Food Chain Magnate is my favourite board game of all time. I get physically excited when pulling this game off the shelf, and before the expansion was announced, I would have argued that it was a perfect game.
I’ve owned the Food Chain Magnate: The Ketchup Mechanism & Other Ideas for a couple of years now, and I’ve had a chance to play through most of the modules at least once. I thought it would be fun to go through each of the modules and briefly talk about how they change the game.
Some of these milestones big and add several new components, while others are very small, perhaps only a single employee being added to the corporate structure. These modules can be mixed and matched as you wish, and the rule book offers some suggested pairings, such as “Nightlife: New milestones + Night shift managers” or “Asian Fusion: Sushi + Kimchi + Noodles + Ketchup”. One day I’ll play an epic game with every module included, but until then, here’s my thoughts on each module that comes in Food Chain Magnate: The Ketchup Mechanism & Other Ideas
This was the first thing I saw in this expansion, and upon reading about the new milestones and thinking about the ramifications of the new milestones, I literally started salivating. The milestones in Food Chain Magnate are pivotal, the milestones you acquire will form your strategy, and utilizing the benefits that the milestones offer you. Because of the importance and power of these milestones, it’s pretty common to chase specific ones at the start of the game. The new milestones turn the game on it’s head. Toss every strategy guide you read for the first game, because they’re useless without the old milestones.
Some of the new powers include “Earn $5 for every good marketed”, and “May pay salary with food or drink”, or “No longer needs to fire employees if broke”. Every milestone is unique and could be the crux of their own strategy.
I like this module on its own. Because such a core part of the game is changed, it takes a lot of brain power to keep in mind all the new milestones and abilities they grant. I don’t know if these new milestones would fall into the same ‘problems’ as the original ones, but the new milestones also have the Hard Choices (mentioned below) baked in. If you feel like your gamers of Food Chain Magnate have fallen into a rut, adding in the New Milestones is the perfect solution.
As I said above, the importance and power of certain milestones lead to some rote openings. Players bee-lined for the milestones that would give them the edge in the game, after all, earning an extra $5 on each good can take the sting off of a pricing war. The first to train someone and the first to hire 3 people in a single round are generally the two that my group chases right off the start.
In a 4 player game, players diverge their strategies fairly quickly and all the milestones get snapped up after just a few rounds. The Hard Choices’ module puts a hard limit on some of the milestones, locking them out after the 2nd round. If you want that milestone, chasing it HAS to be your first action. After round 2, four milestones are removed: First burger / pizza / drink marketed, and the first to train someone. After turn 3, the first to hire 3 people in 1 turn is removed.
I think this module is better suited for lower player count games, where someone could theoretically earn multiple of these milestones. By only allowing players to earn at most one of these milestones, they’re forced to explore alternate strategies. Again, I almost always play at 4 players (although that could soon change as Bigfoot was quite sour after our last game) so this module hasn’t been helpful for me, but I could see it being an interesting addition to a 2 or 3 player game.
There are now enough pieces, so 6 players can compete for fast food domination. I don’t know how crowded the board would get with 6 players, but I imagine this would be a very long game. 4 players is the sweet spot in my opinion, but I wouldn’t turn down a 6 player game.
The only thing this really adds is the map is now 4 x 6 tiles, giving players lots of room to throw down new restaurants and making planes slightly more powerful, depending on the layout.
Coffee is the most recent module we played with and it was a bit divisive. With the coffee module, you can hire baristas to produce coffee. Customers will stop by either your coffee shops or your restaurants to grab a cup of coffee on their way to their destination. Customers will consume a coffee at every opportunity on their way to their destination, but not consume coffee at their destination. Coffee is sold at the same cost as other goods, including bonuses from gardens or cards.
The baristas produce very small amounts of coffee (producing 1, 2, and 5 coffees as you go up the chain) compared to their cook and chef counterparts, but they can be very powerful.
In our most recent game, I was successful in using the luxury manager to increase the base price of coffee to $20, and sold all my coffee to houses with gardens or parks, earning $40 per coffee. I also happened to be the first player to hit $100, which gave me the CFO bonus, increasing my income by 50%. This meant that by selling only 3 coffees, I earned $180 in a round while the other players engaged in a pricing war that drove the cost of goods into the ground.
The other players complained that there was no good way to combat the coffee strategy, other than moving their restaurants or putting down new, lower numbered houses in the hopes to force me to sell to non-garden houses. The core idea of the game is that players are competing for the demand on the board, the coffee seems counter to the spirit of the game.
