Unabridged Bookstore: A Chicago Spotlight

Yes, yes, yes. I’m a little late to the game, seeing as how it was voted as Chicago’s “Best New-Book Store” in 2015, but I finally made my way down to Lakeview’s Unabridged Bookstore to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day on April 30. (To clarify, “new-book store” refers to a shop where you can purchase new books instead of used books.)

Opened in 1980, it’s been a neighborhood–and city–staple for more than 35 years. Given how tumultuous the last decade has been for brick and mortar bookstores, it’s incredibly impressive how much this one thrives. If you’ll recall, I’m a huge proponent of shopping locally. For the most part, locally owned businesses just care more. They are more knowledgeable about their products and provide superior customer service than the typical big box (and certainly more than online shops). This holds especially true for Unabridged.

The staff was extremely helpful and patient. I was actually a little startled when one employee immediately recognized the titles of two rather obscure children’s books I was trying to find. Though he sadly informed me they were not in stock (which he knew without having to check), he quickly offered to order them for me. After I unsuccessfully searched for a third book, he walked me straight over to where it was hiding. It was a busy day and he didn’t need to do it, but he didn’t even bat an eye. Perhaps these things shouldn’t have impressed me as much as they did, but his sincere helpfulness seems extraordinary nowadays and I really appreciated it.

I was equally impressed with the size and variety of stock Unabridged has. I expected the store to be smaller given that it is located in a city where space is limited. Since one of my favorite pastimes is lackadaisically perusing bookstores, you can imagine my delight when I discovered I was wrong. I could have spent hours exploring all the genres and shelves Unabridged carefully curates. Since I had a hungry baby at home, my first Unabridged adventure was unfortunately cut short. However, I think it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Here’s my quick virtual tour so you can see for yourself how great Unabridged is. Keep in mind that this barely scratches the surface; I only took a handful of pictures because I felt a little creepy taking any, much less any more. I suppose you’ll just have to visit to see the rest. And if you need inspiration on what to buy, you can either ask someone or browse among the several staff recommendation stickers lining the shelves.

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Baby Bear has so much story time ahead of him!

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I’d never seen such a large area devoted to classics before. A good reminder of so many books I have yet to read.

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I love anything to do with Scandinavia, so this whole wall called to me.

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This is just part of the travel section in the basement. Being in this room gave me even more of a travel bug than I already (constantly) have.

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Unabridged Bookstore has one of the largest LGBTQ book sections in the city (if not the largest). Not shown, but right by this is a huge discounted section. It had several titles I’ve been wanting to read, including newer ones that I would never expect to be on the sale shelves. 

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It was tough, but I narrowed down my bounty to the above selection. I see several visits in our near future.

Plan Your Visit

Location and hours

Unabridged Bookstore is located at 3251 N. Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60657. It’s open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Parking and transportation

There is metered street parking along Broadway and its side streets, but I’d recommend taking the Red, Brown, or Purple ‘L’ train to the Belmont stop and walking for about 10 minutes.

Stroller or carrier

Though Unabridged is large, I’d recommend using a carrier if you plan to bring your baby. It will allow you to navigate much more easily, though it’ll be harder to bend down to read the bottom shelves.

Final Word

As someone who feels pretty well versed in bookstores, I am telling you this one is exceptional. I’d make it a point to visit, and soon.

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Grandma Brown’s Apple Crisp

There are two things you should know about me:

  1. I love dessert.
  2. love my family.

I am especially happy when these two things come together, like in the form of a family recipe. Today, I’d like to share one of my favorites with you: my Grandma Brown’s incredibly easy and always crowd-pleasing apple crisp. Even Papa Bear, who typically avoids baked apples, admitted he loves this one.

Grandma Brown’s Apple Crisp

This is one of my favorite desserts to make if I’m hosting an event because it’s simple, I almost always have the ingredients lying around (so my procrastination doesn’t bite me in the butt), and it tastes delicious both warm and cold.

