In Rival Restaurants players are chefs competing to be the first to earn 20 'popularity points' by assembling the ingredients they need and using them to create their point-scoring dishes. Players each have their own restaurant (player mat) and chef, and both the restaurants and the chefs have their own unique characteristics and special abilities.
At the start of each round, players need to decide which market they want to visit to buy ingredients. Players simultaneously select a market location using the pointer on their individual movement wheel. Play then moves to the buying and bartering phase, which has to be completed in just 60 seconds...
If two or more players have placed their chef avatar on the same ingredient then they need to bid against each other to buy that ingredient. Whoever bids the most acquires the ingredient but at the post-auction raised price; if the auction isn't completed within the allotted single minute then neither of the competing bidders gets to buy. Aside from the regular markets, players can also shop in the Mystery Mart, which stocks exotic and some literally out-of-this-world ingredients that can act as wilds or which can have some other special effect. Players can also spend cash to upgrade their restaurants and increase their income (for example, by obtaining a celebrity endorsement) or to buy Action Cards which can be played for a special effect. Also within this same 60 seconds, players can barter with each other to buy, sell and swap ingredients, recipes and even garbage: the latter builds up as part of your restaurant's operation and you have to pay to dispose of it or suffer points loss as a result.
Rival Restaurants is one of those enjoyably chaotic games because there are no 'turns'. Players take their actions simultaneously, even in the phases that aren't conducted against the clock. This makes for a frenetic almost party-like game. There's scope for strategy in putting together the most point-efficient dishes and there are opportunities too to attack rivals and scupper their plans, particularly when you splash out on Action Cards, which might, for example, allow you to rob a rival. Of course, this isn't a brain burning Food Chain Magnate (Splotter) that simulates the highs and lows of running a fast-food outlet but the theme comes through nonetheless for that.
Gary Alanka, Jon Kang and the serendipitously named Rob Chew have cooked up a design that makes engaging use of alliteration and gentle puns or faux puns. The three rounds all sport alliterative combos ('Money & Move', 'Buy & Barter' and 'Cook & Counter') and, in this game, you want to end up as The Wiener rather than the winner :-) The artwork by Audrey Jung further adds to this game's charm and table appeal.
If we've whetted your appetite, then give this game a go. Shown here on Board's Eye View is the deluxe 8-player edition sold through Kickstarter (the retail edition plays up to six). And watch this space because publishers Gap Closer Games are going to be launching an expansion next month on Kickstarter, where the Rival Restaurants will be Back for Seconds...
(Review by Selwyn Ward)