There is a rich and fictitious history behind the game Fish Cook from Cheapass Games. Designer James Ernest goes into great detail about the “untrue background” of Fish Cook, citing an original 1909 French version by a chef/game designer, a 1994 Japanese (possibly illicit) version, and foreign language rights in America. It all adds up to the deliciously hilarious theme for a game of making sushi.
While the chef motif is flavorful and spices the game for hungry appetites, Fish Cook is at its core more of a “Euro-style” game, meaning it is all about planning rather than hoping for lucky rolls on the dice. Fish Cook comes with a “Cooking School” deck of recipe cards and two boards, a “Farmer’s Market” and a “Fish Market.” Tokens represent available ingredients in the Farmer’s Market.
As with many black-and-white Cheapass games, costs are kept down by printing what is unique to the game. Most board game enthusiasts will already have the required additions of play money and twelve six-sided dice they may borrow from other games. Ideally, six of those dice will be in unique colors so that rolling the Farmer’s Market is faster.
Gameplay in Fish Cook comes in several two-phase rounds termed as “Days.” Each Day begins with the opening of the markets, meaning dice are rolled to stock the catch of the day at the Fish Market and what produce is for sale at the Farmer’s Market. Players then take turns buying from the markets or from the Cooking School, collecting a series of possible dishes to make. The competition can become passionate as players vie for the same salmon or hurry to grab all of the ginger or buy a recipe to keep an opponent from making it.
When the morning runs out, players make their dishes at their restaurants, selling them for dollar amounts printed on the recipe card. Fish Cook cleverly combines its system of cost with its rewards. The person at the end of the game with the most money is the winner, but it costs money to get there. Meticulous planning comes into play as all ingredients are required, meaning unused fish will be a useless expense. Long-term strategy comes in handy when buying up items from the Farmer’s Market for a round later in the game, investing for a huge pay-off or risking it all.
Fish Cook is a game for two to six players aged 12 and up. It is a great game for lovers of planning and strategy as well as fans of Japanese cuisine. Part of the fun is diving into the strong theme and enjoying creating dishes such as Pan-Seared Rockfish, Tuna Nigiri, and Fat Prawns with Miso. Even if players do not win, they can pride themselves on their food, well emulating the world of cooking where money is not everything (though it does help).