My grandma makes it when she hosts bridge for a lot of the same reasons. Although now, she said, she and her bridge companions are trying to cut back on dessert so she doesn’t make it as often anymore. I could probably take a page from that book, but it’s simply too good.

Ingredients

  • 5 medium tart apples, peeled and sliced (I like to use Gala apples)
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1 cup water

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Instructions

In a bowl, combine the apples, 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Transfer to a greased 8-inch square baking dish (I like to use PAM Baking spray for baked goods).

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In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining sugar. Using two knives, cut in the butter until crumbly.

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Sprinkle this mixture over the apples, pressing downh until smooth.

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Slowly pour water over the top. Then, sprinkle with remaining cinnamon.

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Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until apples are tender and bubbly.

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Serve warm, then refrigerate and try it cold later. It’s scrumptious both ways. It’s also mighty tasty when served with vanilla ice cream from Oberweis.

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I was so eager to eat it that I didn’t stage it too well for this photo. Oh well. Worth it.

Mmm mmm mmm. I’m hosting a book club this Sunday (we are reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Maybe I’ll use that as an excuse to make this again.

Thanks for this recipe, Grandma! It will be enjoyed for years to come.

Garfield Park Conservatory: A Chicago Spotlight

And now, for a lighter topic, let’s talk about one of my absolute favorite places to visit in Chicago, the Garfield Park Conservatory. First opened to the public in 1908, the Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the oldest and largest greenhouse conservatories in the U.S. (and probably the world!).

Its gorgeous, must-see campus includes two acres of public greenhouse space and 10 acres of outdoor gardens. Plus, it is free. Even if it were not, I would gladly pay 100 times over because it is so spectacular. Stepping into the warm, earthy air of the Conservatory truly makes you feel like you’ve escaped to another land.

Let me show you what I mean.

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Palm House

The largest room in the Conservatory, the Palm House is home to more than 70 palms (though it feels like hundreds) in addition to many other types of plants. As you may expect, it is very tropical (read: warm). Wear layers if it’s cold outside because you will be a little toasty in your winter attire.

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Fern Room

Though it’s hard to choose, this is probably my favorite room in the Conservatory. Jens Jensen, the Conservatory’s designer, designed this room to allow visitors to see what Illinois looked like millions of years ago. In my humble opinion, prehistoric Chicago was stunning. I could spend hours in here (if it were not quite so warm, that is).

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Horticulture Hall

A nice resting spot during the day, this room apparently turns into quite the event space at night. Right now it features a chandelier that seems to be channeling Disney’s EPCOT. The futuristic Luftwerk design “is a kinetic chandelier of water and light inspired by the circular geometry of the Flower of Life–the universal symbol of creation. With each illuminated droplet, circular trays catch the water below, magnifying ripple shadows across the floor of the Conservatory’s Horticulture Hall.” With tranquil music to accompany this design, it’s very peaceful.

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Sugar from the Sun

This room guides visitors along four botanical environments–water, air, sun, and sugar–to help them learn how plants grow and are sustained. An educational room, it’s great for learners of all ages.

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Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden

This room is the most interactive, which is fitting because it is designed as a space for children. In addition to beautiful plants and ponds, a terrace overlooking the room features a huge slide (pictured below). I expect to Baby Brown Bear will be burning a lot of energy here in the not-too-distant future. For now, there is a little baby area with mats and informative and stimulating seedling artwork.

This room’s bonus is the Golden Snitch display (also pictured below) hanging from the ceiling. Upon further investigation, I discovered that they are actually rosemary and sage-filled “fireflies” as a nod to the Pagan ritual for the Winter Solstice. But a girl can dream.

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Desert House

This room is home to several cacti and succulents. During one recent visit, I learned that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti are succulents that are usually covered with spines instead of leaves. The more you know.

