Tuesday, 31 March 2015

I got my Just Desserts from Looney Labs

I was a bit surprised when Looney Labs contacted me asking if I wanted to review a copy of their new game Just Desserts. The reason for this surprise is that I've been pretty open about the fact that I'm not a huge fan of their most popular game: Fluxx.

Back in July last year I did up a review of Regular Show Fluxx. While I didn't tear the game apart it wasn't the most positive review. So I was shocked when they asked me for another review.

I've taken Just Desserts out to a couple Windsor Gaming Resource events and I've broken it out at a couple of home games. The first thing I do have to say is: Just Desserts is very much not Fluxx. It's a very different style of set collection game that the local gamers and I found to be quite a bit of fun. 

So what is Just Desserts?

Just Desserts is a set collection card game for 2-5 players that plays in about half an hour and sometimes less. The box contains two sets of cards (100 cards total). One is a set of guests and the other is a pile of dessert cards. The overall theme is that the players work in a dessert shop and are trying to satisfy customers by serving desserts with ingredients they like while avoiding ingredients they don't. 

How do you play?

Gameplay in Just Desserts is really pretty straight forward. Each player starts with 3 dessert cards. On these is the name of the dessert, a drool worthy picture of said dessert and a list of ingredients for that dessert. For example: Apple Pie ala Mode has Fruit, Pie and Ice Cream as it's three ingredients. In the center of the table three guests are laid out. Guests list the ingredients they are craving in addition to the ingredients they can't stand. In addition to this most (okay all but one) list one or two favourite desserts.

Each turn starts with the active player drawing one new dessert card and flipping over a new guest card. Then the player tries to satisfy customers. They do this by discarding dessert cards that match the cravings the guests have. Sometimes this can be done with just one card, by playing the guest's favourite dessert. If you mange to do this you get to draw a dessert card as a tip. Most times though you need to play a combination of cards in order to fully satisfy a guest. You can satisfy only two guests a turn. If you don't have the right dessert cards on you and can't satisfy anyone you go back to the kitchen and draw one dessert card.

Each of the guests comes from one of six suits. Each of these is a different colour. If, at the end of your turn, there are two or more guests in the cafe that are of the same suit you have to discard guests until there is only one of each suit in play. As an interesting bit that goes with this, the guest on the top of the discard pile is "almost out the door" and can still be satisfied before they fully escape the cafe.

Play continues around the table until one player has collected either: one of each of five suits/colours of guest or three of one suit/colour of guest. When this happens that player wins.

But wait there's more!

The rules described above are the basic game. In addition there are a set of optional advanced rules you can use. These all add a bit of back-stabbery to the game.

Poaching and Blocking: With this rule players can poach guests from other players. They can poach at most one guest a turn and do this by playing desserts with ingredients that another player's guest craves. The player being poached from gets a chance to try to keep their person by playing a proper set of ingredients themselves but if they can't they lose the guest. As a consolation they get to draw a card as the guest leaves a tip before they leave. Along with this there's a few special rules for using favourite foods when poaching and blocking.

Buffet: A player can call for a buffet if they have four single ingredient cards in their hand. This forces every other player to return a guest to the center of the table. The player who called the buffet then gets to draw three cards and try to satisfy one guest.

Surprise: When someone satisfies a guest from the center of the table another player can call out a Surprise! by playing that guests favourite dessert. If they do this they steal the guest. 

So how is it?

I have to say I'm impressed by Just Desserts. As noted at the start of this review, I'm not a big fan of Looney Lab's main game, Fluxx. Looking at the previews of this and the art style, I was worried this was just going to be another derivative of that engine and it's not. Just Desserts is a completely different game and in my opinion a much better game.

Every game we have played so far has been fun. Someone has always commented about how hungry it made them and everyone I have played with has asked to play at least one more round. Actually I think three rounds in a row is the minimum I've been able to manage which is a very good sign. There's one caveat to that though: you have to use the advanced rules.

While the basic game is a bit fun and interesting it isn't until you add in rules to screw over the other players that the game really shines. With the basic rules it's also possible for players to be in a position where they know they can't win but have to keep playing due to what guests they have and what are left in the deck. This won't happen with the advanced rules as you can always steal the guests you need from other players.

There is one problem (that is being fixed)

We did find one problem with the game. The copy I received is an advanced copy of the game and while playing one of the players noticed a problem with one of the cards. The "Granny" card says that her favourite dessert is "Apple Pie ala Mode" but her cravings list: Fruit, Cake. and Ice Cream. The Apple Pie Ala Mode card on the other hand lists the proper ingredients of: Fruit, Pie, and Ice Cream. 

I posted this picture online and contacted Loony Labs about this and Andrew Looney himself was cool enough to get back to me on Facebook. Here's his suggestions for how to handle the card missprint:

"As for how to deal with Granny, I play it as printed. To satisfy her with individual items, you need to give her cake, not pie. However, you don't need to give her cake if you have the Apple Pie a la Mode, because that's her favorite thing, so she needs nothing with it."

Now this may not be a problem for any of you picking up the game as Andrew is working hard to make sure that this error is fixed before the final print run and the game is released on April 10th. I really hope they are able to catch it in time.

Final thoughts

I rather enjoyed Just Desserts. It's a fun filler game that I found was a great way to start off a game night, play while waiting for everyone to show up, or as that last game of the night before the cafe closes. I found it much more fun than other games I've played by Looney Labs and I'm glad to have a copy in my collection. At under $20 I think this is worth picking up by anyone who's looking for a quick half hour filler. If you've got a friend that's into baking, this would make a great gift or stocking stuffer.

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