Saturday, 1 February 2014

Moldy Frank 'n Beans Slathered in Cole Slaw... What The Food?!

Back in December I received a copy of a rather fun looking light, large group party game called What The Food?! I first broke this out during a Gaming in the New Year party and have brought it to a couple of Windsor Gaming Resource events since then and tried What The Food?! out with a mix of gamers with various preferred gaming styles. This had very mixed results.

What The Food?! is published by Squirmy Beast and as far as I can tell is their only released game thus far. It was originally launched through Kickstarter way back in June 2013 and shipped to backers in December.

In addition to the base game there's also the What The Food?! Special Edition expansion pack. Squirmy Beast was cool enough to include a copy of this with my review copy but normally you would need to purchase this separately.

What The Food!? Gameplay Summary

What The Food?! is a casual, non-collectible card game. It's a 'gotcha' game where players are trying to humiliate the other players during a lunch room food fight. The game it reminded me the most of was Poo and the card combo system reminded me a bit of Epic Spell Wars. The one thing that I found really interesting about this one is that there's no player elimination, which is rare for this style of game.

Last night at our Games & Grub event I was talking to a fellow local gamer about box size. One of the things we both agreed we would like to see more of is smaller more compact boxes for more games. They are much easier to transport and store. This game fits that criteria really well. The box is just about as small as you can make it and still fit everything in it. That includes all of the cards, humiliation tokens, the rules and a really cool little rubber hamburger you use to show who's turn it is. There's even just enough room for the expansion to fit in the box.

The rules are short, clear and filled with lots of examples. The second half of them includes a very useful card summary explaining many of the more ambiguous cards and abilities. The cards are nice and thick and seem like they will have no problem lasting plenty of plays. I was also surprised by the thickness of the red humiliation tokens. They are about twice as thick as the usual small red chips you get in games like LCR.

The theme here is a high school lunch room food fight. This fight is between three to eight players (love games that can play up to 8, they are great for our public play events). Each player gets (or picks) a character. There are a ton of these in the base game and even more in the expansion. Each character has a special action card that goes with them and players take these along with a set of three standard actions: Duck, Grab and Throw. Each player is dealt a small starting hand and one condiment card. The player who gets the Relish card becomes the start player and gets the little rubber burger to mark this privilege. 

The actual game is played to 10 humiliation points. When one player has 10 or more humiliation tokens in front of them at the end of a round the Principal comes in and breaks up the fight. At that point whoever has the least humiliation tokens wins. This is how What The Food!? manages to avoid player elimination. 

Each game round starts with players choosing their target for the round. This happens starting with the first player (the person with the burger) and is done by pointing your condiment card, which has a nice arrow on it, at your target of choice. 

Once targets are chosen players then pick out three actions to take and the order they want to take them in. Each player starts with three basic actions (Grab, Duck and Throw) and one special action based on their character. More actions can be gained during play. 

The basic actions are common to all player. Grab lets players take new cards from "the cafeteria floor" which is represented by five face up cards laid out next to the main deck. This is the main method of getting new cards in your hand. Duck is the main defense card. When ducking no one can target you with food. Throw is the main way to throw food at other players and cause humiliation. The special actions are extremely varied and include things like Spin which deflects food back at your attacker, or Eat which lets you discard a food and a topping card to remove 2 humiliation. In addition to the basic cards everyone starts with and the unique character based abilities there are a bunch of new actions in the main deck of cards which can be gained by any player. I personally thought that the Goose card which does extra humiliation if played after two duck cards was rather amusing.

The main strategy of What The Food!? comes from choosing your three action cards. You only get three actions a round and all players decide on their actions simultaneously. They get put face down in front of you as a stack and are revealed one at a time. What this means is that you have to try to figure out which round you should be ducking, when it's safe to grab more cards, or whether you are better off using a special card or not. The targeting set up in the previous round has a big impact on this as well. No one targeting you? Well I guess you don't have to worry about ducking this round do you?

So about all this humiliation. There are quite a few actions that cause small amounts of humiliation to the other players but the main way you pile those red chips on another player is by throwing food at them. This is done by playing an appropriate action on your turn (the basic version being Throw) and targeting someone who hasn't done something to prevent themselves from being hit (like choosing the Duck basic action). Assuming you can hit your target you build your attack with the cards you have in hand. 

A basic attack is one food card or one topping card. These each cause 1 point of humiliation. You can combo a food and a topping for 2. You can also just toss two toppings for 2. There are also condition cards. These can be added to a food or a topping and add 2 humiliation for a total of 3. Lastly there's the big combo, a food, a topping and a condition or two toppings and a condition. These are so impressive that the whole table should yell out "What the Food!" Besides doing 4 points of humiliation the combo is so cool that the thrower looses two humiliation. 

That's pretty much the basics of the game. The only other thing that really needs to be mentioned is event cards. These come up when you are replenishing the cafeteria floor after someone has picked up some cards. When an event comes up it resolves immediately and is then replaced. The events include a wide range of things like the janitor cleaning things up which distributes all of the cards on the cafeteria floor to the players evenly or the sprinkler system going off and everyone getting humiliated.

I was very pleased to see some advanced rules in the back of the rule book that add a bit more to the basic game. Besides just options to make the game last a little longer (by playing to more than 10 humiliation) there are what's called Super Conditions. Each condition card has a unique rule printed on the bottom which takes affect whenever someone is hit with that card. There's the option of adding the unplayed character's special abilities to the deck and a neat variant that lets players hold on to event cards and play them when they want. 

Mixed Results:

I brought What the Food!? out at a couple different events. Both at home and at public play events and had very mixed results. I don't think I've broken out any other game that had such mixed reviews.

The main thing you need to realize about this game is that's it's a silly party game meant for some cheap laughs. Yes there is some strategy there with picking your actions, something I appreciate, but it's not very deep strategy and it's not very balanced. Some actions are just better than others and in one play one of the characters got a combo of actions that meant they could never be hit by food. This didn't go over well with the 'gamers' in the group. While we all laughed at the first few card combos the joke didn't last. The one thing that really stuck was how little variety there actually is in the cards. Every food card does the same as every other food card. Only the name and art changes. The same with the toppings.

Now that said, at another sitting it was non-stop laughs. Players were threatening each other during the targeting phase. Alliances were made and broken. What The Food!? was yelled so loud that the entire place had to stop and look at what we were doing. We had a blast that game. No one really cared who was winning or cared about the balance of the cards.

I also had a couple of plays of What The Food!? that fell in the middle of both of these experiences. They were fun filler games. Not the best games, but a few laughs were had and it filled the gap while waiting to play heavier games. 

So overall I've got to say this one is not for everyone. Most gamers are probably going to prefer a gatcha game with more strategy and tactics than this one. There's something here to be enjoyed for more casual gamers. I also think this would be a great game for kids. Mine aren't old enough to read yet or else I think they would adore this game. 

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