During my first visit, this room was actually undergoing some kind of construction. When I returned, I casually asked someone what they had done. He said, “There was a rampant snake problem they had to deal with.” He must have seen the absolute horror on my face (remember, I am extremely afraid of snakes), because he quickly added, “No, I’m totally kidding. They were just updating the room.” I still kept a close eye out for any slithering movements.

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Aroid House

This is a room I typically don’t spend much time in, but it’s a shame because it has a lot to offer. “Aroid” apparently “refers to a specific flower structure that is common to many houseplants,” so there are a lot of things that everyday gardeners may recognize here. My favorite features are the glass sculptures created by Dale Chihuly (as seen below). The “Persian Lily Pads” are a bright pop of color against an already vibrant green background.

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Show House

Before you enter the Show House, I encourage you to do a little drum roll. This room is breathtaking. Stop to soak up the dazzling array of colors before you. Breathe in the intoxicating fragrances around you. It’s honestly hard to digest so much beauty. Logistically, it’s also a good room for a break because it’s cooler than the rest.

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Outdoor Gardens

City Garden

This outdoor garden is supposed to be both an homage to urban gardens in the structure and materials used, as well as a challenge to what we expect an urban garden to be. As you can see below, it feels like an extension of the dreamland you enter when you go to the Conservatory. It’s hard to believe you’re still in Chicago.

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Monet Garden

This space, which is also quite beautiful, is inspired by Monet’s gardens in Giverney, France. From all my visits, it seems to be a less explored part of the Conservatory, so make sure you actually take the time to find it.

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Plan Your Visit

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Location and hours

The Garfield Park Conservatory is located at 300 N. Central Park Avenue, Chicago, IL 60624. It is open 365 days a year from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when it stays open until 8:00 p.m.

Parking and transportation

It is easily accessible by car and even has a free parking lot next to the main entrance. I’ve never had a problem finding a spot, though I’ve never visited on a weekend. It’s also right next to the Conservatory-Central Park Drive Green Line ‘L’ stop.

Food and drink

I plan to bring a packed lunch and picnic in the gardens this summer, but in case you forget food, there’s also a gift shop that sells snacks and beverages.

Stroller or carrier?

While most of the Conservatory is handicap and stroller-friendly, the Fern Room does not have a ramp to my knowledge. Therefore I’d suggest either wearing baby or packing your carrier in your stroller so you can explore to the fullest.

Final Word

What are you waiting for? Seriously. If you have lived here all your life, you need to visit. If you only have one hour to spare, you need to visit. Stop reading this and go!

Hard is Hard

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Today I sat down and started writing a post about infertility, specifically what not to say to someone struggling with it.

Infertility is an emotionally loaded topic and one that is tough to unravel. Despite it being profoundly common–one in eight couples has difficulty conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy–infertility still carries a stigma. While it really sucked to have to deal with it myself, I like to share my experience to help break down the walls that make it so. Maybe I can help other infertile couples, or, almost more importantly, help their support networks feel better equipped to provide the kind of support the couple needs. 

But that is neither here nor there. As I was writing the post, something made me pause. When dealing with infertility, one of the most frustrating things people told me was that they “understood completely” what we were going through. As I was trying to describe why, it occurred to me that this frustration is not exclusive to infertility. This is something we all face in some way or another.

You know those memories that make you cringe when you recall them? Even years later, I feel nauseated when I think of some of the stupid, insensitive things I’ve said and done. I like to think I’m a good person, and that my friends and family know I would never try to make them feel bad. If we were purely logical beings, it wouldn’t be a problem because we wouldn’t take everything to heart. But we are human beings, and emotions are fortunately or unfortunately part of the package.

Humans are programmed to empathize. We thrive on forming connections to better understand, relate to, and support each other. But empathy is tricky. Unless we’ve experienced exactly what someone else is going through, we’d often be better off trying to show sympathy, and showing compassion for that person’s struggle instead of trying to relate to it our own.

