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is a game released this year for two players written by Fabien Hildwein rising to a challenge I had made a few years back (“there are no games about cooking!” and wondering why Eero used an image from a cooking manga on his blog.) One player takes the role of an apprentice who wants to master a specific recipe while the other takes the role of a master (or guide) who will guide and judge the progress of the apprentice.
The game is divided into three steps: the approach, the preparation of the dish and the tasting. During the approach the guide’s player describes the place where they live, what they look like and what they do. The apprentice then arrives to this place and the two characters meet. During the preparation the apprentice’s player tells how they get everything ready for his dish. For example how they collect ingredient in different places, how they cook them or how they set the table. The guide listens to this and gives dices when they’re pleased by the description. The player can also make suggestions. During the tasting the apprentice’s player describes the effects the dish has on their character and rolls the dice collected so far to reach levels of sensual and spiritual pleasure brought about by consuming this dish. The guide listens to this and again gives dice when a description is satisfying.
Sylvie played Massala, an apprentice in her forties who wants to master the recipe of a toétché
(it’s a traditional tart of Sylvie’s home region. You can either eat it with marmalade or with cheese and meat, depends on your taste). As her father was a stranger she never really felt part of the community. Being able to master this dish would be a way to be finally accepted as a true member.
I played Kherouâ, a master in milk products (especially cream and yogurts). He’s a tall, slender “goth” all clad in black leather. Basically a Marylin Manson with a touch of Willy Wonka, as you’ll see. I began the approach by describing Kherouâ’s farm: a lonely wooden chalet in the Alps with lots of albino goats and cows roaming about. Sylvie describes how her character arrives and explains why she was sent here and what she wants to achieve: as a very skilled and precise cook, her previous masters had sent her on to deepen her knowledge of the basic ingredients themselves.
Kherouâ then takes her on a tour of the farm. Contrary to what you would expect from the outward look of the chalet, the interior is completely modern white and stainless steel, filled with technology. For example, to milk the cows, there is an automated system whose interfaces have a disturbing resemblance to sex toys... and the cows listen to classical music while they’re being “treated”. Sylvie’s character looks at all this with a smile. We commented that after all, not all farmers had to follow the classical conceptions of tradition and/or nature...
Massala then begins the preparation of the toétché. Sylvie describes how she had previously collected the ingredients. This is the opportunity to discover more about her character. For example, the alcohol used for the recipe was a gift of her maternal grandfather who had a big orchard and had given her a bottle of his most famous Kirsch (alcohol made from cherries) to congratulate her on winning a cooking contest. He had told her that he was so proud that an “almost foreign girl like her” was capable of cooking traditional stuff so well. The salt was collected in a small Himalayan market during a trip with her father. Then, Sylvie incorporated the description I made previously of the kitchen and equipment and, more or less following the recipe, described the various steps of the preparation in a detailed and highly colored manner. I just kept on giving out the dice (this is actually very similar to Breaking the Ice
’s mechanism, from which it is inspired), as I really enjoyed listening to Sylvie’s descriptions. The cooking was highly reminiscent of a high-tech laboratory in full operation.
For the third step, I offered some context (this isn’t mandatory, but it helped Sylvie spring off to further explanations). Kherouâ had prepared a dining table in dark lighting and uncorked a dry but florally scented white wine. Sylvie first had to describe what it felt like how the dish felt to the senses: it’s visual aspect, the smell, the texture, its temperature, the taste. All the while, I was giving out additional dice, and she was rolling them. The idea is that if you get enough good dice, you can access a spiritual degree of enjoyment (the term seems too light...) It’s almost impossible to fail, especially since you get to use the dice from the preparation as bonus at this stage.
Sylvie’s spiritual savoring had a lot to do with her background: how she at last felt that she had become worthy of her heritage (marrying touches of her father’s side to the traditional dish in a successful fusion). Our memory is a bit fuzzy at the moment, because even though a session plays in under an hour, it’s a pretty demanding experience, especially for the apprentice’s player, while I was constantly thinking of suggestions I could offer in case Sylvie would stall. A bit like running with a net trying to catch somebody jumping out of a burning building (stressful and, in this case, exciting).
Kherouâ finally gets to compliment Massala on her achievement and gives her a recommendation letter. The game suggests to play three sessions, cooking various dishes in the apprentice’s field, each previous master sending the apprentice to the next.
We really enjoy the lively descriptions that this game pushes us to invent. There’s an almost comic slant to the sometimes poetic or touching descriptions, as I’m not used to consider cooking itself as a topic for a story. Well, it’s not so much about the story as it is about the colorful, often over-the-top, inventions. A surprising thing is that the game works much better for us when Sylvie plays the apprentice and I the guide. There’s probably something to be said of the set of skills each role requires, but I’ll leave it at that for the while being, since we’ve only played three times so far.