I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for… Rocky Road a la ModeMarch 16, 2020
Ryan reviews Rocky Road a la Mode from Green Couch Games.
If the games of Patchwork and Splendor had baby (a weird frozen dessert treat baby), it would be Rocky Road a la Mode. My first reaction to seeing the game laid out as I read the rules was that this had to be inspired by Patchwork and Splendor. After I played it, I would call it almost Splendor Lite. It is different than Splendor but still has the same vibe. Is it good? How does it play? If you already have aforementioned Splendor is it still worth getting? We will get to all of that in this review. But first, we have to start out with the basics….
Vanilla or Chocolate? (Basics of Gameplay)
In Rocky Road a la Mode, players are running an Ice Cream Truck business – selling strawberry ice cream, blueberry (or blue raspberry) Popsicle and frozen orange juice push pops. The object of the game is to have the most loyalty (a.k.a. victory) points at the end of the game. The first one to 9 loyalty points triggers the end of the game.
One important thing to understand is that there is no set turn order in Rocky Road. Instead, there is a time track (see below) and whoever is the furthest back on the time track goes first. If there is a tie, the player with the token that is on top is considered furthest back (as they are the newest on the space).
On your turn you take 1 of 3 actions – each action will cost you some “time” on the time track. The actions are:
- Stock Up (Draw cards) – You announce how many cards you are drawing (hand limit of 5 cards), take the cards and then move that many spaces on the time track. For example, if you take 2 cards you move 2 spaces on the time track.
- Attract Customers – You take a card from your hand and place it under your truck. You move 1-3 spaces on the time track according to the number indicated next to the loudspeaker. Each card has 2 customer orders you will need to fulfill on future turns. You can only be working on 1 customer card at a time.
- Serve Customers – You can play cards from your hand to fulfill a customer order and you move 1 space on the time track.
As you may have guessed cards, have multiple uses. You can see this in the diagram below:
When you fulfill both customer orders on a card, you then rotate the card behind your ice cream truck. Example:
Completing a card can give you either loyalty points or a permanent frozen treat bonus. These permanent frozen treats have two uses: 1. They can stand-in for a treat in an order and 2. They can be used to obtain Location Cards (see photo below) which in turn give you loyalty points.
The only other thing you need to know is there are 3 “wild” chips on the board (they stand for the red, white and blue Rocket Pops) that can stand in for any treat when fulfilling a customer’s order. To get these tokens you need to land directly on them on the time track.
First to get 9 loyalty points triggers the end of the game. Play continues until the player who triggered the end of the game is the furthest back on the road.
The Splendor of It All?
I don’t think there is any way to get around the fact that Rocky Road feels like Splendor Lite. Due to this, I thought I would take a few moments to compare and contrast a little between the two. I would like to make a note that I have never played a physical edition of Splendor, I do play it via pass and play via the Android App.
Both games require players to fulfill a card’s requirements, which give you a permanent good (and Victory points). These permanent goods not only help you to more easily obtain cards but also help you get special victory point cards that can only be purchased via permanent goods. In Rocky Road, the special victory cards are Location Cards and in Splendor they are called Nobles. This idea of trying to gain permanent treats to build an engine to get cards easier and to use them to buy special cards that help end the game come faster is what gives Rocky Road a Splendor like feel. However, there are more than a few differences. To name some:
- In Splendor there is a shared market when it comes to fulfilling an order to capture a card, in Rocky Road, there is not, each customer is for just for the player that played the card in front of them.
- In Splendor – there are multiple level cards out at a time that make up the market mentioned above. You have to get some Level 1 cards to get Level 2 to get Level 3, but in Rocky Road, you play one customer card at a time in front of you (each card has 2 orders you have to fulfill to earn the benefits of the card). There is also no levels, but some cards cost more to serve than others.
- In Splendor there is a set turn order, but in Rocky Road, there is not.
- In Splendor you use chips you draw to make up a hand to fulfill/buy market cards. These gems are all public knowledge, and you choose what you want to take as long as you follow the rules to such. Rocky Road doesn’t offer anything like that. Instead, it has cards that have multiple uses that players have to draw – only 3 are ever face-up (and you can choose a facedown card).
- Wild tokens are gotten in Splendor by reserving cards. In Rocky Road, you cannot reserve cards and wild chips are gotten on the time track, by landing on them. (That would also be another difference the time track).
- In Splendor there are 5 types of gems in the game that are used towards orders plus a wild chip. In Rocky Road, there is a wild chip, but only 3 types of frozen treats.
Easy to see that there are more differences than similarities, but it still feels like Splendor. I say Splendor Lite because you are not balancing as many good types and it takes half the time to play. The first time I played Rocky Road with my wife, it took us all of 15 minutes to play, then preceded to play Splendor (on an android tablet) and that 2-player game took over 30 minutes to play.
Now, if you have Splendor already, is it worth getting? I think if you really enjoy Splendor you will enjoy this. You may find that it has enough differences to own both. If you don’t have Splendor and was thinking about getting it vs. getting Rocky Road a la Mode – both Mrs. Inquisitive Meeple and I would recommend Rocky Road a la Mode over Splendor – it is cheaper, gives the same vibe but does it in half the time. Also, I would say Rocky Road would be easier to teach to new gamers or families/children over Splendor.
Fresh or Freezer Burned?
I really like games that fall into that filler or gateway game area of our hobby. I also enjoy games with cards that can be used in multiple ways. In this, Rocky Road doesn’t disappoint (if you haven’t caught on to my thoughts about it by now). Is it the most fun game I have ever played or the deepest game for a filler or even the best new game of the year? – um, no. However, between my 1st play of the game to my 2nd, there was a 3-day gap. During the 3 days, I found the game on my mind quite a bit and wanted to play it again. That is always a good sign in my book when it comes to games. One of the people I beat in that first preview game was my then 10-year-old son, his response after losing was that Rocky Road “… was really really fun even though I lost.”
All I have played this game have enjoyed the game and were able to understand the rules and how the game is to be played without really needing any help. In fact, the game makes sense in a way that you shouldn’t have to look back at the rulebook once you learn the rules. The game is pretty quick and doesn’t seem to overstay it’s welcome. In fact, you may feel like you wished it last a little longer.
What about any spoiled ice cream? You know negatives? The biggest negative with Rocky Road a la Mode, is those cool ice cream truck meeples, really should have been a bit smaller, they don’t fit the board as nicely as they could. That is probably the biggest negative, while not a huge thing it is a big enough deal to mention.
In the end, all of this is to say that Rocky Road is far from the freezer burned, this game is a refreshing treat. It is easy to teach and understand and plays as smooth as soft-serve ice cream. However, I will say over the years I have owned it, it hasn’t come out in a while, that’s not to say its not a good game, it still is a very good game, and one that I still recommend even recently to people on Facebook, it’s just cult-of -the-new always has me playing newer games. Though, maybe its time to break it out again, other than for new pictures for this article.
Who’s This Game For?
Instead of closing with a rating, I will close with this:
- If you like card games – don’t hesitate to get it.
- If you like unique themes – don’t hesitate to get it.
- If you like to have a game to play with family (including children as young as 7/8) – don’t hesitate to get it.
- If you like fillers – don’t hesitate to get it.
- If you like Green Couch Games other games – don’t hesitate to get it.
- What if you are lactose intolerant? Don’t worry you are not eating the cards, so you guess it! Don’t hesitate to get it.
Rocky Road a la Mode is out now from Green Couch Games.
Note: Thanks to Green Couch for providing me a preview copy of this game year ago for an honest preview. The majority of the text is from that preview, with a little update on the game and some new pictures from the final game.