December 9, 2010 - 11:27 am
When I began dreaming up the idea of Gourmet Game Night, I really wasn’t sure exactly how many folks there were out there like me. How many inhabit that cross-section where people who love good food co-mingle with people who love to play board games/cards/dominoes/etc? I had to hope that the potential audience wasn’t a tiny one. Response to the book’s been more than encouraging, it’s gone back for a couple of printings already this year and I’ve been busy with classes and book signings this fall as folks gear up for the holiday gift-giving season. (Side note, one more signing this weekend, at Kathy Casey Food Studios, I’ll be there from 1:00 to 3:00. Not only signing Gourmet Game Night but also selling Zilch dice sets in hand-knit bags!)
So folks who loves to play games can, indeed, indulge in delicious food while they play, not simply relegate themselves to the convenient finger-food that’s often on the menu while playing games.
But gastronomes have more to enjoy at that junction of food and games than the tasty things they’re nibbling while they play. There’s a growing array of games that feature their favorite subject. Scattered throughout Gourmet Game Night are some of these food-related games that are ideal choices for the foodie in your life. Or yourself, for that matter, you deserve a fun present as much as anyone!!
One of the most popular by far is Foodie Fight, a really well-done food trivia game that riffs on Trivial Pursuit in a more compact, easy-going fashion. Every player has their own small game board onto which they’ll collect tokens for questions correctly answered. Categories include “Foodiesphere” (places/people/cuisines around the world), “Food Stars,” “Company’s Coming” (wine/food pairing, etiquette, planning), “Lab and Field” (science, nutrition, production), “Dining Out” (chefs, menus, restaurants) and “What’s Cooking” (the practical stuff, techniques etc.). I’ve seen it in game shops, book stores and cookware stores like Sur la Table. A sure bet!
Another is Celebrity Chef: The Game!, which I find to be fun and clever and quite distinct from Foodie Fight. The premise is that players are vying to be the first to become a “celebrity chef.” Along the way, players collect tokens for fans, cookbooks, TV shows, product & endorsement and a few other stepping stones toward celebrity status. Categories of questions include “Name that Dish” in which the player’s given a list of ingredients and asked to name the dish they combine to make. And “Cook Off,” for which the player challenges another player to come up with the most items in the food-related category drawn (such as “ways to cook eggs” or “types of beans”). There are also some true/false or multiple choice categories that include “The Bar,” “Chef School” and “Tools & Techniques.” Part trivia game, part board game, this is a fun way to test culinary acumen in game form.
Leaving food trivia behind, Wasabi!appeals to the sushi-lovers out there, a card-based game that turns players into apprentice sushi chefs competing to put together required sushi-roll combos on the faux-bamboo-mat game board. Players collect special cards along the way that either give them special advantages (such as swapping out ingredients to fulfill a sushi roll recipe) or messing with opponents by blocking space on the board. Everyone collects small green wood cubes of wasabi, which contribute points toward their potential win. There are even little red & black bowls in which players collect their wasabi. This game definitely has style and fun graphics, and definitely doesn’t require any particular food knowledge to enjoy.
More flash cards than board game are the offerings from SmartsCo folks. With various themes from general Gourmet to more focused Beer and Chocolate, these card sets feature 4 categories of trivia cards customized to the subject. Chocolate, for instance, has the topics “Indulging” (general chocolate-related questions), “Cocoa Culture” (historic and cultural perspectives), “Fundamentals” (facts and figures) and “Wild Card” (luck-of-the-draw). While the boxes do have a score card for collecting points for correct answers for official game play, I think these boxes are just as much fun to have on the coffee table during cocktail hour and just doing some free-style trivial challenges with friends.
