Saturday, December 19, 2020

Advent Fiction 2020

 Wow, Christmas is right around the corner! Cooler weather, beautiful lights adorning houses throughout the neighborhood, and the variety of "holiday snacks" that appear from our neighbors and our own kitchen. It's definitely a wonderful time of year for me. Yeah, that's a link to another blog I wrote about Christmas time. Go ahead and click that link. It will open in a new window, so you won't lose your place here. The same holds true with any blue link you see.

Once again, my friend Loren is hosting his annual Advent fiction on his site. I love participating in this event and look forward to it each year as much as I look forward to participating in another friend of mine's Halloween event. You can find Eric's most current Halloween event here. I'll post the link to Loren's current event as soon as he makes it available.

image from Google search

For my newer readers, Loren's Advent Fiction event invites us to write a 100-word story, no more, no less pertaining to Advent and the Christmas season. It's definitely a challenge, but one I look forward to. 

This year's event can be found here:

I Saw Lightning Fall: Advent Ghosts 2020: The Stories

Without further ado, here is my contribution to Advent Fiction 2020. I decided to write two stories which I hope you'll enjoy. One is definitely more lighthearted than the other.

My digital assistant

“Alexa, please play Christmas music.”

“OK, here’s a station I think you’ll like.”

Jingle Bells sounds throughout the room. Nice! This is cool. Alexa always seems to know just what I want. 

I wonder…

“Alexa, I want to see my late father.”

“Hhhmmm, this will be difficult. Are you sure you want me to do it?”

“Yes, please.”

A flash of light

“Dad! It’s sooooo great to see you! How have you been?”

“Wonderful,” he replies with a smile, “Merry Christmas, son, I’ve missed you.”

A flash of light

A moment of lightheadedness

I awake to find an empty room.

Stumpy's Viewpoint

At least I’m not called something goofy like “Sparkles” or “Glitter Nuggins.” That would be unbearable. And they have the decency to let me travel with them, even though I have to do stupid poses for the camera. Many of my friends are kept locked up for most of the year. Seriously??

So what if I love treats? Who doesn’t, especially around the holidays? Why do they need to take photos of me enjoying myself? 

I’ve seen them eat cookies by the dozen or consume fudge by the pound. Who are they kidding? Hypocrites!

And people wonder why I drink.


So there you have it, my friends. I hope you enjoyed these two stories. Oh, a little background on Stumpy Curlyshoe, the disgruntled elf, can be found here. Go ahead, click that link and get to know Stumpy a little better.

If you enjoyed reading these stories, you can find my contributions from previous years below.




I hope everyone has a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Let's hope 2021 is much better than 2020. Even a little better would be a huge improvement.

Until next time........

carpe cerevisi

Friday, October 30, 2020

Halloween Fiction 2020

After a year's hiatus, my friend and author Eric Douglas is once again hosting his Halloween fiction event on his website. I look forward to this event every year and am glad to have the chance to participate. Sometimes he chooses a specific format, like flash fiction. This year he gave us our choice, so I'm going to try something completely different than what I normally do.

Please click here to go to Eric's page with this year's entries. Each entry will be a link to that author's own website/blog, etc. where their story is posted. To quote Eric, "Do yourself a favor and read some of the other things on their site." Well said, my friend, well said!

Happy Halloween!

image from Google search

You can find the 2018 stories by clicking here. Don't worry, all of the links I create will open in a new window. You won't lose your place on this page. Take a look and whet your appetite for this year's frightful feast. I'm sure this year's event will be every bit as tasty as previous years' events.

So, are you ready? Follow me into my literary house of horrors and have no fear. I'll make sure no harm comes to you. Hopefully.

Exclusive Interview

Hello, folks! Ed Pearson here with another "Special Ed-dition" exclusive interview. That's right, my faithful fans, I scored another exclusive that's so out of left field that even our national tabloids wouldn't touch it. It's all true, though, every word of it. My fact-checking crew has been hard at work and hasn't found even a shred of evidence to the contrary. Strap yourself in folks, it's gonna be a wild ride.

Grab your reading glasses and be prepared to go old school and read all about it. No fancy podcasts or videos this time. I couldn't even get my digital voice recorder to work, so I had to grab a pen and paper and actually write everything down. In this and age? Yes, in this day and age. And before any non-believers fire up your conspiracy blogs, forget about it! You'd just be wasting your time. I haven't steered you wrong yet, and I'm not going to now.

I'm just going to let the interview speak for itself, and let you decide. 

Ed: I have to say, this is my strangest interview yet. Can you spell your name for me? I can't even start to think how to spell it.

Valgathun: You can just call me 'Valgathun' to make it easier on you. It's impossible for a mere human to pronounce my name correctly.

Ed: Well, OK, Val, I can do that.

Valgathun: Valgathun! You may wish to refer to yourself as Ed, rather than Edward, but I will be referred to by what I told you.

Ed: Hey, no offense meant, Valgathun. My apologies. So, you sought me out for this interview, and I must say I'm impressed that you not only found me, but made it all the way inside my house without tripping a single alarm.

Valgathun: Mere child's play, as you'll soon find out.

Ed: If you aren't human, then what exactly are you? A ghost?

Valgathun: There is no proper label humans have for me, but my kind has been referred to as 'demons' before. Demons. Such a quaint and naive term for us. It will do for our purposes, though.

