When Pandemic came out in 2008, it effectively sparked a cooperative game revolution in the board gaming industry. For a while, it seemed that every game that came out was some kind of co-op, either with all players on one side or with one or two traitors mixed in for flavor. The cooperative surge has died down, but it’s still around. And today, I’m talking about a new one that made its debut at Origins this year.
Wok Star is a game for 1-4 players that was designed by Tim Fowers, with art by Ryan Goldsberry. It’s for ages 10 and up, and takes about half an hour to play. The game was self-published by Fowers’ company Gabob, so there were only a limited number of copies at Origins. However, people latched onto it, and a reprint is forthcoming to satisfy the demand.
In the game, as you’ve probably guessed, you’re running a Chinese restaurant. You’ll be trying to serve your customers, improve your business, and try to end the game with enough money to win. You’ll have recipes and ingredients for various dishes to serve your customers, but there’s a time element – if your customers don’t get their food fast enough, they eat free.
Wok Star comes with a board, 12 recipes, 32 dice (in four colors), 10 ingredient counters, two 20 second sand timers, 6 family character cards, 2 deck playmats, 10 preparation cards, 13 event cards, a purchase track card, and 48 customer cards (4 per recipe). As in other pure cooperative games like Pandemic and Ghost Stories, there are three difficulty levels so you can amp up the tension. Each player starts with a set of three dice, a family character (with a one-time special ability), and a recipe card. For each recipe in play, you’ll shuffle the four corresponding customer cards into a pile, then separate them in the Customer Deck and the Potential Customer Deck. You’ll also need the preparation cards needed for all recipes in play, and you can distribute these as desired among the players (you can’t trade during the game). Counters for the ingredients are placed on the appropriate track of the board, which varies depending on your difficulty level. You also may have Bonuses at the beginning, depending on difficulty, which will allow you to upgrade a preparation or take an extra die (or both, or two of one option if you have two).
There are six rounds in the game, and each has three phases: Action, Accounting, Purchase. During the Action phase, you’ll be going through the customer deck and preparing the required dishes. Roll your dice, then flip the top customer card and one timer. The customer card will tell you a required recipe, and the player in charge of that recipe is responsible for letting everyone else know what is needed for the recipe. Any needed ingredients get moved down on the track. If you don’t have enough ingredients, you’ll need to place dice on the preparation cards to produce that particular ingredient. A single die of any value will produce one; a die that matches a specified number can be used to produce two; and a combination of two dice that equals a specified value can be used for three ingredients. Each die can only be used once PER ROUND, and you can’t reroll after the initial roll. Players can exchange dice, and can use multiple dice on single options.
If a customer is served before the timer runs out, the player with that recipe takes the card. If they are served after time runs out, the card is taken face down and you’ll be getting no points. In either case, a new customer card gets drawn and a timer gets flipped. Now, if you can’t (or don’t want to) serve a customer, the card can be discarded into Bad Publicity. If too many customers get into Bad Publicity, you lose. So, don’t just toss someone away because they’re eating for free.
The Action phase ends when the Customer Deck disappears. If you still have unplaced dice at this point, you can use them to produce ingredients that will carry over into the next round. The Accounting phase is where you count up your money. You’ll have the opportunity to take more dice if you completed more face-up customer cards than you have dice. Collect money from your face-up customers, then put all customers together for the next round’s pile. If no customers went to Bad Publicity in the last round, add one card from the Potential Customer pile. You’ll also add two event cards to the pile, and resolve any that may have come up during the round.
During the Purchase phase, players will decide together how to spend their money. You can buy new recipes, you can upgrade your preparations (giving you more ingredients for your dice), and you can advertise (adding new customers from the Potential Customer pile). Any money you have left and any prepared ingredients are rolled over to the next round. If you can earn enough money in the sixth round (not counting any money from previous rounds), you win.
The first thing that comes into my mind when thinking about this game is Space Alert. Both are real-time cooperative games where you have to deal with problems as they come up. It also seems that communication is the number one priority in both. One major complaint people have about co-ops is that it’s too easy for one person to control what everyone is doing. The use of real-time seems to combat that problem – if one person is trying to control everything, then they’re going to miss things. Personally, I don’t mind puzzling things out with a group and being able to take my time, but I can see why people get frustrated with that. The speed of this game scares me a bit, but it also excites me. It’s the same with Space Alert.
So, there’s Wok Star. As I understand it, the second print run is sold out and shipping soon, but I’d be surprised if there were no more printings. Frankly, I’d be shocked if one of the bigger game publishers didn’t pick the game up. You can read more at BGG, and also see some videos of the game in action. Thanks for joining me for another bout of game buzz. Insert clever tagine here.