I argued that I barely won. Yes, I earned a lot of money from only selling 3 goods, but my ability to produce coffee is severely limited. I think the counter to coffee is to flood the market with demand tiles and make money with quantity over quality. The luxury coffee strategy worked well for the early game, but had the game gone even just one round longer, I wouldn’t have been able to maintain my early lead. Selling 8 pizzas and 10 beers for $7 each with a $5 bonus on the pizzas is a great way to leave me and my 3 coffees in the dust.
The new district’s module includes 5 new map tiles that are fairly unique. 2 of the tiles include apartments that have unlimited space for demand, but the demand must be satisfied in full. Other tiles include a house with a garden prebuilt, and another tile features 3 lemonade supply locations.
This module is one that I’ve just shuffled into the base stack of tiles and don’t bother separating out. One of the tiles requires the lobbyist to be included, but that’s hardly important. I do like more variety in these map tiles that I’m happy to have them available in every game I play.
The Lobbyists allow you to change the map by adding roads and parks to the city. The parks act as communal gardens, attaching to several buildings at once. Every building near a park will pay double for their goods. If they have a park and a garden, they’ll pay triple. The roads allow you to make connections, at the expense of a road being closed for a whole round (road work detours, you know how it is).
The first Lobbyist played gives that player a whole extra map tile they can play along any edge of the map, extending it ever so slightly. In the last game we played, the tile was placed down, then a garden was laid on it, allowing a park to hit 3 different houses at once.
The Lobbyists feels more like a situational module. There are some games where I’m DESPERATE for an additional road, and others where I don’t feel the need for them at all. The inclusion of polyomino parks that can double or even triple the cost of a good is quite interesting!
Every dish tastes better with Kimchi, right? That was the logic behind this module, where a Kimchi master produces a single kimchi during the cleanup phase. Then, during the subsequent dinnertime phase, the Kimchi serves as a way to draw someone to your restaurant, bypassing the usual distance + price formula.
Basically, if multiple restaurants could fulfill a house’s demand, but one has kimchi available, that’s the restaurant they’ll choose to go to, no matter the cost or distance. Players can only employ a single kimchi master, so this is a powerful once per round effect, nearly guaranteeing that you’ll have SOME income during the round. This module pairs nicely with the luxury manager, and with coffee, as it gives a player some guarantee that someone will be willing to make the long trek past all their coffee shops to get their burger and Kimchi.
Sushi is the ultimate luxury good. Houses with gardens will replace their demands with sushi at a one for one ratio (of both food and drink). This module is a way to stop someone from blitzing pizza to a bunch of garden homes and making out like a bandit. They still serve their low-class pie to the commoners, but the upper echelon of society that inhabit the homes with gardens will prefer sushi if it exists.
That said, houses without gardens will never want sushi, meaning the number of houses you can potentially satisfy after investing in sushi is vanishingly small. Unless you’re in cahoots with a local developer who’s throwing up houses around every corner…
Noodles is the wildcard resource in this expansion. Basically, noodles can replace any food and drink, but houses will always prefer their actual demand over noodles.
I’ve played with this module once and saw it work very well. After a marketing blitz and several airplane and radio campaigns, the noodle master was able to satisfy the vast majority of their clients, pocketing them a hefty sum.
The titular Ketchup module is actually just a single milestone that can be added to any game. If someone sells your demand, you now have a -1 distance bonus for the rest of the game.
This can have some significant ramifications. If all else is equal, players will need to drop their prices by 1 just to compete with you. Forcing players to drop their prices to compete is a brutal strategy, as it can take multiple employees to drop the price far enough to ensure they’ll be the ones fulfilling the demand, choking their corporate structure, and they’ll be earning less money turn over turn. With enough pressure and the right mix of milestones, you could force players to start shedding their trained workers.
I don’t know how well of a ‘catch-up’ mechanism this ends up being, and I’m mildly disappointed there’s no ketchup tokens to play with, but it’s nice to know that if someone snakes a demand you generated, you’ll be rewarded with a bonus for the rest of the game.
The Fry Chefs are another employee you can hire. Unsurprisingly, Fry chefs goes great with Ketchup, as they work to mitigate price wars. When players race to the bottom on price, it’s nice to have a flat, fixed income that doesn’t drop (but doesn’t scale up either). A restaurant with a Fry chef employed earns $10 per house they sell to (they’ve added fries to their order). This bonus is a fixed income and doesn’t affect the unit price or distance equation in any way.
