Vangelis Bagiartakis


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Being the winner of a contest run by the Greek Boardgamegeek Guild, author Vangelis Bagiartakis has introduced his game Souvlaki Wars to the global gaming society at the SPIEL 11 convention, and he puts up to four players into a competition to become the most successful restaurant owner. Well, not the owner of any restaurant, but a very GREEK type of restaurant which sells Souvlaki and Gyros.

Success is measured in this game on the basis of wealth and reputation, with the players striving to be the first to reach a score of at least 25 points in each of these categories. At the beginning of the game, each player receives a randomly chosen restaurant, ranging from the typical neighbourhood grill station over the fast-food chain and the family restaurant to a more stylish newcomer. Each of these restaurants has its own starting capital and reputation which the players will mark on a scoring chart, and in addition each player receives a starting hand of 5 Food cards and 3 Unforeseen Events cards.

The gaming situation faced by the players reminded me a bit of an old computer game which I had played eons ago on the Commodore 64 (Yes, it really existed!). In the game The Big Deal the player took command of poor Floyd, a robot working in a fast-food restaurant who had to cook and serve the customers' orders before the waiting time got too long and made the customers leave the restaurant. Here in Souvlaki Wars the situation is somewhat comparable, since the players will receive new hungry customers each round, and each served customer will pay his food and - possibly increase the restaurant's reputation, whereas each disappointed customer will leave and spread some negative reputation.

Each round begins with the players receiving one Food card an paying their restaurant's fixed costs, and in addition the players also can opt to spend some money on additional Food cards an advertisements (which mean a moderate increase of the restaurant's reputation). In this phase the conditions faced by each player are different from each other, because each restaurant has its own operating costs and suppliers, and so the amount which the players may have to spend may be quite various.

After the expenses are paid, the game continues with the arrival of new customers, and now an amount of Customer cards equalling the number of players multiplied by two plus one additional card is revealed. Starting with the player with the highest reputation, the players each chose one of these customer cards and add it to the end of the queue waiting in front of their restaurants. Following the reputation order backwards, each player gets an additional card which is added to the back of the queue as well, and finally each player also receives a third, randomly drawn customer card (representing a telephone order) and adds it in the same fashion.

As a matter of fact, it may also happen that a "Big Telephone order" card is revealed and assigned to a player at this phase, and if such a card is revealed additional Customer cards are revealed until two customers are available. These two customers are assigned to the "Big Telephone order", thus forimg one larger order which is treated exactly the same way as other order cards.

Before the customers can be served, the players now have the chance to play an Unforeseen Event card from their hands, once again starting with the player with highest reputation. As indicated, each player started the game with a hand of three Unforeseen Event cards, and in addition each player receives a new card for his hand at the beginning of every turn. As the name of these cards suggests, these cards cover a broad range of possible events, allowing the players twist and tweak many different aspects of the game: gain new Food cards, change customer orders, change customer waiting positions etc. In addition, these cards are also used to create direct interaction between the players, since many of the cards also can be used to influence stocks, customers etc. of their competitors.

Concerning the player interaction the use of such event cards is almost classical, although it bears an inbuilt increase of randomization for the whole game. Players simply cannot anticipate which kinds of cards may be played against them, and so it is quite impossible to develop a defensive strategy against an unforeseen event. In a way such a mechanism goes back to classic Don't worry!, but here the targert group and orientation of the game must be mentioned again. As a matter of fact, Souvlaki Wars is designed as a fast, competitive cardgame and not as a strategic heavyweight, and so the use of the event card mechanism seems to be well in place at this point.

After all unforeseen events have been dealt with, the game proceeds to the most important phase of each round, the serving of the customers. Each customer has printed his order on his card, and these orders are one or more of the following items: Souvlaki, Gyros, Fries and Soda. The players have a hand of Food cards which they can use to serve the orders, and - as may be guessed - the Food cards show these four types of food in different quantities. To serve a customer, a player simply has to play one or more Food cards to match the order volume, and if some food is left over from a card it may even be used to serve another customer in the same round.

However, the order in which the customers must be served is fixed, since all customers must be served on a strict "first come, first served" basis. If a customer cannot be served, a player has the option to throw the card out of his waiting line, but such a rude behaviour has a quite negative impact on the player's reputation, forcing him to deduct five points from his current reputation score. On the other hand, a served customer will leave the restaurant with a happy face (and full stomach), and so the players may collect money and reputation for each served customer as printed on the respective customer cards. In addition, if a player has any food left over from his Food cards which cannot be used in the current round, then the player may give this food to one of his served customers as a "free on the house" gift, getting him one additional reputation for the finished round.

Phone orders (both big and normal) are dealt with like any other customer, with the notable difference that both customer cards belonging to a "Big Phone order" must be served at the same time in order to score. Otherwise, the distinction between pone orders and normal orders simply relates to the fact that some of the unforeseen events only relate to normal orders, whereas others only relate to phone orders.

But what happens if a player finishes his turn with some customers left in his waiting queue? in this case the remaining customer cards will be turned by 90 degrees to indicate that the customer is getting nervous. However, any customer who already is nervous will not be turned any further, but instead he/she will get fed up with waiting and leave the player's queue, causing a loss of reputation double the amount which the player would have gained from successfully serving the customer. Thus, all customers will be gone unless they can be served within one or two turns!

The game continues in this fashion with the players trying to lure rewarding customers into their restaurants while at the same time hassling each other through the use of the Unforeseen Event cards. Since the gameplay is fairly streamlined, the game plays well and entertaining especially with a full cast of three or four players because this guarantees a more or less fair use of the event cards against the individual player who has taken a leading position. However, taking the leading position has some benefits as well, because the player with highest reputation always is allowed to act first.

Despite the fact that the Greek cuisine cannot be reduced to Souvlaki and Gyros (just like Greek culture is not all about increasing the state debt), the game takes a quite ironic view of the situation of Greek restaurants. Each of the four restaurants available in the game has its own, illustrating background and unique starting position. All this adds to the fact that the game carries its background story rather well, and so Souvlaki Wars seems to be a worthy winner of the Greek BGG-guild contest, including a very unique Greek touch.

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany