138 Games: From Fast Food Franchise to Schnapp

We’re squarely into the 1990s now in our 138 Games series and will be for some time with 36 games from the decade to recommend to you.  This week we’ve got games from masters like Lehmann, Knizia, and Garfield.  But we’ve also got a couple games from less well known designers – Carol Wiseley and Heinz Meister, both of whom designed classic dexterity games that you absolutely have to try.

– Fast Food Franchise –

Brian Leet: I can still recall finding and purchasing Fast Food Franchise at an Origins sometime in the mid-nineties, perhaps ‘95. And the reason I can recall it is that I had a conversation with Tom Lehmann, who was manning his own booth at the time. He expounded on the idea that a gripping game will take the familiar and add to or twist it enough to be interesting, but not so much as to be confusing. And indeed FFF does exactly this.

The game play is in a superficial way very much like Monopoly. You roll a pair of dice, move around the perimeter of a board, buy markets, and invest in franchises to make those markets more valuable. Indeed your primary decision in this game is when or whether to spend money when you come to each opportunity. However, the game also removes many annoyances of Monopoly and gives it a streamlined essence that both allows for planning and also (usually) means that the game moves quickly to conclusion especially once players begin getting eliminated. Yes, this game does have player elimination.

FFF has the distinction of being the ugliest game in my collection. But I keep it because unlike many of my prettier games it sees more regular play. I just hope that Tom finds a publisher willing to freshen it up and re-release the title because it does deserve a wider audience and a nicer face.

Larry:  Fast Food Franchise is Monopoly done right.  Yes, it’s roll-and-move; yes, you still buy properties and collect cash when opponents land on them.  But the ideas surrounding these familiar concepts are so clever and so original that it’s a revelation.  If you’re convinced that no property game can ever hold a candle to the designs of today, then you clearly need to play FFF before you die.

– Loopin’ Louie –

Nathan Beeler:  You must play Loopin’ Louie before you die.  To truly experience the reasons for this, you’ll probably have to play it more than a few times.  Which is ok, because if you’re like most folks, you’ll want to.  At first blush, the game is simply hilarious.  It tends to cause new players to rend the air with laughter and curses as the seemingly chaotic actions of the titular Louie, a prop plane riding daredevil, cause them to lose their precious chicken tokens, and subsequently the game.  Miss him as he swoops by and he’ll knock down one of your chickens.  At this level the game is all about protecting chicken tokens, and as such it is a fine game that children and adults can share and have fun.

The game really shines, however, when those players get a little experience and realize that Louie can be controlled.  Bump him just a little bit, and not only will he miss your chickens, but he will land in such a way that your right hand neighbor will lose a token and there’s nothing she can do about it.  That shot is relatively easy, once you realize it’s possible and you learn to control the spastic jerk of panic that beginners get when Louie comes around.  There are also paths he can take where he can knock out the chickens of the other two players in ways that can’t be defended, but they are more difficult to master.  Going for the left hand player, in fact, can often cause you to lose one of your own chickens if misjudged by just a little bit.  No one I know can reliably hit any of these shots every time, but the best players can do so enough that you had better take advantage of any misses they do make or your chickens will get puréed.  Throw in tournament rules that make you care about who wins any given round even after you are eliminated, and the game remains continually engaging.  With skilled players it becomes one of those rare kids’ games that actually works better for adults.

Greg Aleknevicus:  If you’ve ever revisited Hungry Hungry Hippos as an adult, you’ll quickly realize that any attraction it holds is pure nostalgia.  There’s really very little game there and certainly no skill required. Sure, you’ll have fun mashing the controls — for about a minute.  And then it will be ignored for another dozen years. I suspect the same is true for many “silly dexterity games” from yesteryear.

Not so with Loopin’ Louie. Yes, it fits squarely within the “silly dexterity” genre, but it really does reward skill and that makes all the difference. Bashing away at the controls is fun (and that’s probably what you’ll do the first couple of times you play), but it won’t take long before you realize that finesse is a far better course of action… and far more likely to hold your interest.

