Let’s review A La Carte!
Overview – A La Carte is primarily a lighter dexterity game for two to four players with a listed playing time of thirty minutes. It is recommended for ages 8 and up and both the theme and gameplay work well with children. The 2009 Fantasy Flight Games version of the game was used for this review.
Inside the Box – The components for A La Carte are excellent. As a dexterity game, you might expect that good quality and highly tactile components would add to the “feel” of the game, and that is certainly the case for pretty much everything found the box. From the cardboard stovetops with dials that you assemble to the plastic seasonings and their shakers to the metal cooking pans, the components are high quality and clearly “set the table” for a fun, engaging, and good-looking game experience. All of the various Recipe and Coffee Cup tokens are easy to handle and the icons are clear and readable. The rulebook is short but clear with examples and illustrations. This game was easy to get on the table with a short, well-written rulebook, a small amount of component assembly, and about five minutes of set-up time.
Gameplay – In A La Carte, you play a chef trying to create perfect dishes. Each completed dish earns victory points and perfect dish earns a star. The game ends in one of two ways:
- A chef wins immediately upon finishing their third perfect dish.
- A chef prepares five dishes. The winner is determined by number of victory points.
- A chef cannot place a new dish in their pan. The winner is determined by the number of victory points.
Gameplay itself is fairly straightforward. First, you select your dish. Each dish token shows the temperature and condiments needed to prepare the dish. The dishes are also color-coded and loosely grouped by difficulty. You then have three actions each turn and can use them to add seasonings or heat your dish.
You season your dish by shaking a bottle filled with colored “chunks” of green, red, yellow, or black seasoning (herbs, paprika, lemon, or pepper respectively). Each shaker also has a few “chunks” of salt. One action can be used for one shake of a particular condiment bottle. The goal is to shake the correct number and type of condiments in to your pan, without overseasoning. A dish becomes overseasoned when it has three or more of the same condiment in the pan. Likewise, three or more salt will also overseason your dish.
You must also heat your dish to the correct temperature. You heat your stove by rolling a die, which will show you how much to change the temperature on your stove. Possible results also allow you to raise the temperature on everyone’s stove, raise your own stove your choice of 1 to 3 units, or get a Coffee Break.
Coffee Breaks are special actions, represented by tokens, that can make your mission to become the top chef easier or perhaps make the journey harder for your opponent chefs. And sometimes both. They may give you extra actions, allow you to switch stoves, add seasonings to another chef’s dish, or simply give you some victory points.
You can “complete” a dish by burning or overseasoning it, in which case it is thrown in the disposal. If the temperature and seasonings match the recipe exactly, you score a perfect dish star token and add the dish to your completed dish stack. You can successfully prepare the dish if you have the correct temperature and condiments along with a few extra condiments, so long as it is not overseasoned. In this case, you still add your dish to your completed stack. All of these empty your pan, and you can then choose a new dish. Your new dish must be of a different color than your successfully completed dishes, provided their are different colors available.
One final gameplay note regarding the Crepe! Everyone has a Crepe that they may choose to cook. In order to successfully cook the Crepe, you must heat your stove without burning the Crepe, but you must also flip the Crepe token to its opposite side with your pan. This can be nailed in the first attempt, or can tie up your pan for many turns.
Impressions – A La Carte when from sitting on the shelf in shrink-wrap to a regular on the gaming table, especially in family or party groups. Why? It is fun and funny. It looks fun and interesting. The theme is accessible and the game just exudes kitchen mayhem. This is in a large part due to the fantastic components. The stoves, pans, shakers, funny recipes with weird pictures all add up to a great looking and fun playing experience.
A La Carte is heavy in both dexterity and luck. Through no seeming fault of your own, you can get two salt crystals and no condiments of interest to come dropping out of the shaker with any given shake. Far more common is to shake and have nothing come out. Some players may find this to be frustrating, but we found the light theme and physical gameplay to simply make for fun and laughs. Likewise, the heating die is still more randomness, but if you burn your dish, then throw it in the disposal and grab another one. Players who dislike chance in their games or perhaps require a little more “gravitas” in a theme may not find A La Carte to their tastes.
Gamers looking for a fun game to play with groups across a range of ages and towards the lighter end of game experience should find A La Carte a good addition to their collection.
Roll of the Dice Rating – 8/10
- Great theme supported by gameplay
- Dexterity and luck elements make for light and fun atmosphere
- Fantastic components take you in to the kitchen
- Accessible to wide range of ages and gamer experience skill levels
- High degree of chance may turn off some gamers
- Dexterity elements may not appeal to everyone and could limit accesibility