Food trucks are a thing. At times they seem to be a disruptor to traditional chain restaurants and fast-food for the lunch crowd, while at other times they try to erase their history of providing lunch to a desperate crowd. Whatever readers opinions are, choices for games with food trucks as a theme have been impossible to find. Until now.
Food Truck Champion is a card game about running a food truck business for 2-5 players. The box says it can take up to 75 minutes with a full complement of players, but the sweet spot here is 3 or 4 at most.
The goal here is for players to complete as many orders from customers as possible. Players who complete orders which match their signature ingredients can win awards and score bonus points. At the end, points decide the winner.
Each card in the game features three sections: Ingredient, Order, and Staff. If a card is used as an ingredient, only that side of the card matters. The same with the staff side of the card. However, if the card is intended to be an order from a customer, the center of the card takes focus.
The main play structure gives players a choice each turn of 3 different actions: draw 2 cards, take your owner card into your hand, or take a staff action. While the first two choices are necessary at times, the staff action is where most of the game lies.
Players can play a card with the side calling out the staff member’s title or they can use their owner card to take a staff action. As they play it, they state which staff member they are using. Once the current player has taken the action, other players can choose to follow that action if they have the necessary card either in hand or on the staff side of their food truck mat (which allows a free follow).
The following explanations of the different staff actions will make it clear how different cards work.
- Cashier: The player takes a card from the communal marketplace as an order and places it next to their Food Truck mat.
- Driver: The player takes a card from the marketplace as an ingredient to complete an Order.
- Manager: The player takes a card from the marketplace as an employee.
- Prep Cook: The player places a previously collected ingredient card from their fridge and puts it on an order.
- Executive Chef: The player takes an ingredient card from their hand and puts it on an order.
Since each order needs one, two, or three Ingredients, accomplishing the above with as few actions as possible per Order is the key. When an order is finished, it’s placed in a completed Orders pile.
At periodic points in the game, these completed orders can then be moved into a pile of orders that will be evaluated for matching signature ingredients at the end of the game. Players receive big bonus points for a set of orders that meet all signature ingredients.
The game ends after players have completed a certain number of orders based on the number of players.
Food Truck Champion aims high. There is actually a lot going on and a first play will desperately require a reference sheet from even players with lots of experience from other games. When instructed about how the game works from a thematic point of view, most of it makes sense.
However, that remains true until it doesn’t. The theme is constantly reinforced with the language and mechanisms, but the “truck” piece of the game is missing. The operations undertaken could just as easily be referencing a standalone restaurant.
The other faults with the theme is that the order cards are mostly generic. The theme is lost here because even a Mexican food oriented truck can sell pumpkin spice lattes and french fries. That’s not to say that that couldn’t happen, but there are no mechanisms that encourage adherence to a menu beyond the order bonus points.
The other major problem that Food Truck Champion has is the difficult play. There is a lot to analyze and it often begs a question: with such a light theme why not use separate card decks? Players prone to analysis paralysis should be on their guard when starting a game. The considerations of when to use which cards, not to mention what cards to look out to deny to opponents, takes considerable brain power.
As much as Food Truck Champion has challenging play, it doesn’t translate into engaging play. Ultimately what dooms the game is a lack of lightness and fun. Taking cards, fulfilling orders, and hiring staff just doesn’t have much punch on the scale presented. Card play is a poor substitute for a game that has the potential to require miniature wooden tacos and the challenge of finding just the right location for customers. Players mostly see it as a basic recipe (sorry) fulfillment game with action-and-follow mechanisms. That’s not the right combo plate (sorry) for success with this theme.
Food Truck Champion is a mixed bag. Players with low expectations from the theme will be delighted with a game that presents difficult, challenging play. Players looking for more mechanisms than just moving cards from area to area will not be impressed. Players looking for the one game based on food trucks should focus their attention here. Food Truck Champion is not a bad game. There is strategy and a lot going on in the small package presented. It just doesn’t have the excitement it thinks it does.
Final Score: 2.5 Stars – Unless you’re a big fan of the theme, it just doesn’t deliver enough when compared to other games of similar weight and playtime.
• Non-intuitive play
• Orders don’t always match the Food Truck type
• Opportunistic play can be wearisome
• Can be AP inducing