Design by Stefan Alexander
Published by Mayfair Games
2 – 6 Players, 60 – 90 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
One of my many weaknesses is chocolate, which I find almost irresistible. So a game about growing cacao and moving it through the production chain so it can become the delicious delicacy was bound to catch my interest. The only other major game that I can recall that had chocolate as its central theme was Schoko & Co., which was released way back in 1987. Unfortunately, I found that game to be a rather dry, economic affair with little taste. Would Stefan Alexander’s King Chocolate be a choicer selection?
In spite of its rich theme, King Chocolate is a decidedly abstract game. The feeble attempt at adding a theme really doesn’t stick and fails to add much, if any, atmosphere to the game. Still, as an abstract game, it is decent and engaging to play.
The game board—which grows and develops as the game progresses—begins with a ring of connected hexes. New hexes will be placed both inside and outside of this ring, enlarging the cacao fields and facilities required to grow and refine the cacao. Each double-hex tile is color-coded and numbered to show which step in the six-step process it represents. Further, each hex has space for one or two cacao cubes. The idea is to produce cacao and progressively move them through these six steps, resulting in a bounty of chocolate.
Players begin the game with three double-hex tiles, four workers and a player screen that both hides their tiles and resources and provides a helpful turn sequence description. A player’s turn consists of several steps:
Place one tile. The player must place one of their tiles to the table, making sure at least one side of the double tile aligns with the side of a previously placed tile. The tile may be placed on the inside or outside of the starting ring, and there is no requirement that tiles must be adjacent to the same tile color, although this is advantageous when enlarging groups. If two or more tiles of the same color are adjacent, this forms a group.
Spend 3 Action Points among the following options:
Place a Worker and Fill Group (2 APs). Place a worker onto an unclaimed group and fill all circles on the tiles (one or two per tile) with cacao cubes. The player now controls this group and will make money whenever cacao is moved off this group. Claiming groups is key to ultimately earning money, and gaining monopolies in one or more steps of the production chain can prove extremely desirable and lucrative.
Production (1 AP). The player may place brand new cacao cubes into an empty “Step 1” group. This represents new growth in the fields, which are at the beginning of the production chain. Alternatively, the player may move cacao cubes from one group to a group of the next highest step in the chain. For example, the player may move cubes from a Step 2 group to a Step 3 group. Steps cannot be skipped in this process. Still another option is to move cacao cubes from a Step 6 group (the final step in the process) off the board, returning the cubes to the general supply.
When cubes are moved from a group, the owner of that group earns $1 per cube moved. If no one owns a group from which cubes are moved, the active player earns the money. Thus, whenever possible, the goal is to move cubes from one’s own group, thereby earning funds. If a player controls several groups in sequence, it can make for a very productive income stream. Of course, space must be available in a group so cubes can be moved in, so a player must be vigilant in moving cubes along.
Move a Worker (1 AP). Move one’s worker from one group to another unclaimed group. When doing this, however, the newly claimed group is not filled with cacao. This does provide a way for a player to move from a group that has stagnated or is being shunned. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side!
Draw a Tile (1 AP). Players do not automatically draw a new tile at the end of each turn. Rather, they must spend an action point to select a tile, either from the four face-up tiles or the face down tiles. Care must be exercised not to deplete one’s hand of tiles, as this will require a player to lose a turn of actions as he replenishes his hand to only one tile.
The game continues in this fashion until the face-up display of four tiles cannot be replenished, at which point the game ends immediately. It is quite possible that players will not all have an equal number of turns, so player must keep a careful eye on the supply of tiles and prepare accordingly. Players tally the money they have earned, subtracting $10 if they ended the game with no tiles in hand. The player with the most money has proven to be the wisest businessman and receives the moniker “King Chocolate.”
A key to success in King Chocolate is to make one’s controlled groups to be favored by one’s opponents. This can be accomplished by having a monopoly or near-monopoly in one or more steps of the process, and by making one’s controlled groups large, thereby being able to accommodate more cubes. This will entice opponents to move cubes into your area, especially if they are coming from a group they control. Money talks, and if a player can move more cubes from one of their groups, they will earn more money. Having a larger group will entice players to move cubes from their controlled groups there.
Another useful tactic is to try to increase competition for steps that you do not control. This will prevent players from gaining monopolies and benefitting from this preferred position. Increasing completion in steps where you are not a major player will prevent one player from receiving consistent windfalls.
The game’s major drawback is that the theme doesn’t really adhere well and the game feels as it is—an abstract affair. This doesn’t necessarily bother me, but many folks have complained of this lack of a strong theme. One really is just “pushing cubes” around the board, a common complaint leveled against European-style games. Again, I don’t necessarily mind this, as long as the game play is engaging and challenging. I find King Chocolate to be just that.
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it): Greg S.
1 (Not for me):