My sister has consistently ordered chicken and broccoli from the time she was a child all the way into adulthood. I suppose there is something comforting about the original dish that one first tried way back when, but there has to be room for variation and upgrading and improvement, even in the simplest of dishes.
In the 3rd Edition of Wok Star by Fowers Games, we see whether or not a tried-and-true staple can be updated and tweaked to get that much more satisfaction from it. Does this new edition of Wok Star fill us up, or leave us wanting? Read on to find out!
Wok Star is a cooperative real-time game for 2-4 players that plays in about 30-45 minutes. Wok Star plays well with any player count.
Players, representing the family that owns the restaurant, start off with a small set of dishes they can cook for customers. Each dish has its own requisite type and amount of ingredients, and players are assigned one or more of these ingredients to manage over the four rounds of gameplay.
The opening of each round is where the real-time aspects of gameplay take place, with players preparing ingredients to fulfill as many orders as possible and maximize their income. Each player rolls their dice and an order card is flipped over, representing the current customer. Ingredients are prepared by spending dice: any two dice can produce one quantity of an ingredient, but specific combinations (evens, pairs, etc.) can produce bonus ingredients.
When the ingredients of a dish are ready, those ingredients are spent and the order is fulfilled. If the players were able to work together to finish the dish in under 30 seconds, it is worth the full cash value, otherwise the players suffer a penalty to their earnings. When an order is fulfilled, a new order is flipped, the timer is started again and the process begins anew, until either all orders are finished or no new orders can be fulfilled.
During the ingredient preparation, players have the opportunity to reset their dice two times by “washing the dishes,” which pauses the game to let players reroll all their dice before continuing. In addition, hustle tokens can be purchased and used to modify dice values up or down by one.
At the end of the round money from all prepared dishes is added up and is made available for spending. Players can buy new recipes, which provide more opportunity to earn money, while simultaneously adding more ingredients to manage. Ingredients can be upgraded, unlocking new combinations of dice that can be used to prepare increasing quantities of ingredients. Players can also purchase hustle tokens for use in the following round.
If the players meet the increasing threshold of income required at the end of each round, they are allowed to continue to the next round. If, at the end of any round, players to not meet this threshold, they immediately lose the game. At the end of the fourth round, if players meet the income goal, they have saved the restaurant and win the game!
Real-time games appeal to a number of gamers due to the need for split-second reactions, decisive decision-making, and clear communication among the group. The best of this style of game are the ones that maximize these three facets, and Wok Star achieves this handily. With only 30 seconds to check the order, assess the state of the ingredient inventory, identify what ingredients need to be prepared, and ensure that the right dice are available, Wok Star packs a lot of gameplay into an extremely short amount of time.
The theme of preparing meals in a restaurant is well-supported by the gameplay, as anyone who has worked in food service knows that kitchens are loud, fast-moving, and require all cooks to be in constant communication, very much like the gameplay in Wok Star. The time limit passes quickly, and all players need to be attentive and ready to react to needs at a moment’s notice. While the theme works towards accentuating the positives, the need for a head chef in kitchen also belies the fact that a take-charge member of the group can easily make this game not fun by bossing the other players around. Choose your gaming group members wisely!
In the update to 3rd edition, it was argued by some that the game was made more complex by the addition of “honor,” a system by which players would have to pay others honor cubes in order to use their color dice. While not necessarily a complicated mechanic, it adds another layer to an already frenetic game. Depending on your group’s experience with gaming, and real-time games specifically, this could be a bit of a detriment, since it is just another variable to keep track of. The addition of the honor points definitely adds weight to the game and bumps it up out of “beginner-friendly” range. Even with a group of experience gamers, we started our first plays giving ourselves 45 seconds, just to get ourselves used to the flow of the game.
While the real-time aspects of the game are sound, we found some awkwardness with the two sand timers. We found that with all the movement, energy, and chaos during gameplay, we lost track of just which timer we were supposed to be following. Fortunately, we were able to use a timer app on our phones (downloaded originally to keep track of cooking times, coincidentally) to keep our time and let us know when we had missed our cutoff.
Real talk: we are not terribly good at real-time games. The type of thinking and reactions necessary to be successful at this sort of title are not necessarily our strengths. We like to take our time when making decisions…some more than others, in fact. However, Wok Star does an excellent job providing a sliding scale of difficulty for gamers of all abilities, by changing the income thresholds required for success each round. Fortunately, these goals were set at level appropriate for even our substandard abilities.
Wok Star serves up a fast-paced, chaotic and complex real-time game. It requires a mix of good communication, decisions under pressure, and quick reactions. While Wok Star is not quite a game for novice or young gamers, this title still hits its mark with engaging gameplay and the rush of working under pressure. Sometimes, a quality recipe has just one too-many ingredients – an apt description for Wok Star.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – Solid game, perhaps with a bit too much going on.
• Perhaps too much to do during the 30 second limit.
• Can suffer from one player taking over (more a genre issue, that).
• Would prefer more family-friendly rules.