My backers on Patreon voted on which board game i should tackle next in my How to Play series, and they decided on Food Chain Magnate. Here it is in all its grease-soaked glory!
Hi! Welceom to Nights Around a Table. My name is Ryan. i’ll be your server. Our special today is Food Chain Magnate, a deck-building and semi-abstract strategy game for 2-5 players. Let me show you how to play!
You and your friends play fast food entrepreneurs competing to build successful businesses by selling delicious heart disease to 1950’s-era suburbanites, with the hopes of becoming the next Ray Kroc, Dave Thomas, or Colonel Angus.
You’ll hire new people to your company and arrange your org chart in order to run different advertising campaigns and make the neighbourhood residents crave burgers, pizza, and various bevvies, while getting your grubby hands into local real estate development so that you can peddle your grease-soaked goodies to more and wealthier customers. Your entry level employees are free, but once you train your workers to take more powerful roles, you’ll need to start paying them every round. You can edge out your competition in all sorts of ways, including lowering your prices to tempt customers walk a little farther to your restaurant, or advertising additional products to them so that your rivals can’t meet their needs.
When you and your fellow capitalist goons drain all the money in the bank once or twice, depending on your game mode, you count up everyone’s wad of dough – er… money, not pizza dough – and the richest player wins!
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
Here’s how your stomping grounds look. The map gets bigger or smaller depending on your player count; this is a random tile layout for a 4-player game. These are roads, these are houses, and these spaces represent bottling plants that can supply your buyers with beverages. The white spaces are empty land where you can build new houses, restaurants, or gardens, or run various ad campaigns.
Everyone begins the game with three restaurants – one’s on the map, and the other two are waiting to be constructed – because after all, you can hardly call yourself a food chain magnate with just one restaurant. Although interestingly, it IS possible to win without expanding. We’ll see how the restaurants on the board get there later on in the Setup section.
You may be playing as the Santa Maria pizza chain, but your choice of restaurant doesn’t restrict you to selling just pizza. Any restaurant can sell any type of food, which includes burgers, pizza, soda, beer, and lemonade. These tokens do triple duty: they represent the food you have to sell, the duration of the campaigns advertising those foods, and the thirst and hunger desires of the residents in the neighbourhood.
You have a hand of exactly one card, representing you: the Chief Executive Officer of your restaurant chain. This is what your org chart might look like a few rounds into the game, after you’ve recruited and trained different employees. Some workers help you build up a stock of food and drinks, some help you advertise it, and some let you change the map landscape to add houses and move your restaurants around.
At the same time as your opponents, you’ll secretly decide which employees you’re going to put to work this round, and which ones are going to be “on the beach,” which is corporate-speak for “grab-assing.” For the most part, those employees won’t do anything useful for you this round.
Your at-work employees form an organizational pyramid, always with you at the top. As CEO, you have slots to manage 3 employees. You can also manage other managers – the ones on black cards – and they can, in turn, expand your structure by managing a certain number of other employees – just look for the number of slots the card supports. The more experienced the manager, the more slots that manager gets to handle additional employees. But 3 levels is as deep as the org chart goes, because a manager can’t manage another manager.
You get a menu that lists the phases of a round on the front. In all phases except this first one, any player can ask to see your cards. The people you’ve hired is public knowledge. The upgrade paths for the different employees is on the inside of the menu. Certain employees can be trained to fill more powerful roles. Each card also shows you the different roles that employees can be trained to fill down here at the bottom left. The upgrade path isn’t always intuitive; you may think that this pink Pricing Manager can be trained up to the next pink level, but she can’t: Pricing Manager is a dead-end, career-wise. You can see from the arrows that the Management Trainee is the gateway to most of the careers on the menu.
Once everyone has decided who’s working and who’s not, you simultaneously reveal your cards and build your organizational structure. If you screwed up at this point and laid down one or more cards that don’t fit into your pyramid, then you have to put everyone on the beach and just play the next round with your lone CEO card.
After everyone’s org structure is revealed, the turn order gets re-jigged. Everyone announces the number of open slots they have in their pyramids that they didn’t stuff up with employees. The player with the most open slots is first in line to choose turn order, and then on down to the player with the fewest open slots. If two or more players tie, you just maintain the same relative order as last round.
So for example, this player left two open slots – more than anyone else – and gets to go first. These two players both have 1 open slot, so they stay in their relative order from the last round. This player has zero open slots, and moves to the end of the line.
