Base price: MX$ 500
2 – 4 players.
Play time: ~30 minutes.
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 3? Not sure. It wasn’t on BGG when I played it, so I failed to recreate that data. Shouldn’t be a problem in the future, but I apologize for the error, here.
Full disclosure: A preview copy of Cooks & Crooks was provided by Aether Tower Studios. Some aspects of this game may change between this preview and when backers get their copies of the game, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Never a bad time for a Kickstarter preview, so here we go. Aether Tower’s the creators of the Tricksters card game I previewed last year, and they got me a preview copy of Cooks & Crooks to take a look at before it launches on Kickstarter.
In Cooks & Crooks, you’re in a no-holds-barred cooking competition (or just a really aggressive restaurant) trying to cook the best dishes. Thankfully, you’re not really bothered by the whole “ethics” part of cooking, and it doesn’t seem like your opponents are that much burdened with those thoughts, either. Will you come out on top even if you have to get your hands dirty, or are you going to get … served?
So, first, give every player an oven board:
You’ll want to open them up:
Next, separate out the five types of dishes:
Now, shuffle the ingredient cards:
And place them near the Round Marker:
Every player may now look at their hand and discard any number of cards from their hand, drawing back up to three cards.
Once every player has done that, each player takes a Dish card and adds it to their oven, face-up.
Once everyone’s done that, flip the deck over (so it’s face-up) and you’re basically ready to start!
A game of Cooks & Crooks is played over six rounds. During those rounds, you’ll try to add ingredients to your ovens to complete dishes and score points. However, watch out! If you’re not careful, opponents will sneak fairly nasty stuff into your oven and it’ll end up in your food, which reduces its value.
On that note, we should probably talk about cards. There are three kinds of cards:
These are Ingredients, Radioactive Ingredients, and Sabotages. Ingredients are used to make dishes, sabotages are used to make dishes worse, and Radioactive Ingredients are somewhere in the middle; if they’re put in the wrong dish they’ll make it a lot worse, but if they’re put in the right dish they’ll drastically improve it. That’s something to keep an eye on. There’s also one particular ingredient you should look out for:
This is Grandma’s Mystic Seasoning. You can use it in lieu of any one ingredient, once per dish. You … can’t just make a dish out of seasoning.
Let’s talk about what makes up a round, then. On your turn, you’ll do the following actions, in order: (You may skip any step you’d prefer not to do, but you must do them in order.)
- Supply Pantry. This is essentially refilling your hand and refreshing it. Start by discarding as many cards as you want (or none, you can want to discard none) face-down to the discard pile, and then take one, two, or three cards (one at a time) from the draw pile and add them to your hand. Your opponents should be able to see what cards you took. You can decide to stop after taking one or two cards without taking all three. You may not have more than seven cards in your hand.
- Actions. You may take any one of the following actions:
- Raid Pantry. Take two cards from an opponent’s hand. You must return one of them, but you may choose to return the other as well or you may give your opponent a card from your hand of your choice.
- Oven Theft. Take a card from an opponent’s oven (except for a radioactive ingredient used correctly, like an anchovy on a pizza) and put it in your hand. Now, put an ingredient the dish needs into their oven. You cannot replace the card you took with a sabotage; it has to be something that helps them.
- Clean Oven. Take a card from your oven and put it into your hand. If your oven is full (has seven cards in it), you may take two cards from your oven, instead. You may not perform this action if you have seven cards in your hand.
- Prepare Dish. You may add up to three ingredients from your hand into your oven. You may only add these ingredients:
- Any ingredients the dish needs but doesn’t contain;
- Grandma’s Mystic Seasoning (max 1 per dish);
- A radioactive card for its correct dish (anchovies for the pizza)If you complete a dish (you have all the ingredients in your oven that are pictured on the dish card), you may score the dish. Flip all face-down cards in your oven face-up, and score the dish’s value minus any sabotages. If you have the correct radioactive ingredient in your oven, gain an additional 5 points. Discard the ingredients and keep the dish card. Now, take a new dish card from the piles, but it cannot be a dish you’ve made before. Variety and all that.
- Sabotage. Add one sabotage card / radioactive ingredient card from your hand to another player’s oven, face-down. You may not do this if their oven is already full.
After each player has taken their turn, advance the round marker and keep going until the last round.
During the last round, if you finish a dish, you may close your oven, making you immune to sabotages from other players (and locking in your score). If you cannot finish your last dish this round, you score partial points at the end of the game:
- 2 points for every correct ingredient / beneficial radioactive ingredient
- -1 point for every sabotage / harmful radioactive ingredient (regardless of its value)
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
As with most take-that-heavy games, the more players that are in, the more potential targets that there are and the worse every other player dogpiling on you will be. I would say this game is a bit more predictable at lower player counts and a lot more chaotic at higher player counts. Depending on your preference, you may lean towards one of those over the other; I’m low-chaos, so I’ll express a slight preference for smaller player counts.
- It seems like going for a pizza is a good move. Since it has five ingredients you can essentially block off your oven until you get the right stuff, just clearing out sabotages and stuff until you can play your perfect pizza. It works even better if you have the anchovy since you can then have 5 / 6 ingredients, remove both sabotages (since your oven would be full), and then drop the last ingredient in for something like 26 points, which is huge.
