Cupcake Empire (2018) review
It’s not very often I get inspired by a board game, which immediately after playing, I wish to do what I did in the board game. In this case, I immediately wanted to make cupcakes after playing Cupcake Empire (and eat them too). But in no way do I wish to run a chain of stores .
This colorfully attractive game uses dice as workers. So expect a bit of a random play as you roll the dice and allocate them to their specific numbered jobs. Of which there are five professions which use those numbers of the dice. If you’re dice workers turn out to be number 1’s, they will help in the production of the sponge bases which forms your cupcakes. Number 2’s will produce the icing while number 3’s will help you construct outlets. Building outlets on different streets will allow you to make deliveries in that street, which correlates with the number 4’s, that will do your deliveries. 5’s represent the manager and has some managerial actions like, hiring new staff which will give you extra dice, building bakeries and the possibility of performing any of the other actions already mentioned.
Each of these actions get more and more powerful the more dice there are in that column. So for example you could create a nice simple sponge base by having three number 1’s. Having five number 1’s will allow you to create a special sponge base. And finally having six will allow you to produce a simple and a complex sponge. Considering you only start with eight dice, what are the chances of you rolling six number ones to perform that special and action. Don’t worry, as you’ll have five experts with you.
Each of the different jobs don’t only have a number allocated to them but they also have a color too. Therefore five of your eight dice will be colored to correspond with the five actions, while three dice are grey. These colored dice are experts in their field. Having your expert dice in the right action column will allow you to perform the action superior to what you can perform with your dice in that column. For example, going back to sponge base making, if you have three number 1’s in the column, this will allow you to create a simple sponge, remember! But if one of those dice happens to be the expert purple dice, this will allow you to perform the action above that, which normally requires five dice. So you’ll be able to create the special sponge. And if two of those three dice are purple, you’ll be able to perform the super action of getting two sponges. The manager, which is the pink die, is an expert in every column, therefore boosting every action. But wait a second, you’re probably saying that the chance of rolling the dice and getting these experts into their correct column is very wild. The good thing is there are lots of ways to mitigate the dice in the game.
For one you will notice that I haven’t mentioned what happens to the number 6’s! Whenever you roll a 6, that worker is tired and will go and take a vacation. Vacations will give your staff a chance to have a good idea, which is actually a token, of which you can collect a maximum of three. The bad news is that this vacating dice is kind of out of play, as it takes its holiday. Other bad news is that it gives the other players a chance to have a good idea as well. Each player has a track on which a cube will move along every time someone put a dice on holiday. Although you yourself will immediately get a good idea, whenever this cube passes a certain point on the track, those players could possibly have a good idea as well. These good idea tokens can then be used in all manner of different ways. Spending a maximum of one good idea on your turn can sometimes lead to some interesting decision-making, as the things that these good ideas can do are quite powerful. And if circumstances don’t go your way, you may be led to make tough decisions on how to spend this one good idea per turn. You may have more than one worker on holiday, which limits the amount of actions you can perform. But spending a good idea token can bring them back from holiday. And what’s better news is that you don’t even need to roll them to tell them what action to do. You just place them in whichever column you want. Which is a great advantage if you have an expert dice on holiday, as you can place them directly into their designated job, therefore boosting that action to a more powerful one.
Other things good idea tokens can do include, buying a power up or shifting a dice from one column to another. Again, these are two powerful actions that can change the outcome of the game. Moving an expert into their designated column so you can perform a more powerful action then you have lined up, is a bonus. But on top of that, buying a power up, that can be activated when you perform an action is a super bonus. Each player will start the game with a random power, which they will allocate to the beginning of one of their columns. Every time you perform that action and use the dice next to this powerful token, you get to activate it. These powers can be chained to an action, three at most. Or you can spread them out so you are always performing a special power on every action that you perform. These powers will allow you to gain victory points immediately, to building an outlet or make a small delivery. And also help speed up the process of getting good ideas and acquiring sponge bases and icings for your cupcakes.
Winning the game couldn’t be simpler. As every round you are going to score points. Once someone score more than 70, the game comes to an end. Every player has a cooking skills of level of two and in economy of level of one. At the end of your turn, you are always going to score the number of points depending on which of these tracks is the lowest. In other words at the beginning of the game, every player is going to score one point at the end of their turn, due to the fact that their economy track is on one. Unless on your first turn you manage to raise the economy by either building an outlet. Delivering cupcakes is one of the major objectives of the game, as there is a separate board with all your bakeries and outlets laid out next to streets, where clients are waiting for cupcakes. These clients come in the form of Meeples, beautifully decorated in the same colors of the cupcakes that they wish. For example one meeple has brown trousers and a red top, meaning that they want a chocolate-based sponge with a strawberry icing topping. And there are many different combinations of these meeples, as there are four different icing flavors and two different sponge base flavors. An important thing to take note of is the distance that they are away from your outlet or bakery. The further away they are, the more powerful your delivery action will need to be. Not only that but the further away they are, the more they boost your economy and possibly give you victory points at the same time.