In the case of infertility, I didn’t want people telling me that they understood because it took them “four whole months” to conceive. I also didn’t want people telling me that they understood but that we were lucky because it took them “much longer.” Either one seemed to downplay the pain I was feeling. I just wanted to wallow in a little self-pity and experience my struggle for what it was to me. I wanted someone to say they were there for me and that it sucked. That it must be hard for me. That self-pity may not have been healthy, but it was important that my emotions and feelings were validated for what they were.

Basically, I didn’t want my difficulty being compared on some kind of scale to what someone else had experienced.

Just by nature, when we empathize, we compare. We relate what we are hearing to what we know. Don’t get me wrong, we need empathy. Many of us have experienced similar things and it does feel good to talk about them. Therapeutic even. But here’s what I’ve come to realize:

Hard isn’t relative. Hard is hard.

Just because what we struggle with is different and may carry different consequences doesn’t mean one thing is easier than the other. Even when dealing with my own challenges, there is no need to belittle my current feelings because something I dealt with in the past was “harder.” It was hard then and it is hard now. This is true for anything: loss, illness, relationship struggles, weight gain, weight loss, trying to quit a bad habit, etc.; the list goes on and on. It doesn’t matter, and that’s the most eye-opening part of this realization for me.

Sometimes bad news is awkward to hear. We often don’t know what to say or how to respond, so we stammer out the first thing that pops into mind. We mean well, of course, but a lot of times whatever we say is just not helpful. In a lot of ways we’re automatically programmed to find common ground when instead we should accept that our problems aren’t relative to each other. They are problems and they are hard. Period.

The idea of giving ourselves space to feel what we feel is freeing. It’s important to know that when someone does compare your hard situation to one of theirs, they are most likely trying to be helpful. We’re all just trying to relate to each other, so there’s no point in harboring resentment. It doesn’t matter if what you are going through seems to you to be miles ahead of where they are; hard is hard.

Similarly, we should cut ourselves some slack when feeling guilty because we can’t relate to someone else’s challenge. It’s okay to sympathize and not quite understand. You don’t need to apologize for your life’s challenges or lack thereof. At some point, you’ve surely faced some kind of problem. It doesn’t matter to what degree we experience pain or sorrow; hard is hard. We don’t have to live the same lives to support and acknowledge each other.

Most of the time, no matter the struggle, we’d be better off just saying, “I’m so sorry you’re going through that. I am here for you.” Accepting and practicing this would probably make all of our relationships richer.

From now on, I pledge to do my best to put this revelation into practice. When my friends and family are struggling, I want to be there for them in a supportive way and will try not unintentionally diminish or undermine their feelings by comparing my struggles to theirs, even if I’m just trying to connect with them. Instead, I will try to be better at lending a sympathetic ear and acknowledging their struggle at face value, without figuring out how it fits in my own life’s spectrum of difficult experiences.

Let’s all embrace that life can be hard, no matter what “hard” means to you. We’re all just trying to figure out what it all means anyway. There’s no sense in making in making that harder.

 

Food Chain Magnate: A Board Game Review

Burgers, pizza, beer, pop (cheers, Midwesterners), and lemonade. As an American food enthusiast, what’s not to like?

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Food Chain Magnate (FCM) is a relatively new game, published in 2015. This is the first Splotter Spellen game I’ve played, and since the company has such a reputation for quality games, I was curious to learn more. Amazingly, especially given their success, designers Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga don’t even design games full time; it’s their night and weekend hobby. Doumen is actually a mathematics PhD and Wiersinga designs computer games to improve elderly and rehabilitation care for SilverFit. By their powers combined, they create notoriously complicated and component-heavy games. After all, their company’s front-page says, “Splotter creates deep, complex board games for strategy enthusiasts.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that my pre-play research concluded that FCM was rather involved. While looking past all the components and (millions of) cards scattered across the table can be hard, I found it to be pleasantly simple to learn. Which is a good thing considering that we decided to learn it at midnight one day. (Note: It is not recommended to start any game at midnight when you have a baby.)