- I don’t really see a point in sabotaging someone a seventh time. I suppose the only real benefit is that they have to have 5 cards in their hand when they clean their oven, otherwise they can’t pick up both cards, so you’re potentially forcing them to discard something useful, but as a strict penalty, they’ll get to take both cards if they clean, so trying to waste an action isn’t going to work.
- Taking Soup or a Yakitori is nice, since you can potentially complete them in one turn. They’re pretty not-valuable, though, so your mileage may vary on whether or not that ends up being a super-useful play, though.
- Keep an eye on the scoring. You really want to be sabotaging the leader, otherwise they can get away with it if they fly under the radar. Radioactive ingredients will help you a lot with nuking someone’s score, if you need to do that.
- Always keep one sabotage in your hand. You should be making that count each turn, when you can. If you’re wasting the sabotage phase, well, that’s not good! Forcing your opponent to take a Clean Oven action instead of Raid Pantry / Oven Theft is usually strictly good for you (unless they end up using your great sabotages against you, which is less good).
- Probably best to keep that radioactive ingredient for yourself, unless you really need to spite an opponent. Problem is that they can usually just take it and use it against you later, whereas it’s strictly points (and fewer spaces for sabotages) if you keep it for your dish. Just make sure nobody steals it!
- Try to Oven Theft Grandma’s Mystic Seasoning, if you can. That way you can use it for anything and you can just return something you don’t even need! (Bonus points if it’s something they have in their hand and now they have to try and get what they actually are missing.)
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Fairly easy to teach. You can kind of pick this one up and play it, which is pretty nice. It’s occasionally a bit confusing how the various actions work on your turn, but all of them save for cleaning the oven don’t gain you extra cards, so you should be able to plan around that.
- Very colorful! It’s so bright and colorful! It’s fun to take pictures of them, as well. Really nice job with the game’s color scheme. It pops, it’s attractive, and I think that’s a smart move especially given that I feel like it’ll be a game for families.
- Probably great for kids. The take-that elements are aggressive, sure, and the theme is a little gross, but it’s a fairly simple game that you can play with the whole family and I can see it being pretty appealing to kids.
- Shutting the oven on your last turn is an interesting / nice game aesthetic thing. I like that other players can’t mess with your oven, sure, but it’s also a nice sense of accomplishment to be able to physically note that you’re done playing. That said, it’s also nice that they still let you score points at the end of the game, even if you weren’t able to finish your final dish.
- I like that you draw cards face-up. There’s something neat in the pseudo-memory mechanic of trying to remember what other players drew, even if it’s kind of useless to put that much effort into it given that anyone can take cards from anyone.
- Having a 7-card oven really benefits any player that gets the Anchovy, if they’re making a pizza. If you play your cards right, the “radioactive” Anchovy (+5 on a pizza) and 4 Ingredients means that you’ve got 5 “good” cards in your oven, so even if it gets filled up with bad cards you can just remove both of the bad cards with a Clean Oven action and then play the last good card, giving you a massive amount of points. That’s … pretty good. Maybe even enough to win? It might be worth having an 8-card oven to avoid that, but I’m not a game designer and this is kind of an edge case.
- Ever-so-slightly gross concept. The idea of finding a hair / cockroach / fly / person’s fingernail or toenail in my food at a restaurant is deeply upsetting, so this might not be the theme of choice for everyone in your gaming group. It does integrate well with the gameplay, though.
- Requires a scorepad. I really hope that this comes as a stretch goal, because it’s very easy to forget your scores if you’re not writing it down. The game absolutely needs a dedicated scoring implement. Preview copy didn’t arrive with one, which would be a con normally, but I’m hoping that they’ll include one in the final product.
- Bit “take-that” for my tastes. It’s a relatively short game, so it’s not too bad, but it’s still a game mechanic that I generally prefer to avoid if possible, so the mandatory Sabotage phase is a bit unfortunate.
- Very much encourages players to gang up on other players. I already am not the biggest fan of take-that, but I get frustrated with dogpiling as a concept (and it’s very easy for that to happen here, as players can only remove 1 or 2 cards from their ovens on a turn). You can imagine for a 3-ingredient dish the other players just all beating one player (the leader or otherwise) down so that they have to remove all sorts of junk from their ovens before they can even make something, only for them to get stuck with four -3 point cards (effectively scoring nothing). That’s not a super fun experience for me, but maybe other players will prefer it more? That’s also not particularly great, strategically, but what can you do.
- Feels a bit luck-of-the-draw. You can only block other players so much before they draw a Mystic Seasoning or something and complete their dish, even if you can crush them by dogpiling on their ovens. This idea is hampered somewhat by one game I played in which I drew several Mystic Seasonings to everyone else’s collective none, but, I mean, hey. It’s a short enough game that it’s not terrible, but you can account for this a bit by raiding other players’ hands if they’re holding on to too many Mystic Seasonings (since they can’t play them all on one dish).
Overall: 6 / 10
Overall, Cooks & Crooks isn’t bad! It’s very much a decently-high-conflict family game, which is probably not my personal cup of tea, but I’d play it under certain circumstances. I could see myself getting it for my stepnephew as a gift or something, as the “gross” factor might be appealing to kids these days or something like that. Again, though, these are solid games if you’re just getting exposed to modern gaming (as opposed to say, the infinitely-less-thematic UNO). If you think this’ll be a good fit for you or your group, check it out when it hits Kickstarter!