Rival Restaurants Review

Grab your spatula and start earning likes! It’s 2020 and you’re cooking for exposure. Everyone wants to be Number 1 on Instagram so photogenic dishes are the key to a modern restaurant success story. As a budding restaurateur, you will be doing anything it takes – even literally stealing from your Rival Restaurants – to become the most liked, and thus the most successful restaurant in your town. As it clearly states in the restaurant owners manual, “”There can only be one Wiener“”.

2-6(8) Players | 45 Minutes | Designed by Gary Alaka, Rob Chew and Jon Kang

Rival Restaurants was published by Gap Closer Games in 2019. The start-up company used Kickstarter to bring their project to life and was very successful! The campaign raised over $300,000 and had over 4000 backers which is quite remarkable for a first project. The punderful game was delivered to backers by the end of 2019 and had a limited retail release as well. A second Kickstarter for an expansion and re-print of the base game is kicking off soon, and hopefully a wider retail release will accompany rhis. The version I reviewed was the Kickstarter edition which includes components allowing for up to 8 players to participate.

The chaos of the hospitality industry translated into boardgame form!

How does it work?

Rival Restaurants is a real-time trading and negotiation game where players are trying to collect specific ingredients to cook their recipe cards which give varying amounts of ‘likes’. The first player to 20 ‘likes’/points wins the game, so it’s a restaurant race – and it’s not going to be a clean one.

Each round of the game is divided into three phases, and the rounds keep going until someone wins. The game typically lasts for around 10 rounds, but it can be less or more depending on how things unfold. At the beginning of the round, players get income and secretly decide which of the several market stations they will be going to that round. Then the ‘Buy and Barter’ phase begins, during which players have one minute to buy ingredients (only from the location they are at), and trade with other players (ingredients, money, recipes and garbage are all up for trade). This all happens simultaneously in real time, so this phase tends to get pretty hectic.

During the Buy and Barter phase, players are trying to collect ingredients that match their recipes. Ingredients can be obtained in many ways. You can buy them, although this is limited as you can only go to one of the several markets each round. You can also trade for them, and you can often steal them with certain cards and abilities! One of the more powerful elements of the game is the Action Cards, which can be purchased from one of the markets and then used during the buy and barter phase. When playing a card, time freezes (and everyone must stop what they are doing). Action cards are all quite powerful, and almost always game changing!

After the one minute Buy and Barter phase, each player can cook a recipe if they have collected all the necessary ingredients. Cooking something gives you points, putting you a bit closer to victory, but also gives you garbage that you will need to get rid of before the next time you cook. If a player happened to get to 20 points in this round they win the game – “”The Wiener“”.

Who wants Mexican! (Actually looks like it’s Vietnamese/French..)

What do I think?

I’ve played the game 3 times now with 6-8 players and each play was very fun. I haven’t played the game at lower counts and I’m not sure I want to. I really think the way the game is designed, it really shines with a big player count and I can’t really see the game being as frenetic and enjoyable at the 2-3 end of player count, 4 is probably the least I would try with. I think that the retail edition should come with the extra dials and mats needed to play with 8 players!

The Good Stuff

  • Rival Restaurants is a great production. The pieces are all great quality, be it the cards, mats or coins. There is so much attention to detail that has gone into usability and convenience, for example the card discard tray. Something small that I really like is the way that cards and decks in the markets hang off the edge of the board, making them easy to grab in a hurry during the Buy and Barter phase.
  • Quick hectic gameplay, stressful, lots of yelling. It’s so much fun.
  • What amazing artwork! A strong theming carries throughout the game and it’s very well done. The artwork’s playful cartoon style perfectly matches the vibe the game puts out and is reinforced with amazing puns and a generous helping of light hearted humour.
  • Free form trading results in some interesting and innovative deals being made. Trading cards, offering garbage disposal services and purchasing deals etc. There are so many possibilities and coming up with new deals is always fun.
  • The 8 player count caters for lots of players in a game that’s one step up from a party game. This is rare and very welcome. Simultaneous play means that playing with a lot of people doesn’t slow down the game and there is no waiting around for ‘slow’ players.
  • The Action Cards are often very powerful and unfair. Someone will use one at the beginning of the game and it will put them ahead by a lot, but that usually really encourages everyone else to take a second look at their cards and maybe buy some more! Despite being ‘unfair’ I think they are a great mechanic, only adding more to the chaos and fun.
  • The game would probably work fine without garbage but I think it’s a great addition. It gives you something extra to think about when you are planning and it’s often hilarious when someone is already to cook their next dish and realises they forgot to get rid of their trash! It does help to balance out the game a bit as it slows down players who are getting a lot of points.
  • The rules are very simple and streamlined. Learning from the rulebook took 5-10 minutes and explaining the game to new players is really simple.
  • I really like the way ingredients are broken up into stations and you need to pick one place to go each round. While this sounds like it could become tedious it works brilliantly as a catalyst for trading. Players HAVE to work together to get what they need quickly.
  • Initially the upgrade clips’ abilities seem a bit useless but you quickly realise (often when you need them most and don’t have them) how useful they really are.
  • Mystery Mart (the variety and auxiliary market) adds some great additional options and depth to the game. It can be safely ignored by new or overwhelmed players but adds a lot of interesting things for players who are willing to venture there and make some purchases.

