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Wok Star

Originally published by Gabob in 2010, shown here on Board's Eye View is the Third Edition of Wok Star, published now by Fowers Games. The core game is essentially the same real-time fully cooperative game, but this edition adds in some new elements that help streamline play and organise the way in which players can offer assistance to each other.

Tim Fowers is the original designer of Wok Star but for this edition he shares design credits with Jeff Beck. The characteristically charming cartoon artwork is by Ryan Goldsberry. The premise of the game is that the 2-4 players are members of a Happy Families-style Wang family running a Chinese restaurant; and, yes, this does involve some racial stereotyping but it's clear here that no offence is intended. There's division of labour so each family member takes responsibility for particular ingredients and recipes. To generate ingredients, players roll dice - initially just two but you should be able to increase that number during the course of the game. You can offer dice to another player to help them get the ingredients they need but this borrowing is limited by the availability of fortune cubes. When used, dice go into a 'dirty dishes' pile. They can be 'washed up' (returned) twice but after two wash ups the round ends.

Wok Star is a real-time speed game where players are collectively competing against sand timer time limits. Cards are flipped to represent customers visiting the restaurant but each customer has to be served before the timer runs down or else the customer reduces the amount they pay for their meal. The restaurant earns money for each meal they serve to a customer and, at the end of the round, the players collectively have to have earned enough to satisfy that round's requirements. The income target for each round varies according to the number of players and the difficulty level you set but, as an example, at the 'Medium' setting in a four-player game, you'll need to earn $15 in the first round, $26 in the second round, $40 dollars in round three and $56 in the fourth (final) round. Fail to at least meet those targets and the bank forecloses its loan to your family restaurant and you collectively lose the game. And the income isn't cumulative - you can't carry any over between rounds. What you can do, however, is utilise your earnings to add to your recipes, upgrade your ability to generate ingredients and buy 'hustle' tokens that help you assist each other and/or modify dice rolls. If you've served more customers than you had dice, you get to add to your dice pool, up to a maximum of five dice apiece.

You can see that the target for each round ramps up and, with it, the pressure on the players. Speed is essential because you need to serve as many customers as you can in order to up the number of dice at your disposal or else you'll have little or no chance of meeting the targets demanded in the later rounds. The pacing tho' of Wok Star is its standout feature. The game eases you in relatively gently in the first round but it becomes increasingly frenetic as you struggle to meet the demands of subsequent rounds. And at the end of rounds 1, 2 and 3 you have meaty decisions to make about how best to spend the income you've collectively generated. No doubt that's where you might suffer from bossy quarterbacking but for most of the actual gameplay the real-time nature of Wok Star makes it almost entirely immune to such 'alpha player syndrome' - the bugbear of other cooperative games.

At its best with four players, Wok Star is great fun, even for those otherwise nervous about tackling speed games. You can vary the difficulty level and you can optionally include asymmetric once-per-round player powers for each of the six available Wang family members. This edition also includes Event cards that can be shuffled into the customers deck: some have negative effects, some positive, but most just shake things up a bit.

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