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From BGG:

The world-famous cruiser ship Costa Curiosa is sailing the seas, and as the head chef of the Cucina Curiosa — the restaurant aboard this cruiser — your honorable job is to serve the guests the most delectable foods possible. It's the last day of the journey, and the award-winning lobsters are waiting in their aquarium for their performance.  But all of a sudden, the alarm bell rings! The heavy sea tosses the ship about and mixes up all the kitchenettes. Even worse, the lobsters are able to flee from their aquarium! Catch them by getting the chaos under control, but avoid the slippery fishbones as they can quickly hold you back.

Cucina Curiosa is a fast-paced tile-laying game. Every player has the same set of twenty tiles, showing kitchenettes and paths. Some of the tiles also show lobsters and fishbones. The game is played over sixteen turns. On every turn, the oldest player flips over one of his tiles, then the other players search for the same tile in their set, then everyone places the tile in his personal kitchen. Once sixteen tiles have been played, the game ends and players count their points. Every lobster that is connected to the entrance by paths is worth 1 point, but fishbones count negative for you, so you want to avoid them. The player with the most points wins!

This is the second of the games from the similar box size/range as BUTTONS. Cucina Curiosa (no it isn't a spell cast by Hermione to get Harry and Ron out of trouble, much that it sounds like it should be) is a maze style game. You have to manouevre your piece around a ship trying to capture the lobsters that have escaped as they have decided that being invited to the Captain's dinner was not a good idea as they were the main course. The game plays differently every time because it is a game where tiles are placed to build up the board as the game progresses.

Naturally there are rules about tile placement but in general this is quite an easy game to get the hang of. Possibly because of the subject matter the game has a jauntiness about it with slight comedic tendencies but in effect it is basically a strategy game where, yes I really mean this, Lobsters are the pawns (notice I didn't say "prawns" much as it seemed appropriate).

CUCINA CURIOSA looks and sounds too simple to be enjoyable but it is actually quite a challenging, labyrinth - style puzzle of a game. For instance, although every player is always placing the same tile it is highly unlikely that players will either choose the same square each time or place it in the same orientation. Tiles may not be laid on top of other tiles nor may they be laid so they are in part off the board, ie out of the 16x16 grid. It isn't as easy as you may think to ensure you score lobsters and not bones. There are also lobsters and bones positioned already on the board that you can encompass into your passages, or not!

You can play this game solo, like doing a crossword without any clues. The game will always play the same but be different because only 16 of the 20 tiles are used and they are randomly drawn, so no planning is possible. When playing with youngsters it is better to keep the game as the rules denote, but if you are playing with adults already schooled in the strategies of board gaming then you can take some liberties with the rules and perhaps play it Carcassonne style, each player having a random stack of tiles from which they draw the top one and play it, or you could have each player take the top three from their own stack, play one and draw one. Both of these ideas work okay and give players more choice without making the game any easier, just possibly a little more strategic. I am not suggesting you don't play the game as it is written, Reiner Knizia is probably the world's greatest board game designer, but having the occasional optional variant can't hurt.

The components are basic card tiles with small illustrations on them. This is a shame as the artwork of Fabia Zobel and Andrea Hofbeck gets somewhat lost from being shrunk down to fit the tiles.The colours used for the flip side of the tiles are all pastel shades - this seems to be all the rage at the moment (using pastels) - and under regular house lighting, especially here in the UK, the Green and Blue look quite similar. This has no bearing on the game, only in the sorting of the sets into colours.

CUCINA CURIOSA is a good, fun game for families and good fun for children to play alone, hopefully getting them to put down their iPhones and Tablets and find real interaction amongst friends. It is unusual to have a boardgame where children aged from about 8 years and up can play without adult supervision required; as long as the kids have been taught to respect their games and not bend or chew tiles. Designed by Reiner Knizia you know that the rules will have been play-tested to death before publication and so, with Noris Spiele's  generally accepted quality, you can rely on playing a clever and intriguing game.


© Chris Baylis 2011-2015