Night Shift Managers
The night shift managers are another type of managers that you can hire. Like the other managers, they can only report to the CEO (after all, managers managing managers is a ridiculous concept). Unlike the other managers, the Night Shift Managers have no slots, they don’t directly allow your corporation to have more workers per shift. What they do, is allow you to use all of your non-salaried employees twice in a single turn.
This is a great employee to have at the start of the game when your corporate structure is full of non-salaried employees. It’s effectiveness can start to wane as the game goes on and your employees become more specialized, but it’s still a fun employee to include.
The Mass Marketers are relentless. Another single card module, the mass marketer employee triggers a second marketing campaign phase. Further to that, if multiple players play a mass marketer, every one triggers a whole other marketing phase.
This module has the potential to be absolutely bonkers. Demands flooding the market, which in turn, floods the board with cash and sends all players racing to hire enough chefs to satisfy the hungry hordes. Not only can several marketing phases happen within a single round, the duration for each marketing opportunity is only reduced by 1 at the end of the round.
The Rural Marketeers adds in a highway off ramp and 4 giant billboards. A separate tile (called the rural area) is placed off to the side, away from the main map, and the only thing a rural marketeer can do is place a single giant billboard next to the rural area. The rural area acts as one giant house, sort of like the apartment buildings in the New District Modules.
The first rural marketeer played gets the honour of placing the highway off-ramp, which dictates where the rural area can enter the board (and the distance to other restaurants). Like the apartment buildings, there is the potential for the demand to grow so great that no one can satisfy it, which is mildly annoying.
Honestly, I haven’t found much purpose for the rural marketeers, but it might just be because I’m biased in that I like the new district modules and the apartment buildings they provide.
Gourmet Food Critics
The gourmet food critic is a new type of marketeer. While the other marketing abilities are based of proximity to the marketing event, the gourmet food critic simply markets to every house with a garden. Parks, apartment buildings, and the rural area do not get marketed to.
In the base game, ties are frequent, making player order and hiring a brigade of waitresses to lure customers into your restaurant. The Movie Stars allow you to control the ties more effectively. Each player can only have 1 movie star in their employ, but when playing a movie star, you’re able to choose your play order before any other player. In addition to that, during the dinner time phase, if there’s a tie that has to be broken by the number of waitresses, the tie is automatically won by the player with the highest tier movie star.
This is one of the few modules I haven’t played with. I can see why where they’d be useful. Quite often players may be tempted to leave a couple slots empty so they can go first or last, as being first can be crucial when breaking ties. Now, as long as you have a B-list movie star signing autographs at your tables, you can be sure of your preferred order of play.
The reserve prices module replaces the initial bank reserve cards. In the base game of Food Chain Magnate, the bank reserve cards allow players to seed the bank with $100, $200, or $300, theoretically allowing them to plan for a short or longer game. In reality however, most games end around 8 or 9 rounds regardless of the status of the bank. Several players putting in a high number MIGHT extend that game by a single round.
The new reserve cards now modify the base price of goods, either slashing them in half, or doubling them entirely. knowing which way the base price is going to go can be massively powerful. Flooding the market with demand and ensuring you have the chefs in place to satisfy demands from every corner could be the key to victory. Of course the opposite holds true, if you and another player are in a pricing war, lowering your costs $3 or $4 per good, having the base price of the item plummet to $5 can kill your strategy. You can’t make payroll on a handful of $1 hamburgers!!
I really love Food Chain Magnate, and I love the variety of modules this expansion offers. I adore exploration, and this enables me to play my favourite game in a dozen different ways. A big challenge is that the base game was so tight, so finely tuned that adding in these modules can upset the balance. Before playing with any of the expansion modules, I rarely saw the luxury manager come into play. But now she’s become a common card in our games. In a similar vein, with alternate ways to make money (like coffee, fries, sushi, noodles, and kimchi), pricing wars have all but vanished.
I think Food Chain Magnate: The Ketchup Mechanism & Other Ideas is an excellent expansion if the base game is something you absolutely adore, but are tired of rote strategies dominating the meta of your table. If you have a gaming partner (or partners) who are equally as enthusiastic about exploring the strategies of each module, and how they interact with each other, this is a must buy. If your group is only humouring you and playing Food Chain Magnate because it’s your birthday, then these modules are probably better left for another day.