Chocolatiers, Both Computer and Tabletop
Enemy Chocolatier is a strategy-based board game from Cheap Ass Games, whilst Chocolatier is a computer "Coffee Break Game" primarily about time management, but with enough strategy thrown in to be interesting. Comparing a board game and a computer game might strike you as funny, but as I'm sharing what I'm interested in spending my game-playing time doing, it actually makes a kind of sense.
So it appears I'm back -- and since I've had a year to discover new games, I wanted to share. I've mentioned Cheap Ass Games in the past but what I didn't get a chance to do was look at my all-time favorite, Enemy Chocolatier! James Ernest and the team at Cheap Ass Games turned out a really well balanced game on this one -- and it's very much one of the favorites of my board gaming group. Funnily enough, one of my favorite Coffee Break Games comes with a similar name, the computer game Chocolatier.
First, the board game. Enemy Chocolatier is a strategy-based game where each player is a Chocolatier trying to either own enough ingredients to complete one's secret recipe first or get enough points to be most famous first. While it looks simple enough on the surface, it has in common with many other Cheap Ass Games its complexity hidden beneath that surface. Like all Cheap Ass Games, you need to provide your own bits (30 counters for each player, 20 other counters, something for money and a way to keep score -- we use poker chips for money and small fish stones for counters). The board that is provided consists of seven pieces in color (rare for Cheap Ass Games), six of which are randomly arranged around the center piece. Plan to spend about twenty to thirty minutes per game, about an hour or so for a "match" (three games).
Newbies can play with experienced players and have a chance.
Players then buy parts of "neighborhoods" with their money. You can only purchase in neighborhoods that border on the Factory (the center piece). Additional neighborhoods are opened up as whole neighborhoods are owned by an individual player. In addition to opening up other neighborhoods, when you complete the ownership of a whole neighborhood you also get the bonus that particular neighborhood offers. You may get additional "salary" per turn (each player begins with a set amount and then earns 2 bucks per round), you may get points per round (1, 2, or 3) or you may win some game-based bonus (buy cheaper, buy in closed neighborhoods, sell more expensively, buy anywhere, etc.) Both approaches to winning (points or ingredients) take about the same time and the game is sufficiently well balanced that we find our players all come within one or two turns of winning no matter how many times we play or who's in the mix.
What's interesting is the way that the game plays out. I mentioned that we all tend to be within one turn of winning when one of us pulls off the actual win. This is unusual enough to be remark-worthy. It's a very rare strategy game that allows newbies to play with experienced players and have a chance. In our experience, kids (as young as 10) are competitive as well. It seems to take one or two games to bring noobs and kids up to speed, after which the game is wide open.
The other Chocolatier game I enjoy is an online "Coffee Break Game" found at any number of places, from Big Fish Games to PlayFirst (who owns its copyright, though Big Splash Games actually built it). This game is a little more about time management, but is still enough of a strategy game to be interesting. Plan to spend anywhere from thirty minutes to a couple of hours (or more if you really get into it) on this one. You can spend as much time as you want at one sitting, as this game saves your progress and expectes you to return over the days and weeks to complete it. This time, one is an apprentice Chocolatier and learning from the Baumeister family.
As an apprentice Chocolatier, you buy ingredients and sell finished chocolates. The trick is to figure out where to sell (best price), what port to buy in (best price), whether to hold on and sell or buy in a better season and when to haggle. Haggling can get you a better price, a worse price or kicked out (they won't deal with you till you leave the port and return). Beyond that, you also have to figure out whether/when it's better to buy a secret recipe or to "find it" somewhere (which depends heavily on your worth at that point).
I gotta admit, I love being a Chocolatier.
There's also an aspect of physical prowess in this game as you have to teach any factory how to make each new recipe; this involves picking the right ingredients and shooting them into the assembly line tool. The more quickly you do this, the more cases you make per week. Managing when to purchase ingredients is closely tied to how many cases of what you're making per week at all your factories combined (as they share ingredients from the common pool which you purchase into).
While the adversary in this game is the computer, the competitive feel is still there. And if you really need to compete, you can post your scores to communities for public acknowledgement of your brilliance as a Chocolatier. You can also play online at Big Fish Games, but you'll need to allow the installation of ActiveX controls and "install" the game as well (and I know that's an issue for some of you readers). It allows you to post high scores to a common high score board while playing online. This version is neither as deep nor as long as the one you'd download to your computer, but does allow for direct high score competition.
I gotta admit, I love being a Chocolatier, whether with a face-to-face board game or alone on my computer. The strategy aspect to both versions is what keeps me coming back. I may not have time for full on RTS games, but these do a good job of scratching that itch when I only have an hour or so!
For Enemy Chocolatier from Cheap Ass Games, find your local gamestore using their online retailer database. Chocolatier can be found at PlayFirst or BigFishGames (or about 30 other sites) and one either pays a fee to download it to one's computer (ranging from $6.99 to $19.99) or installs advertising to have it free.