P.S. Remember our friend Tony Boydell? He recently played FCM and posted about it on his blog.

The Basics

Time: 120-240 minutes
Players:
2-5
Ages:
14+
BGG Rating:
8.4*
Baby Brown Bear Status: 
Played a friend’s copy

Food Chain Magnate transports you to the artery-clogging diner era of the 1950s. In it, you are the CEO of a fast food company trying to out-maneuver and out-sell your competitors’ chains. To do it, you must hire the right mix of employees (from kitchen trainees to regional managers) to create an unbeatable production, sales, and marketing strategy. The game’s length depends on how long your fellow food chain magnates want to compete. The show is over when the bank runs out of money and the magnate with the most money wins.

Just as I mentioned in my Dominant Species review, this post is not intended to be a complete explanation of the game. It has far too many intricacies to do that justice. Instead, I’m just here to give you an idea of how it works so you can decide if you want to learn the rest on your own.

*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10. That means this is one of the best games according to BGG (as of this publication, it is listed at number 90).

Setup

There are quite a few components you need to sort out before you can start. They are as follows.

  • Employee cards. As the CEO of a company, you must hire employees across a variety of departments. As seen below, the employees on the left may be recruited by a recruiting girl or your CEO. To advance them, you must train them. As they move up the ranks, they begin to require salaries.

food chain structure

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Our friend saw this genius idea on BGG. Instead of laying each card on the table (and taking up an insane amount of space), he carefully folded a piece of poster board to create just enough slots for each employee card. He even set it up so the hierarchy matched that printed on the player menu (as seen above).
  • Map tiles. The number of players determines the number of tiles needed. Each tile is then placed randomly to form your town. It initially consists of roads, drink stands, houses, and empty spaces.

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This map is set up for three players.
  • Milestone cards. Another part of the game that can greatly affect strategy is the milestone card. There are 18 different milestones a player can reach, such as first to place a billboard as seen below. These cards are earned any time a player fulfills a card’s requirements during a turn. If multiple players meet the same milestone during a turn, they each receive that milestone card. Most cards have benefits on them which take effect immediately.

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  • Food and drink pieces. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I love the little wooden figures that represent the food and drink: pizzas, burgers, lemonades, sodas, and beers. They signify different things depending on where they are placed. On marketing campaigns, they show both what is being advertised and for how long. On a house, they show that house’s demand. In a player’s hand, they show that restaurant’s available stock.

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  • Bank money. Ooh, paper money. So despised by this game’s owner. The bank begins with $50 times the number of players (so $150 in this three-player example). The rest of the money goes into the box at the beginning. Players do not begin with any money.
  • Player markers and restaurants. Each player has three available restaurants. The restaurant tiles have little triangular symbols that mark their entrances. Pay attention to these as distances from the restaurant start from the entrance. To begin, players randomly choose player markers to determine turn order. Beginning with the last player in this turn order, each player chooses an empty square to place his starting restaurant. Restaurant entrances must touch a road and no two restaurants can be placed on the same tile.
  • Bank reserve cards. Each player receives three bank reserve cards ($100, $200, and $300). After all restaurants are placed, each player chooses one of the three cards and puts it face down next to the bank. These cards are not unveiled until later. They indicate how much money will be added to the bank once the initial stockpile runs out. Since the game ends when the bank’s money does, this means players do not know at the beginning of the game how long it will end up being. This makes strategy difficult to determine. For example, in a short game you may want to focus on producing and selling food as quickly as possible, whereas in a longer game you may want to focus on building a larger corporate structure.

Alright! The map is out, the restaurants are placed, and players are ready to start swaying the feeble minds of the town’s citizens.

Turn summary

Okay, here’s where the going gets tough. Here’s a very simplified overview (if you can believe it).

Restructure

This is when you secretly decide which employees you want to use during the turn. You are only able to use as many employees as you have open slots (the CEO, for example, has three open slots). This number may grow depending on who you hire and put to work. Everyone who is not working during a turn is on PTO (“at the beach”). During the first round, all players will only be able to use their CEOs.