Ed: Wow, OK, you heard it here first, folks, the first interview ever with a real-life demon. Eat your heart out, Anne Rice! May I ask why you sought me out?

Valgathun: I have my reasons. Maybe you'll figure it out. 

Ed: Hey, I'm up for the challenge. Let's get started with the basics. You told me earlier that you've just arrived back. Does that mean you've been here before?

Valgathun: Many times, over many years. This is just the most recent.

Ed: When was the first time you were here?

Valgathun: My first appearance? In the merest blink of an eye for me. I watched as millions died from a simple bacteria in Europe. Quite amusing, actually, how these people died like they did. 

Ed: I wouldn't call that amusing. It's rather demented, actually. 

Valgathun: It's all about perspective. What you call 'demented' I call nourishing. You eat food and drink water to live. I consume pain and fear to sustain me.

Ed: Well, I really don't know how to respond to that. Is this why you come and go as you do?

Valgathun: Call it a 'vacation' if you will. It is my reward for service and fealty to the Great One.

Ed: And who is this Great One?

Valgathun: The Great One is none of your concern, and you would be well advised to never speak the name again. You humans are unworthy of even thinking the name.  Do I make myself clear?

Ed: Yes, absolutely. My apologies. Getting back to your most recent....vacation. You come here to eat our pain and fear? That sounds like some tired cliche, like a psychic vampire or something.

Valgathun: There you go again, human, with your simple labels. It's your nature to try to label and describe things so you can better understand them. So be it. It's my nature to sustain myself in my own manner.

Ed: So we humans are just basically livestock for your type?

Valgathun: Oh, more than just livestock. Entertainment, too.

Ed: How do you move from your world or dimension or whatever?

Valgathun: We find a convenient portal and just walk on through. Many times you humans will open a portal for us.

Ed: Let me guess: Ouija boards and seances top the list, right?

Valgathun: Sometimes. You forget about other ways, such as 'dark rituals' and such. This vacation started a couple of years ago when some simpleton played a game with several others. I saw the opening and took advantage of it.

Ed: A game? You're telling me a game opened a portal for you?

Valgathun: Yes. A game called Soul Survivor. Surely you've read about it in all those news reports. This time, your mass media actually got it right.

Ed: I think I'm beginning to understand. 

Valgathun: I doubt it. But you will soon. 

Ed: Are you saying....implying.....that what we've been going through this past year is your doing?

Valgathun: Maybe you've been listening after all. I think this is my best vacation so far. I wasn't expecting my little side trip to China to yield such a feast. And it's still feeding me quite nicely.

Ed: Oh, come on! Surely you didn't start this whole COVID mess....did you?

Valgathun: I didn't personally start it. I might've helped it along at the beginning. Even I didn't know my little snack would turn into such a banquet. 

Ed: And once you're satisfied, you'll make it stop, right?

Valgathun: Not my problem. It's up to you humans to fix. 

Ed: And we are working on it. Your feast will soon come to an end and you can go back to wherever you call home.

Valgathun: Watch your tone, human. I have little tolerance for impudence, especially from such a lower form of life as you.

Ed: Sorry. I guess we all just have to take it, then. I guess all of the fires in our country and the crazy weather are your doing as well? Is that your dessert, so to speak?

Valgathun: I had nothing to do with all of the storms your coastal areas have seen, although I've been enjoying the anguish from them. The fires? Well, maybe some of those who dropped a match here and there may have had a little push.

Ed: And these so-called "murder hornets?'

Valgathun: Ah, those. Nothing more than a tasty little treat from all the panic. Over nothing! You recent crop of humans are such a delightful treat!

Ed: I'm sorry. I just can't continue with this. My heart is pounding and my head feels like it will split open at any moment. Is there any way I can convince you to please end your vacation early and go home?

Valgathun: Oh, the best is yet to come. I'm just getting started.

Well there you have it, folks. As soon as Valgathun said his last line he just vanished. No theatrical puff of smoke or bang, just there on my couch one second and gone the next. Take this for what you will. I'm done.

The End

I hope you enjoyed my contribution to this year's Halloween festivities. Please be sure to read the other entries in this year's Halloween fiction event. 

Until next time......

carpe cerevisi

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Serving Up Some Tasty Humans

Wait, whaaat? Serving up some tasty humans?? 

Yes, Tasty Humans. As in the board game?

Dinner is served

Surely you didn't think I was writing about Dr. Lecter's unusual culinary preferences, did you? While that may make for a rather interesting topic, I'll save that for another time. If you read my last blog, and I really hope you did, you might see a pattern of food-related games that I've written about. And you'd be right. Besides Food Truck Champion, I wrote about Lord of the Fries a few years ago and plan on writing about a few other food-centric games we have. 

Tasty Humans was released in January of this year, and we've managed several plays so far. In fact, it's part of our 10 X 10 challenge. Given the craziness of 2020, with most people in some form of "lockdown," it should be relatively easy to complete a 10 X 10 challenge. We are only 16 plays short of finishing ours, and the year is barely half over. Designed by Ryan Langewisch, and published by Pangea Games, this was a Kickstarter project that I backed, and I'm glad I did. The fascinating part about backing a Kickstarter project is being able to get a behind the scenes look at how a game is developed. The Tasty Humans team was very active in social media, and with their backers. We got to vote on several monster designs that made it into the final product. You'll meet these creatures shortly. Another advantage of many Kickstarter projects is getting exclusive upgrades and components that generally aren't available in the retail version.