Then, starting here and going down the line, each player gets to decide which turn order slot to occupy. You have to choose from within your player count, so in a 4-player game, only these 4 positions are available. There are some strategic advantages both to going later and earlier in turn order.
Those are the first two phases in a round. And as i mentioned, off the top of the game, all you’ve got is your single CEO card, so since everyone will have the same number of empty slots in round 1, you stick with the randomly assigned initial turn order, and then let everyone choose their turn order slots for the rest of the round as i just described. Let’s find out how you grow your company round after round by putting your employees to work.
3. DO YOUR JOBS!
In turn order, you activate every employee in your entire pyramid structure once each, before play moves on to the next player. The actions on some cards are optional, while some are mandatory, but it’ll become pretty obvious which is which as we learn how to play. There’s a very specific order to which employees you can activate, regardless of where they are in the org chart.
First up, you can recruit new employees if you have one of these grey cards in your structure: a Recruiting Girl, a Recruiting Manager, or an HR Director. And as CEO, you can always recruit 1 employee every round.
Employees you recruit come from this common pool. By the way, i made this accordion-folded card holder for my copy of Food Chain Magnate because without it, the employee cards take up a lot of table space, and it’d be hard for me to get everything in the same shot. I’ll go over how you can make your own card holder in a future episode of Bits, Please!
All of the entry-level employees have a little black arrow in this corner of their cards. That’s where all recruiting starts – you can’t just go bonkers and hire a top-level CFO right off the bat. You need to train an employee up through the ranks to get there. So in round 1, you’d be wise hire your first new employee, who goes on the beach. Then in round 2, you’ll have your CEO and that first employee, and if that first employee is a Recruiting Girl – which is a highly recommended first hire – then you and she will be able to hire two more employees. And so it goes, round after round, as you build up your roster of workers.
The Recruiting Manager and HR director let you recruit 2 and 4 employees respectively. For every employee you don’t recruit with these guys when they’re at work, you get a break on salaries in a later phase.
After you’re finished recruiting, the next step is training. If you have a Trainer, a Coach, or a Guru in your structure, you can upgrade one or more of your employees according to this tech tree. So a Management Trainee can be trained up to become a New Business Developer, but that’s the end of the line in that person’s career path.
The catch is that the employee you train has to be one of those on-the-beach grab-assers who’s not currently working for you. Put the card you upgrade back into the roster of available cards, take the upgraded card, and put it face down on the beach.The recruiting on-boarding period when you first hire someone is the ideal time to train that employee, since that person’s already on the beach.
By default, multiple Trainers can’t train the same employee up multiple steps in the same round, but later on we’ll discuss a special ability that lets them do it. The Coach and Guru, who have multiple training powers, can use their training powers on a single employee, or they can split them up among multiple employees. Hiring a Trainer in the first round is another highly effective strategy for the game.
The available employee cards are limited – if a stack runs out, you can’t hire that type of employee any more. The cards with a little 1x in the corner are especially limited depending on your player count, and any given player is only allowed to own 1 copy of them. It’s possible that when you go to hire or train someone, that employee won’t be available. But there’s a little logistical trick to overcoming this limitation: if you recruit a card from an empty pile and then immediately use a grey training card to train that employee up, you can grab the upgraded card and put it on the beach – you don’t have to be able to grab the physical entry-level employee card first.
There’s a similar workaround with training: if you have a card like the Coach or Guru who let you train employees multiple steps, or a certain benefit that lets you use multiple Trainers on the same employee, then you can skip past an empty card pile during training. So if you want to train this Management Trainee two steps up to a Vice President, but the intermediate card pile for Junior Vice President is empty, that’s okay – since you’re training two steps in one go, you can just leapfrog over that gap without having to grab the physical card.
3. GET THE WORD OUT
After recruiting and training – or not, depending who’s working for you and whether or not you decide to activate them – if you have any blue marketeers in your structure, you can start advertising junk food to neighbourhood residents. You can advertise any type of food or drink you want, even if you yourself don’t have any of that stuff for sale. There are four different types of advertising you can engage in. From least coverage to most coverage, they are: billboards, mailbox campaigns, airplane banners, and radio ads. Each of the four levels of blue marketeer employees can run each of the different campaigns, or a less powerful one – so if there was some strategic advantage, a Brand Manager who’s all about airplane campaigns could slum it and throw up a billboard.
When you activate a marketeer, you peel him off your structure and set him aside. There’s a collection of numbered campaign tiles in gunmetal blue. You choose any campaign tile that’s within the ability of your marketeer, and place it somewhere on the map. Then, you put the token with the matching number on your marketeer to indicate that he’s busy running that campaign.
