Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The Icing on the Cake:- Cupcake Empire

Game: Cupcake Empire

Publisher: Ludonova

Designer:  Al Leduc, Yves Tourigny

Year: 2018

Cupcake Empire is a 2-4 player dice game in which your dice represent specialised workers in the world of cupcake making. From bakers who can make the perfect cake, to masters of the piping bag, you'll need to use your workers to their strengths, while assigning them enough help to perform bigger and better actions. Cupcake Empire is a race to a victory condition of 70 points, with the player with the most points at the end of the round that someone crosses that threshold presumably being crowned the Cupcake Emperor!

Turns in Cupcake Empire are simple and usually quick. You choose one of your 5 areas to activate, perform the relevant action, with increasing power with more dice/the correct colour dice, and then re-roll all of the dice that were on that space. The areas are numbered 1-5, simply place dice on the row matching the number you rolled and you are ready for the next turn. Rolls of 6 perform a little differently, and dice showing 6s go on vacation. The first 6 you roll gives you an idea, a currency that can be spent to perform bonus actions or to return your 6s to the workforce, any additional rolls of a 6 give you a third of an idea. Meanwhile any 6s you roll give all your opponents a third of an idea too. At the end of your turn you gain a number of points equal to the lower of your two score tracks: Supply and Demand.

The player board at the start of the game, each column/colour is one action choice, with it's strength being determined by number of dice and dice of the matching colour.
During the game you'll be wanting to increase both your supply and demand at a reasonably similar rate in order to maximise your points. Action columns 1 and 2 allow you to make cake bases and frosting respectively. A cake alone does nothing, but combine it with frosting and you have a new cupcake recipe, this rewards you with increased supply depending on the ingredients used. Both cakes and frosting come in single and multiple flavour variants, the multiple flavour options require more dice to trigger, but also reward more production and are more flexible when delivering to customers. The third action space lets you build shops to sell your cakes from, having a new shop increases your demand and also potentially gives you access to a new street for delivering your cakes. Even better, if a street is full, you can force your opponents out of the street decreasing their sales as you increase yours. The fourth action space lets you deliver cakes. You can only deliver cakes to meeple who like one of your recipes (fortunately you can tell based on the colour of their trousers/shirts). Doing so increases your demand and can even offer instant points. The final action space lets you gain new workers and bakeries. Workers are simply new dice which are permanently added to your workforce, while bakeries can be build on any street but can never be forced out by your opponents. Bakeries increase both your supply and demand and so are a great way to increase your end of turn points!

Cupcake Empire is certainly a dice game at its heart, but it also has a hint of worker placement in there. You might not be fighting for your action spaces with your opponents, but instead with your own dice luck. There are numerous ways to mitigate luck though; you can use ideas to move dice around your board and even spend victory points should you be particularly desperate. In addition ideas can be spend on bonuses that trigger each time an action is selected, giving you extra ideas/points/frosting/cakes to work with. Some of these give rise to some interesting tactics, such as gaining frosting whenever you bake a cake base or delivering whenever you build a new store. However each game your strategies will be warped by the presence of bonus objectives. There are 4 each game and each offer you 6 points if you achieve them, just make sure you don't get too distracted that you are losing income to gain the bonuses!

Placement of your shops and bakeries gives you access to new customers who reward even more demand!
Cupcake Empire is very much a game full of heart. I love the brightly coloured art that really makes the game pop. The dice even have a light frosting texture which is simply charming, even if it makes them feel a little odd. The game itself has always ended in a close heat, even when I have had some appalling dice luck, this really speaks to the games balance as most dice games would have a round of bad luck result in a sound thrashing. The game ramps up as you play, with early turns having you score 1-2 measly points, while the final turn often has the player earning ~10 points plus, if they can achieve it, an extra dozen or so in instant bonuses. It's this dynamic finish that has me coming back for more, and yet still at it's heart as a dice game Cupcake empire can simply feel unfair. Even if the actions are well balanced and there is enough to counteract luck, there's no denying that late game rolling a bunch of 1/2s when you don't need more cake recipes feels awful! I can't truly love a game that can make me feel that frustrated, but I can say that I enjoy it and it's well worth trying if you enjoy a tactical dice game.

7/10

Cupcake Empire was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £44.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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