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Off the Grid reviews Enemy Chocolatier


Every other week Scott Jon Siegel contributes Off the Grid, a column on gaming away from the television screen or monitor.

I never wanted to be a candyman. Gene Wilder's take on the role of confectionaire extraordinaire gave me the shakes, and Johnny Depp's recent attempt at the part just gave me a migraine. After playing Cheapass Games' Enemy Chocolatier, however, I feel a new sense of respect for the sweetest industry in the world. Just no Oompa-Loompas for me, thanks.

Enemy Chocolatier is a strategic board game of urban planning and secret recipes. Two-to-eight players act as rivals to the world's most beloved candy-maker, and take turns buying up property around the boss-man's factory in order to accrue the favor of the town's population, as well as the ingredients necessary to make the next big thing in sweets.

The game succeeds in being easy-to-learn, and pretty fun to play, but ultimately falls short due to an extensive list of required materials, and a runaway game mechanic that upends the level playing field in no time.

In addition to the cards and boards included in the game, you're going to need quite a few additional tools to commence the chocolatiering. Each player needs around 20 tokens or markers, and an additional 20 tokens are needed on top of these. The game also needs money, but you can dig that out of your old Monopoly box.

Steep requirements aside, the gameplay heats up quickly. Players compete to be the first to either reach 20 points (representing popularity among the townspeople) or to collect the ingredients for their secret candy recipes. Both tasks are accomplished by purchasing property, and "closing" on complete neighborhoods. This also earns players a higher income, which in turn gives them more purchasing power each turn.

Mechanically, the game's system of points is problematic. Once a player begins earning points from a particular neighborhood, that player continues to earn those points every turn. Competing players are very limited in strategies to foil this point collection, and the points can quickly snowball, making for a predictable end-conclusion, and stagnancy when it becomes clear that one player is going to win. Players can attempt to catch up on points, or complete their recipes in order to win, but often the player who started earning points early on quickly becomes the obvious victor.

The only official solution, as offered in the rules, is to make sure no one player capitalizes on points at the onset of the game. This turns the slow acquisition of property into a much more heated battle over key neighborhoods, which is good or bad depending on your play-style. The other option is to hack the game's ruleset. After all, there's no game mechanic that a set of home rules can't fix.

In every other sense, Enemy Chocolatier is a nearly perfect experience; it can be picked up in a matter of minutes, and the seizing of property from other players is oddly satisfying. It's yet another fun Cheapass Game with a clever concept and the gameplay to match.

Final Verdict: If you've got the materials, and a sweet tooth for strategy, then confectionary competition is definitely your bag. If you dislike games, and don't enjoy the company of other people, then I'd steer clear of this one.

Scott Jon Siegel is a fledgling game designer, and fancies himself a bit of a writer on the topic as well. His words and games can be found at numberless, which is almost always a work in progress.

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