And let’s not forget the kids!! There are a bunch of food-related games available that can indoctrinate the young ones in the culinary world. Slamwich is one such game, in card version. Cards are slice-of-bread shaped with toppings that range from lettuce & tomatoes to gummy worms, plus some special “thief” and “muncher” cards that add unique twists to the play. From theirstack of face-down cards, players flip their card upright on the center pile, going around quickly in a circle until certain combos–such as a “Slamwich” which is 2 of the same cards separated by one that’s different–and the first player to slam their hand on top of the stack gets to keep all the cards in that stack. Fast, furious, silly, fun. I splurged on the “collector’s edition” which comes in this cool metal lunch box.
Last but not least: what food-lover’s game collection would be complete without Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure. Brought to you by the wacky folks at Archie McPhee, this simple spin-the-dial-and-move-your-piece game is billed as “a mad dash through meatland on your way to the frying pan.” There’s a hilarious set of ”Alternate Meat Feast Rules” in which players must eat a prescribed item based on where their playing piece lands each turn. It means you have to stock up mightily on pepperoni slices, corn dogs, sliced olive loaf, even tofu and veggie burgers should someone land on the dreaded “Vegan Alley.” Land on Bologna Forest? Eat a bologna-wrapped pepperoni stick. How about Gristle Grotto? That’ll be a meatball wrapped in olive loaf and dipped in gravy, my meat-loving friend. I just wonder which spots earns someone access to the Alka Seltzer.
Happy holidays one and all!! And here hoping that lots of great food and games will be part of the festivities.
October 29, 2010 - 1:23 pm
Most of Gourmet Game Night is all about the food and recipes, serving ideas and planning tips. The “gourmet” part. I am a professional food writer, after all, and that arena is the core of my expertise. But it wouldn’t be Gourmet Game Night without the games, right?
We’ve all got a deck of cards (or 12) around the house, cribbage and Scrabble, probably an old Monopoly board and maybe some dice. But just as it’s always a treat to try new foods and recipe ideas, so is it also a lot of fun to try out new games along the way. In the course of doing all the hard work (!! holding games night dinner parties is hard work??) of research for this book, I procured myself some new games to add to the mix. We’re now fans of Settlers of Catan and were late-comers to Apples to Apples (LOVE that game!). In search of food-centric games I found out about Wasabi! and Celebrity Chef: The Game.
Many of these I found at the wonderful game-lovers destination in Seattle, Blue Highway Games at the top of Queen Anne Hill. In fact, if you read the introduction to my book (do people actually read those? I hope at least some do….) you’ll see that Blue Highway figured in the early gestation of the idea for the cookbook. Sure, maybe WE have converted our hall linen closet into the “game closet” but that doesn’t mean loads of other folks out there love to play unplugged board games the way we do. Blue Highway helped convince me otherwise!
So while it can be pretty easy to score a range of types of games at spots like Target or Wal-Mart or Barnes & Nobel, I’m pretty devoted to the independent game stores out there. As I describe in my book, and on this page with a listing of some such stores, they not only offer the extra expertise that comes with a niche focus, but they also can offer a number of “extras.” Like open samples of games that you can play in the store to try out before buying. Organized game nights were customers connect around playing tables for free-style or game-specific open play. Special events. And usually hundreds of games to choose from, with passionate game-players on staff to help you find just the right one.
For instance, on one trip to Blue Highway, I was talking with co-owner Scott Cooper about the fact that my husband played some serious Risk back in college, often all night long and nearly to sunrise. That kind of hard-core strategy game isn’t quite my cup of tea, nor are marathon gaming sessions. I’m more the cribbage/word game/party game type. He suggested we try Small World as a game that brings in some elements from both side of that game-loving equation. Honestly, we haven’t cracked it open to try yet, but with friends coming over tomorrow night to play games, I think I just figured out which game we’ll play!
That kind of deep understanding of game play and the range of products available to suit so many different interests is the prime reason I’m so keen on encouraging folks to seek out an independent game store when on the prowl for something new. I included a dozen or so in the book, also here on the blog. Nice thing about the blog, of course, is the opportunity to continually amend the list!