For my new readers, clicking on any photo will display a larger format version of it in a new window. Clicking on any blue link will also open in a new window, so you won't lose your place here. 

What is Tasty Humans all about? It's a 1 - 4 player game pitting legendary monsters against hapless villagers who seem to be quite tasty. It has card drafting, tile-laying, and pattern-building as its main mechanics. Players take the role of a legendary monster and select a yummy villager from an ever-changing tableau as its next meal. Each monster has a special hunger or "personal craving" that must be satisfied by selecting the right villager. Played over a series of rounds, each player will take two turns per round, selecting the most appealing villager to consume. The game ends when the first monster's belly gets full

I promise you the game isn't as gross as the way I described it. There's no visible blood or gore, although any sound effects or role-playing you may choose to do might add to the mental image (and fun) of it. It's entirely suitable for kids 10 years or older. Playing time is listed as 30 - 60 minutes, and our average has been on the upper end of that range. Most of our games tend to run on the longer side of the scale since "she who must not be named" has the dreaded analysis paralysis when playing. So, are you ready to meet the cast of monsters that will be munching on those poor villagers? Right this way.

Hannibal Lecter
image from Google search

Sorry, I couldn't resist. Dr. Lecter is not part of this game, even though I lobbied the designers to include him as one of the stretch goals in Kickstarter. I'm sure the licensing fees would've been prohibitive. I'll introduce the real monsters of Tasty Humans in the order they appear in the rule book. The first four were part of the original design, and the next four are all stretch goals that were unlocked during the Kickstarter campaign. Monsters are randomly selected, so in the words of Forrest Gump, you never know what you're gonna get. The game designers recommend playing one of the first four monsters if this is the first time (or two) playing the game. And I would agree with them.

By the way, in my personal opinion, the graphic design and artwork in this game are simply brilliant. I think it is one of the best aspects of Tasty Humans outside of the actual gameplay. I wish I had even a small fraction of the talent to produce something like this. Following are the actual monsters and a closeup of their "personal cravings." The grid on the right of each playmat represents the monster's stomach. Each square will need to be filled with a body part (or other types of tiles) to one of the top three rows, depending upon the number of players.

Legendary Dragon

"LD's" Personal craving

When I first saw this dragon, it immediately reminded me of the title character from Pete's Dragon. No small wonder, I guess, as I figure all dragons share an essential shape. That's what makes them a dragon, and not a manticore. Of the few times we've played, I like this one!

Twin-Headed Dragon

Twin-head's Personal Craving

What could be more fierce than a dragon? How about a twin-headed dragon. Double the heads, and double the appetite, I guess. This is my second favorite monster to play. These first two are the easiest to score the "personal craving" requirements as you'll see later.

The Troll

Troll's Personal Craving

Now this is just sad. I saw the troll's club and my first thought was "That looks like a large, brown Cheeto." Well, if we are talking about internet trolls (we're not), I guess Cheetos would be appropriate. But brown Cheetos? Maybe it's a limited release flavor, like swamp rat or marsh weasel?

The Griffin

Griffin's Personal Craving

My first reaction when I saw Griffin's face was he/she looked really ticked off. Kinda reminded me of the way Wile E. Coyote looked whenever one of his elaborately laid plans backfired. Where does Griffin live? Being a lion-eagle hybrid, does it live in a tree or in a ground-based shelter? At night, how would the Griffin secure its dwelling? With a......wait for it......griffin door!

image from Google search

Yeah, I know, go ahead and groan. I probably deserve it. Probably. While you are groaning, though, you might want to go ahead and groan over another door related pun that's a fave of mine:

image from Google search

Some of y'all won't get this (and the meme above), and that's OK. I laugh at this every time though. Every.time. 

The next four monsters have a little more complicated personal craving, so it's best to play Tasty Humans a few times and get a feel for the mechanics before attempting to play these critters. The object is, after all, to score the most points to secure the win. These four require a little more experience to fully maximize your scoring effort.


Werewolf's Personal Craving

I'd hate to encounter this fierce-looking creature in the woods, unless he went by Professor Lupin, or "Moony" as his friends would sometimes call him. Even then, I'd rather not take my chances. Is it just me, or do many who read this envision a scene from a certain movie when you see the word "werewolf?" Go ahead, click here and you'll be treated to one of the funniest scenes in a movie involving werewolves. I'll wait for you. 

What did you think? Pretty funny, huh? Abby would think so.

Giant Slime

Slime's Personal Craving

Let's all channel Peter Venkman and say it together: "He slimed me!" Bonus points if you are the first to tell me in the comments section below which character he said that to. I'll even give you a special shoutout in my next blog. 

The Snake

Snake's Personal Craving

Since Hannibal Lecter isn't part of Tasty Humans, I guess "The Snake" isn't referring to Kenny Stabler. I'll take "Obscure References" for 500, Alex. And no, he wasn't in Slytherin House. At least that I'm aware of. I'm not saying Kenny Stabler was a monster like Hannibal Lecter. After all, one is just a fictional character and the other was a real person. 

