The cat’s out of the bag, this months Food for Thought review is The Isle of Cats from The City of Games. I created a pet-friendly sushi feast along with a few other treats and provide my thoughts on the game.
Chai: Tea for 2 Designers: Dan Kazmaier, Connie Kazmaier Artist: Andrew Bosley, Mary Haasdyk, Sahana VJ Publisher: Steeped Games
Review copy of the game provided
Many a game has been enjoyed over a cuppa hot stuff, whether it’s the Twinings tea bag hurriedly thrown into a Styrofoam cup at a convention, or the herbal brew lovingly steeped at home. 2019’s Chai from Steeped Games brought a taste of this custom to the games table itself. While a relatively simple game, it embraced the ritual of tea-making in a wonderfully immersive way.
Now designers Dan and Connie Kazmaier are back with a new take on the tradition of tea-making, once again steeping their love of the subject into every aspect. Chai: Tea for 2 turns it’s attention to the manufacture and distribution of tea in the 1800’s. Not only is it a dedicated 2 player game (including a solo variant) but also a sharp step up in complexity, reflecting the complicated tea-making process it’s modeling. You’re going to need a caffeinated variety for this one…
Chai: Tea for 2 sees two rival merchants competing to manufacture and ship tea from China across the world. You’ll be collecting various types of tea, moving them through the manufacture process, buying cards to speed up that process and contracting ships to send off your refined products. Most of these actions are completed by each player rolling a set of 7 dice, and taking turns placing them in preset action slots. Some of these spaces require 1 dice of a particular number, some require several dice of the same number, and others require a sequence of consecutive numbers.
Some actions allow you to one-up your opponent by dropping dice of higher numbers or a larger set, creating a devious decision. Do you drop a set of 4+5+6 dice to claim a valuable ship, or do you risk a smaller 1+2 set and save your high dice for buying lucrative cards. You’ll need to carefully balance the order in which you take your actions to maximize how many you can take while blocking your opponent.
The truly innovative and exciting part of the game though is the Plantation board, where each player will be tracking the manufacture of their tea tokens. This functions as something as a flowchart as your tea tokens move through along a predetermined path from initial harvest to reach the docks. It’s a slow process, but you have several tricks in your teabag to speed it up. You can spend dice sets for movement points but risk being outbid by your opponent. Or you can buy cards in the market that customize how your production line functions. A card might give free movement to all tea tokens of one color; it might grant movement to multiple colors but need a dice placement to re-activate it; it might provide crates for smaller, secondary contracts to fill for a tasty sip of points.
I’ve not had the chance to play enough for a full review (Canada is unfortunately quite slow in rolling out the Covid vaccines). But it’s a tea-riffic production. The designers love of the theme is apparent in all aspects of the game, from historical notes to mechanical flourishes like one type of tea oxidizing into another. The spatial puzzle of navigating the plantation board is a lot of fun, whether that’s outsmarting and outbidding your opponent, or a clever combo of card synergies. You have plenty of options to help improvise with a bad roll of the dice.
I have played several games of the solo mode and had a lot of fun. Each round a card is drawn dictating where your opponents dice will be placed. Once the card is revealed the results of the round are a purely deterministic affair, so with careful planning you can usually take all the actions you need to do. You lose a good chunk of depth in the uncertainty of your opponents placements and outbidding you but you still have the joy of the navigating the plantation board and puzzling through your optimal turn.
Designing a dish to pair with the game was a cup of tea. It goes without saying that a brewed beverage was compulsory, and I certainly have many types of tea to choose from (100+ on last count). I’ve created several cocktails to pair with games before but this was a fun exercise in creating a light, non-alcoholic beverage.
First up for a light savory meal, we have mushroom tea. No, not *those* mushrooms, we’ll need our wits about us for this game. One might argue it’s actually more of a broth, steeped with dashi kombu, shiitake mushrooms and green onion. Nevertheless, it’s warm, tasty, and ready to perk up your brain cells.
With our main out of the way, we can move on to something something refreshing for afternoon tea. While I have an eclectic taste in tea, my preferred pot is anything with ginger and/or mint. Here we have both, with a touch of lemon zest. Inspiration for both brews came from the Heroes Feast Dungeons and Dragons cookbook.
But it wouldn’t be afternoon tea without something sweet to snack on. I wanted to infuse some tea into an edible treat and having enjoyed the matcha cake I made for The One Hundred Torii, I repurposed that into a swiss roll, filled with jam and cream. The perfect snack for an afternoon ‘high’ tea.
I hope you were all able to partake in Pi(e) day last week, the tastiest holiday of the year! I decided I wanted to celebrate the occasion with another savory banquet pie and with wonderful timing Iello had just sent me a copy of Royal Visit. This new edition of Reiner Knizia’s classic Time’s Square sees two rival families trying to convince the King and his court to visit their respective chateau, and what better way to win his favor than with a traditional Tudor-style ‘game’ pie.
You can see how I made the pie and my impressions of the game in the video below.
It’s been a slow month here on the content front with both my wife and my birthdays AND Valentine’s crammed into 10 days. Plus I’m still waiting for a few new games to come in. I decided to go all out on some fancy cooking for the Valentine’s long weekend, without limiting myself to one particular theme. But what better way to celebrate that special day with your loved one than dinner and a game. I created these shitposts mementos for the occasion.