When my husband I made our trip to Santa Barbara earlier this year–part of the prize package he won in the KPLU poker tournament–ends up that the Hotel Santa Barbara where we stayed was just next door to a great little game store, Game Seeker. So I just added that to the list.
Do you have a favorite game store near you that’s a great destination for board games, party games and the like? Please let me know about it! I hope to make this list a reliable resource for game lovers looking for something new to tackle on their next game night.
I’ll report soon on our first run through Small World! And what we ate, of course….
March 29, 2010 - 10:15 am
At one point during the evening Saturday I got up to close the sliding glass door alongside the dining room table. Not necessarily because it was getting too cool (a glorious warm spring evening it was, matter of fact). But out of worry that our raucous laughter might be disturbing the neighbors. One unexpected side effect of finally breaking into that Apples to Apples game I bought a few months ago but hadn’t cracked open yet. Man, did we have fun.
I broke one of the cardinal rules that I set down in Gourmet Game Night when telling readers how to plan a successful game night. One was not to bring out a brand new, never-been-opened game with guests sitting around the table ready to play. There’s cellophane wrapping to deal with, cards to unpack, playing pieces to figure out (and sometimes assemble), rules to read and stumble through together. But I did have a couple elements in my favor: (1) Apples to Apples takes really just a few minutes to warm up to and (2) one of my friends at the table has played it a bunch and helped talk us through it. If you don’t have either or both of those conditions with a new game, it’s ALWAYS best to break into it and familiarize yourself with the rules before having friends over to join you.
But before long, we were old pros. It’s easy to understand why this game won Games Magazine‘s “Party Game of the Year” award in 2000. Trying to defend the word card you chose from your hand that best matches the adjective card drawn by the dealer….it can get pretty hilarious. In one case the adjective was something like “discouraging” and one player tossed “rainbows” into the mix. Rainbows?! Huh?! When pressed to explain, he quickly replied “hey, you ever tried walking to the end of one?” Well, now that you mention it…. But he still lost out. I, on the other hand, managed to convince a friend that my Georgia O’Keefe card best represented the idea of “fresh” thanks to her unique, creative–sometimes suggestive–artistic representation of the world around her.
Another new game we indoctrinated that evening was also a Games “best party game” winner, if a bit sillier. I think it may have gone over better if either we had a couple eight year olds at the table or we’d all had a bit more to drink. Snortabasically is about making farm animal noises — more specifically making the “right” farm animal noise (based on what cards are played and what animals your opponents have hidden behind their little farmhouses) and doing so faster than the others. Not a lot of strategy or creativity called for here. And you could definitely read the player’s enthusiasm with the game by the way they articulated the respective animal’s sounds, a dynamic “OINK OINK OINK” from one player, a mere whisper of a “moo” from another. Not as universally enjoyed on Saturday night as was Apples to Apples, but always nice to have a variety of games on hand to choose from. I can imagine Snorta will be great with kids in the mix, and for those who are kids at heart. Or just have the attention span of one at that moment in time.
The menu was pretty tasty. I fell back on a favorite from my book, Celery Radish and Parsley Salad with Lemon Dressing, served in one-bite portions on porcelain soup spoons. I was recipe testing for another project that day, had some seafood chowder and gnocchi with bacon and corn on hand. The soup went into ramekins and the gnocchi into individual gratin dishes, like you might use for crème brûlée, with spoons alongside for eating. I also cooked up half a dozen Uli’s sausages, cut them into thick slices, skewered each onto a small pick and set them out on a plate, with Dijon mustard alongside for dipping. And my sister cooked the Polenta Squares with Sausage and Spinach from the book too. We ate pretty well, all of it game-friendly and none of it risked smudging up those brand-new Apples to Apples cards on their first game night outing.
If laughter is, in fact, the best medicine, the eight of us got a good dose of medicine on Saturday night! I think a relaxed fun game night sitting around the table together is–no matter what you’re playing–good for what ails us all.