Massive Spider

Spidey's Personal Craving

My sister hates spiders......hates them! Kinda like with me and snakes. If she randomly drew this monster we'd have to invoke a house rule to let her draw again. Shelob or Aragog? Makes no difference. They are all creepy enough. 

Now that we've met the main cast, let's take a look at the villagers (the game designers call them "Adventurers.") that have appeared on today's menu. As we approach their village, they will form up and try to defend their homes. While there is some safety in numbers, individually they aren't that brave. As you select an adventurer to eat, he/she will realize that resistance is futile and give up. The adventurers around him/her, though, will continue to fight you, and will even cause you some damage.

Apparently, the adventurers have had a modicum of training, because they form into a 3 X 3 phalanx and advance towards you, the monster. This grid is formed from a shuffled deck of cards, and as adventurer gets eaten, others will replace them, brave souls that they are. Forwarrrrd......MARCH!

Here they come!

I created this initial tableau to introduce each type of adventurer and show any special powers they might have. Since these are drawn from a shuffled deck of cards, it is entirely possible to have something like this in a real game. The row at the bottom of the tableau represents the adventurers closest to you. This is important in how the adventurers are replaced when eaten. The empty spots are replaced by the adventurer immediately behind them, and as these shift downwards, the resulting empty spaces are then filled from the deck.

Other than the peasant, each of the other adventurers offers some sort of damage (swordsman and archer) or help (wizard or cleric). As I mentioned previously, the actual adventurer you eat won't cause you any harm, but the ones around him/her might. Selecting any adventurer immediately adjacent to a swordsman will cause you one damage. In the example below, selecting the wizard, top-right peasant or Captain (in the very center) will cause you one damage token from the swordsman. 

Slash and stab!

The archer will protect any adventurer exactly two spaces away. In the example below, the top-right peasant and bottom-left Captain are covered by the archer. Selecting either of these will result in one damage token added to your belly.

Long-range protection

Notice anything about the top-right peasant? There must be something special about this guy. Maybe he's a good cook, or just popular. Selecting this villager will result in two damage tiles being placed!

We have you covered, peasant.

Two damage tiles? Ouch! Why even bother munching this guy, then? Good question! It could be for the two crowns on the card or the specific body parts you need. Sometimes you have to make that trade-off to get what you need. 

Our adventurers take their inspiration from the captains and bravely follow them to battle the monsters. With banners held aloft, our captains will lead the charge with a hearty "Follow me!"

Oh, Captain, my Captain!

That's all good and well until the captain is the one who gets eaten. 

Uh ohhh....

Notice in the photo above the banners (circled in yellow) our two captains are carrying? You might want to click on the photo to see a larger format. Go ahead. I'll wait.

See how the bottom-left captain has a banner with a horizontal arrow? The captain in the very center of the tableau has a banner with vertical arrows. When a captain gets eaten, the adventurers they are leading panic and flee. The captain in the center, with the vertical banner, is leading the center column. The bottom-left captain, with the horizontal banner, is leading the bottom row. Let's suppose our monster decides to eat the bottom-left captain. 

Two things are going to happen. First off, our monster will take one damage from that archer in the bottom-right. Oh, yeah, that pesky archer! The second thing that will happen is the cleric and archer (after firing her arrow) will lose hope and run. Thus the entire bottom row is removed from the group. The adventurers still advance and a new row of three is drawn from the deck.

The new formation

The tableau now has a new swordsman, archer, and peasant joining the ranks. Here is where planning and strategy are important. Since the tableau changes with each adventurer that is eaten, the order in which you decide to eat is important. Maybe taking out that captain will allow more villagers with the body parts you want to appear. 

One key component I haven't touched on yet is the "leader tiles." These tiles are placed like body parts and damage tiles at certain points in the game. Different leader tiles offer different ways to score points. I wrote previously how some adventurers had crowns on their cards. Each time your monster selects an adventurer to eat, that card is placed next to his board. At the end of a round, every player counts how many total crowns their cards contain. The player with the most crowns is crowned as the "Draft Leader." See what I did there?

The draft leader has first choice of which leader tile he/she wants and the one with the second most crowns picks second, etc. Placement of these tiles is crucial, as where they go and what body parts surround them are what scores points. I'll show you how all of this is put together shortly.

Leader Tile Board

I've mentioned how the swordsman and archer will cause your monster to take damage. This damage takes up space in your monster's stomach, and depending on how much damage is present, it can even cost negative points at the end of the game.

Let's revisit our legendary dragon after eating several adventurers and taking some damage. Did you pay attention to his personal craving earlier? 

Scoring some points

With some astute planning and a good dose of lucky card draws, our dragon has already scored 10 points by filling his stomach with two different 2X2 blocks of similar parts. Doing this has caused some damage, though. 

A little indigestion?

The red arrows show the damage tiles that are giving our dragon a little difficulty. These tiles take up space that could be filled with useful body parts. Remember that two or more adjacent damage tiles start counting as negative points at the end of the game. The two rightmost damage tiles are adjacent, so that's two fewer points at the end of the game.


What if there was a way to remove these tiles? Thankfully, our village has a few clerics that will fit this requirement nicely. After eating a cleric (but adding a damage tile first, if applicable), the monster can remove a damage tile of his/her choice. Just think of it as "Magical Maalox."

Next on the menu...