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Mid-play corporate structure. I really took advantage of the extra spots that came with the junior VPs and management trainees. Those waitresses really came in handy, too, not only because they earn you money but they also help you win business.

Phase 1: Turn order 

The player with the most open slots in his corporate structure chooses his position in the turn order track, followed by the player with the second most open slots, etc. If there is a tie, the player who went ahead in turn order last time chooses first.

Phase 2: Business

This is where you take care of your operations.

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I’d use this meme a million times if I could.
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  1. Recruit new employees based on the number of recruit actions you have (the CEO always has one).
  2. Train (or upgrade) employees based on the number of train actions you have (the trainer trains one, for example). The person being trained must be “on the beach.” Think of it as “away at a conference.”
  3. Initiate marketing campaign based on which marketing employee is working. As a professional marketer, the overly simplistic view of marketing is somewhat insulting, but it’s supposed to be the 1950s, I guess. This marketer will be away for as long as the campaign lasts, so pay special attention to the type of campaign, placement, duration, and good you choose.
  4. Get food and drinks based on which buyers and kitchen staff you have working.
  5. Place a new house or garden if you have a new business developer working.
  6. Place or move restaurants if you have a local manager or regional manager working.

Phase 3: Dinnertime

Here’s where a lot of the juicy stuff happens because it’s when you find out if your carefully crafted plans have been thwarted by that no-good businessman across the street.

During dinnertime, the town’s citizens finally consume the food and drink they’ve been craving (because of advertising; these people have no minds of their own). Starting with the lowest numbered house, players determine which restaurants have produced the food and drink in demand by that house. For example if there are two beers and one pizza on the house, the restaurant needs to be able to provide exactly two beers and one pizza in order to sell anything to that house. Unless otherwise noted (like with a milestone card), each good sold is $10.

If multiple restaurants can provide exactly what is in demand, the restaurant closest to the house wins the business (connected by a road, of course). If that is still a tie, the restaurant that has the best price (if there’s a discount manager working, it will be a little lower) or the best service (with a waitress) will win the business. If that is still a tie, the restaurant who went first in turn order will get the business. Houses with gardens pay double the unit price for each item (rich snobs!). I haven’t even covered everything here and yet you can already see how complicated it can become!

The first time the bank runs out of money, the reserve cards that were put aside in the beginning of the game are shuffled and revealed. The tallied number shown on the cards is how much money is added to the bank. The second time the bank runs out of money is when the game ends (but not before finishing up the payday phase and making sure all employees are paid for the work they do). Believe it or not, a tie goes to the person who went first in the most recent turn order.

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Mid-play shot. Here you can see the goods I produced this round (three sodas), my corporate structure (I loved those management trainees!), and my milestone cards. 

Phase 4: Payday 

First, players must decide if they want to fire anyone (except for marketers who are out in the field). Second, they must then pay all employees who require a salary, including marketers in the field. Each salaried employee earns $5 during this phase.

Phase 5: Marketing campaigns

This is where those advertisements persuade people to want whatever it is you advertised to them. Starting with the lowest numbered campaign (as opposed to house), players place the little food demand tokens on the houses that are within each campaign’s reach. Houses can only have three demand tokens on them and houses with gardens can have five. Therefore some houses may be full by the time a higher numbered campaign takes effect, rendering it (and your strategy) useless.

Here are some examples of houses and the goods they desire. On the left, house five wants exactly two sodas. Billboard marketing campaign 13 is active and eternally promotes one soda at the end of each round. On the right, houses 15 and 16 want exactly one burger and one lemonade. There’s an active burger mailbox marketing campaign that will last two more rounds. 

Phase 6: Clean up

During this phase, players must discard leftover food or drinks (unless they have a milestone that allows them to keep it), all employees go back into their hand, restaurants that are “coming soon” flip over to “welcome,” and milestones are earned and flipped over to signify that they are no longer available. Then the game repeats from phase one.

