The players start A la Carte with a stove (set to zero), pan, a random cup of coffee, a crepe, and a tray for finishes dishes. On the table are different dishes (in five colors), along with four containers filled with condiments -- lemon (yellow), pepper (black), paprika (red), herbs (green) -- and salt (clear). There's also a trash can for spoiled dishes, two sinks for used condiments, and three spoons.
Each player chooses a dish and puts it in their pan; dishes have the required condiments, point value (more ingredients mean more points), and required heating level (and, if exceeded, burning level). A player gets three actions (represented by the spoons). A player can try to heat their stove, rolling a die; this can heat their stove by 1, by 1-3, heat everyone's stove by 1, or get them a new cup of coffee. Players can also try to season their dish. To do this, they tilt the container over their pan and hope the right condiments fall out; they can't shake the container once it's turned over! If a dish has three or more of the same condiment (including salt) or the stove it too high for the dish, it's ruined: The dish goes in the trash, the ingredients go in the sink, and the player scores no points. If the player did get all the ingredients in (as long as there aren't three of the same condiment they can have extra condiments) they score the points, choose a new dish (from a color dish they didn't make, unless no more are available), and continue with their turn, if they have any spoons left. And if a player makes the dish perfectly (no extra ingredients), they get a star; if a player earns three stars, then win immediately!
Oh, coffee cups and crepes. Coffee cups are one-use items that let a player do things like swap stoves and pans with another player, lower their stove's heating level, or even sabotage another player's dish by seasoning their dish. And crepes are different (and fun). First, a player uses all their spoons to put the crepe in their pan. On the next turns, the player has to roll the die to heat their pan; they then use actions to flip the crepe. If the crepe lands in the pan on its opposite side, the player scores the points for it; if not, the player keeps trying until they succeed or the stove reaches 7 and the crepe burns.
A la Carte ends when a player earns their third star (and they then win immediately), a player can't put a new dish in their pan, or a player has completed five dishes (not including crepes). If no one earned a third start, the points for the dishes (and possibly the crepe) are added up, and whoever has the most points wins.
A la Carte is both simple and difficult. The rules are pretty simple, so younger players will do just fine competing with adults here. However, the condiments are almost as large as the container opening, so the biggest danger isn't pouring out too many ingredients, but rather them all getting stuck at the opening. There's a nice sense of humor to the dishes, whether it's the Octopus a la Marseillaire (an octopus wearing a beret, holding a French flag, and smoking a cigarette), Cuban Breakfast (no condiments -- just a cigar and a cup of coffee on a plate), or Rabbit a la King (which looks like a whole rabbit wearing a fur-lined cape). There's not a lot of strategy involved (except for using the coffee cups), but the physical activity of the game (trying to get the condiments out or flipping the crepe) is a lot of fun. A la Carte won't be the main entree at a game session, but it's a very enjoyable appetizer.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch