Hire staff, prepare the ingredients, and start taking some orders—the lunch crowd is here! Do you have what it takes to be the next Food Truck Champion?
At a glance: Food Truck Champion is an upcoming title from Daily Magic Games for 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about an hour to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge of $20 for a copy of the game. A $24 pledge will get you the deluxe version, which comes with a Kickstarter-exclusive first player token and the Helpers mini-expansion. And if you want to be part of the game, a $349 pledge will get you drawn into the game as a Helper. While the game’s theme is appropriate for any age, the strategy and gameplay is at a medium level, so I would only recommend it for younger players if they’re fairly experienced gamers.
- 5 Food Truck cards
- 5 Owner cards
- 36 tokens (Popularity tokens and Critique tokens)
- 100 Game cards
- 1 Active Player card
- 1 First Player card
Note: My review is based on a pre-production prototype, so cards and final component list may be subject to change in the final version, and I can’t judge the final component quality. However, the artwork for the base game was mostly complete so you can get a good sense of what the game will look like. Daily Magic Games has produced and delivered a few Kickstarter games now, and I’m pretty confident in their ability to get this one done, particularly since it’s primarily cards with just a few tokens.
The oversized Food Truck cards serve as the player mats—you tuck cards underneath them in various places to serve different functions, and there are also spaces for the tokens, which will unlock additional “slots” for things like hired staff and ingredients. Claire Donaldson’s illustrations of the various food trucks are delightful, and the names are great: Sol Sisters, Herban Garden … they wouldn’t look out of place in a food cart pod here in Portland.
The main cards serve multiple functions, depending on how they’re played. Tucked on the left side of your food truck card, they become hired staff and you only see the staff names and icons. Tucked on the right, they’re ingredients. Placed below your truck, they’re orders that you need to fulfill—and then you see the illustration and name of the dish, as well as a logo from a food cart and the ingredients required to complete the order. The artwork for the game looks fantastic and good enough to eat.
How to Play
The goal of the game is to score the most popularity points by completing and serving orders, particularly your own signature recipes or dishes with your flavor profile.
To set up, give each player a food truck and the matching owner card, as well as their starting order card. The owner card is placed face-down on the truck, and the starting order is placed face-up below the truck card in the orders area. Pick a starting player and give them both the First Player card and the Active Player card. (The Active Player card will be passed from round to round, but the First Player card will stay there the whole game.) The popularity tokens come in values of 1, 2, and 3: you’ll make three stacks of these, and there will be critique tokens added in certain positions in these stacks (based on number of players). Shuffle all the cards and deal 4 cards to each player. Then deal out a number of cards (based on number of players) face-up in the center of the table to form the market.
When you’re the active player, you choose to do Market Research, Take Charge, or Lead a Staff Action.
Market Research simply means drawing two cards from the deck to your hand, and then discarding down to your hand limit of 2 cards. (Discarded cards go in a separate discard pile, not the market in the center of the table.)
Take Charge is drawing your owner card from your truck card into your hand. Your owner card can be used as any type of staff for staff actions. It counts toward your hand size, but can’t be discarded when you’re discarding down.
Lead a Staff Action is where most of the action of the game takes place. You select an action, and then everyone else has an opportunity to follow, conduct market research, or take charge—even though it’s your turn. To select a staff action, you choose a card from your hand and play it on your food truck card so everyone can see it—the staff name indicates what action you’ve chosen. Other players may follow by playing a matching staff card from their own hand on to their food truck, or they may immediately draw 2 cards or their owner card. You may also lead or follow any staff action with your owner card instead of a regular card.
Here are the possible actions:
- Driver: Move a card from the Marketplace to your Fridge as an Ingredient.
- Cashier: Move a card from the Marketplace to your Plating Area as an Order Ticket.
- Manager: Move a card from the Marketplace to your Hired Staff as a bonus Staff Action you can take in future turns.
- Prep Cook: Move a card that is an Ingredient from your Fridge to an Order Ticket in your Plating Area.
- Exec. Chef: Play a card as an Ingredient from your hand onto an Order Ticket in your Plating Area.
Once everyone has decided whether to follow or take a different action, players resolve the staff actions in turn order.
If you have hired staff tucked under the left side of your truck that match the current staff action, you may take an additional action for each one that matches. For instance, if I play a Driver card to get more ingredients and I have one Driver card in my hired staff, I could take two ingredients. Or, if I have the Driver in my hired staff and somebody else leads with a Driver action, I could do market research to draw cards and still take one Driver action.
After everyone has completed their staff actions, the cards used to lead or follow the action (but not hired staff or your owner card) are now placed in the marketplace. The marketplace has 6 or 8 available slots (depending on player count), and you fill in empty spaces first, and then just cover up existing cards after that.
Once you have all the required ingredients for an order ticket, that recipe is now complete. Discard the ingredients used, and set the completed order ticket to the side in a scoring pile. Then, you get to take a popularity token equal to the number of ingredients in the completed order. The tokens are worth their face-value in points, but you also get to place the token on your food truck card to expand its capacity. When you start, you can only have two hired staff, two ingredients, and two open orders. Placing popularity tokens on these locations lets you have more cards those areas. (Note that the prototype also let you increase your draw limit, but that has been removed.)