Marketeers have a little “range” symbol on them. This is the maximum distance from the front door of one of your restaurants that the marketeer can travel to launch an ad campaign. This marked corner on your tile indicates the front door of your restaurant. Your marketeer has to travel by road to place a campaign. Every time the marketeer crosses into a new 5×5 map tile, that adds 1 to the distance he’s traveled. So if the marketeer leaves your restaurant along the road but doesn’t leave the tile, that’s a distance of zero. As soon as the marketeer travels into a new tile, that’s a distance of 1. Cross into another tile, and that’s a distance of 2.
The different types of campaigns have different rules around where your marketeer can place them. One edge of a billboard has to touch the road your marketeer traveled to set it up, and you probably want some other edge to touch one of the houses on the board. When this campaign runs in a later phase, it will advertise food to any house orthogonally adjacent to the billboard. So this is okay, but diagonal adjacency is a no-go. If you can get a billboard to touch two houses at the same time, you’re doing pretty well.
Mailboxes can go anywhere within a block that the road your marketeer traveled is touching. A block is the entire island of squares surrounded by roads. So this is a block, and this is a block, and this is a block. Later on in the round, a mailbox campaign will advertise food to all houses within that block.
An airplane banner campaign sits anywhere outside the map. Marketeers don’t have to reach those locations by road, and this infinity zeppelin means that range doesn’t matter – a Brand Manager or Brand Director can run an airplane campaign anywhere around the edge of the map. The available airplane campaigns come in three different sizes – 1, 3, or 5-wide, but never rotated to be 2-wide – and they will carpet-bomb an entire row or column of the neighbourhood with a ravenous desire for hot grease, hitting every single house in their propagandist wake – even if only part of the house is within their catchment. You just can’t place an airplane campaign such that part or all of it flies outside the map.
Radio campaigns will blast your mozzarella manifesto to the wanting ears of all residents within a 9-tile area, radiating out from the campaign tile. Like the airplanes, they’re effective even if you can only hear them in part of the house. Radio campaign tiles have to touch a road, but the marketeer who places them doesn’t need to be able to reach that road himself.
You can only place campaign tiles on empty white spaces. They can’t cover up or overlap into houses, bottling plants, roads, etc. And you don’t even have to place campaigns so they’ll hit any houses, if it plays into your strategy. The campaign tiles are limited, and they come in different sizes and are executed in different orders, so maybe you’re running a campaign just to keep a certain tile away from an opponent?
Once you place the campaign tile, you have to decide what to advertise: either burgers, pizza, soda, beer, or lemonade. Each type of marketeer has a campaign duration marked on his card. So if you decide that this guy is going to advertise soda, then because his billboard campaign can run for a duration of 2 rounds, you put up to 2 soda tokens on his campaign tile. You may even want to run a shorter campaign than you’re entitled to, depending on your strategy. The duration is tied to the marketeer’s expertise, not the type of ad he runs. So a marketeer who runs a campaign type that’s beneath his station, so to speak – like the Brand Manager running a billboard campaign – still gets to run the billboard up to the max duration of 4 marked on his card. You set up your campaigns now, but people won’t start noticing them until later that evening.
3. DID I SAY YOU COULD STOP WORKING?
After setting up your campaigns, you can activate the rest of your employees, starting with your green beverage buyers and kitchen staff.
The light green employees let you collect bottled beverages that you can sell at your restaurant. The errand boy j ust lets you get 1 drink of any type: soda, beer, or lemonade. The other three – the Cart Operator, Truck Driver, and Zeppelin Pilot – travel around the map to the different bottling plants to grab drinks for you. Just like the marketeers, the Cart Operators and Truck drivers start at one of your restaurants’ entrances and travel along the road on a path that you choose, to a maximum distance of what their range symbol allows. Any time they pass a bottling plant along the side of the road, they snag a certain number of drinks from it. The Cart Operator grabs 2 drinks from each plant, while the Truck Driver gets 3 at a time.
So you could send your Cart Operator this way to his maximum range of 2 tiles to grab 2 sodas and 2 lemonades, or in this direction to grab 2 sodas and 4 bottles of beer. But if you started here, you couldn’t pick up these drinks, pull a U-ey, and then grab these ones. U-turns aren’t allowed.
The top level zeppelin pilot – and let me just say: supplying beverages to a restaurant by zeppelin in real life would raise some serious feasibility concerns – the zeppelin pilot lets you start at one of your restaurant entrances and travel four more tiles from there, ignoring roads, grabbing 2 drinks from every bottling plant along that route, including the tile your restaurant is on.