We found this cleric amongst the adventurers that was, no pun intended, ripe for the picking. No swordsmen or archers were close, so he would do nicely. Reaching out with our talons, we snag our cleric and gobble him down. I decided to clear the second damage tile from the right.

Feels better already

If you'll scroll up a bit to the Cleric card, you can see that he'll supply an armor and boot tile, arranged horizontally. I placed these on the dragon's board and will now decide where to place them. Remember that I can rotate these tiles, but must keep them in their original order. 

Time for a little board game Tetris

Pretty cool, huh? The wizard card allows you to swap two adjacent tiles after eating him. This can help organize the tiles in your monster's stomach to score more points or separate two adjacent damage tokens. Don't count on finding too many wizards or clerics, though. There are only a few of each in the whole village. It's better to try placing the body parts to allow the best score as you go instead of relying on the possibility of finding a wizard or a cleric to help you out later.

Besides the personal cravings, the leader tiles also help score points. Take a look at our Twin-Headed Dragon from an actual game we played. I circled all the leader tiles currently in play. Oh, that yellow crown, by the way, is the current Village leader (first or active player in other games). Anyway, four leader tiles have already been placed, and there's another in the holding area (by the rightmost dragon head) ready to be placed at the end of the round.

Gettin' kind of full

Let's focus on just that bottom-most tile to see how it'll get scored at the end of the game. Again, you might want to click on the photo to see a larger version of it. I promise you won't lose your place here. This tile was placed early in the game, hence its place near the bottom of the stomach. While it looks complicated, it's really not. 

Good scoring potential

In our example, every helmet that matches the location from the leader tile will score two points each. See what I meant about strategic placement of all tiles? It matters. Sometimes a LOT. You remembered this monster's personal craving, right? Three points for each row that has a matching body part on both ends. So far, there are another 12 points earned. 

10 Points for this leader tile

Having fun? I hope so! The game is rapidly coming to a close, as our twin-headed dragon is almost full. And I'm pretty sure some of those adventurers weren't keto-friendly. With the last adventurer consumed, and our twin-headed dragon full, we need to determine our score. 

How many calories did I just eat?

We'll flip the Leader Tile Board over (No, not a "rage flip!") to reveal the scoring track on the other side. Each monster has its own score tile, and for those prodigious scorers, the reverse of the tile has a +50 on it to keep going. 

Add up those points

If my math is correct, and I haven't overlooked anything, my twin-headed dragon scored a total of 51 points in that game. Not too shabby for only a few plays in. Have you ever played Tasty Humans? What was your best score? Which monster is your favorite to play? Please leave a comment below and tell me all about it. 

I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on this fun game. If you enjoyed this one, I have several other board game blogs I've written. To make them more convenient to find, I made all of the game titles clickable links. 

With so much being on "lockdown," we haven't done a lot of traveling for me to write about. At least Cindy and I have been able to play many games, so for now I'll concentrate on writing my thoughts on what games we've especially enjoyed playing. 

My usual readers know how I love to throw in bad puns (sorry, Loren, I know some of these are really painful for you to read) and obscure movie references (John, would you believe how hard it is to pare down my references to just a few) and I'd love to see how many you caught. Let me know in the comments below what you found. 

Here are my thoughts on other games I particularly enjoy:

I post many game-related photos on Instagram, and you can find me on IG by clicking here.

Until next time....

carpe cerevisi

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Game Fit for a Finicky Foodie

Wow, try saying that title fast, three times.

So, how has everyone been during this bizarre time? Are you managing to cope well? Fortunately, Cindy and I have been doing fine overall. She's been working from home full time and I've been working in the lab like normal. Other than work and the grocery store, we've done our part for social distancing and stayed home. The upside? We've been able to play a LOT of board games, and even remove some from our "shelf of opportunity." (Others would call it a "shelf of shame," and that's OK, too.)

Now that other businesses and venues are starting to open up, both Cindy and I look forward to diving with our friends, dining out, and eventually resuming game night. I'm looking forward to going to a food truck park and sampling the wares from several trucks, just because we can. Given my finicky nature, but still considering myself a foodie, food trucks offer a little of everything. An appetizer from one truck, entree from another and dessert from a third. Yes, please!

As a reminder to my faithful readers and for those who are new to my blog, you can click on any photo and a larger format will open in a new window. You won't lose your place here. Also, any hyperlinks will appear in blue and clicking on them will open a new window so you don't have to keep track of where you are. Give it a try. Click on the photo below to see a larger version. I'll wait.

Food trucks at a local food truck park

Back in the day, while a truck that carried and served food existed, the most common name for them was a "roach coach." While the name is off-putting, it didn't stop me from getting a snack when they dropped by the job site I was working at with my brother during those long, hot South Texas summers. Pre-made sandwiches, a bag of chips, and a Dr Pepper helped get me to lunch.

A classic "roach coach"
image from Google search

From the humble beginnings of the roach coach a true "food truck" emerged. These trucks offered made-to-order dishes, gourmet hamburgers and fusion foods limited only to the chef's imagination. No more pre-made ham and plastic-tasting cheese on white bread and a bag of partially-crushed potato chips. Nope, we're talking a bacon cheeseburger with donuts for buns. Yes, donuts.for.buns! That creation was from the Foreign Policy food truck we had the pleasure of dining from a couple of years ago. (Yes, please click the blue link above to open a new window and view their web page.)

