Full disclosure: A review copy of Strange Vending Machine was provided by Soso Studio.
I’m hoping I can get this and JIDOHANBAIKI out at the same time so that I can just have Vending Machine Week here at What’s Eric Playing?. I’ll let you know how it goes. Either way, this is another game from Soso Studio, based out of Taiwan, which is exciting. We’re seeing a lot more games from outside the US cross our desk here and I think that’s genuinely good for the hobby to get a more global perspective.
In Strange Vending Machine, two beckon you to play their games. The first is Muscle Man, who wants you to buy certain foods and become buff; the other is the Mysterious Wizard, who wishes to train you in the recipes required for the Mystic Arts (nerd stuff, basically). Both feature these strange vending machines that only sell you one item at a time. Will you be able to get what you want out of these weird devices? Or will you end up going completely broke?
The setup changes a bit between games, but it’s mostly the cards that you use. You’ll want to set out the vending machines:
If you’re playing Muscle Man’s Purchase Challenge, give each player one at random. If you’re playing Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard, instead set all six on top of the box lid. Now, set out the money:
You’ll want to avoid using the fake coins for Muscle Man’s Purchase Challenge:
Give each player 8 real coins in that case (or a mix of real and fake, if you want; it doesn’t matter). For Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard, you’ll want to mix the fake coins in with real coins, depending on your player count, and then put two coins at random into every vending machine:
- 3 players: 45 real coins, give each player 15
- 4 players: 56 real coins, give each player 14
- 5 players: 65 real coins, give each player 13
- 6 players: 72 real coins, give each player 12
Now, load up the vending machines with their cards. For Muscle Man’s Purchase Challenge:
You should be ready to go!
For Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard:
And you’re ready to play Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard!
Alright, we’re breaking this into two parts.
Muscle Man’s Purchase Challenge
In this game, you’re trying to impress Muscle Man with your ability to make wise purchases from your local vending machine. Maybe that’s like, his thing. I’m not sure and I don’t have the space here to muse on the motivations of the mysterious Muscle Man. Another time.
The game takes place over a series of rounds, in which each player acts simultaneously. As your action, you may:
- Purchase: Put the appropriate amount of money into the vending machine and then take the frontmost card and add it face-up to your supply. The amount of money required depends on the food and the machine:
- If the food’s color and the machine’s color match, the card costs two coins.
- If the food’s color and the machine’s color do not match, the card costs three coins.
- Stock: Return one of your cards to the front of a vending machine to take all the coins from inside the vending machine and add them to your supply. Just make sure the machine you choose isn’t empty!
- Collect Money from the Floor: Just take a coin from the pile of money in the center. It’s a bit gross but you’re strapped for cash, probably.
Each player should simultaneously perform one of those actions and then pass the machine to the player on their right.
After any one player has added a fifth card to their tableau or once a vending machine is out of food, the game ends. Score as follows:
- Types: You can score bonus points for the number of different types of food you have in your tableau.
- 3 or 4 Different Foods:
- 2 or 5 Different Foods:
- 1 or 6 Different Foods:
- Color: Each card can be worth bonus points depending on how many different colors you have in your tableau.
- 3 Different Colors: 0 Bonus Points per card.
- 2 Different Colors: +1 Bonus Point per card.
- 1 Different Color: +2 Bonus Points per card.
- Matching Bonus
- If you have a pair of foods of the same type but different colors, score 5 points.
- If you have a pair of foods of the same type and the same color, score 8 points.
- Every 2 coins you have is worth 1 point.
The player with the most points wins!
Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard
This one plays similarly to Muscle Man’s Purchase Challenge (sort, of), but you’re no longer playing simultaneously. Ironically, that makes the game a bit easier. On your turn, you may do one of two things, but DO NOT TOUCH THE MACHINES. If you touch them, you’re committing. Spin the box lid instead to look at the machines.
- Buy Food: Put coins in the machine equal to the cost of the food card in the front of the machine. You may pay with fake or real money, but you can only buy one food item per turn. The food has various magical effects — some let you score points for the money you have, some give you points for having multiple ingredients of the same type, and others give you points for having multiple ingredients of different types, of course. It’s a wild world.
- Take Coins: You can also, instead of buying food, empty the coins in the vending machine. Be careful, though! Some of those coins might be fake, and you’ll lose points for fake coins at the end of the game.
After you take an action, put the vending machine back and play continues with the player on your left.
Once a player has taken a fifth card, all other players take one more action, then the Final Coin Shake occurs, and the game ends!
For the Final Coin Shake, reveal your ingredient cards. The player with the most pink cards starts the Final Coin Shake, in which every player with a pink card can choose one vending machine to empty. Again, be careful of fake money!
Once you’ve done that, score your various cards. Note that, if you have no pink cards, you do not gain points for money. You only gain them from pink cards. You do, however, lose 1 point for every piece of fake money you have! Isn’t that delightful? The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not really all that many in Muscle Man, beyond more players competing for a finite number of cards, which more often than not means that you might end up going after the same thing as another player, which is a pretty effective blocker if you’re not careful. It’s good to keep one from them, but make sure you are still getting what you need (at high player counts, blocking one player does very little to help you win). You could hilariously conspire against one player by having all other players take from their vending machine at the same time, effectively guaranteeing that they will have very few good options headed their way (though progressively better, as players will likely add money to their vending machines over time). For Mysterious Wizard, you’ll start with fewer coins (so you’ll see more of that amazing vending machine action) and you’ll have a bit of an easier time collectively making sure that any one player doesn’t get all the cards that stack well together. I don’t really have a strong preference on player count, on this one.