Tempurra is one of my favorite filler games, and it’s even better after filling up on delicious ramen. It plays a little like Uno, but with adorable art and theme.
I’m rather late to the lockdown bread making club, but have been experimenting with focaccia for the last couple weeks. It’s a lovely weekend treat to prepare first thing in the morning and enjoy for brunch after filling the house with those lovely smells. Plus it’s so easy to customize and decorate. I don’t actually own Fog of Love or Love Letter but either would make for a lovely pairing over a slow brunch.
Finally as an epilogue to my feast for The One Hundred Torii earlier this month, I sourced some sashimi grade seafood (Sockeye salmon, Ahi tuna and scallops) for some nigiri sushi. Was a lovely light meal while settling in for movie night with my wife. See my previous post for a review of the game and the rest of my feast!
What about you? Do you have any cooking or gaming traditions with your partner for Valentine’s Day or do anything special this year?
I think it goes without saying that any ‘Best of 2020’ list is going to come with some provisos. I’m fortunate enough to still have added many games to my collection between fulfilled Kickstarters and efforts to support my local FLGS’s. But the few games I actually managed to play were generally solo or online affairs, with only a couple of exceptions at the start of the year. Even those I did play, it was rarely enough sessions to give informed reviews or comparisons.
That said, these are all games I’ve had a great time with this year and eagerly look forward to experiencing in person with friends again in the future. Furthermore, all have been featured in edible forms one way or another. So I thought this would be a nice opportunity for a retrospective on how I celebrated my favorite games throughout the year.
I missed the Kickstarter for Oceans having not played Evolution, but when I happened upon the deluxe edition at my FLGS I couldn’t resist the gorgeous presentation and was not disappointed in the slightest. There is an incredible volume of game in this box, with an whale’s worth of card’s to choose from and a refreshingly dynamic system. With players finding a sandbox of options available to them at any given time, what results is a fascinating simulation of evolution in action. Multiple players start playing predator cards? Suddenly your foraging whale is so longer viable in this new ecosystem, but a new armored species will have it’s chance to shine. I’m usually not fond of direct conflict games, but there’s really no hard feelings when you can so easily, adapt, evolve, and come back even meaner….or grow some wings and fly out of reach.
It’s such a wonderfully evocative game that it kept inspiring me to return to it in the kitchen, more than any other game this year.
There’s no doubt that 2020 has been challenging but of the silver linings to be found, one is that it pushed me out of my comfort zone to change my gaming habits and try games I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve rarely had much interest in abstract puzzle games but with a theme like this who could resist?! The game is so elegantly simple with only a couple of options available to you at any given time. But don’t let the cozy theme fool you, much like a cat demanding to be petted and then unexpectantly biting you a moment later, the puzzle to solve here is dastardly. With multiple ways to score that overlap you will no doubt be slapping yourself when you miss an obvious hole in your quilt. The hidden joy I found here though, is the number of ways you can approach this game: random objectives, trying for specific achievements that limit your options or my favourite: a series of specially designed scenarios. In a series of increasingly difficult situations you’ll be given a specific setup with particular goals and points to try and achieve before moving on to the next. This really is the sweet spot for me to be able to enjoy an abstract game with clear win/loss conditions without simply chasing high scores.
Now for the twist: I’ve only ever played this game solo. I don’t imagine the game would change very much with more players, if anything it would just result in more frustration when a friend takes the tile you needed and have been waiting 5 turns for. Beyond that there’s no player interaction here so your experience really depends on patience for slowly and silently thinking over a puzzle. For me it’s been lovely to leave the game set up and enjoy with a cup of tea each night. And what better to pair it with than some Calico Cookies:
3. IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING
Another surprise hit that I’d missed on Kickstarter but was backed by my FLGS and immediately drew me in with that beautiful artwork by Kwanchai Moriya. As I write this I realize that this is technically a 2019 release but I’m already dealing with an artificially shortened list, and it didn’t fulfill in Canada till 2020 – it is by a Canadian publisher AND designer after all!
I’d been looking to add a tetromino game to my collection and 2020 had no shortage of options to choose from (I’m still eagerly looking forward to trying Isle of Cats). But on top of the tactile joy of laying tiles In the Hall of the Mountain King lays on a wonderful array of unique mechanics in a clockwork puzzle. Not only does the Cascading card system result in a tricky decision space for managing your resources but all resources act in completely different ways. You have several variety of ore to build your tunnels, hammers to clear rubble, carts to move statues along the tunnels, runestones to cast spells, coins to bribe trolls to join your cascade and start the process all over again. It all feels like a wonderful Rube Goldberg machine seeing your engine in action.
If I have one complaint it’s that the solo mode didn’t really work for me. Not only do you just have one set of tunnels being built, you have the mountain actively trying to destroy them. It just didn’t feel satisfying to end a game and only have 2 or 3 tiles on the board. You can use the same system to play co-op with multiple players but in full disclosure, I didn’t have a chance to try that.
I featured In the Hall of the Mountain King for my monthly feast back in March and it was one I had the most fun in creating, especially with such a strong theme to work with.