All the drinks your buyer gets for you go into your personal supply.
Meanwhile, the dark green kitchen staff cards are all about making you food. Like the Errand Boy, a Kitchen Trainee nets you a single burger or a pizza – your choice.v If you’ve trained one up to be a Burger or Pizza Cook, you get 3 burgers or pizzas respectively. And a top-level Burger or Pizza Chef nets you 8 tokens of that chef’s specialty. It’s possible – especially with chefs – that you’ll run out of food tokens. Just use something else as stand-ins… the food tokens aren’t theoretically limited in the game.
After stocking up your food and drink supply, you can activate your employees w ho build new things to the map: the New Business Developer, or the Local or Regional Managers.
The New Business Developer has his grubby mitts all over the zoning decisions made by city council, and can influence the town’s real estate by adding a house or a garden to the map. New houses always come with a garden attached, and they can go in any empty spot on the map without any range restrictions, as long as you put them in an empty space, and they border at least 1 road.
Or, you can add a garden to one of the pre-printed houses on the board. Gardens affect the amount of money you can charge households for your food, which we’ll see in a sec. Each garden must be attached to a house to turn it into a 2×3 rectangle – so yes to this, and yes to this, but no to this. A garden only improves a single house – placing a garden here doesn’t improve both houses. You have to turn the garden so that the open gate takes you towards the house it’s meant to be attached to.
The Local Manager has a range of 3, travelling by road from the front door of one of your existing restaurants, and can build your second or third restaurant somewhere on a blank space on the map. The entrance to the newly-placed restaurant has to open onto a road, but the entrance doesn’t have to touch the road your Local Manager traveled to place the restaurant. Only the building itself does. It goes coming-soon-side-up, and will be flipped over to its active side in the next round.
The Regional Manager doesn’t have any range restrictions, so he can place a restaurant anywhere on the map in an empty 2×2 area with its entrance bordering a road, and the restaurant he builds is immediately active – there’s no “coming soon” waiting period. A Regional Manager can also pick up one of your restaurants and relocate it somewhere else in the neighbourhood, because that guy’s been working out, and he’s super jacked. (HnRRGH! Huah!)
For the rest of the game, as long as your Local or Regional Manager is in your structure and not on the beach, all of your restaurants have a drive-thru, which means that each of the four corners of all your restaurants count as an entrance. This may not seem all that impressive now, but let’s take a look at how selling food works, and you’ll see how powerful drive-thrus can be!
4. LET’S EAT!
In phase 4, the dinner rush begins.
Through the various marketing campaigns, the houses on the map will accrue food and drink tokens indicating those customers’ desires for different meals. It’s a little cart before horse, because we haven’t seen how those food tokens actually get there – that happens towards the end of the round in a later phase. For now, just trust that certain households will eventually want to eat and drink certain things, and you and your opponents will be fighting tooth and nail to serve those things to them.
You start with the lowest numbered house on the board that has food or drink tokens on it. In this case, it’s house #4, which has a hankering for a slice of pizza. You look around the table to see if anyone can meet that need. And yes – the purple Fried Geese & Donkey chain owner is the only one in the game who has a pizza to sell, and the restaurant is accessible to the customer by road, so that player cashes in the pizza token, removes the pizza token from the house, and collects some money. The base unit price of any food or drink token is 10 dollars.
The next house in ascending order with a need for feed is #6, who wants to eat a burger. In this case, two different players can each serve that house a burger, and both of them have restaurants reachable by road. As you know, these fast food chains are all the same, and it doesn’t matter to the customer which restaurant the burger comes from, or who even advertised it – but what does matter is distance: the customer doesn’t want to drive very far. So we measure the distance along the road from the entrance of each restaurant to the house. The Golden Duck Diner is 1, 2, 3 tiles away, while Santa Maria Pizza is only zero tiles away, so in this case, Santa Maria Pizza wins out, and gets to serve a burger to that customer.
Following the game’s weird logic that includes restaurants that lack a back door, and customers’ unwillingness to walk through an open field to get their food, you can get some unexpected situations at dinnertime.
To the untrained eye, it looks like this restaurant would have no problem serving this house, but if you follow the roads from the entrance, it never actually connects! Meanwhile this restaurant, which looks at first blush to be farther, does connect at a distance of 3. And it looks like you should just be able to throw burgers into this guy’s backyard, but since the customer needs to travel by road, the house is 0, 1 tiles away. To say that 50’s suburbia was hooked on the automobile is an understatement.
