21st November 2021
Sunday evening gaming Board Game Arena continued.
The next game of the night was Chocolate Factory.
Have you ever wanted to own your own chocolate factory? Since pretty much everyone's a fan of chocolate, why not?
Unfortunately, there's no eating chocolate in Chocolate Factory, only a resource-management and light programming game instead.
Caveat: we've only ever played Chocolate Factory digitally.
What's in a game?
Since we've only played Chocolate Factory digitally, I can really comment on the qualty of the components.
However, I can say what are there is, is quite nice and colourful, it has an early 20th century vibe to both the art style and subject of the art.
The game uses a fair amount of iconography, luckily for the most part, it was pretty straightforward to comprehend.
How's it play?
On to play
Chocolate Factory is played over 6 rounds - Monday to Saturday and each round has 2 phases, a drafting phase which goes twice in turn order and a factory phase which can be played out simultaneously.
Each player will now have a factory part and a employee card.
Factory parts are added to the player's board in one of the spaces above or below the conveyor belt spaces, a factory part can be used to replace an already existing factory part.
Employee cards serve 2 purposes, firstly they grant the player some sort of bonus and secondly, they allow the controlling player to sell chocolate to the department store they work for. Unlike factory parts, employees only stay in play for 1 round.
So how does the factory phase work?
The factory phase has 3 shifts and in each shift players first take a bean and place it on the conveyor belt tile that's about to enter into the factory.
Then each player must push their conveyor belt tiles along 1 space from the left to right so that the tile they placed a bean on goes into the factory, it's also possible that a tile will be slid out of the exit on the other side. Anything on that tile is placed into the respective player's storeroom.
Once this is done, the factory parts can be used, each part costs mostly 1 but sometimes 2 coal to activate. A factory part can only be used on resources adjacent to it. For example the basic roaster factory party will turn a bean into coca, a upgrader factory part will change any resource into the next level of resource (E.g., coca into chocolate fingers.). Converters will turn chocolate into wrapped chocolate or boxed chocolate and so on.
There are some limitation here, each factory part can only be activated once per shift.
Once the 1st shift is finished, the 2nd begins, another tile is placed at the entrance to the factory with a bean on it and then the conveyor belt is pushed along another space and factory parts can be activated (Or reactivated.). Thus the conveyor belt will move 3 times a day.
When all 3 shifts have been run, players must sell chocolate, they can only keep 2 pieces in their storeroom between rounds, any excess is lost and players think ahead to avoid losses!
Chocolate can be sold to corner shops and each one has their own demands. Like the factory phase, selling can be completed simultaneously.
When selling to corner shops, they have 1-3 tiers of demand that must be met depending on their size and lower tiers must be completed before the higher ones. When a tier is completed it is immediately scored, when all tiers are scored the card is discarded and the player must draw a new corner shop card or any size they want.
Selling to department stores is a little different.
Firstly a player can only sell to a department store that matches the employee they drafted.
Secondly, when fulfilling the demands of a department store, points are not immediately scored, instead a marker in the player's colour is moved along the 9 spaces.
Once selling is concluded, a new round is set up, coal is distributed to players and new factory part and employee cards drawn, then the new round commences.
Play continues until the 6th and round is completed, then the 5 department store scores are calculated.
Whoever has completed the most corner shop cards earns a bonus
Whoever has their marker the furthest along scores for 1st place, if the next player is at least half as far along as 1st place they score for 2nd place and if a 3rd player is half as far along as 2nd place, they score for 3rd place.
Furthermore, players can earn a bonus for selling chocolate to 3, 4 or all 5 department stores.
Finally, remaining chocolate and coal can earn points.
Points are tallied, highest score wins.
Chocolate Factory gives players several important factors to think about.
Firstly, during the drafting phase, players must prioritise what they think is important to them, do they want a factory part more than an employee, they'll get both, but not necessarily in the ones they want if they wait to the 2nd drafting phase.
Cards that players draft can dramatically change the situation for players. Most obviously are employee cards which determine which department store a player can sell chocolate to. If a player is geared to sell the kind of chocolate a particular department is demanding, then getting the employee that gives you access can be paramount. This is even before considering which benefit the employee card also confers on the controlling player.
Factory parts will form the core of the player's ability to produce and sell chocolate, getting a part that wasn't wanted or needed will force player to reconsider their strategies for at least one round. Unlike employee cards, factory parts can stick around for the entire game, although they can be replaced and since players will acquire 6 factory parts and only have 5 spaces in their factory, it means something will have to go. Where these parts are placed can have a significant impact.
Place them too far to the right and it'll take a while for resources on the conveyor belt to reach them. Put them too far to the left and players risk screwing up their engine.
Putting factory parts in factory is an exercise in optimisation.
Speaking of optimisation, the game has a fairly unforgiving action economy. It's obviously a deliberate design decision, but there's never enough coal. Players start with 5 coal in round 1, they'll have 3 factory parts to activate - and that's over 3 shifts! Even in round 6, when each player can have a full factory, they only get 10 coal each, they'll on average only be able to activate 3 or 4 of their parts per shift.
If forces player to make meaningful decisions which is always good and also makes them think across 3 shifts instead of 1, but it also feels a little frustrating and uneventful when half of the engine you've been building isn't used in a shift and maybe isn't used in the entire round.
Scoring also presents players with choices.
Each round, every player will have the opportunity to score their 3 corner shops and work towards scoring 1 of the 5 department stores.
Corner shops are pretty straightforward to manage, the only wrinkle being that their demands must be met in tier order. It means that players will sometimes need to adapt to changing demands that a corner shop might present.
Department stores are a proposition that's a little more interesting though.
Because scores are based on relative positions between players, it can lead to some interesting outcomes.
E.g., if a player sells just 1 item to a department store and no one else does then they'll get the full reward for 1st place but conversely, if they sell 5 items to a department score and another player sells more, then they'll get less.
This adds an extra option or strategy to the game and unlike some tableau-engine building games, it becomes beneficial to watch what other players are doing and what they're producing and who they're selling it to.
And while I feel that the majority of player's victory points will come from corner shops, department stores can't be neglected. They exist in a sweet (sic) spot where they can tip the balance in a player's favour.
I'm kind of conflicted about Chocolate Factory, it has some solid mechanics that present players with choices, I particularly like how players can chose where to sell their chocolate to maximise their profit.
But parts of it are also a little unexciting, where the effort creating an engine feels greater than the rewards it provides.
I would have no problem playing Chocolate Factory again, but not too often. I think occasionally, it would be a good change of pace
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