Foreign Policy food truck

Check out their menu!

And the donut-bun burger:

Yes, it was delicious! Would I order it again? Probably not, as I prefer my donuts as a dessert rather than part of the entree. I would still encourage anyone who's interested to try it at least once, though.

I've pretty much covered the first line of my profile: "Happily married scuba diver, cruiser, board gamer and finicky foodie."

But what about the whole "fit" thing in the title.

What, pray tell, did I deem "fit for a finicky foodie?"

Well, I did mention board games and food trucks, right? How about combining two of my passions and playing a game about food trucks? Oh, heck yeah! Let's do this! I wrote one other food-themed game blog about Lord of the Fries, which you can find here. I've also written several other blogs about other board games we've played. I'll post links to them at the end of this blog to make it convenient for you. And yes, I will expand on the whole "food truck renaissance" thing in a future blog. 

When I stumbled across Food Truck Champion by Daily Magic Games, I immediately put it on my wish list. And I'm glad I did! I'm even more glad that my sister gave it to me for my birthday. The base game and a mini-expansion called "Helpers" were both released in 2017. Now that I'm actually getting to the point of this blog, I'll stay more focused. I hope.

Nice artwork!

In Food Truck Champion ("FTC"), two to five players take on the role of a food truck owner. It's your job to effectively manage your food truck, hire the right staff and complete order tickets to become the most popular food truck at game's end. I'll walk you through the game components, setup, and sample play with the base set and the expansion. In a nutshell, this is a fun game! 

This game took over a year to get to the table for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list, though, is the seemingly complicated mechanics of how to play. Normally when considering a specific game to purchase or play, I'll search for any "how to play" videos on YouTube. These are a great help, and watching an actual playthrough makes a huge difference in understanding the rules. Once Cindy and I watched an actual playthrough, a lot of things suddenly made sense. So, as Tyler Florence says in Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race: "Let's...get...rolling!" (Bonus question: What was the original name of this show? Lemme see your guess in the comments section below. The first person to guess correctly will receive a special shoutout in my next blog.)

The first choice to make is which food truck do you want to operate in our imaginary food truck park. I'm gonna call it "What's Cookin' Food Truck Park." Hey, I know! Just as with a real food truck park, you don't have to make any blind choices. Follow me as we explore each truck and what their culinary focus ("flavor profile" in the game) is. Then we'll choose. I'd much rather pick my own than randomly draw a certain role like some games have you do. We'll start clockwise, from the leftmost truck, and work our way around the park.

What's Cookin' Food Truck Park

Lady Josephine's Bakery: From salted caramels to rhubarb custard pie, Lady Josephine will satisfy any sweet tooth. Five-star dining on four wheels.

Bear Burgers: Burgers and fries and cherry, wait. That's a Charley Pride song. But, Bear Burgers does have a selection of burgers and fries, and even an apple pie. Good enough to accommodate any "meat and potatoes" kind of appetite.

Tacos de Muerte: Being a native South Texan, this truck immediately called to me. This is my go-to truck when we play unless someone else wants to play it. In that case, bring your own game! My house, my game, my rules! Just kidding! (maybe) Huevos rancheros, chili rellenos, and spicy queso are just some of the items on the menu. 

Sol Sisters: A Filipino food truck? Yes, please! One of my co-workers and good friend is Filipino and when I showed her some of the order cards her eyes really lit up. Pork belly bites, chicken adobo, and house lumpia are three of many delectable offerings. 

Herban Garden: Admittedly, this is the last food truck I'd want to play. While I'm glad to see a vegetarian truck for variety, in real life I wouldn't have any interest in their menu. For those that choose a vegetarian diet for whatever reason, great! I'm NOT judging anyone on their choices. I'm just being honest that I'm a Carnivore (yes, with a capital "C"). Forager's salad, a parfait or vegan "sushi" are some of the orders you'll hope to fill if you run this food truck.

Meet the owners:

Flipping the food truck cards over reveals the owners. This is actually an action in the game, which I'll describe later. You'll have the owners pop in every so often to "take charge" and move things along. Now that we've perused the different trucks, and made our decision, let's grab get started. Remember, I get the Tacos de Muerte truck. Just sayin'....

Your work area:

All of your activities will take place around your playboard. Starting with the top left corner, you'll see a thermometer representing your refrigerator space. ALL of the trucks have identical spaces except for the lower right corner, which is the specific flavor profile for that truck. The bottom left corner is the plating area, where orders are filled. Moving to the top right corner, the chef icon represents the hired staff area.

Notice that for the refrigerator, plating area and hired staff area, two of the four circles are colored yellow, and two are gray. All trucks start out exactly the same. The yellow circles are the current "capacity" of that space. At the start of the game, the fridge can hold up to two ingredients, you can work on two orders at a time (plating area) and you can have two hired staff. As you complete orders and gain favor tokens (more on that in a bit), you can upgrade your space by placing these yellow tokens on a gray space in the area of your choosing. This gives you the capacity to have up to four ingredients in your fridge, work on four orders at a time and have up to four staff working for you.

"But how do I get orders or ingredients? Where do I find my staff?"

Great questions. And an easy answer: the "Marketplace" Just think of the Marketplace as the "Wal-Mart" of the game, since it has a little of everything you need.