My Thoughts

Cons

  • Paper money. I don’t care about this as much as some people (cough, Nick), but I’ll admit paper money is a little annoying to handle. However, when trying to think of an alternative that would fit the theme, I keep coming up short. It’s a theme-appropriate kitschy detail.
  • Unforgiving with mistakes. This, like many other strategy games, I suppose, is a game where it hard to visualize all that will occur each round. There are a lot of variables that may not play out like you expect, and it’s easy to miscalculate your and your opponents’ moves. Altogether, this makes it pretty unforgiving when you make a mistake. Even if your mistake occurs early in the game, it can be nearly impossible for you to ever bounce back.
  • Loser disengagement. Because it can be so hard to bounce back, it’s easy for the loser(s) to become disengaged. The first time I played, another player and I were neck and neck until the end, making it very interesting for us. The third player was unable to catch up and proceeded to become fairly disinterested. The second time I played, I was that third player and started to tune out once I realized I had a snowball’s chance of bouncing back. Because so much of what you do is based on your corporate structure and isn’t too combative until dinnertime, it’s easier than I’d like to only pay attention to your own board unless you’re doing well enough to be a contender.

Pros

  • Graphics. I absolutely love the retro, ’50s-themed artwork. It’s simple but provides a nice flavor for the game.
  • Theme. It’s possible I love the graphics so much because I think the theme is so fresh. Who knew that it’d take a couple of Dutchmen to create such an interesting Americana game?
  • Variable length. The fact that every player has a hand in determining the game’s length but that it’s not revealed until mid-game is very intriguing. During our first game, we decided to play a short one (especially because it was after midnight). During the second game, we didn’t talk about it at all, so I was excited when we had one of each card, meaning it would be a longer game. That excitement waned, however, when I started losing by such a wide margin.
  • Employee cards. The card drafting mechanism can be a little trite, but its execution here is new and exciting. You’re recruiting employees and deciding who works and who gets to go on vacation every single round. You are in charge of their career paths, or lack thereof. Maybe it’s because I was a cog in the corporate wheel myself, but this power went to my head and I liked it.
  • Strategy differences. Since I won the first time, I tried to see if that strategy  would work the second go around and I can tell you it definitely didn’t. While I didn’t enjoy the feeling of not being able to catch back up, I do appreciate that the game forces you to alter your strategy each play. So much changes depending on the placement of the tiles and restaurants, the length, and the other players’ strategies that you must adapt.
  • Competition. It’s quite a thrill when you can accurately visualize exactly what you need to do to win the most business in a round. It’s also thrilling when you can prevent other players from properly executing their strategies. No matter what, I looked forward to the dinnertime phase each round because it was so fun to see who would be able to pull through the most. It was also very apparent both times how meaningful the milestone cards are; the first to $100 card is especially critical to win in my opinion.

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What game isn’t more fun when you walk away with loads of cash?

In short

Since I won’t spend my time and energy reviewing a game I hate, it should come as no surprise that I would recommend playing this game.

Simply put, it’s very different from any other I’ve played and that alone makes me like it. Food Chain Magnate is simultaneously complex and simple and demands that each play is different from the last. Yes, it can be frustrating that the rich get richer, but that’s all the more motivation to be in the rich camp. It may sound boring when people listening in hear, “I’m going to train my management trainee to become a junior vice president,” but they don’t know what that junior VP is capable of doing!

I had been told that this is a game for “serious gamers,” but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. There is a lot of planning and thinking ahead, but it’s not so complicated that you can’t figure it out while you’re playing. I think it’d be better labeled as a game for “people willing to invest time and energy into a new game.” It’s not going to take you ten minutes to explain, but it’s also not going to take you an hour. Like anything else, you just have to start. It may be hard to find, but I suggest you go check out Food Chain Magnate and give it a go.

As always, I’d love to know what you think!