23 November 2019
Life is like a box of chocolates
Sumptuous, dark, melting at body temperature and iconic of the word ‘treat’, chocolate might be the sweet thing at the heart of all European concepts of luxury.
Chocolate Factory, the new factory fun game by Alley Cat Games, is a delicious looking game. Opening the box is as much of a pleasure as when you open a box of Milk Tray and slide off the corrugated sheet that has been
carefully protecting the goodies within.
While immediately met with the abstract joy of seeing delicious things arranged before you, there follows the brief scramble for the divining sheet – or in this case, a large and well-designed rule book. After all, you don’t just want to dive in and scoff the lot, you might want to avoid the strawberry creams, or speedily identify the caramel truffles before your loved ones do.
The game is about creating chocolates by pushing beans into your factory one tile at a time, and upgrading it at each factory station for a set number of coal. This is one of the initial tactile pleasures of the game, the double depth factory boards present a perfectly machined groove for you to sliiiiide your chocolate conveyor along, lining up other chocolates and raw materials with upgrade slots, and, most pleasingly, dropping those chocs on the right of the conveyor into your store room. This is as fun as ripping open any chocolate bar.
But we have to look to why we’re doing this. Commerce, of course. We’re trying to fulfil orders for our department stores and local corner shops. The first which require special access and the latter which can only be fulfilled by you. Access to the department stores can only be gained by picking an employee from a pool in the centre of the table at the start of your turn, along with a new upgrade to your factory. Upgrades can make your factory more powerful and faster at upgrading chocolates into high value items. This means you can fulfil more orders and, eventually, win the game as the best chocolate capitalist at the table.
Except, unlike some upgrade and fulfil games, there’s really no way to get at your opponents and interrupt their supply or future plans. There’s actually little player interaction at all, except during the start of your turn where, if you get to go first you could take the best option from the pile. But in most cases the other factory parts and employees have some benefit to you, so it all feels a bit of a shrug of an interaction.
With this, and the (wise) option for everyone to activate their factory at once, you can happily make the chocolate you want while everyone else does, and then look up to have everyone ready to sell their produce immediately. This is the best bit of the game, but leaves you feeling like you’re not really playing a game with people, or against them, but more that you’re all working independently, or even in different cities.
Because there are no pooled resources or scarcity, there is no feeling of an ecosystem or economy. Only strategically supplying as much chocolate as you can in the most efficient way you can will get you anywhere. With that, it is slightly disappointing. Something so tasty looking should be fun to play with your friends, like sharing a bar of chocolate. Although, of course, we are aware no one has ever actually shared a bar of chocolate.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN EGGETT
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Designer: Matthew Dunstan, Brett J. Gilbert
Artist: Denis Martynets, Paweł Niziołek, Andreas Resch