Two-player marketplace

The marketplace will vary in size, depending upon how many are playing. For a two-person game, the marketplace will have six cards available. For three or more players, eight cards will be used. These game cards are, pardon the pun, the meat and potatoes of the game. The cards determine the specific order to be filled, provide ingredients, and staff. The cards are life. Nope, strike that. The spice is life!

One of the game cards

At the start of the game, every player is given their starting order ticket and dealt four cards from the deck as their starting hand. A player can have a maximum of six cards in their hand at any time, including the owner card. I picked the card above to be my example, even though it doesn't come from "my" truck. I mean come on, just look at the name! "Elevenses scone?" How freakin' brilliant is that

Starting order ticket

First breakfast, of course, would be the huevos rancheros from Tacos de Muerte. #duh Second breakfast would be the exception to my "not interested" philosophy and I'd snag a charred melon from Herban Garden. Then there's elevenses. I'll worry about luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper when I get to it.

If you've paid even a shred of attention to my previous blogs, the above reference should be very familiar to you. If not, or if you are a new reader that is still trying to figure out my style, just click here and everything will be explained. 

"Dude! Seriously! Can ya just focus for a while?"

Oops! Sorry about that.  (not really)

The cards function in three different ways: As an order ticket, ingredient card, or staff card. How they are used is determined by the player. Since a food truck exists to make and serve food that a customer orders, we'll start with getting an order to your truck.

Order up!

By placing this card in your plating area (bottom left of your playboard), it becomes an order to be filled. In this case, it will require one ingredient: "grains" The grains ingredient is represented by that steaming loaf of bread you see above and to the right of the scone. For the most part, you'll want to select cards that either have your truck's logo (above and to the left of the scone) or ingredients that match your flavor profile.

Lady Josephine's logo

Order tickets will have dishes that have one, two, or three-ingredient icons. To complete this order, you'll have to find each required ingredient in the marketplace. After completing an order, you'll get a yellow "popularity token" with a number matching the number of ingredients used, one, two or three. These turn into points at the end of the game.

Depending on how many are playing, there will be a set number of these tokens for each value. Once any two stacks of tokens are exhausted, the end game is triggered.

Popularity tokens

Once you've selected an order ticket, and placed it in your plating area, you'll need ingredients from the marketplace. That's the genius of this game design, at least in my humble opinion. You don't have to manage three different decks of cards just to play the game. This also allows for some strategizing in what you'll take and how the marketplace gets refreshed. In our example, we used this same card previously as an order ticket. Take a look at the left section of the card below. 

Ingredient card

This card can be used as a "meat" ingredient for one of your orders. FTC uses a combination of five different ingredients to complete all orders: meat, grains, dairy, fruit, vegetables and seasoning. The fun part of this game comes when not all required ingredients are immediately available in the marketplace. Only one meat available in the marketplace? You might want to grab it if you have the refrigerator space and keep it for a future order. Maybe your opponent needs a dairy ingredient to complete an order. Lucky for you you get to pick the next ingredient and you snag that card to prevent your opponent from taking it. The look on their face will be priceless. 

We've got orders coming in and ingredients in the fridge. Someone needs to start prepping and cooking or your customers are going to go to another truck. Nope, not gonna happen on my watch!

Hired staff card

Need a prep cook? The card above will get you one from the marketplace. As we'll see shortly, the marketplace might have everything but what you need. Part of the challenge of FTC is obtaining all of your resources in a timely and wise manner. There are five different staff positions, each with their own function. These apply during a "staff action" phase.

Driver: Move a card from the Marketplace to your fridge as an ingredient OR swap an ingredient in your fridge with an ingredient from the marketplace.

Cashier: Move a card from the marketplace to your Plating Area as an order ticket OR swap an order ticket in your Plating Area with an order from the marketplace.

Prep Cook: Move an ingredient from your fridge to an order ticket in your Plating Area.

Exec. Chef: Play a card from your hand as an ingredient onto an order ticket in your Plating Area.

Manager: Move a card from the marketplace to your Hired Staff (for a bonus action in future turns) OR swap a card from your Hired Staff with one from the marketplace. Note: You may have multiple cards of the same type in your Hired Staff area.

Game night is here, your friends have picked their trucks (not the Tacos de Muerte truck, that one is mine, remember?) everything is set up and we're ready to go. Who goes first? The rulebook says the last person to have eaten at a food truck is the first player. Play then proceeds clockwise around the table. Give that person the first player card and active player token and off we go!

Active player & First player markers

During your turn, you may perform one of the following actions:

Market Research: Draw 2 cards from the deck; discard down to 6. Your turn is over; pass the active player token to the left.

2.   Take Charge: Take owner card into your hand. Your turn is over; pass the active player token to the left. The owner card is a wild card and can be used for any staff action in a future turn.

Taking charge

3.   Get Help: Play your Owner card from your hand and place your food truck token on a helper card to do the action written on the card. Once done, flip the card over and take your token back. Your turn is over; pass the active player token to the left. (This is only available if using the "Helpers" mini-expansion.)

At During setup, randomly select three of the six helper cards and return the other three to the box. The starting player chooses which side of each card to play first. Place these helper cards in a line near the marketplace and popularity token stacks.

