Just Desserts Review
Just Desserts puts you in the shoes of a waiter at a specialty dessert restaurant. Customers are looking to satisfy their sweet tooth and it’s up to you to serve them with the delicious treats from the kitchen. Competing against other waiters, you want to be the first person to serve five people of different suits or three people of the same suit to win. I bought the game off the strength of its core concept, but does it have what it takes to satisfy my taste for a small card game?
The game is played with 76 Dessert cards and 24 Guest cards. Each Dessert card features a unique dessert that’s been nicely drawn. Besides looking delicious, each Dessert card contains icons that represent its taste. For instance, a banana split features icons for chocolate, ice cream and fruit. Certain cards also feature a Guest Suit icon on the bottom left-hand side to represent that this dish is the favourite of someone in the Guest deck.
Now let’s move over to the guests. The 24 guest cards feature people of many walks of life, from children, to country bumpkins, to royalty from foreign lands. Each person has tastes that they like, tastes they don’t like, along with the name of their favourite dessert. They’re also grouped into the six different Guest Suits based on their tastes. Like the dessert cards, they’re well drawn and have a very family friendly look to them.
Things start off with each player getting a hand of three Dessert cards while three guest cards are placed face up in the middle of the table. These guests are ready and waiting for you to bring them the goods. At the start of each player’s turn, they’ll draw a card from the Dessert deck to put into their hand and one card from the Guest deck to place on the table. From there, they can take one of three possible actions. One, players use their Dessert cards to serve up to two guests with items that match their tastes. If they can’t satisfy any guests, they can either draw one additional card, or replace any number of Dessert cards in their hand with new ones. At the end of their turn, guests who share the same suit are discarded until only one of each suit is in the restaurant, while one is classified as going out of the door, though you can still serve them as long as they’re on top of the discard pile.
The hand management side of this game is fairly simple, as you’re mostly just matching icons. At least for a little bit, it’s fun to think about a customer receiving a three-course dessert meal to satisfy their hunger. However, there are some interesting challenges that will arise. Most commonly, you’ll be one or two tastes short of being able to serve any active guests. Do you draw a card in hopes you’ll get the magic ingredient? Or shake up you hand by trading out a bunch of cards?
Even when you can satisfy a guest or two, it’s important to note how you do it. You might be able to satisfy a guest with three desserts, but is it worth burning three cards when those same three cards could potentially serve three unique guests? Then again, will someone else scoop those three guests before you get a chance to serve them? Finding the most efficient way of serving guests while reloading your supply is key.
Beyond managing your own actions in this restaurant, there are a number of ways in which you can impact everyone else. At the end of your turn, if there are guests that need to leave, moving the right guest can really screw others over if they had specific desserts ready for them. With the advanced rules, which I recommend using, there are more confrontational moves you can take. One additional option you have is the ability to poach a satisfied guest from another player by giving that character more desserts that they would like. The defending player can block it in most cases, though they’re going to have to burn more of their desserts on that guest to keep them happy. It can slow the game down, as players take more time to analyze all of the icons in play, but it does add some kick to a base game that might be a bit too light for my tastes.
The other options are a bit more situational, though they sure sting if pulled off successfully. When a player serves a guest with something other than their favourite, another player can yell, “Surprise!” and steal that guest away by giving them their favourite dessert. Even when it’s not your turn, it’s a great way of scoring points should you happen to have those cards handy. Potentially most devastating move of all is the Opening a Buffet action. By discarding four cards that each feature only one taste icon, you force every player to place one of their satisfied guests back into the middle. Unless you’re really playing for it, the likelihood of this happening is almost nil, though it’s certainly a way to shake things up if you’re in a jam.One thing that did grind my gears thematically was that the guests wore out their welcome pretty quickly. Mechanically, they’re probably balanced just fine and I wouldn’t have a problem if these cards were just suits and values. However, since these cards have names, faces and food preferences, you grow tired of seeing Boston Guy come in every game with his same set of ludicrous demands. Since there are only 24 guest cards, you probably burn through the entire deck every time you play, and in some cases recycle some guests when the Guest deck runs out. More Guests would have helped alleviate the issue.
Playing the game with the base rules was fine, though it did feel a bit plain, since most of the game is about matching icons. Once you get a hang of the base game, definitely incorporate the advanced rules that strengthen the package. With that one-two punch, it becomes a game that is still light, though one that will press you to think a bit harder about your decisions.
Measured in dessert terms, Just Desserts is more of a good vanilla ice cream cone versus a decadent banana split. I really like the theme and how well it mostly came across in the gameplay. All of the mechanisms made sense while giving players some interesting choices to make. That said, it just didn’t captivate me as much as I thought it would have. Adding the advanced rules helps, though it still doesn’t pack a punch like similarly small-boxed card games like Hanabi, Sushi Go! or Love Letter, all of which are also cheaper. You can do worse than Just Desserts, though you also can do better.