Just Desserts is the latest card game sensation from Looney Labs, perhaps best known for its Fluxx card games. Like Fluxx, Just Desserts is a symbol-matching game where players draw cards into their hands, compare them with goals listed on the table, and strive to be the first to satisfy the most goals. With one of the strongest themes of any Looney Labs set (which is to say a lot with lines like Pirate Fluxx and Cthulhu Fluxx), Just Desserts proves to be the sweetest of them all with everyone’s favorite part of dinner service: dessert.
The scenario is straightforward: players are servers who are racing to have the first set of happy customers. Each player receives three Dessert cards, each labeled with a mouthwatering treat like Pecan Pie, Ambrosia Salad, or Peanut Butter Cups. The Desserts correlate to one another through symbols on the cards; for example, Pecan Pie has nuts and pie, Ambrosia Salad has fruit and marshmallow, and Peanut Butter Cups have nuts and chocolate.
There are 72 Dessert cards in the deck, giving a wide range of combinations for the 12 symbols and perhaps a few recipes players will want to try for themselves. The illustrations by Brooke A. Allen and Andrew Heath are much of the fun of the game, and players may find themselves drooling over the desserts when they should be playing their cards.
Guest cards are laid out on the table three at a time, with a fourth Guest in the discard pile able to be called back in if a player can find the right Dessert. Each Guest has a different set of tastes to match the symbol set, such as Granny who wants fruit, cake, and ice cream or the Emperor (a cameo by creator Andrew Looney) who likes chocolate and cake but not fruit and vegetables. To win a Guest, players play from their hands to match all of the symbols on the card, even if it takes a few different Desserts. Each Guest also comes with a favorite Dessert, which matches directly with a card for an immediate catch. Play continues until one player satisfies enough Guests and wins.
The strong theme and clear-cut rules make Just Desserts a great family game. Parents and kids alike will love the illustrations and matching mechanic. Optional advanced rules can kick the intensity up a notch. Players may steal guests from one another by offering Desserts more to their liking, making the game much more cutthroat as servers must keep an eye on their own Guests. The “Opening a Buffet” rules give the opportunity to discard a set of Desserts and force players to put Guests back into the middle of the table. Just like ordering from a menu, players may craft the game to their individual tastes.
Just Desserts is a card game for two to five players aged eight and up. Since its mechanics are based on symbol-matching, games could be as short as ten minutes with a few players and a lucky draw, or they could go on for 40 or so minutes with a larger group all battling for server-supremacy. A handy video demonstration from the website shows how the game goes in play.