So it’s all about distance, right? Well, what if your chain was able to offer food at a lower cost than your competitor?
The pink Pricing Manager and Discount Manager cards let you lower the unit cost of your food. If one or more of these employees is active in your structure, they knock the base price of your food items down by a certain amount. So to find out if a customer will go to one restaurant or the other, you add the distance to the restaurant together with the single unit price for a food item, minus discounts.
These two players can both sell a burger to this customer. This player is a distance of one, two tiles away, while this player is a distance of one tile away. But this chain’s unit price is 10 dollars per item – 10 dollars plus 1 distance is 11 – while this player has two Pricing Managers at work – so the calculation here is 10 dollars minus a 2 dollar discount (1 dollar knocked off by each Pricing Manager) – so 8 dollars per food item – plus a distance of 2 tiles, for a total of 10. This player’s total is 10, and that marriage of distance plus price beats the other player’s total of 11, so this player gets the business!
Since you and your opponents can market in a variety of ways, you could end up with a house that wants a variety of things: say, 2 burgers and a soda, or 3 pizzas, or 2 lemonades. The number of tokens on a house doesn’t change the calculation of whether or not a customer wants to eat at one restaurant or another – you’re still only using the cost of a single food item to determine where a customer wants to eat. But a restaurant has to be able to serve the complete meal to that customer – you have to be able to serve everything that customer is craving in one shot, or you’re out of the running. You can’t just sell these guys 1 lemonade, while another restaurant sells them the other lemonade. It’s two lemonades from a single restaurant, or that household stays thirsty, until its thirst is eventually slaked – or until another ad campaign makes them want even more stuff! If no restaurant can supply a customer’s foodlust in a single go, that customer heats up a teevee dinner at home and waits until a restaurant exists that can satisfy all the delicious stuff that the commercials promised.
Note that if you have a Luxuries Manager at work, you inherently add $10 to your unit price, because you’re presumably serving your food with silverware, and your waitresses are all wearing fancy ballroom gowns. That means that your restaurant will likely be the last to get picked in the event of a price war… but if you manage to edge out a competitor, or you’re the only restaurant that can satisfy a customer’s particular needs, you’ll earn a lot more cash for doing so.
If two restaurants are eligible to serve a customer, and their individual distance and unit prices add up to the same number, the tiebreaker is the number of waitresses a restaurant has working that night. We haven’t talked about what waitresses do, but we’ll get to them in a sec. If the tied restaurants have the same number of waitresses working, whoever’s earliest in turn order makes the sale.
Now, the price you offer to a customer may not actually be the price you charge them. You just wanna get those feet in the door. Once they’ve chosen your restaurant, there a few ways you can gouge those suckers for some extra cash.
If the customer lives in a house with a garden, that means they’re rich, son, so you gotta upsell them with extra cheese, or guacamole. Always extra money for guacamole! You get to charge double the unit price to a house with a garden. So if your unit price is 10 bucks for a soda, you get to collect 20 for selling it to a house with a garden. If your unit price is 9 bucks because you have a Pricing Manager at work, you get to charge 18 bucks for that soda.
If you win a customer’s business, you have to serve that customer. Since the customers’ needs are resolved in ascending house order, it may happen that a customer siphons off your last burger before you get a chance to satisfy that big, lucrative order at a higher-numbered house with a garden. Of course, through creative marketing, you could engineer just such an outcome to trip up your opponents.
At the end of the Dinnertime phase, regardless of whether you served any food, if you have any waitresses in your structure, you earn three dollars per waitress. (Boos) What? These girls earn tips all night! They can’t expect to be able to keep ALL of that money!
If you have an active CFO in your structure, you earn half again as much money on whatever you earned this round, including any tips you skimmed from your waitresses. As you earn your money during the Dinnertime phase, put it all in a separate pile. Then, divide that pile by 2 rounded up, and collect that extra amount from the bank. So if you earned 86 dollars this round, having an active CFO nets you an additional 43 bucks.
5. HERE’S YOUR STINKIN’ PAYCHEQUE
You’re running a business here, and your employees don’t work for free. Well, inexplicably, some of them do. But many don’t. So in phase 5, you’re gonna have to pay your employees.
