Published on April 25th, 2014 | by Nicole Jekich0
A Dexterous Culinary Challenge
A Review of A La Carte
Aspiring chefs and gamers unite under this dexterity-based cooking game from Fantasy Flight and veteran game designer Karl Heinz-Schmiel! A group of friends and families of all ages are welcome to test their cooking skills under pressure.
A La Carte is a competitive cooking game filled with unique pieces and props. Each player represents a chef who aims to cook perfect dishes to add to their culinary portfolio. A chef needs all the right tools, ingredients and cookware to achieve such a feat and A La Carte delivers with mini aluminum pans, a 3D cardboard stove, plastic bottles of spices and handfuls of cardboard cutout pieces.
As shown in the pictures, all the art and design is playful and the illustrations of the dishes players are creating are represent a humorous interpretation of the final presentation. All the pieces are very durable and thick which is important when players start flipping their recipes cards, dumping plastic spice pieces in the pan and performing other wear-and-tear actions throughout the game.
Each chef receives tools, picks a starting recipe card and a coffee cup before the game begins. After a starting player is determined, play proceeds clockwise and every player executes three actions, each time handing over a three wooden action spoon to the next player in turn. A single action includes either spicing the dish by pouring a spice container in one swift motion or heating the stove by rolling the die. Players work to complete a dish to the spice and heat specifications listed on the recipe card. A dish is ruined if it ever has more than three of the same spice tokens or if the stove heats beyond the requirements, which means the dish is burned and inedible. A La Carte is a fast-paced game of luck from die-rolling and it challenges players’ dexterity when they try to season a dish or attempt to flip and complete a crepe challenge. On their turn a player can also take a coffee break to reveal their coffee cup token, which gives the player a special bonus. Taking a coffee break does not use up one of your actions, so players can save their special bonus for just the right moment.
The goal is to complete 5 dishes (at least one of each type of cuisine as indicated by the tile’s color) or be the first to have 3 stars- which a chef gains by successfully creating a dish with the exact number of spices as indicated on the recipe. The game fits 2-4 people but I recommend playing with 3 or 4. The two player game is also fun but I suggest increasing the victory condition to 7 complete dishes to ensure the game lasts long enough.
I remember the first time I took A La Carte to an open game night: the players loved it! A La Carte includes a childish element of actually playing with game pieces, not just moving a cube from here to there. It shares similar game elements of more well-known dexterity games like Mouse Trap and Operation. While strategy gamers may look down on A La Carte for its childishness, I feel that it takes the theme of cooking and turns it into a game that is actually fun to play with kids and adults instead of potentially turning it into another resource management game.
A La Carte also shares issues with Operation and other interactive dexterity games in that it has unique pieces that are easy to lose and difficult to replace. The pans, recipe cards, spice containers and spices have roles in the game that are dependent on those specificly made pieces. As kids we always lost Monopoly player tokens, chess pieces and in-game money but a substitute can be quickly drawn up and used as a replacement. A La Carte does not offer that much flexibility. I once took my copy of A La Carte to a bar for a game night and was so terrified of losing game pieces that I never took it to public events ever again. All I saw was the potential of the plastic spice pieces bouncing into someone’s food or tumbling off the table into a crevice or disappearing into the busy restaurant. The base game does come with about five extra spice pieces just in case though- to give game owners a little leeway in lost pieces.
A La Carte is a great game to share with friends who enjoy games where you play and fiddle with game pieces. It is a casual and competitive game worth trying if you liked dexterity games growing up or are looking for a game that kids enjoy too. A La Carte also has a dessert expansion which adds a tools for a fifth player, new recipe cards and a new spice!