Nominal Award: Best Card Drafting Game
Mechanics: Card Drafting, Tile Placement
Players: 2 - 5
Food Chain Magnate is produced by a group called Splotter. This company made Antiquity and Roads and Boats which are both unforgiving, heavy, heavy strategy games, void of all luck, and our driven by strong thematic elements. It sounds like the perfect recipe for someone like me, but a game of either can easily take over five or six hours to finish. I don't play either very often, even though they get a nod for literally being too much of a good thing.
Food Chain Magnate, in the other hand, shares the strategic brilliance of its predecessors while proving to be a two hour game.
Players assume the role of a food chain CEO and draft employees (cards) to help increase the success of the company. Each employee provides an action (such as cooking burgers, advertising pizza, stocking drinks, or training employees into higher positions (greater abilities)) The CEO, for example, always has the ability to hire one employee and manage the employees. The number of cards a player is allowed to have active is limited by the number of management slots. Therefore, a player must find a balance between cards that can take actions (like those listed above) and cards that can act as managers. Training and promoting cards provides new abilities, but also requires a salary. Finally, players must capitalize on bonuses they earn by being first to satisfy preset objectives. For example, the first to produce a burger gets a "home of the original burger" bonus, making every burger they sell more valuable.
Ultimately, players are battling over the patronage of customers on the main board. Price adjustment and advertising can win more clients, but a player can only do this effectively if they first manage the company effectively.
One of the reasons Food Chain Magnate is so good is because of the pacing. Players simultaneously plan which cards they'd like to play, then in turn order, each player plays ALL of his or her cards. While a few players might occasionally take an extra thoughtful turn that takes a bit longer, being able to play all your cards in one turn really keeps the pace up. Furthermore, the growth of a company trends to be exponential, making the endgame very, very quick.
This game is best in a group of experienced players, but the intuitive mechanics and fun card-drafting make it easy to teach to anyone willing. I would never be able to say the same about other games by Splotter. The game awards craftiness as there are countless paths to victory. In fact, a player can easily make a last-minute comeback if he or she can capitalize on his or her own bonuses and the weaknesses of the opponents.