Any employee card you own, whether it’s in your structure or on the beach, that has this stack of cash symbol on it, costs you 5 dollars. So you have to pay the Executive Vice President 5 dollars, and you have to pay the Burger Chef… 5 dollars. Kinda rethinking that MBA now, aren’tya, college boy? If you don’t have enough money to pay an employee, that person quits on you. Return the card to the employee array.v Even if you can pay an employee, you have the option at this point to fire anyone you want. I’m the CEO of this dump, dammit!
You also have to keep paying your busy marketeers while they run your ad campaigns, provided they have the cash symbol on their cards. If you can’t afford to pay a marketeer, you’ll have to fire him mid-campaign – the marketeer goes back to the employee array, but the campaign stays active, because there’s no way to stop an ad campaign once it gets rolling. You can’t fire a busy marketeer willy nilly – you have to burn through all other employees that you’re unable to pay, and then – if you’re still broke – get rid of your marketeers as a last resort. If you have one or more Recruiting Managers or an HR Director at work, those employees can grind down the amount of salary you have to pay.
6. YOU ARE GETTING HUNNNNNNGRY
Towards the end of the round, the people finally look out their windows, or up to the sky, pick up their mail, or turn on the radio – and are bombarded with ads about your delicious and nutritious fast food. (What – we can’t say “nutritious”? …What lawsuit…?)
All of the advertising campaigns activate, starting with the lowest numbered campaign and going up.
If the campaign is a billboard, and it’s touching one or more houses orthogonally, each of those houses gets a matching food token on it, and you pop one token off the campaign to run down its clock, because remember – ad campaigns only persist for a certain number of rounds. A garden counts as part of the house, so it’s fine to set up a billboard in someone’s backyard. Maybe not ethical, but you’ve got burgers to sell.
If it’s a mailbox campaign, all houses on the same block get a food token corresponding to the campaign, and then again, you pop off a token to remind you that the campaign has been run for one round.
Imagine a laser beam of coverage blasting out from an airplane banner campaign, and put a matching food token on each house it hits – even if it only catches part of a house, or its garden. Then knock a token off the campaign.
And a radio campaign hits every house in the tile it’s on, plus every house in the surrounding eight tiles. This episode of Why Daddy Drinks is brought to you by Fried Geese & Donkey. With its double-layered meat patties and creamy secret sauce, couldn’t you sink your teeth into a Big Honk tomorrow night? (honk-BRAY!)
The reason why the order of the campaigns might matter is that each house can hold a maximum of 3 food tokens. So maybe you were dying to make these guys crave two pizzas and a soda, but this stupid campaign runs first, making the household crave two pizzas and a burger. Time still ticks away on your campaign when it comes time to run it, but with the house at full capacity, your message goes to waste! Wealthier houses with gardens can handle up to 5 tokens instead of 3.
Notice that people eat first, and then the advertising campaigns activate. That means that if you want to make some sales early in the game, you should market your food first, and then worry about actually getting that food to sell to people, since they won’t be hungry for it until the following round.
7. CLEAN THIS PLACE UP!
At the end of every round, there’s a quick maintenance phase.
Any unsold food or drinks that you have go back to the supply. Nobody wants a day-old burger. (honk-BRAY!) No – not even a Big Honk. If any marketing campaigns have zero tokens on them, they’ve run their course. Remove the campaign token from the map, return the matching number tile, clear off the associated marketeer card, and put that marketeer on the beach. The campaign tile and its number token go back to the supply.
Then, you scoop up all of your at-work and on-the-beach employees, and start secretly selecting the people you’ll put to work in the next round. Marketeers who are busy running ad campaigns remain off to the side, and they don’t take up a slot in your org chart.
You keep playing until the bank runs out of money. When that happens, you flip over these reserve cards and add the amount of money they depict to the bank, and then keep paying people out. Off the top of the game, everyone received a set of three of these reserve cards in denominations of 100, 200, and 300 dollars. Secretly, everyone chose one of these cards and put it in the pile, and this is when you get to see what everybody picked.
The reserve cards also prescribe a new number of management slots for your CEO card. Majority rules here: if most players chose to put in the lowest reserve card, then for the rest of the game, your CEO will only have 2 management slots instead of 3. If there’s a tie, the highest number of slots wins it. So if there are two 3-slot cards and two 4-slot cards, then your CEOs will have 4 management slots for the rest of the game.
Then, you keep playing the game until the bank breaks a second time. You continue to earn whatever money is owed to you, keeping track of your totals on a piece of paper if you happen to run out of physical cash from the game box. When the bank breaks for that second time, the game ends immediately at the bottom of phase 4 – which means you won’t have to pay any of your employees at the end of the game. Tally up your cash-on hand, and whoever has the most money wins! Turn order breaks ties.