You’re cooking skill track will go up every time you create a cupcake, combining a base and a topping. Basic toppings and basic sponges will make this track augment by one per article. Where as the more complex sponges and icings will lift it by two each. The great thing about this is the simplicity of creating a cupcake. Not only is it just combining two beautifully delicious looking tokens together but also, once that recipe has been made, you can continually sell that type of cupcake to any client who demands it. And as these client Meeple are randomly placed out on different streets at different distances, this is where the puzzle solving lies of what you are going to cook and when are you going to deliver it.
And that is basically the game. Turns can go by very quickly as the action are very simple. On your turn, you choose the action you wish to perform. This takes mear moments. Then you roll the dice that were used in the action and allocate them to the corresponding column. Before finishing off by scoring points from your lowest track. Play them passes to the next player. These mechanisms are very very quickly picked up by new players. And you may find a game for two players ending in 30 minutes. Which shows you how light and family-friendly this game is. In fact the game looks more complicated than it really is. And I was a little disappointed as I thought there would be more time to invest in the game, building and developing your business. But like all good games, it ends at the right moment, leaving you with that sensation of, “if I had one more turn I would do this.” Always a good sign of a good game in my opinion. And making you want to come back and play more.
With plenty of options on your turn, although at the beginning, you may feel a little restricted depending on what you have rolled, this is a medium weight fun game. With the addition of random bonus objectives, this is a racing game to score the target points before the other players. And even them, you may not have won... Players can then calculate ways to boost their final score. There are many routes to success. You don’t necessarily have to go all out and deliver, deliver, deliver. You can also use the power ups to give you the advantages in certain actions to push you ahead as well. Or just carefully balance your economy and cooking skill track, as you will gain a constant amount of points each turn.
There is some interaction between the players as there are limited resources, in this case the flavors of icing. There is also a limit of spaces to build your bakeries and outlets, which can sometimes and very rarely lead to territory wars. As you can remove someone’s bakery outlet to place your own. This then has an effect on that players economy and cooking skill track, making them step back a bit. And the finishing touch is that even though there is the random dice rolling, you will never feel really stuck on choosing which action you want to do. There is a fair amount of dice mitigation. Even if you feel screwed over at the beginning of the game, you can sacrifice your starting five victory points to move dice or collect good idea tokens.
On the aspect of production, this is a very colorful and attractive looking game. With chunky player boards and beautiful cupcakes that you combine together. This game will leave you hungry. The Meeples, with their different colored trousers and tops is a subtle but effective visual aid to the game. And I kind of wish that they were used more often. The packet of dice that you get in the game are of very good quality, with nice rounded corners. The colors on them make them look very edible as well. But on the other end of the spectrum, there are the player pieces which, number one; come in some very strange and unattractive colors. Which is understandable as you would not wish to confuse your playing pieces with the generic playing pieces of the game. And number two; are a little bit small and finicky. They are easily dislodged from their spaces whenever the table moves, which can be annoying. But again the production has a way around that, as everything on the boards is indicated with numbers and colors. So even if you do knock your playing board and you can’t remember where your cubes and pieces go, you can reference to something to re-calculate your scores. And the other small tokens which are finicky are the power tokens, that don’t look or feel so special. On a side note, these are a tad annoying to organize at the beginning of the game, but that’s a minor gripe.
Technical score 8.5/10
Mechanisms and rules are simple to pick up and well explained in the book. The components are a mix of solid and gorgeous looking, while others are too small, fiddly and seem like they are from another game. Icons and actions are simple to digest. Plus fantastic look, app style graphics.
My BGG score 7/10
Good - usually willing to play.
A nice family game with some interactions and a smidgin of nastiness. Personally, I thought the game was deeper, but it’s lightness lends itself to a larger audience. Great theme that is not so much about making the cake, but business building. Plays in less than an hour with very little time taken between your turns. Works well with two players but shines with 3 or 4, as you battle for space and recipes. Plenty of room to move and adjust your strategies to push you score, even with the luck of dice rolls.
Combined score 7.75/10
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