– Modern Art –

Dan Blum:  A lot of gamers don’t like games with auctions. And I find this entirely understandable; I like auctions, but a lot of game designers misuse them, either by failing to properly balance or price things and instead making the players do it via auctions, or by putting important auctions at the start of the game where a new player will have no idea of how to bid. (Or both.)

In contrast, Modern Art is nothing but auctions (so they’re the essence of the game, not a substitute for the market mechanism a designer didn’t feel like putting in), and starts out with auctions of items that have a limited range of values, making them relatively easy to bid on.

Of course, those aren’t reasons to like the game, just not to dislike it. What makes the game is the central value mechanism: the paintings being auctioned are intrinsically worth nothing, and only acquire value by being popular. In each of the four rounds of the game, the three artists with the most paintings sold see their paintings increase in value, while the others not only don’t increase, but are actually worth nothing that round.

This simple system produces some agonizing decisions. Having bought a Krypto painting cheaply you naturally want to maximize your profit by driving the price up, so clearly you want to auction a Krypto yourself. However, if the bidding stays low for it, you’re handing someone else a potential large profit; you could instead win your own auction, but if you have two Kryptos and no one else has any, you will have no help in making the price go up. Adding to all this are the different types of auctions on the cards, as it can make a big difference which type you use when.

In short (too late), this is the quintessential auction game. (Medici is very nearly as good, and the obvious choice with six players.)

– Magic: The Gathering –

Mary Prasad:  This year marks the 20th anniversary of Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield’s infamous collectable card game (CCG). It is credited with being the first of its type, starting a veritable Collectable/Trading Card craze that’s still quite alive today: new C/TCGs are still being printed. Players create decks from a collection of cards categorized as common, uncommon, rare, and ultra rare. Cards can be traded, bought, or sold to fine tune the player’s collection (or in the case those lucky early collectors, sold for thousands of dollars; the older cards became worth a small fortune!). Cards are purchased in decks or packs, each with a random mix of cards, the types distributed as implied. For example, a pack may have one rare, three uncommon, and ten or eleven common cards (the rare card may be an ultra rare in about 1 in 8 packs). With each new release, the game grows (i.e., in number of cards) and evolves, thus the game continues to be current, interesting, and varied.

Because of the cost and possible agony involved in obtaining collectable cards, another genre has spawned (pun intended): the Living Card Game. Instead of a random mix of cards, each set is the same but the games may still evolve and grow with each new release. Wizards of the Coast (the company that prints M:tG) also started releasing pre-constructed decks so that players could pick up a deck and play it out of the box (not necessarily true with the random mix decks).

The amazing thing is that M:tG is still going strong to this day. The 16th core set is due to be released this summer. It also has over 60 expansions, with about three being released each year.

I personally continue to enjoy playing this game. I started playing in 1994 (sadly, just missing the really “big” cards). One of my favorite things about M:tG is making new customized decks from my cards then playing them against other people’s decks. Sure there have been lots of rule tweaks (sometimes causing us to refer to an online version of the rules or FAQ to settle arguments) but the game has so much strategy and so many choices that is it totally worth the effort to learn.

Matt Carlson:  Usually a new game takes a little bit to build up steam, but Magic was an instant-hit.  I still recall hearing about this game and desperately trying to find some cards to play – but they were sold out everywhere.  Each new print run was significantly larger than the previous one and they were still selling out almost immediately.  Sure, the “market” eventually crashed on new releases but the game remained very fun to play.  The game plays along a bit of a tightrope.  Since any individual game has a bit of randomness (due to card draws) a huge part of strategy is designing one’s deck before playing.  Some cards are innately more powerful than others, so the game is best played between players who are either “playing for fun” or have a similar monetary investment in the game.  For good or ill, it is so fun to play that it is far too easy to think you need “Just one more card” to get your deck even more powerful – tempting people to spend more than they would otherwise on a single game.