- Muscle Man: Pretty much always buy something if it’s an exact duplicate of something you have. Since you already have it, it’s worth 8 points! If you get three pairs, that’s 24 points already; even if they’re all different colors and types that’s still 30 total points, which is usually enough to win the game. I’m not convinced this is ever a bad move.
- Muscle Man: Keep an eye on how many cards your opponents have picked up. Everyone gets one more move even when they have 5, but you don’t necessarily want to be in a situation where you only have 1 or 2 cards and you get a chance to pull one more. That’s … less fun.
- Muscle Man: Watch those machines. Don’t waste your action stocking a machine that’s already been emptied. If you don’t want the front card and the money’s no good, you’ll just have to take a coin off the floor. It sucks to waste an action, but better 1 money than 0.
- Mysterious Wizard: Go for the Gold. Gold recipes are pretty useful, as they turn money into points, and that’s good! However, letting one player get all of them incentivizes other players to not get gold, which can lead to that player getting all of the gold. That’s very bad. That’s how you lose. Try to make sure that one player isn’t getting all of everything.
- Mysterious Wizard: Don’t let one player get all the same cards. A lot of my advice for this game is “do things and block your opponents from doing those same things”. Gold Cards and Sands of Time cards both benefit from having lots of the same type of cards. You should try your best to get as many of them as possible, and in doing so you should try to make sure you prevent your opponents getting too many of the same cards. Not all the cards stack as well as those, two, though, so be careful.
- Mysterious Wizard: You should likely count cards and watch coins, if you can. Don’t want to shake a machine and get a ton of fake money. Or none money, which is the funniest outcome. Make SURE you don’t grab a machine that someone just emptied; that’s truly embarrassing. Hilarious for other players, but not a great move for you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The names of the games are so good. Who doesn’t want to play Muscle Man’s Purchase Challenge? Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard? I love them.
- It’s nearly perfect, from a tactile sense. You can pick up tiny vending machines, put coins in them, and shake them. It’s truly wonderful; I thought I was only getting JIDOHANBAIKI as a weird game about vending machines this year, and I got both that and Strange Vending Machine, which is just a double blessing. It’s also just adorable, visually.
- So bright and colorful. What’s not to love? It’s kind of a joyful game, and I can always use more of that. It reminds me of Let’s Make a Bus Route from an aesthetic perspective; they’re just both games that are so happy to be hitting the table and getting played, and I love that. It also just looks great on the table! You have all these cute vending machines.
- Definitely good family weight / gateway games. They’re not particularly deep strategy or complex to explain; though Mysterious Wizard might benefit from some time spent with the icons rather than just diving into it. Muscle Man can pretty much just kinda play a quick game and learn it.
- Plays quickly. Each game is 20 minutes or so; not long. Mysterious Wizard may be a bit longer with more players, since the turns aren’t simultaneous like they are for Muscle Man.
- Muscle Man is a nice lead-in for Mysterious Wizard. It’s nice when games have beginner variants like that. Again, more games in the box makes my reviewer life more difficult, but it also adds variety and makes people feel better about buying a game with more “bang” for their buck. It’s not bad, especially when it’s only two games. Plus, playing Muscle Man gets you ready to take on Mysterious Wizard, which is substantially more complex.
- A more challenging / complex variant would be a welcome addition. As it currently stands, it’s a family game and a gateway-ish level game, which I think is part of why it has gotten a somewhat lukewarm reception; it seems like it might be more complex than it ends up being. Having something a bit further down the gateway+ line (similar in weight to, say, Capital Lux or similar weight card games) would probably give it a bit wider appeal.
- Can feel a bit short. 5 cards is not that many; the games will often end pretty quickly, so be warned about that. A longer variant may also appeal to people, if such a thing were available.
- It’s not necessarily clear how much of this game is supposed to be a memory game. I don’t generally love memory games, but there’s definitely an advantage to watching what your opponents put into the machines and seeing what money they have at any juncture. If you don’t see that, you have to remember what’s available and that rewards players who are good at memory games (which you already need to be to remember which machines have money in them, though honestly forgetting is still funny).
- It takes a while to really “get”, in my experience. Mysterious Wizard has some nuance to it that’s not necessarily clear from the first game; even Muscle Man’s Purchase Challenge benefits from a few plays all at once. Thankfully, they’re very short games so it’s easy to get them to the table. Just make sure you don’t let you first game color your impression of this one; like Fantastiqa Rival Realms, this definitely benefits from having a few games of it under your belt (hence the higher-than-normal number of plays).
- I’m not convinced all the cards are particularly good buys in the Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard. The cards that reward you for having many different types of ingredients don’t really … stack that well with each other (since they have the same type of ingredient). Instead, the better strategy often seems to be buying the “multiple cards of the same type” or the “points for gold”, since those stack with themselves more readily. It doesn’t break the game, per se, especially because at higher player counts every player should be buying some of those to specifically avoid the outcome where one player hoards them, but it does add a luck-of-the-draw element, which may be a bit frustrating for some players, so, noted.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Strange Vending Machine is a solid game. The main complaint I have with it is that it takes some time to really get, which is good and bad, in a way. Like Fantastiqa Rival Realms (which I mentioned earlier), it gets better as you play it more and get more familiar with it, but I worry that with a lot of board games people aren’t necessarily willing to give a game that doesn’t blow them away another chance (I mean, I only almost played Tower of Madness before putting it away in a huff because we had a bad magnet and setup is a pain). With multiple games in a box, it takes time to understand each game, especially given that they play so differently and the strategies are definitely not the same. It also … takes a while to review, but here we are. That said, I enjoyed both games as i played each one (Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard being my favorite, but Muscle Man’s Purchase Challenge is going to be a similar weight to, say, Bugs on Rugs, in my opinion), so if you’re looking for a silly collection of vending machine games, Strange Vending Machine isn’t a bad choice!