- Designer: Julio Nazario
- Publisher: Stronghold Games
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 14+
- Time: 30 minutes
- Played with review copy from publisher
Dulce places players in the competitive world of sweets. You need to plant your fields strategically with cacao, coffee, peanuts, and vanilla, then use those beans efficiently to make the best confectionaries around! Using every resource is necessary to beat out your competition. The catch here is that everyone plays with the same cards – and I don’t mean the same deck of cards; literally, each player gets the same card to use each turn, so you’ll have to make better use of the cards than your opponents!
To set up, each player gets the player board, deck of 24 cards, player meeple and chicken meeple in their color. The player meeple is placed on the 0 space of the scoring track on the player board. The chicken meeple is placed next to the board, just above the 0 space on the score track. The five different types of resource cubes are placed where everyone can reach them. One player is designated to be the lead player. He shuffles his deck, removes 4 cards without looking at them, and then places his deck face up on the table with the cafe (building) side up. While this is being done, everyone else can arrange their cards in numerical order so that it is easy to find a particular card.
The cards are double sided. On one side is a cafe building, title on the top, number in the bottom right. Along the left side, you will see two different ingredients, with the level of each denoted by the number of rings around it. The back of each card shows a 2×2 grid of four fields which allows you to grow the ingredients seen.
The game is played over 20 rounds – and there are 3 phases in each round: Draw, Action, Scoring.
Draw – the top card of the starting player’s deck is announced and all players find this same card.
Action – Each player chooses one of the three possible actions with this card
- Build a cafe – place the card building side up next to your board. You really only need to see the ingredient spaces once they are built. Ideally, you’d like to have cafes that use all levels of the resources. Note that you also have found simple cafes printed on the corners of your board
- Plant Fields – place the card, field side up, on your player board. Place a matching resource cube onto the four field spaces on the card. You are allowed to cover up previously placed cards and preprinted cafes. If you cover up a card, any cubes that are covered are lost – move your chicken meeple forward spaces equal to the number of resources discarded. If you cover a field of identical type to that on the new card, place a bonus resource on the corresponding space on the top card.
- Harvest Crops – you discard the card to harvest – choosing one row or column of your player board and taking all the resources in that row/column and placing them onto the ingredient spaces on your cafes. These resources are all considered pure resources (level 3), and can be placed on any cafe card. If there are resources that you harvest and cannot use, they are discarded and your chicken is moved forward one space for each discarded resource. During this phase, you can also move your chicken back three spaces to gain a wild egg resource which can be placed on any ingredient spot.
Score – Players who harvested now score their completed cafes; each is worth 1 point. Then you create byproducts. Each level 1 resource on the completed card is discarded; then each 2-ring and 3-ring resource is considered to be one step smaller, and it can be moved to an appropriate unfilled spot on any other cafe card you have. Eggs do not make byproducts and they are simply discarded. If you do not have a place to put a byproduct; discard it and move your chicken ahead one space. Continue this process until all your completed cards are scored. You can score your cafes in any order you like.
The next round is started by looking at the top card of the starting player’s deck and the whole process is repeated. At the end of the 20th round, the player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most resources left in their field + eggs they can create.
There is a solo game included in the rules on the back cover, and it literally is just to play the game by yourself. No rules changes are made. You judge your success by your final score, trying to score higher each time you play.
My thoughts on the game
Dulce is a challenging game in the same vein of Karuba and Take it Easy – where one player flips over a tile, and then everyone uses the same tile to try to improve their position. In this game, each player has the three different options to choose from, and honestly, it’s neat to see how different player paths diverge from each other by even the third or fourth tile.
Much of the game is trying to set up an efficiency engine – ideally you’d like to be able to use resources through all three steps of its degradation; in this way, you can score multiple points out of each resource that you harvest. Of course, if you spend all of your early turns putting out cafes, you won’t have many resources to harvest, and you’ll have missed some early scoring while you awaited to get your engine set up.
The four cafes on the player board can be super useful as they allow you to process any single harvested resource and immediately send the byproduct down the line; but you’ll have plenty of desire to cover them with crop tiles as you play the game as they occupy valuable space where you can pick up more cubes each time you harvest. For me, this is a constant battle internally as I try to decide when I can finally cover up those built in cafes on my board.
The chicken mechanism is an interesting way to keep everyone in the game and to compensate for a lack of efficiency in your system. It mitigates some of the effects of untimely tile draws as well, and does act as a bit of a catch-up mechanism as well. I do like the way that the player can decide when to use their chicken bounty – giving the player a bit more control over the strategy. You can’t (and shouldn’t) rely upon the eggs though, as while they can get you out of a tight spot; the eggs do not generate byproducts, so you can’t rely upon them to power your chocolate empire.
The game is a fun puzzle to work through, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s amazing to see how different players’ boards look given the identical sequence of tiles that everyone has to use.
The artwork on the tiles and box are great, and our group always makes sure to read the yummy titles of all the tiles as they are drawn. I am less thrilled with the color palette of the game. I get that thematically the game is about chocolate, and this means that most of the colors are going to be in the brown/tan family. While that’s great for theme, this is a big problem for me as I had some difficulties distinguishing the colors – or which cube goes with which icon. Admittedly, I’m a gamer who always has problems with colors, and I seem to have worse issues than most gamers – but that doesn’t change the fact that I have problems. I also had to always look carefully at the number of rings around a resource to tell what level of resource a tile was asking for. There weren’t any problems here distinguishing things; but it’s easy to look too quickly at a tile and then put the wrong cube. As the identity of the cube is only determined by the icon/rings it is currently standing on; it’s hard to double check later that you did things correctly.
I have played this both multiplayer and solo, and as I mentioned above, the solo game is essentially the same game, just no opponents – but these days, games seemed to be judged by whether or not they include a solo game, and Dulce now dutifully checks that box.
In Dulce, you only have 20 turns to make everything work; so while you want to have an efficient engine, you can’t wait too long to make cubes and run them through your empire; and it is this pressure which makes the game interesting to me. It will never outstay its welcome; with almost all of my games taking 20 minutes or less. Make the most of each tile to generate your sweet results.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Dan B (1 play): I think this is a pretty interesting take on a simple engine-building game; I don’t recall seeing any others that used a flip-and-place type of mechanism, and I think the tension between the three different uses of the cards is good. I agree that the color and icon choices could have been a bit more distinct.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Dan B
- Not for me…