The Bad Stuff

  • At the beginning of the game there is an information overload (despite the simple rules). Each player has a chef ability, action card, restaurant, and two recipes. This could have been introduced a bit more incrementally to mitigate information overload (e.g. gourmet recipe is only dealt out round 2, chef ability unlocks after cooking your first dish etc). As the game continues I often find myself forgetting to use my chef ability (which is typically very powerful) or forgetting to use my action cards in the chaos.
  • This isn’t really a particular issue with this game but I don’t really like race games. There’s a couple of reasons but the two main ones are that either someone gets ahead and inevitably wins which deflates everyone else, or when players notice that they specifically hinder the player from winning which can also not feel great. I think I much prefer games where after a set number of turns/rounds or some other trigger is met the game ends and players tally scores. In this way you never really feel ‘what’s the point in playing when I’m 10 points behind and another player will win this round. Despite this comment I have played a mix of games of Rival Restaurants in this regard – some games where one player won while others were only at 10 points out of the 20 needed. Other games several players had the capability of winning on their next round and it created some very interesting tension during the Buy and Barter phase.
  • The game is supposed to be fast paced, but I’ve found that unless you have someone willing to take a leadership role in moving the game along things can get a bit bogged down. We found that the desire to organise deals outside of the Buy and Barter phase was pretty strong with us, so I had to start firmly telling everyone ‘Ok everyone pick where you are going to go for this round’ and doing a countdown to get people to move on to the next round. If you don’t have someone willing to do this your games might drag out. The rules sort of allow for organising and making deals outside of buy and barter and we don’t mind a little bit of it. I think prohibiting it all together would be too harsh, but the game can really get slowed down by people organising deals outside of the 1 minute Buy and Barter phase.
  • Additionally to the previous point, I found it was quite hard to enforce everyone stopping what they were doing when an action card was played. This generally required a lot of yelling and waving arms across the play area. This is more of a crowd control issue with the people I play with than an issue with the game itself.
  • I kind of understand what the designers were trying to get at with the location selection wheels but they don’t really work in practice. The buy and barter phase is hectic, I think that ultimately they are not necessary with an honest group. I suppose it adds a bit of accountability which stops people from making last second changes to their decisions.
  • It can sometimes be frustratingly difficult to collect the ingredients you need (maybe nobody has spares, there are none on the board and you can’t afford the wild card alien goo). One game I got stuck on a recipe with three things nobody had to trade me and I had to slowly draw cards blind from decks with my limited income to find what I needed. I came last by a lot that game and I was simply very unlucky.
  • The box is big. This is increasingly becoming a concern of mine – but that’s probably just because I have a lot of games. Inside is mostly empty space, although the nice and functional insert wouldn’t fit well in a smaller box.
  • I think some of the Chef and restaurant powers can be a bit unbalanced. I’ve noticed that the powers that yield money for the player very often end up making that player very powerful. While you don’t have to trade with anyone if you don’t want to, when someone is offering you a ridiculous deal you will often take it, and when everyone behaves this way (which is totally normal) then players with lots of money can easily buy their way to victory. While this is common in lots of games, this game does award some players lots more money. For example, one of the restaurant mats gives the player bonuses of straight cash, whereas another gives a lessened amount of garbage, which evaluates to ‘less money’ when you consider the savings you would make on getting rid of your garbage with that ability.
This feature seriously impressed me and my nail-less fingers. Every game needs this!

I’m very impressed with Rival Restaurants. I think it fits in a great niche somewhere between party games and negotiation/trading games that hasn’t really been satisfied till now. The game reminds me a lot of games like Chinatown in that the heart of the game is trading, and often in games like this players are generally always advantaged when making a trade. I think this is one of my favourite mechanics because while the game is in progress, every transaction that occurs makes both players involved feel like they are profiting from the trade which makes the game feel really fun. I’m also really excited to have a new game that can play a large number of players and is a bit more involved and interesting than the ‘standard’ social deduction games that are commonly played with 7-8 players. If the game sounds like something you are interested in, you can pick it up at the Rival Restaurants Website or keep an eye out for the upcoming Kickstarter!

The copy of Rival Restaurants used for this review was provided to The Boardgame Detective by Gap Closer Games

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