Side one of the helper cards

Same set, other side

Helper cards in play

4.    Lead a Staff Action: Done in 3 “loops” around the table. The best way to describe this is to show an example of how it would go in an actual game. I adapted this from a post on BoardGameGeek made by David, one of the game designers. I added an extra player to account for the mini-expansion and changed the names of the players. Other than that, all of the below is David's creation. You can find his original post here.

Loop 1

Player 1: Patrick announces that he will lead a DRIVER Staff Action by playing a DRIVER card from his hand. He does not perform that DRIVER action, just announces that he will be doing it.

Player 2: Cindy says she will perform a Market Research action, but does not take any cards yet.

Player 3: Dave plays a DRIVER card from his hand and announces that he will follow Patrick’s DRIVER staff action, but he does not do the DRIVER action yet.

Player 4: Lisa says she will do a Take Charge action but does not immediately pick up her owner card.

Player 5: Shelby says she will do a Get Help action but does not place her token yet.

Loop 2

Player 1: Patrick now performs the DRIVER action by taking a card from the marketplace and putting it in his Fridge. (If Patrick has a Driver in his Hired Staff, he would also get a bonus action)

Player 2: Cindy draws two cards from the deck as her Market Research, then activates the DRIVER in her hired staff to follow the lead action.

Player 3: Dave, following the lead action, takes a card from the marketplace and adds it to his fridge. He also has a DRIVER in his Hired Staff so he takes another card from the marketplace and adds it to his Fridge.

Player 4: Lisa picks up her Owner card and adds it to her hand. She does not have a Driver in her Hired Staff so her turn is complete.

Player 5: Shelby selects one of the three help cards, places her food truck token on it, and performs the written actions on the card.

Loop 3

Player 1: Patrick moves his played DRIVER card to the market place, filling an empty position.

Player 2: Cindy did not play a lead/follow card so she does nothing more.

Player 3: Dave moves his played DRIVER card to the marketplace. Because there are no empty spaces, he is able to place his card on top of a card with Lisa's food truck logo, blocking her from a potential bonus point if she was planning to get that card later with a CASHIER action.

Player 4: Lisa did not play a lead/follow card so she does nothing.

Player 5: Shelby removes her token and flips the helper card over.

Patrick then passes the active player token to the left, Cindy and she begins her turn.

Play continues until end game is triggered or a player is triggered and flips the table over in a "rage quit." Luckily, I have yet to experience the rage quit scenario. That's the easiest way to get banned from game night at our house. While the "lead a staff action" sounds complicated, it's really not. Seeing it in real life makes it soooo much clearer. 

When you complete an order, take a popularity token equal to the number of ingredients and place it face down on one of your gray circles on your playboard, as I described earlier. If that value of token is exhausted, take the next lower value if available. Place the ingredient cards in the discard pile. 

If you noticed in the photo of the popularity tokens above, some of them were blue. These are critique tokens. When one of these are revealed, every player that has a completed order can move of the cards to the awards area (lower right) of the playboard. Players should pick the card that has the most ingredient icons that match their truck's flavor profile. For every complete set of ingredients in the flavor profile, you'll get 5 points at the end of the game.

Critique token

Here's a quick review of those flavor profiles for each truck. Notice how each truck has a different flavor profile, so picking the right orders to fulfill are important to collecting the right amount of ingredients matching the profile. 

Flavor profiles

You'd think that collecting orders with just your truck's logo would ensure plenty of ingredients to fit your flavor profile, right? Not so fast. Some order tickets, especially the three-ingredient orders, might require an ingredient that's not in your truck's flavor profile. Two of the three might work, but the other ingredient won't help you with that part. Hey, if it was too easy, the game would be boring, right?

Tacos de Muerte order tickets

The flavor profile for Tacos de Muerte is Dairy-Dairy-Fruits-Vegetables. I completed two order tickets with my truck's logo, so I know I'll get at least two points just for completed orders with the logo. If there were any "3" popularity tokens, I'd get one for each of these orders as well as I completed the order. The huevos rancheros give me three-ingredient icons that match my flavor profile. The carnitas tacos order will only give me the vegetables icon. Go figure.

As the game progresses, your playboard will resemble something like below. You'll need to strike a balance between filling "large" three-ingredient orders and knocking out a bunch of smaller one-ingredient orders. Is your fridge large enough to accommodate all the ingredients you need? Do you have enough staff? 

Cranking out the orders

Wow, what a game! Let's see how everything turned out and whose cuisine reigned supreme. Gaahh! Wrong show...again. (Double-bonus points: which show was I referencing?)

OK, flip over all of your popularity tokens and add them up. Next, determine how many complete flavor profile sets you completed and add five points per complete set. Finally, count all of the completed order tickets that have your food truck's logo and add one point for each one. While it's not complicated math, I don't want to overlook anything. I created a score sheet in MS Excel and printed a bunch out. Necessary? Not really. Helpful? Yes, definitely. Nerdy? Also yes. And that's fine with me.

Whaddaya think?

I hope you enjoyed reading about Food Truck Champion as much as I enjoyed writing it. Have you played this game yet? What other food-themed games have you played? How many movie/TV references did you catch? Let me know in the comments section below.

Following are links to other blogs I've written on games we've played. Please feel free to check them out as well.

Coming up next, I'll introduce you to the world of Tasty Humans. Sound intriguing? Stay tuned!

Until next time....

carpe cerevisi