Reviewed by Nick Sauer

TOO MANY COOKS (R&R Games, 2-5 players, 30-60 minutes; $12.95)


Card games are one type of game I always like to check out. One of my game groups meets during lunch and we mostly play card games because they are portable and usually short enough to allow us to play multiple games over the same lunch hour. Unfortunately, good card games are not as easy to come by as one might think. Fortunately, Too Many Cooks by Reiner Knizia and published by R&R Games is one of those card games worth the look.

The game comes in an attractive box which includes a 52 card deck for playing the game, 25 menu cards and a number of star tokens. The cards for both the card deck and the menu cards are excellent quality playing cards with attractive cartoon artwork. The playing deck consists of three main suits (mushrooms,Picture of ‘Too Many Cooks’ onions, and peas) of 14 cards each and one minor suit (hot peppers) of ten cards. The main suits include one card of value 10, two cards each of values five through one, two zeros labeled “bullion” and one zero labeled “boil over”. The hot peppers are simply two set of cards valued five through one. The star tokens which come in denominations of one, two and five stars are circular cardboard pieces used to mark the players points during the game. In what I hope becomes a future trend, the tokens come pre-punched in a sealed bag, saving the purchaser from doing this himself and, thus, allowing the game to be played immediately upon opening the box.toomanycooks_bg2

The game play itself is fairly straight-forward. Each player receives a set of five menu cards and one five star token. The deck is shuffled and dealt out completely in a four or five player game. In a three player game each player is dealt 13 cards and the remaining 13 are left out of that round. After each player examines their hand, they choose one of their five menus to use for the round. These are all revealed simultaneously and determine how the cards that the players collect will score (or take away) points at the end of the round. This process is the heart of the whole game. You only get to use each menu once. As a result the game will only last five rounds.

Menus come in three varieties. There is one for each main suit that allow you to score one point for each card of that suit taken but, for all three of these menus you lose points for each hot pepper card you get. Another menu gives you points for each hot pepper card taken with minus points for each “bullion” card taken. Finally, there is a “no soup today” card which gives you five points if you take no cards that hand. For every card you do take, you lose one point and, you can end up losing points if you take more than five cards.

Once the chosen menus are revealed, the play for that round begins. The player to the left of the dealer plays a card. Play then passes to the next player who adds a card to the “trick”. The trick is taken when the last card played causes the total value of the card stack to reach ten or more points. If one of the main suits is lead, players must play cards of that suit if they have them. If they do not, they can play any card of their choice. However, red peppers are spoilers. Once a red pepper card is played (including if it is the card lead), then all card playing restrictions are removed and players can play any card they want from their hand. Given that each main suit has the two zero value “bullion” cards, you will see tricks skate at a total value of nine for quite awhile. In addition, each suit has the zero value “boil over” card. When one of these is played to the trick it immediately resets the trick’s total value to zero. Once the trick is taken by the player who drives the total to ten or greater, that player collects the cards and leads to the next trick. The only other special rule is that if a 10 is lead to the first trick, it becomes a zero. This prevents a player from easily grabbing one point in the suit they are collecting.

The round ends when a player can not play a card (i.e. they have run out of cards and the trick has come back around to them). Any cards still in the trick and in the other player’s hands are discarded and players gain (or lose) points based upon the menu they chose at the start of the round and the cards in the tricks they took. The menu cards used that round are then removed from the game. The deck is shuffled and new hands are dealt. Players then choose a menu for the next hand from their remaining menus. After the fifth, and final, round the player with the most total stars wins the game.

There is nothing really new in Too Many Cooks from a rules perspective. The game uses a number of ideas from previous card games. However, it merges them in a new way that fits together very cleanly. There is strategy in the game on a number of levels. Starting with menu selection itself, knowing when to play your “take no cards” menu is an acquired skill (I have seen new players end up losing six points by going for this menu with the wrong hand). Leaving it for your last menu is probably a bad idea as you are then relying upon the luck of the deal to save your skin. Card play within each round has a number of interesting facets as well. The “boil over” cards can be used to extend a trick that is in the main suit you are trying to collect but, at the same time, this invites players out of that suit to poison the trick with red pepper cards. Of course, the “boil over” cards are also important when going for the “take no cards” menu. The card values are cleverly laid out to add to the tension of the game. Notice that, except for the tens, it takes at least two cards played to a trick to clear ten and, it will more often take three or more. As a result, it is important to pay attention to how many of the fives in each suit have been played. This is especially the case given that taking cards in a main suit you are not collecting doesn’t hurt you but does keep points from the player(s) collecting them. Overall, the game does take a little time to get accustomed to but the excellent game play makes it definitely worth the effort.

The only complaint I have with the game is a minor one on the component side. The menu cards, while clearly having a different back, have card faces that match the play cards a little too closely. As a result, they tend to get swept up into the play deck if players are not meticulous in collecting them first. A simple black boarder around the face of the menu cards would easily prevent this from happening and, I would hope, be considered for future printings of the game.

On the whole, Too Many Cooks is a very cleverly constructed card game. It works well and plays noticeably differently with three, four or five players. The rules are simple enough that the game could potentially be easily learned by non-gamers as well. The tension of watching tricks build and, deciding when to take a trick versus avoiding it makes Too Many Cooks a truly delicious card game. Recommended. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Nick Sauer


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