Food Fight
All the mess, none of the clean-up.
on Tuesday 11 November 2008
by Areala author list print the content item create pdf file of the content item
in Reviews > Tabletop Gaming Reviews
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author awarded score: 75/100
not rated -

Looking for something amusing for a quick evening's play, Areala digs out this game which originally appeared in issue #44 of Dragon Magazine and gives it a fresh whirl with her roommates. Hilarity (and spaghetti) ensues.


Describing itself as "a fast-paced game of cafeteria conflict", Food Fight has to be played to be believed. Bryce Knorr managed to design a rule-set that can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be for waging all-out war in a high school cafeteria. As the game might suggest, the object is to be the last student standing after the food fight begins and the prefects show up to start hauling people off to the principal's office.

The game can be played with 2-4 players, but in my opinion it's far more fun if all four students are in on the carnage, as the two-player game just degenerates into a game of who can stun the other person and escape before getting nabbed by the faculty. Each student has certain advantages and disadvantages, and represents a certain segment of the population of your typical high school.

There are four students in the game, and each one is differentiated by their two stats: Action Allowance points (AA) and Appearance Rating (AR). AA is a measure of how many different things a student can do in a given turn; you spend AA points by moving squares, picking up food, attacking other students and so forth. Values range from 10 for Rock (the jock) down to 4 for Lennie (the nerd). AR, on the other hand, is a number representing how much the student cares about his or her appearance. Obviously, the jock and the cheerleader care a lot more about their looks than the two nerdier characters. Students who are hit by food subtract points from their AR, and anybody who hits 0 AR retires from the fight until a faculty member drags him or her off to detention and out of the game.

Obviously, since the name of the game is Food Fight, one would expect there to be some food involved in the battle, and this is where the Lunch Line comes in. Every student starts off in the lunch line, and goes dutifully down the line picking out one counter at random from each of the five food families (beverage, side-item, main course, etc...). Nobody can start tossing until everybody has made one trip through the food line, so players with faster characters don't get to go through, then turn around and dump a tray on somebody behind them. After everyone has been through, though, all bets are off, and it's time to make a mess.

Making a mess generally means hurling one of the edible(?) bits on your tray at another player. All food has four statistics printed on the chit: Range, To-Hit, Slipperiness, and Damage. Range is the maximum number of squares a given item of food can be hurled; generally, the harder the food is to handle, the closer you have to be to another student to have a prayer of hitting them with it, so things like spaghetti and corn will require you to be very close, while easier to handle items such as milk cartons or apples can be hurled nearly halfway across the cafeteria with ease. To-Hit rates how easy or hard it is to nail somebody else with a given piece of food; when you hurl an item at your target, you roll two six-sided dice, and if you roll under the number printed on the chit, then you were on target. If you missed, then the third number comes into play: Slipperiness. See, when you miss with food, it doesn't just magically disappear. It lands on the floor, where it can cause all sorts of further havoc for anybody stepping on it. Anybody running through a square with food in it rolls a d6 and compares the result to the slipperiness rating of the food. Equal to or lower than the number, and something awful is probably going to happen. Damage is simply a measure of how much of a hit your AR is going to take when somebody dumps it down your pants. Roll a d6, add the damage number of the food, and mark off that many points from your AR. Some food doesn't cause AR damage, but has the potential to stun a target instead, which often is even worse than wearing the veggies.

If this was all there was to the game, Food Fight would be a relatively simple (if somewhat one-dimensional) waste of time. But nothing is ever that simple in high school, and you know that once the students start acting up, the faculty and staff are going to appear to try and straighten things out. At the start of the game, the six "antagonist" prefects are all in their own lounge, but at the start of the round after the first food is flung, one by one, they start to trickle in from areas around the perimeter of the board. The faculty and staff members have AA points just like the students, but instead of an AR rating, they have "Needed To Stun" rating, which is a measure of how much AR damage one must take in a single round in order to make them stop and clean themselves off. The staff make beelines towards the closest students and make every effort to apprehend them. Students so grabbed can make a last-ditch effort to escape from the prefect by dumping everything they have on them at once, but even if this succeeds, the student earns the undying wrath of that prefect who will then chase them throughout the rest of the game until he or she is caught and hauled off the board. The prefects, however, are bound by many of the same rules as the players, including the possibility of slipping on food that has gotten underfoot. And after five or six rounds, making your way across the cafeteria unhindered by errant piles of slop and spilled drinks can become very difficult indeed.