The most important mechanic that we haven’t looked at yet is milestones.
These are eighteen powerful perks that you can earn by being the first among your peers to do something. The milestones are exclusive – multiple players can achieve a certain milestone in the same round, but once a milestone is claimed by one or more players, it disappears at end of that turn for the rest of the game! So if one player is the first to throw away unsold food, that player takes this milestone card. Another player also wasted food this round, and takes a card. Because at least one of these cards was claimed, during the cleanup phase, the whole stack gets removed. In the next round, if another player throws away unsold food, tough luck! This milestone is gone! The milestone cards themselves are unlimited – if every player in the game achieves the same milestone in the same round, but you run out of physical cards, you can doodle one up on a piece of paper.
These milestones are the whole crux of the game, and you need to carefully build your whole strategy around them. Let’s run down each milestone and see what they do!
The first player to hire 3 people in a single turn gets two free Management Trainees, who go on the beach. Management Trainees get you extra slots in your structure, but they’re also the foundation of a number of important upgrades on the tech tree.
The first player to throw away one or more unsold food or drink tokens at the end of a round gets a freezer that can store up to 10 food items indefinitely. It’s an imaginary freezer – there’s no actual freezer component in the game, because – i mean, come on. Food Chain Magnate only costs a hundred-and-something dollars. Don’t be so greedy.
The first players to play one or more waitresses get an extra two dollars per waitress per round, so their waitresses are worth 5 dollars instead of 3 at the end of the Dinnertime phase.
The first players to collect at least 20 dollars get to peek at those secret reserve cards, which may affect whether they pursue a long- or short-term strategy. And the first player to have 100 dollars cash on-hand gets the 50% extra cash CFO perk for the rest of the game – but can’t hire one of the limited CFO cards any more… and if that player already has a CFO, the CFO gets sacked.
The first person to use either pink employee to lower prices has their base unit price permanently lowered by 1 dollar for the rest of the game, whether these pink employees are active or not.c
The first player to train someone gets a 15 dollar discount on salaries for the rest of the game.
The first player to produce at least one burger or pizza gets a free corresponding cook, who you won’t be able to train until the next round, and who you’ll have to pay in this round’s salary phase.
If you’re the first to play the Errand boy, then all your light green beverage buyers will get 1 extra drink from each bottling plant they encounter. So all your Errand Boys get 2 identical drinks instead of 1. Cart Operators pick up 3 drinks from each bottler instead of 2, Truck Drivers get 4 drinks instead of 3, and zeppelin pilots – that’s right, zeppelin pilots who supply your restaurant with Diet Fanta – get 3 drinks instead of 2 from each bottler they… rappel down to? Like, how is that even supposed to work…?
Claiming the first cart operator played milestone increases the range of all your light green beverage buyers by 1 tile.
If you’re the first to pay $20 dollars or more in salaries on a single turn, you can claim this milestone, which lets you use multiple Trainers on the same employee. Remember that Trainer cards usually only let you train one unique employee, once each. The 20 dollars in salary has to be paid in cold hard cash – you can’t pay 5 bucks in cash and 15 bucks in milestone salary coverage, for example.
“First played,” by the way, means the card has to be in your company structure – employees face-down on the beach don’t earn you any milestones.
The last batch of milestones award your marketing breakthroughs. If you’re the first to place a billboard, this milestone means that you never have to pay a salary to any of your marketeers for the rest of the game, and all of your marketing campaigns are endless – they never expire and pop off the board. This applies to the billboard you placed to claim the milestone. Flip the campaign tile to its “eternal” side and mark it with a single token.
This seems like a crazy powerful perk, and it is, but it could backfire on you because of how predictable and reliable all your campaigns are. In the early stages of the game, it’s easy to think of the houses you market to as “your” houses. But no single house belongs to any one player – your opponents can scoop “your” customers by building restaurants closer to them, undercutting your prices, or advertising additional foods to them that you can’t supply.
Claiming the first burger marketed, first pizza marketed, or first drink marketed milestones means that every burger or pizza or beverage you sell for the rest of the game nets you a five dollar bonus. This bonus doesn’t affect the unit price when you’re figuring out where a customer decides to eat – it’s added after you serve the customer. So if you have the first burger marketed milestone and you get to serve this customer, because your number is the lowest when you sum up your restaurant’s distance with your unit price minus your active Pricing Manager’s discount, you earn 9 dollars each for selling these two burgers – 18 bucks – times 2, because the house has a garden, so 36 bucks – and then you add the 5 dollars per burger bonus at the end, so another 10 bucks, for a grand total of 46 bucks. 46 bucks. For 2 burgers. What a McRipoff!
