorter playtime. I’ve played other games that take a lot longer to play and have significantly less interesting decisions to make.
All in all, Food Chain Magnate is a beast. It demands players think ahead and prepare for future rounds. It insists that you ebb and flow with your opponents, responding and reacting to what they’ll do, rather than just to try and build your own little corner of the map where no one can bother you. It creates amazing and interesting decisions throughout its entire playtime. Playing is a joy and every single time I open the box and start playing this game, I celebrate. I love Food Chain Magnate so much, my heart accelerates during play. If that isn’t the sign of truly enjoying a board game, I don’t know what is.
Seriously, I get so excited playing Food Chain Magnate
Food Chain Magnate is my #1 favourite game of all time, and it has been for years. I have a hard time fathoming enjoying another game more, between the theme and mechanics, Food Chain Magnate just sings to me. I love the strategic decisions and the tense interactions between competitors. I get tingles just thinking about this game. I firmly state that Food Chain Magnate is the best game I have ever played. While I recognize that it really isn’t for everyone, it would be a disservice to call Food Chain Magnate anything other than a masterpiece in game design.