Cutthroat (Tabletop) Kitchen - Menu Masters Review | GIZORAMA
A great introduction to tabletop gaming, Menu Masters doesn't overwhelm new players and makes it easy to learn.

Cutthroat (Tabletop) Kitchen – Menu Masters Review

December 8, 2016 by

Menu Masters, the first game from the Titan Series, did not fail to impress. Read more here!

Restaurants: one of the most common small businesses opening up today, and one of the most common to fail. Also, one of the most common small businesses where children run around uncontrollably ruining other patron’s pleasant meals, while their parents can only look on in defeat. These types of establishments are incredibly complex to run, with many different facets to account for: advertising, atmosphere, raw resource acquisition, production of goods, and competition. Step into the game of Menu Masters, where everything but acquisition, production and competition have been filtered out to give players a taste of what it takes to open up their very own fine dining establishment for a variety of guests.

In Menu Masters, players assume the role of eatery owner, where they must gather the ingredients needed to assemble desired menus for their patrons. Once one player on the table has completed three different menus, the game ends. A menu is scored by the quality of the ingredients used to assemble it, represented by stars on the ingredient card. Each store owner starts with two secret menus in their hand that no other owner can see, and three public menus available in the center of the table. Once a menu from the center is completed, another one from the deck takes its place. Having only two secret menus forces an eatery entrepreneur to complete at least one menu in the middle. Players gather ingredients by going to one of three different stores corresponding to types of ingredients: Vegetables, Meats, and Desserts (if four or more players are in the game, the super market is added, which comprises one of each type of ingredient). Store owners can also choose to run one of these raw ingredient establishments for a turn, and relinquish the ability to shop there, the trade-off being that they gather all the income spent by other players. A typical game of Menu Masters lasts between 20-40 minutes, as after 4-6 rounds, one player has typically finished off three menus.

Menu Masters simple layout makes the game easy to learn and easy to play.
Menu Masters simple layout makes the game easy to learn and easy to play.

A part of the first batch of games out of The Titan Series, Menu Masters is designed as an introduction to the world of strategy tabletop games. As such, it is very easy to learn, with a light rule book that surprisingly covers everything. While the game is easy to learn, the strategies behind it vary considerably. Focus on making money early while people are gung-ho to spend what they have? Focus on one food group for now and monopolize it? Or race to finish your Menus the fastest (in my mind, the Zerg Rush approach) so your opponents can’t get their feet under them before the game ends. Each strategy has its downsides, but only if your opponents realize what you’re trying to do and adjust along the way. Although there are only a few different ingredients in each food group, the quality of each is absolutely crucial to crushing your opposing restaurants. I found in one game, that although I’d finished my third menu to end the game early, I had chosen menus with only two ingredients, then used poor ingredients to boot. I ended up losing that game by several points since my opponent had built out two three-ingredient menus with quality ingredients. The learning curve may be small at first, but it spikes tremendously as each player gains more knowledge about the workings of the game.

My favorite part of the game is the acquisition part. Menu Masters fully embraces the idea of supply and demand, but also a rigid order of resolution that allows you to neuter your competition’s bank early in a round. During the resource allocation stage of a round, each player takes turns placing one pawn at a time. Choices range from taking a coin from the bank, claiming ownership of a store for a round, or lining up to buy an ingredient. The price of an ingredient is equal to the amount of people in line, so if three people are lined up, the person at the front has the choice of paying 3 coins for their desired ingredient, or leaving without buying anything. The price for the next person then drops to 2 coins. The buying phase of the game follows a specific order: First the vegetables, then the meats, then the desserts. On more than one occasion during the allocation stage, I noticed my diner rivals only had a certain amount of coins, and needed both vegetables and sweets, so I bid up each, making them have to choose only one or the other. It may be subtle, but the game does give you the ability to screw your neighbors, and you’ll have ample opportunity to do so.

Caliope Games set out to make a killer collection of introduction games into the tabletop space.
Caliope Games set out to make a killer collection of introduction games into the tabletop space.

Menu Masters is a fantastic blend of worker management, bluffing, and resource acquisition. As an introductory game to the tabletop world, it does a fantastic job of exposing players to several different aspects that they will find scattered across many other more complex board games. The overall simplicity of the game, from its rules to its structure, make it a must-add to any board game collection. Each stage of the game provides loads of tension-filled excitement. Hoping your opponents don’t claim something you want or need like store ownership or first right’s to that one piece of pork in the store is heart pounding, especially while you’re tending to a more urgent matter on your first turn. Bluffing on wanting to buy something, just to bid up the cost of your opponents ingredients feels fantastic when executed to perfection, and although it would be nice to turn over inventory of a store when nobody wants anything in it, the flexibility to combine ingredients as substitutes on recipes adds to the guesswork required to figuring out other player’s strategies. I couldn’t help but enjoy every minute of the game, even when I made a mistake and knew it, I found myself looking forward to the next round. The Titan Series’ first addition ticks every goal they set out to accomplish. There’s just nothing better than having your cake and eating it too.

Review Overview

4.5/5

Menu Masters combines several different aspects of complex tabletop gaming in a cohesive way that is easy to learn and easy to digest. Amongst its three different stages, tabletop newcomers and experts alike will find themselves scheming on how to become the best eatery and come up with the best dish for customers. Despite a minor store annoyance, games move at a rapid pace, forcing players to make multiple decisions each round so no game is ever the same. A fantastic addition to any board game collection.

About John Ceccarelli

John lives in a small city outside of Portland, OR. He has been chasing achievements and trophies since his early teen years. After working at a small shoe company during the week, he enjoys spending time with his dog and wife, writing code, and crawling through monster-infested dungeons.
  • Brian Ehli

    I bought this game with the intentions of having a great time and I still think this game has potential however, the length of time it took to sort out and follow the directions was too long. It wasn’t confusing so much as we were asking ourselves questions throughout the rule reading that were left unanswered because there was no reference to those questions. The graphics and idea behind this game are stellar and any foodie should think about trying this one. It’s unfortunate though that playing this with my wife ended in my beating her during the first purchase round because I bought the Butcher and since I couldn’t buy from myself, I used my caps to build up my chances of acquiring the other items I needed for my menus. That being said, with starting only with 6 coins and her having to pay 4 at the onset for produce left 2 and needing a butcher and a bakery item, left her with none except the bank of 2. Well, since you have to wait until the next round to use a bank coin, I had already finished my menu since both menu cards didn’t include a butcher item. She didn’t receive one item she needed or two cards that could be combined in order to make one item either so she was pretty much dead in the water at the end of that round and also for the entire game since you have to wait until the next round to use a bank coin and she didn’t have enough to purchase anything since there were 2 or more caps on the items he needed. She could never catch up which made it not so fun to play anymore. Also, with the fact that you can only use 3 cards per store, if you are playing with multiple people, the 5th person will probably almost always get screwed since there won’t be any cards left. I do understand that this game takes a mindset of watching opponents closely and maneuvering and etc however, we will probably have to alter the way we play in order to be able to keep it moving with just the two of us. Paying this much for a game that ends that quickly and leaves questions hanging in the air, is sort of a bummer. Am I missing something or does someone have ideas how to make it challenging but doesn’t leave you wondering what the heck just happened since it’s over in 5 minutes or less? Keep in mind, it is a great idea and we will definitely keep playing it but I think it needs a little tweaking?