Board Games, First Impression, First Play

First Play: Food Chain Magnate

     I’ve heard that Food Chain Magnate by Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga is an unforgiving game where early missteps can hinder your path to fast food franchise greatness. Well, I got the chance to play it today, and, wow, they were not kidding.

Player guides feature useful information and are also cleverly designed to look like diner menus.

     There are plenty of impactful early game decisions in this game of greasy spoon franchise entrepreneurship. You start off as the CEO of your own fast food restaurant with only one action at your disposal. You can hire one of the eight basic employee cards that range from errand boys who collect drinks from distributors to Management Trainees that allow you to play more employees per turn.

A Buffet of Choices

    Initially, this apparent smorgasbord of employees seems overwhelming. Should you hire a Marketing Trainee that’ll allow you to place a billboard, which in turn will persuade locals to crave a certain food item? Or do you hire a Trainer to upgrade an employee, keeping them out of play for a round? Keep in mind that the first player to place a billboard earns a Milestone that grants them the bonus of not having to pay for any future marketeers they hire and play. Oh, and that billboard you are placing? It’s no longer a temporary ad campaign good only for a few turns, but a permanent ad that will last for the rest of the game, perpetually inspiring fast food cravings to adjacent homes. First to train a worker? That Milestone gets you an ongoing $15 discount on salaries. Not exactly chump change since most trained workers cost $5 to play. So who do you hire first? Tough choice? Definitely. These Milestones are powerful and can really decide whether your fast food franchise can gain enough momentum to outpace your opponent. 

     And while I am sure die-hard Food Chain Magnate players have already mathed-out which opening moves are optimal, as a new player, I enjoyed the challenge of deciding which workers to hire during those crucial first rounds. After that initial hiring surge, the game ramped up rather quickly and my opponent’s franchise gained momentum. I spent the rest of the game trying to catch up while my opponent raked in the cash. Halfway through, I felt like the outcome had been decided in the first few rounds. Inexperienced players can get steamrolled and, in rare cases, even knocked out of the game, which might turn off new players and players who don’t enjoy a sink-or-swim approach to board games.

    Make no mistake, like the honed edge of a butcher knife, this game is sharp, hard, and likely to cut you if you are careless. I’m already craving seconds.

Have you played Food Chain Magnate? What’s your favorite opening hire?

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