Flamecraft found a heaping plateful of success in 2022 thanks to its adorable dragon-centric art style and just-heavy-enough gameplay that could satisfy the veteran meeple mover and newcomer alike. New board game Critter Kitchen looks as though it wants to bottle that lightning a second time with its food-centric competition and cosy animal vibes.
Published by Cardboard Alchemy, Critter Kitchen is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund a full-sized board game later next year. Flamecraft illustrator Sandara Tang returns to open a window into Bistro Bay, a city full of restaurants, ingredient stalls and teams of chefs hungry to impress a celebrity critic during an impending cooking clash.
Two to five players will spend each round sending their trio of chefs out into the bustling stall, shoppes and carts of Bistro Bay in search of ingredients that they can use later to prepare dishes. Each of the three have different speeds and capabilities - the zippy Mouse can only bring back one ingredient but is all but guaranteed to beat the competition there, while the slower Boar chef will return last with their arms laden with up to three separate ingredients.
Ingredients are randomly distributed across eight locations each round, and players all simultaneously decide where to send their chefs in secret. Round-specific challenges award stars (Critter Kitchen’s victory points) to players who manage to craft certain dishes - comfort food, seafood, etc. - but don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal of serving a 7-course meal to the visiting critic at the end of the seventh round.
Enterprising chefs can find plenty of extra help throughout Bistro Bay if they’re looking for an edge. The ingredient mongers also dabble in rumours and might point the chefs towards dishes that will knock the shoes off the critic’s hooves/paws/whatever snakes have. A trip to the culinary academy will grant players access to a zous chef for one round - this punny helper can haul more ingredients but also boast unique skills that might give you an edge over the competition.
Speaking of puns, Critter Kitchen is chockablock with beastly plays on names, especially when it comes to the optional restaurateur cards: Goat’n Ramsay, Martha Shrewart, Julia Wild and Guy Beari are just a few of the groan, or smile, inducing characters that might show up during your session. Tang’s portrayal of a world full of imaginative animals takes the anthropomorphic designs in colourful and whimsical directions - everybody possesses frills, horns, scales, mossy growths of fur and other features that gives the world a slightly magical edge.
Alex Cutler and Peter C. Hayward tackled Critter Kitchen’s design - the former having previously worked on Team3 and Expancity, and the latter most recently creating the chess-but-timeline-shenanigans That Time You Killed Me. The campaign page promises that the cute aesthetic belies a complex system of player interactions and tough choices as everyone jockeys for ingredients, bluffs their way across the city and snags advantages out of the hands of their opponents.
Critter Kitchen’s Kickstarter campaign runs through November 16th and hopes to create a physical board game for both backers, along with a separate retail run. Cardboard Alchemy currently expects shipping to backers to begin in December 2024.