If a critique token is revealed, then at the end of the round each player gets to submit one completed order for critique: choose a recipe and tuck it under the awards section of your truck card. At the end of the game, you’ll get bonus points for sets of ingredients in the awards section that match your flavor profile.
At the end of your turn, whether you chose Market Research, Take Charge, or Staff Action (after everyone has followed), pass the Active Player card to the left.
The game ends when two stacks of popularity tokens run out—finish the entire round so that each player has had the same number of turns, and then count up scores. You score points for your popularity tokens, plus 1 bonus point for each completed order that has your food truck’s logo on it, and 5 bonus points for each complete set of your flavor profile ingredients in your awards section. Highest score wins, with ties going to the player who completed the most of their own recipes, and then to the player with the most popularity tokens.
I don’t know about other cities, but here in Portland there are food trucks everywhere (though we call them “food carts” for some reason). They’ve got cute names like “Fried Egg I’m in Love” and it’s a great way to get delicious food at pretty reasonable prices, if you don’t mind being outdoors (often in the rain). There are also several restaurants around town that got their start as food trucks. So when Daily Magic asked me if I wanted to try out a game about running a food truck, of course I was interested.
Food Truck Champion takes its inspiration from a card game with a very different theme, Glory to Rome, which was originally published in 2005 (and got a Kickstarter-funded Black Box edition in 2012 … though that’s a whole ‘nother story). Nicole Jekich and Luke Turpeinen of Daily Magic Games have taken the core mechanics of Glory to Rome, simplified the gameplay, and paired it with a delicious theme. You don’t have to be familiar with Glory to Rome to play Food Truck Champion, but if you are, you’ll definitely notice the similarities as you play.
Ultimately, your goal is to complete orders, but it takes a lot of logistics to make that happen. You need a cashier to get the order, drivers to get ingredients, and prep cooks to put the ingredients together. The executive chef lets you skip the marketplace-to-fridge-to-order path and drop an ingredient directly from your hand into a recipe, but then you have to make sure you have enough cards in your hand. Using the manager to hire staff lets you take actions even when you don’t have the right card in hand to follow, plus hired staff can give you multiple actions in one turn—but you have to choose wisely which staff to hire.
The owner card is powerful because it lets you choose or follow any staff action, so you’re not stuck drawing cards when you really want to do something, but it takes an action to pick it up so it almost feels like losing a turn. As with other lead-and-follow games, your best move is to take the action that nobody else can currently follow, but since cards are kept hidden it’s hard to know for sure. But you do know when somebody has their owner card available, and you can also see card limits: for instance, if somebody already has 2 ingredients in their fridge and that’s their limit, then you know taking a driver action will not benefit them.
The flip side of that is making use of your hired staff to take actions during somebody else’s turn so that you can continue drawing cards to keep your hand full. If you know the next player is going to take a prep cook action and you already have a prep cook in your hired staff, you can do market research or take charge, and let them spend a card to lead, while you draw even more cards.
There’s even some interesting strategy in what cards to take from the marketplace. Since everyone gets bonus points for their own signature recipes, it’s often a good choice to take cards with your competitors’ logos for use as hired staff and ingredients. And, of course, you want to try to snag as many of your own as you can for those bonus points. When selecting orders, you also have to decide between taking simple recipes or more complex recipes—do you want to finish recipes quickly or score more points per recipe? Since the game ends when two stacks of popularity tokens run out, finishing a lot of quick recipes can also accelerate the end of the game—hopefully before your opponents can finish some of their own orders.
I did have a game where we had a weird ending, due to the fact that several of us were completing single-ingredient orders, hoping to complete flavor profiles or get bonuses for our own recipes, even though 1-point tokens were all out. It led to not having enough cards in the market, where we were cycling the deck and market just based on what people were using for actions or discarding. I think it’s probably not something that will happen all the time (particularly now that we ran into it once) but it does mean that you do need to pursue higher-value recipes.
For Glory to Rome fans, I should note that one of the differences is that the completed orders don’t have special abilities the way that finished structures do in Glory to Rome. That does simplify the game significantly, but if you’re one of those players who loves finding powerful combos, you might be disappointed. On the other hand, I have to admit that I’ve played Glory to Rome against very experienced players, and there can be a runaway winner in that game because of all the combos. In Food Truck Champion, you’re more limited in the number of cards in each area, so it does away with outlandish combos. Also, because completed orders don’t have special powers, the game doesn’t sprawl with all the built and half-built structures.
While I do like Glory to Rome, I also like the spin that Jekich and Turpeinen have put on it in Food Truck Champion. It may also be a good intermediate step toward Glory to Rome, which can be a bit daunting when you first learn it because there’s so much to keep track of. The theme is accessible, the actions are mostly intuitive, and the artwork is a lot of fun. I’ve had fun poaching recipes from other carts and trying to get just the right set of ingredients for my flavor profile, not to mention learning about new foods by Googling unfamiliar dishes. It’s definitely getting a positive Yelp review from me.
For more information or to make your pledge, visit the Food Truck Champion Kickstarter page today!