Magic: the Gathering should be played at least once in one’s lifetime to experience the complex interactions that can occur in the game.  Any designer or gamer who wants to see what sorts of unique synergies can arise in a broad field of available powers needs to check the game out.  As the oldest collectible card game around, it is both the most balanced and polished (at least over time) but may be one of the most complex.  Since I’ve been through the learning curve, it also means most other following collectible card games pale in comparison due to a lack of options (which result in fewer “fun” synergies…)

My current favorite way to play the game is via a “Cube.”  One person collects (or makes by hand using paste ups or whatever) a large set of very fun, moderately powerful cards (say a few hundred).  The players then use some sort of draft procedure on a subset of the cube to gain a pool of cards with which to construct a custom deck of cards.  While the whole process takes longer than a simple 1 v. 1 game with pre-made decks, it balances the “power” of cards for all involved and also provides fun strategy opportunities with the deck-building aspect.

– Schnapp –

Nathan Beeler:  Schnapp!  A wooden disc spins. Carves an arc in the air.  A friendly shove is returned.  Hold your ground.  What color is the disc?  Now step forward.  Quick, it’s green!  Get it!  Time slows.  Someone’s hand half reaches, then retreats.  Bodies obstruct.  Spin.  Dive.  Snag.  Sweet!  I’ve got it!  One point for…crap.  It’s blue.  Laughter.  Reset.

To be continued…

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7 Responses to 138 Games: From Fast Food Franchise to Schnapp

  1. Eric Brosius says:

    I’m a big fan of Fast Food Franchise. I was involved in playtesting, and I’m still playing it multiple times a year two decades later. We often use it as a closer, since people can leave as they go bankrupt. Just last week we played a 3-player game, and Dan’s Steak & Salad chain made it to $1 million in about 30 minutes (so much for the 120 minute playing time shown on BGG.)

  2. Bob Scherer-Hoock says:

    I’m a Fast Food Franchise fan as well. Twenty years later, it holds up very well. Anyone who hates Monopoly should really try it. I wanted to chime in about the comment that FFF has “the distinction of being the ugliest game in my collection.” Perhaps you’re referring to the chits and card stock, which is fairly flimsy by today’s standards but very common back then, but you may also mean the very drab black-and-white game board. I remember being really taken aback when I saw this upon opening the box, but I came to believe the board is really a triumph of function over form. The companies are represented by so many different colors, that by the time the board is filled with franchises, ownership markers, and advertising tokens, it’s extremely colorful. Color on the board itself was unnecessary, and, in fact, likely would have distracted from game play and made it harder to distinguish the different companies on the board. It could easily have been over-designed, but I think the lack of color was a good choice (even if the choice may have been for financial reasons).

  3. jeffinberlin says:

    Nice write-up on Modern Art and on the function of auctions in game design, Dan. It is amazing how many games use auctions in one form or another. Worker placement games, for example, really are another type of auction/bidding game.

    • Dan Blum says:

      Thanks!

      I see what you mean about worker placement games, but in general I’d consider them a pretty far outlier in auction terms; in most of them you take an action by a)committing a fixed amount of resources and b)you don’t lose the resources. (There are undoubted auction games where you don’t lose the resources, but not many.)

      Keyflower is closer to the auction paradigm than most, due to the escalating costs for using tiles and the fact that you might lose the workers. (Of course Keyflower is an auction game anyway.)

    • I disagree with the classification of “worker placement” as another type of auction/bidding. I think the differences are sufficient to consider them truly separate mechanisms.

      Expanding the definition of “auction” too far results in a term that loses its utility.

  4. Worker Placer says:

    Lancaster’s workers (knights) when placed on the main map can be dislocated by another player willing to use a stronger knight and/or more squires. Dislocated squires are lost, so bidding wars tend to focus on escalating the strength of the knights until the final bid, but it definitely has a multi-auction feel.

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