JUST DESSERTS is the latest offering served up by those wonderful Looneys, Kristin and Andrew. It is illustrated by Brooke A. Allen & Andrew Heath. It is a 100 card + rules game of matching ingredients to the requirements of Guests in a Cafe.
It has the hallmarks of it's famous and well loved designer, but does it satisfy the hunger of the regular LooneyLabs card game player ? Read on and see .......
As previously mentioned, JUST DESSERTS is about matching ingredients on Food cards to those required by the Guests. You may use multiple cards, in fact you generally have to use more than one card to create the match. Each food card has a picture and name of a Dessert, for example "Coconut Macaroons" with the main ingredients for the Dessert shown on the bottom of the card and along the card's edge.
The Guest cards show and name a character with a "speech" bubble containing pictograms of the ingredients they WILL eat and possible those they will NOT eat (circled and crossed in red). If you can play cards to match the ingredients then you can gain the Guest card as a reward (VP), though you must ensure that none of the cards you play contain the forbidden food of that Guest.
Each Guest also proclaims their favourite food, such as "Chocolate Fondue"; some Guests even having two favourites, the Professor for example likes both Strawberry Shortcake and Pineapple Upside Down Cake, but he will not eat Chocolate (allergic perhaps ?). If you can play the Just Desserts card that matches the Guest's favourite then you get a "Tip" and are allowed to draw another Just Desserts card for your hand.
The Guest deck is shuffled and three Guests placed face up to form the people occupying the tables in the cafe. On each player's turn they draw a card and then add a Guest to the row. The Guests are in "suits" actually they are colour coded and have different icons, all icons being the same colour as the card suit they are shown on. When the player adds a Guest to the row there may not be two Guests of the same suit seated in the cafe; any that are are removed to the discard pile, though one of them is seen as standing in the doorway which means they can still be served Desserts (think of them as being seated at the counter because no tables are available).
Players then may choose one only of the three Actions available for their turn. These are serving 1 or 2 Guests, Drawing an extra card or Discarding cards from your hand and re-drawing. You win the game by having served (collected the Guest cards) three Guests of the same suit or five Guests all of different suits. Depending on the draw of the Guest cards and the cards that make up your hand the game can last anything from about 10 minutes upwards. JUST DESSERTS is a simple game but it is a good entertainment for all family members and friends aged 10 and above. We like it and have played it with several family members including grandkids aged from 10 upwards and they have enjoyed it to the point of asking if they can play it again the next time they came round for a visit. We play a lot of games with our grandkids and a game has to be special for them to actually ask to play it again.
There are also three "Advanced Rules" options for players to try out after they have played the basic game a few times; these are -
Poaching & Blocking: This is a bit of a weird one for me. If you have the correct ingredients or the correct "favourite" dish to match the requirements of a Guest already served by an opponent then you can play them and steal the Guest; however if the opponent can play cards to satisfy the Guest's need then they can retain the Guest. This has several things against the grain in my opinion. For one, why would a Guest want another serving after already being satisfied ? and then there is the way the cards are played. If the Steal is made then the stealer discards the necessary cards. If the Guest owner Blocks the Steal then they discard the ingredient cards but the player who attempts the Steal gets to keep their cards, thus they can make another attempt next turn and are very unlikely to be blocked again. I see this as not being sensible, the double feeding, and unfair to the Guest owner as they are going to lose their Guest this turn or the next so unless they are likely to win the game on the turn after the attempted steal they may just as well hold onto their cards and not make the Block.
Opening a Buffet: Basically if you have 4 Aces (single flavoured Desserts, such as Tapioca Pudding) you can discard them to force players to return one of their satisfied Guests back to the centre of the table where they again become available to serve - once more making them eat two servings.
Surprise Parties: Another way of stealing a Guest though in this case it makes more sense. One player plays the ingredients cards required to claim a Guest from the table (or from another player if you are using the Poaching & Blocking option) but before they feed the Guest another player jumps in with that Guests favourite Dessert. Naturally the Guest would prefer their favourite so they go to the player offering it. The first player doesn't lose their ingredients cards and may continue their turn as if it was just starting (with the exceptions of drawing a card and turning up a new Guest).
Just desserts for JUST DESSERTS: The main mechanic is good but neither new or unique which is a little disappointing considering the source of the game and the publishing company. The first time I can remember encountering this mechanic was the James Bond 007 ccg designed by Bryan Winter for Heartbreaker games way back in the mid-1990's. The artwork for the Guests is brilliant, colourful, and well up to the usual high LooneyLabs standard; with interesting archetype characters the likes of whom players will probably recognise from real life or have seen in film and TV shows, for example, Ginger haired "Fuzzy" could well be a good mate of mine (though perhaps 10-15 years ago) and he (Fuzzy) even has the drumsticks (my mate was a drummer in his earlier days - he is still a great musician). Unfortunately, in my opinion, the pasty (rather than pastry) shades used for the actual Desserts do not give the food the eye-candy appeal, the cakes for example look like the tired specimens you find in the window of an old bakery or "Cafe Joe" where they have sat and the sun has faded their deliciousness into sadness, and the Chocolate cake is just faded brown rather than the deliciously gorgeous dark chocolate colour expected. In essence, the illustrations for the Desserts do not do the game justice but this does not detract from the playability of the game, it is still a fun, family game and well worth being added to any collection of family card games.