If you’re the first to run an airplane campaign, you get to add 2 to your open slot count in the second phase, where you’re figuring out who’s first to pick a turn order slot. That means there’s a better chance of you getting your preferred spot in turn order.
And finally, if you run the first radio campaign, you get this perk, which means that your radio campaigns blast the desire for TWO matching food tokens, instead of just one, to the tile it’s on and the surrounding 8-tile area. And yes, it counts for the radio campaign you just placed in order to earn the milestone.
To set up the game, shuffle up the map tiles and build a grid depending on your player count: this is 2 players, 3 players, 4 players, and 5 players. Lay out all the employee cards in your home-made accordion fold – seriously, this’ll be the best dollar you’ll ever spend on a board game – and remove a certain number of 1x cards from their piles depending on player count – keep 1 card in those piles for 2 and 3 player games, 2 of them in a 4-player game, and 3 of each in a 5-player game. You also have to remove certain billboards depending on player count: you use all billboards at 5 players, remove this one for 4 players, and also this one at 3 players, and this third one at 2 players.
Lay out all the milestones in stacks nearby. More experienced players recommended i make some of these dry-erase milestone menus, and while they cost a lot more than a buck, they really save on table space. I’ll talk about them some more in that upcoming episode of Bits, Please!
Put the campaign tiles and extra houses and gardens next to the map, and the food tokens in piles wherever you can fit ‘em.
Everyone picks a colour and takes the three matching restaurant tiles. Shake up the smaller turn order tokens and place them randomly on the turn order track to randomize the player order for the first phase.
Now, it’s time to place your first restaurant on the map, and in such a strategically spatial quasi-abstract game, placement is crucial! Consider how close you are to clusters of houses, and how the different advertising campaigns work spatially – so a block with 3 or more houses on it is great to be near if you target a mailbox campaign. Or take a look at possible routes for your beverage buyers to see how many drinks you can potentially snag.
When it’s your turn to place, you can either place your first restaurant, or pass, because maybe you don’t want to place until you see where everyone else is placing. If it gets back around to you a second time, you have to place your restaurant somewhere. Restaurant entrances have to touch a road, and while restaurants can straddle tiles, no two restaurant entrances can be on the same tile. Note that this rule only applies to the initial placement phase.
Stock the bank with 50 bucks per player. Give everyone a set of three reserve cards, and have all players put a card face-down secretly near the bank.
The rulebook mentions that if you’re playing as a beginner, you can switch up the game a little to make it less daunting. If you’re playing the baby game, put 75 bucks per player in the bank, and skip the reserve cards. The baby game ends when you break the bank for the first time. You skip the salary phase entirely, and you don’t play with milestones. And if you make a boom-boom in your nappy, you cry until Mommy comes to change you.
Everyone takes a single CEO card and zero dollars from the bank, because hey: screw you.
It’s been said that Food Chain Magnate is the kind of game where you can lose abysmally, and then look back on the game with a thousand yard stare and say “round 2. That’s where it all went wrong for me.” Just like in chess, there are a few preferred opening moves that will help you get a strategic leg up. Snagging either a Trainer or a Recruiting Girl as your first hire is a good opener.
Remember that you can collect all the food you want, but unless it gets marketed to people, no one’s gonna want it, and it’ll go to waste. And marketing campaigns execute AFTER the dinnertime phase, which generally means you want to set ‘em up by marketing to them in one round, and knock ‘em down by serving them in the next. Keep in mind that once customers want food, anyone can sell that food to them – there’s no such thing as “your house” or “my house.” And if a competitor has too much of a good thing going on, you can disrupt that strategy by advertising a new food to those customers, or by plunking a new restaurant down in the middle of that district – following all the rules we’ve already discussed, of course!
And now, you’re ready to play Food Chain Magnate!
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Get Your Own Copy of Food Chain Magnate
Publisher Splotter produces limited runs of their games, and they come at a high price, especially considering the component quality. But they have an extremely devoted fan base, and enjoy a prestigious position on the Board Game Geek list of top games, and have been reprinting Food Chain Magnate for years. If you can’t find a copy now, sit tight and wait for a reprint.
To add Food Chain Magnate to your own board game collection, shop using the link below, and i’ll receive a small commission. That’s capitalism, baby!