Designed by: Riccardo Guerra, Marco Mutta & Giulio Guerra
Published by: Red Glove & Elfinwerks
2-5 Players, 1 ½ hours
Reviewed by: Greg J. Schloesser
My wife and I have enjoyed several vacations to Italy. Not only do we enjoy the rich history, gorgeous scenery and intriguing culture, but we also delight in the fabulous cuisine. While the country is well known for its amazing pasta, their delicious fare has far more variety than that famous staple. In every town—small or large—dozens of restaurants can be found, each offering a wide assortment of delectable dishes. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a bad meal in Italia.
Ristorante Italia by the design team of Marco Mutta, Riccardo Guerra and Giulio Guerra establishes players in the role of restaurant owners trying to create mouth-watering dishes that will lure customers and excite food critics. To accomplish this, players must formulate a complimentary menu, procure the proper ingredients and compliment the fare with the appropriate wine. While the food may impress the critics, it is still necessary to advertise to attract the public and the all-important celebrities. This will insure a steady source of customers and income. The most successful restaurateur will become the toast of the town and his restaurant will become the new hot spot.
Each player receives a board that represents their restaurant. There are spaces for the recipes in four categories—starters, first and second courses, and desserts—and the wine rack can hold four bottles. There are also spaces for various markers that can be obtained during the game, including VIPs, gold stars and golden spoons. Additional space is provided for bonus cards and restaurant expansions, which are only available when playing the advanced version. Players begin the game with 25 coins, which are kept in a nifty and atmospheric measuring cup.
In addition to the score and “Cook-o-Meter” tracks, the central board depicts shops that stock the various ingredients, separated by categories—fish, meat, vegetables, fruit and general. Each shop holds six ingredients, which when needed are drawn randomly from the supply. In another nod to atmosphere, the supply of tokens is segregated into six different crates. Sadly, the crates are fairly flimsy and they do not conceal the identity of the ingredients, which need to be drawn randomly. Cloth bags would have been a better choice, albeit less atmospheric.
The game is played over the course of four seasons, with each season having three rounds followed by three scoring rounds. Each turn, players execute two actions, choosing from:
Draw a New Recipe or Wine card. The player selects one of the four categories of recipe cards or wine cards, draws five and keeps one. Recipe cards are kept in hand, while wine cards are immediately placed in the restaurant’s wine rack—after paying the cost, of course.
There are numerous considerations when making these selections. Recipes will provide income and prestige points. A restaurant will ultimately be judged on the quality of their menu, so there is an incentive to create elaborate fare with an abundance of prestige points. However, these dishes require more ingredients and are more difficult and time consuming to complete; they are also more expensive to acquire. A complete four-course meal may bring accolades, especially if the menu is consistently themed by category and/or specialty. So, players should plan accordingly when selecting new recipes. Further, each dish is complemented by a specific wine, so players should attempt to match these whenever possible. This will enhance a restaurant’s income and prestige.
Go Shopping. It takes the proper ingredients to complete a recipe, and these ingredients must be available at the market. With each action, a player may purchase one ingredient and/or clear all ingredients from one of the market stalls. Thus, if a desired ingredient is not currently available, clearing and refilling the market may result in the ingredient suddenly becoming available. A player can store up to six ingredients in his pantry, so one can plan prepare for completing multiple or more intricate recipes.
After every three action rounds, three scoring rounds are conducted. During the Critic Round, players place completed recipes to their restaurant, expending the required ingredients. A player may only have two of each course, so proper planning is essential. The Critic judges the best new recipe amongst all restaurants, awarding the top players with movement up the Cook-o-Meter track. Players earn victory points at game’s end based on their position on this track, and must progress to specific levels in order to be able to complete more complex recipes. The most complex recipes cannot be completed until a player has advanced nine spaces on the track, a feat which is close to impossible in the basic game. The advanced game provides a method of purchasing advances, but this costs actions, which are in a finite supply. Progression on the track should be a bit easier, as the more difficult recipes rarely come into play.
Players next bid (advertise) to attract a “VIP” endorsement. This is a “closed fist” bid, with the high bidder paying the amount bid and receiving VIP and star tokens, which are worth victory points at game’s end. It pays to conserve some money for this all important bid, but one must still be careful as one-half of the amount bid is lost even when losing the bid.
Finally, each player receives income based on the recipes and wine they have completed. This is cumulative, so money becomes quite plentiful as the game progresses. Indeed, it is too plentiful. There is little or no tension when making purchasing decisions as money is never a concern after the first round. The game would be significantly improved if money was tighter, as this would make purchasing decisions more agonizing.
Four rounds are conducted in this fashion—three action rounds followed by three scoring rounds—with additional final scoring after the fourth round. In the final scoring round, each player must present a full dinner comprised of all four courses. The player presenting the best dinner receives a “golden spoon” token. Further, any player who presented a fully themed menu in either category and/or specialty will receive bonus tiles. All of these tiles are worth victory points. Finally, each player presents their single best recipe for the “National Cooking Tournament”, with the winners receiving golden spoons.
Victory is determined by adding points earned from a variety of sources, including position on the Cook-o-Meter track, value of all completed recipes and wine in the wine rack, the value of all stars, spoons, category and specialty tiles earned, and bonuses for each recipe wherein the player possesses the complimentary wine. As in a Stefan Feld game, there are a lot of ways to earn victory points.
The advanced rules add the ability to expand one’s restaurant with additional rooms, acquire bonus cards and purchase advances on the Cook-O-Meter track by taking cooking classes. These can all be useful, but with only two actions per turn, it reduces what a player can accomplish. It also adds length to a game that is already too long.
The theme of Ristorante Italia is delightful. The concept of selecting recipes and purchasing the ingredients to complete them is fun. I also like the idea of having to plan one’s menu in terms of theme and specialty, and having to complement the dishes with the appropriate wine. All of these are great ideas that fit the theme well.
Sadly, the game has numerous problems. The scoring rounds can be rather fiddly and the rules are a bit confusing. As mentioned earlier, progression up the Cook-o-Meter track is essential in order to complete the more complex recipes, which bring you the highest prestige and income. Unfortunately, this progression can be very slow and sporadic, which often means many players cannot advance beyond first or second level recipes. This severely limits their options, causing them to fall further and further behind the leaders. There should be more opportunity to progress on the track, or the levels at which players can create more valuable recipes should be lower.
The biggest problem, however, is the over-abundance of money. After the completion of the first round, cash is plentiful. Recipes—and especially wine—bring windfalls of cash, removing any purchase-making tension from the game. There are rarely any budgetary considerations; there is plenty of cash to purchase what you desire. I am certain that this is not the case when operating a restaurant in the real world, and the abundance of cash here creates a game with little or no tension.
Unfortunately, due to the factors described above, I must reluctantly give the game a thumbs-down. I certainly give it good marks for theme and concept, but its absence of tension and problems with the Cook-o-Meter progression are just too much to overcome. Perhaps further development would have alleviated these problems and markedly improved the game. Industrious gamers may want to tinker with this to improve it, but as is, this restaurant simply doesn’t earn my personal “Critic’s Choice” award.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: I played Ristorante Italia many times and I find it a nice family game. Of course it is not a gamers game and the issues Gregg point out are true but not so powerful to ruin the pleasure of a session. Of course with some more play-test the game could be better, but this seems to be the main problem of our times. Materials and graphics are nice and the tasty theme and the quite easy basic rules make it a nice gateway game.
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it): Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
2 (Neutral): Greg Schloesser
1 (Not for me):