Posted by: gschloesser | August 12, 2011

Too Many Cooks

Designed by:  Reiner Knizia
Published by:  R&R Games
 3 – 5 Players, 1  hour 
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

No, this isn’t Andy Merritt’s homemade design from last year.  Rather, it is the latest new card game from Reiner Knizia, released by R&R Games.  I understand that R&R acquired the legal rights to the name, but the use of the same name as Andy’s game will undoubtedly cause some confusion in the minds of gamers. 

I first played this game in prototype form at 2001’s Gathering of Friends and enjoyed the experience.  The game received very good response from nearly everyone who played, so Frank DiLorenzo was confident he would release it under the R&R Games label.  Well, that day has finally come and the theme and mechanics remain intact.  That is a good thing, as the game is VERY good. 

I hesitate calling this a ‘trick-taking’ game.  Although it does bear some similarities, there are some very novel twists and mechanics which, to me, give it a different feel.  Often, it is a ‘trick-avoidance’ game.  It also bears some similarities to Was Sticht, a game with which I wasn’t overjoyed.  The package here, however, is much more enjoyable.

Players represent cooks attempting to make four different types of soups (French onion, pea, mushroom and chili pepper) and, on one day (round), avoid making any soup.  To properly make a soup, of course, you must include the best ingredients suitable to the type of soup you are attempting to cook. 

The main deck of cards consists of 52 cards in four main suits (chili, mushroom, French onion and pea).  The latter three suits each contain values of 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 10 and a 0 ‘Boil Over’.  The chili suit contains 2 cards of each value 1 – 5.  The artwork on the cards is delightful, displaying the talents of John Veeter and Scott Fleenor.  The pair also worked on Tin Soldiers, also released by R&R Games.  

Each player also receives a set of 5 menu cards, depicting the four soups to be made and one ‘No Soup Today’ card.  The latter must be spoken using your best ‘Soup Nazi’ voice.  The ‘Soup Nazi’ is a humorous character from the Seinfeld TV series.  OK, you really don’t have to mimic that voice, but it is fun to do so!  The contents are completed by an assortment of scoring tokens. 

The cards in the main deck are thoroughly mixed and dealt to the players.  Each player also receives a set of menu cards and five points worth of scoring tokens.

Each player examines his hand of cards and decides on what type of soup he will attempt to make this round.  Of course, he can opt to make no soup.  Each player plays the appropriate menu card face-down, then everyone simultaneously reveals them.  If a player is attempting to make a pea, French onion or mushroom soup, then he should attempt to collect as many of the corresponding type of ingredient as possible.  However, they should avoid at all costs collecting chili peppers, as these ruin these types of soups.  For example, if a player is attempting to cook a mushroom soup, he should try to collect as many mushroom cards as possible.  Collecting peas and French onions won’t hurt you, but they won’t help, either.  Collecting peppers, however, are nasty and result in negative points and, presumably, unsatisfied customers. 

If, however, you are attempting to cook a chili pepper soup, than you want all of the peppers you can grab.  You also don’t mind grabbing mushrooms, peas or French onions, as these ingredients won’t hurt or help you.  However, you should avoid collecting the ‘0’ bouillon cards as they really spoil a good chili pepper soup and result in negative points. 

Finally, if you desire to make no soup, then avoid ALL cards.  This is the toughest task, but is quite satisfying when you accomplish it. 

The basic mechanic of the game is similar to a traditional trick-taking game.  The start player plays a card to the table and each player must follow suit, if possible.  When the value of the cards in the center of the table reaches 10 or above, the player who played the final card which caused the collection to reach or exceed 10 points takes all of the cards into his ‘pot’.  This is a good thing if the cards correspond to the type of soup you are making.  For example, if you are attempting to cook a pea soup this round and you collect a stack of cards with several peas in it, than you’ve done well! 

If a player cannot play a card that matches the lead ingredient, he is free to play ANY card.  If a player plays a chili pepper, then ALL players are free to play ANY card from that point forward.  This is akin to mass chaos and makes successfully completing your objective very difficult.  However, it does allow players to have more control over their hand of cards. 

The only other card of note is the 0 ‘boil-over’ card.  When this card is played, it re-sets the count of the hand to zero.  This can certainly get you out of a jam (err … soup) when you are trying to avoid taking a collection of cards, but since it re-sets the count to zero, it also creates the possibility of causing the hand to get back to you, facing you with the same dilemma! 

Play continues until one player depletes his hand of cards.  Once play returns to that player and he cannot play a card, the round ends.  Players sort their cards, scoring 1 point for each card they collected that corresponds to the type of soup they are attempting to cook.  However, if they are cooking mushroom, pea or French onion soup, they must subtract 1 point for each chili pepper they collected.  If they were attempting to make chili soup, then they subtract 1 point for each bouillon card they collected.  

If the player was attempting to NOT make soup this round and did not collect any cards, he receives 5 points.  For each card he collected, however, he loses one point.  He can even lose more than 5 points if he collected an abundance of cards, forcing the player to surrender previously collected points.  Negative scores are not allowed, however. 

The game is played over 5 rounds, with each player making his four soups and one ‘No Soup’ over the course of the 5 rounds.  The player with the most points after five rounds is named ‘Master Chef’

Like any good trick-taking game, properly managing your hand is the key to success.  Sometimes you are forced to play a certain card, but more often than not you have options.  Exercising these options to garner the greatest reward is key, as is keeping your play options flexible.  Possessing several ‘0’ cards can get you out of jams and could be the signal to attempt to play your ‘No Soup Today’ card.  

The game is extremely entertaining, as players attempt to collect cards they desire and slam their opponents with unwanted peppers or bouillon.  Players also derive sadistic pleasure from sticking their opponents who are attempting to not cook a soup with an abundance of cards.  Nothing more fun than a despondent chef … at least in this game!

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Responses

  1. This is a game of avoiding taking cards most of the time but taking them one round. That is a nice twist. That you get to look at your hand and then decide which soup to make that round is also a good idea. Card players should like this one for the variety. Good for playing a few times a year. 7/10


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