à la Carte

Game designed by Karl-Heinz Schmiel
Published in 1990 in Germany by Moskito Spiele
These comments by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated December 2, 1998 (Exception: I'd been playing a rule wrong! Noted in square brackets, updated March 8, 2001)

à la Carte is a light, fun boardgame which can be enjoyed by adults and children. The premise is simple (cooking!), the components delightful, and the game quick and easy to learn. While not exactly deep in strategy, there are nonetheless enough choices to make - among them whom to pick on - to give the game a fairly high replay value.

I should state here that Mike Siggins of Sumo fame hates the game, and claims it has no redeeming value that he can find, being too fluffy to bother with. (You can find his rant on The Game Cabinet - search for "carte" when on the site.) I can only say that I really like it, especially after a very tense, heavy game - it's an excellent "winding down" game that makes us laugh a lot. And that's as important as thinking, at least, in a game.

The components are what we've come to expect from German games: four little saucepans (the game is for 3-4 players), four spice bottles with wooden herbs and spices, four tiny stoves (with tiny paperclips to move to show the heat level) to hold the saucepans, 20 recipe cards which fit in the saucepans, various cards to denote successfully complete recipes and failed recipes for each player, a coffee-klatsch card and wooden chits, a spice container, and a die. Already you can see this is a game that will appeal to women as well as to men! I know very few women who didn't play at cooking things when little girls, and who doesn't like to be reminded of their fun childhood games?

However, the game brings out a definite mean streak in me - it just seems natural that the best way to win is to hurt the opponents. (Although we haven't yet had a winner with a score of zero - or less! - it's certainly possible, and probably just a matter of time ...) Then again, perhaps women don't play it that way . . .

The goal is to be the first to reach a certain point level (they suggest 12 or 20) or simply to have the most points after a given number of rounds. We usually play the latter, as we tend to destroy more recipes than succeed at them, so a typical game after a half hour has scores of 3 to 2 to 2 to -1.

The rules are simple: each turn you get three actions, which may be different actions or the same action repeated, or some combination. An action is either seasoning your recipe, attempting to call a coffee klatsch, heating your stove, or removing a finished recipe.

Seasoning is done using the spice bottles, and is a very fun randomizing element in the game. To season, you take an appropriate bottle and turn it over your saucepan. You are not allowed to shake or tap it while it's upside down. You may get nothing, you may get the quantity of spice you are hoping for, or you may get too much. There are four spices: pepper, lemon, oregano and paprika. Each bottle contains, at the beginning of the game, seven wooden pieces of the appropriate color, and four white pieces, representing salt. Each recipe calls for a given amount of specific spices: Chamois liver in sweet cream, for example, requires one pepper and one lemon, which is shown on the recipe chit as one black circle and one yellow circle.

You may have more of a given seasoning in your recipe than called for - but three of anything ruins a recipe. Thus the recipes which require two of a given spice are harder to make, and so have a higher point value: they're worth more at the end of the game if you successfully make them.

Heating your stove is tricky: roll the die and hope for the right number. Each recipe has a number in green showing the minimum heat required to complete the recipe (from 0 to 7). It also shows a number in red, which is the temperature at which the recipe is ruined (from 1 to "no such thing as too hot"). So you want to heat your stove, but usually not too much. To heat, roll the die. On a 1, 2, or 3 result, your stove heats up that much. An an "A" result, everyone's stove heats up one level. On a "W" (for the German word for season), you must season someone else's recipe! You can only use a seasoning which their recipe calls for ... but this is where the game starts to get nasty. You look around and see, perhaps, that seasoning two of your neighbors' recipes will probably help them, but if you season the remaining player's recipe, you have a good chance of ruining it - and sending it to the pig. (Spoiled recipes are put on cards with pigs drawn on them - best fed creatures in the game, the way we play.) Getting a W also ends your turn, regardless of how many actions you may have left. The die has two "W" faces.

A coffee klatsch is the other way the game gets nasty. If your recipe is ruined, you must remove it as your next action. If it's complete, you must score it as your next action. At any other time, you may choose your actions - and if your dish is a long way from being done but your neighbor's is just finished (but she didn't have an action left to score it), then it's time to call a coffee klatsch, where everyone brings something to share and goes home with something different! You draw chits out of a bag - when there are four different colors drawn, you've succeeded at calling a coffee klatsch. (Each chit drawn counts as one action, though - so you may waste your whole turn not getting four different colors. There are always a minimum of three chits on the Coffee Klatsch card.) You get to choose which way recipes are rotated: clockwise or counterclockwise. This is also a great way to give someone with a hot stove that Chilled Spicy Lemon Meringue you just can't get anywhere with, anyway. It's ruined as soon as it hits their stove, so their next action must be to feed it to the pig - for a score of -1, by the way.

[Note as of 2001.03.08: I was playing this wrong: you move your whole stove as well as the pan and contents, so there is no chance to burn a recipe. Pity. In fact, I think I'll continue playing the wrong way - I like it better that way!]

When you need to take a new recipe (to replace a completed one), but there aren't any left, the round ends and you score for the round. Every recipe on the SUCCESS card earns the point value on the recipe (ranging from 1 to 6). Every recipe on the pig card is -1, regardless of point value.

All in all, a great light filler game with a fairly good replay value and a wide range of appeal.

Oh - one thing. Although the German rules state clearly that your stove is reset to Zero when removing a recipe, the English translation I have doesn't mention this. It should be obvious - there's no other mechanism to cool the stove off - but in case your English rules skip this point, I thought I'd mention it. Also, my copy of the game doesn't have translations of the recipes - so I've included mine, below. Enjoy!

Here are the recipes in à la Carte, translated to English. Where I've left what seems to be a foreign term, it's because I believe it to be a chef's name. I have only listed the first word of each German recipe, as that is sufficient to identify the recipe.

If you have any corrections or suggestions for improving the translations, please e-mail me.

With thanks to Elke Carr for her suggestions in translation, and to Clemens Schmitz for further suggestions.

German Recipe:         English Translation:
  Beinschinken ...        Hambone turned in hay
  Blutige ...             Bloody breast of duck on seaweed
  Bücklinge ...           Kippered herrings with egg in spinach coating
  Fastensuppe ...         Fasting soup
  Flugente ...            Wild duck on red cabbage
  Gamsleber ...           Chamois liver in sweet cream
  Kaffeewasser ...        Coffee water à la Beaucuse
  Lammkeule ...           Lamb club Ärdistan
  Leberkäs ...            Hawaiian Leberkäs (type of Liver Loaf)
  Leipziger ...           Spring carrots, peas & asparagus
  Masthuhn ...            Fattened chicken roasted in beer
  Nilpferd ...            Hippopotamus in burgundy wine
  Ochsenshwanz ...        Oxtail au naturel (Natural oxtail)
  Salat ...               Waldorf salad
  Schnitzel ...           Pork cutlet for (or even of) the kitty
  Sinabelkirchner ...     Bavarian village mixed meat platter
  Verlorene ...           Eggs lost in aspic
  Weißwürste ...          Sweet & Sour white sausage
  Zitronenkaltschale ...  Chilled spicy lemon meringue
  Zungen-Roulade ...      Beef tongue roulades with mustard Sabayon
                          (Sabayon being an Italian dessert cream)

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