Board Game by Roland Siegers, published by Flying Turtle, 1987
Stefanie Kethers contributed to this review. Be sure to stop by her website at Luding some time.
"I'll be your server tonight."In terms of games development, 1987 feels like an eon ago. Since then Roland Siegers has had quite a few other titles published, most prominently in America, Pyramidis and Cabale. Prior to it, there were eight different games including Abilene (good enough to be re-published in 1993) and Winkeladvokat. Both were nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in their years, as was Restaurant and the later games Lancelot and Mississippi. Most of Siegers's games seem to tend to the abstract and he seems to have an affinity for rectangular grids, even for a game like Waterloo. Although Mississippi employs a hexagonal grid, notice that it is nevertheless a grid. As we shall see, in these respects Restaurant is very much in the mainstream of the Siegers oeuvre.
"Table for six?"The point of view in this one is that of an ambitious waiter at a posh restaurant. Despite a rather fun, cartoonish box cover, the board layout is a bit drab, featuring sixty rectangular tables laid out in rows and columns with four different types of parties. A central area represents a raised dais, a VIP room if you will. Also included are sixty cards, one hundred twenty markers in six colors (three to six players can be accommodated) and a rulebook in French, English, German and Dutch as is usual for Flying Turtle Games.
"I'd like to order the child's plate."Game labels of "for ages 8 to adult" are often regarded by savvy buyers as oxymorons. Presumably a game which is comprehensible to the typical eight-year old (we are not thinking of your favorite prodigy here) cannot possibly contain sufficient challenge for the adult player. Under this theory, ratings should always either be "8-10" or "10-adult" and never both! As you may have gathered, Restaurant does feature such a label and actually makes a compelling argument for its validity. Of course, such considerations are essentially separate from those of how well the game plays.
"Is there a menu in English, please?"Like a football match, this one is divided into two halves. Before the first half begins, the cards are distributed face down one per table. Then players take turns placing a single marker, building a chain orthogonally across the dining room, and taking the card beneath it. These cards are mostly meals measured in terms of their profit, presumably representing a variety of generous, average and cheapskate tippers. Sneaked into the deck are a few cards that are not meals at all, but rather "special effects". Most crucial of these are those that permit stealing a card from another player, but there are also cards which permit double turns, jumping elsewhere in the dining room, etc. Unfortunately one of the problems in the game is that the English rules never make completely clear, whether cards are held face up or face down or even whether they are stolen by choice or randomly. Reading of the German seems to indicate normally cards should be face up, except when being stolen via the Dish of the Day card, in which case all cards, which thereby must include Dish of the Day cards, are shuffled and fanned face down for random choosing. Also ambiguous in the English, but clearer in the German is the rule that specifies that a "Reserved" card may protect any number of meal cards. Before there are protests, it should be remembered that this may not be an automatic decision as meals in hand count against the player at the end, "Reserved" cards doubly so.
At the end of this half each player receives points based on the cards that they have managed to collect. Note that this process so far has been wholly luck in terms of the cards taken from the board with a little skill participating in the taking of cards from others and in the management of the board. This management is what can prove quite problematic. Just by the very nature of a grid and its relatively small size (sixty tables), it is absurdly simple to place such that no further play is possible, which is exactly the rule for ending the half. To make a satisfying game in both halves, the rules specify that at least half or more of the tables should be reserved. This can be a bit tricky in that a player may make an inadvertent play which closes out the situation too early. All players are probably required to monitor this situation carefully.
"What, no time for dessert?"The above situation returns in the second half during which players re-use their cards -- this time in counter-clockwise order -- placing them beneath markers using the same chaining rules. When no one can make any further players, the game ends and the players receive more points based on which cards are on their tables and also receiving a bonus for generous tippers in the VIP room. The holder of the highest combined score wins. But the game can be ended very quickly and perhaps unsatisfyingly. First, players may easily create a very short second half by not fully realizing the implications of their move. Second, a player or players who have a big lead in cards may very well desire an end to the half and thus deliberately make plays which are difficult to counter. Third, an iconoclastic player bent on destroying the experience can deliberately attempt to sabotage the entire game.
I have to admit that it is just barely possible that somewhere, someone is playing this game at a very high level of planning and perhaps with only three players and thus avoiding all of these problems discussed above, but it seems rather unlikely. At least in several games I have yet to see it. Such an intensively-thought out game would also seem to conflict mightily with the light presentation. (It does seem that both of the offered variants are a good idea for serious players. The first limits access to the VIP room while the second does not grant any points for the first half, which admittedly is basically pure luck of the draw, but only uses it to set up the situation and determine the first player.)
"Check, please."Overall, Restaurant's system is very elegant and easily explained. It is genuinely fun to watch the board be discovered and unfold before one's eyes. It is challenging to figure out what one's opponents will do and pick the best option under these circumstances. In this way it is something like the game Fossil, which appeared quite a bit later. It is for these reasons that I have been intrigued by the game and played it several times over and why I wanted to review it (as well as the fact that I have found no other full review on the Internet). But the possibility of the game ending so early has proven quite a disappointment that I wish the game had found a way to solve. The game does indeed seem simple and fun enough to be played by the eight-year old and yet still enjoyed by the adult. And despite hailing from 1987, in the year 2000 otherwise doesn't yet show its age at all.
Reviewing the Reviewer