There's one more significant aspect of the game, and that is the presence of the garbage cans scattered across the cafeteria. Seeing as how most students are just trying to have a normal lunch and not get involved in the battle for cafeteria supremacy, they've been eating, dumping their garbage, and leaving. Players can take advantage of that fact by grabbing up a garbage can, filling it up with their own food, and then using it like some high-school version of the Death Star's superlaser by unleashing the contents at their fellow students or the staff members trying to break up the fight. The more garbage in a can, the more AR damage it can cause (and the more areas of the floor it can cover). A fully-loaded garbage can has the potential to hit for 35 points of AR (by comparison, the messiest food item, spaghetti, can do a maximum of 11), which is enough to instantly immobilize any prefect who gets nailed with it, and nearly single-handedly knock the jock or cheerleader out of the game. In addition to this, garbage by its very nature is slippery (with a rating of 6), and since it winds up on the floor after you've hurled it at your target, anybody walking over it is likely to take a dive as well.

The game itself lasts until all students but one have suffered enough AR damage to put them out of the fight or have been nabbed by the staff, or until 10 complete rounds have passed. If more than one student is still on the board after the 10th round, the players can either agree to end the game in a draw, or else they can hold a "food off" where each player gets random bits of food to toss at the other players in one "sudden death" round from 1 square away, and the winner is the one who scores the most AR damage from their attacks. Of course, nothing says you have to stick to the 10-round rule, and the games seem more fun when they are played to the last person standing, even if this takes a little while longer.

The main advantage to Food Fight is that you can set it up and be playing in about five minutes, and the whole game itself will probably not take you more than 30 minutes or so, even with four players, once you know what you're doing. It's meant to be a fast-moving game where stuff should be happening every round, not one where everybody turtles up and tries to avoid being splattered. The presence of the faculty helps to make this point, and keeps anybody from hanging back from the fight. The other major advantage is that, because it plays so quickly, you can easily get in three or four games in the time it might take you to play one full game of something more complex. And while it's neither an advantage or disadvantage, the potential for all kinds of trash talk makes for a rather amusing engagement. It's also best if the players rotate their characters from game to game, as playing with the 100-AR Lennie is a completely different experience from playing as the 40-AR Rock.

Perhaps the best news is that Food Fight also includes a number of optional and expanded rules that allow you to add some life to the game once everybody understands the basics. These include a rule for random student placement at the start of the game, the special "Mystery Meat" food item that can show up randomly, the ability to tip over tables for cover, and the presence of the salad bar which introduces a few new elements like ketchup and mustard pumpers that can be used repeatedly, and salad bowls that are almost guaranteed to stun anybody they hit. Any or all of them can be mixed into the basic rules of the game, and you've got a number of ways to customize your playing experience. And for those who want a limited amount of team play, you can always play two-on-two games of "nerds vs. populars" or some other kind of partnership between characters (Rock might just be willing to stick up for Dwayne if Dwayne's gonna do his homework over the weekend, or Lennie's secret crush on Connie might make him join the fray against somebody who's attacking her. It's high school...anything can happen).

Alas, it's not all fun and games. Food Fight also suffers from a fair degree of predictability, and it's also far more fun from a casual gaming perspective to play as the moderates Connie and Dwayne as opposed to the extremes represented by Lennie and Rock. And the random nature of the game's setup can mean that some students begin with enormous food advantages over others, and that it's perfectly possible to do inordinate amounts of damage with relatively wimpy food items while getting mediocre results with the "better" foods. Plus, just like high school, the game can very easily degenerate into a "pick-on-the-loser" contest with one or two players ganging up on the odd man out. And there's not a whole lot of strategy involved beyond hitting the other players harder and faster than they hit you (though I can personally attest that staying away from the staff entrances and always trying to keep something that has the potential to stun on-hand for emergencies are useful tactics no matter who you are playing as).

But the bottom line really is that Food Fight is meant to be fast, silly, somewhat cruel, and often unfair (just like high school). As long as its played with that understanding, the game will produce plenty of laughs. And, unlike high school, nobody's feelings will be hurt at the end. Plus, you get the added bonuses of making your close friend wear a bunch of peas, strewing garbage all over the floor, and hurling milk and tea with wild abandon without having to clean anything up afterwards. You'll probably get bored with it after a couple rounds, but it still holds a somewhat neat little charm that can make you laugh and it's a great choice to be pulled out when you don't have enough time to get into something more time-consuming. It gets boring with just two people going back and forth, but a four-player game is enjoyable chaos that is fun for all ages, but especially for those who are young at heart. Die-hard strategists or those who prefer more tactical-style gameplay will be disappointed, there's no blood-n-guts to appease the likes of bloodthirsty gamers, and anybody looking for a deep story will be sorely disappointed at the two-dimensional, stereotypical aspects of the characters. On the other hand, it's easy to set up, quick to learn, and simple to teach others. What more could you want for your Friday night quick gaming fix? So flip a table, grab a tray, and join the fight!

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