Food Chain Magnate Strategy Guide

Food Chain Magnate is one of my favorite board games. The game is an interactive, cutthroat business simulation that has people starting fast food restaurants. Food Chain Magnate can be frustrating for new players. Some players can deal with the ruthlessness but others are paralyzed by the depth of its options and cannot get a sense for Food Chain Magnate’s strategy. Unfortunately, Food Chain Magnate is unforgiving. It’s a game where players can lose from the very first turn if they don’t know what they’re doing. And getting blown out of the water isn’t fun.

So to help new players navigate the intricacies of Food Chain Magnate, here are some tips on how to avoid being crushed. I’ll show you how to build a strong foundation so your restaurant has a fry’s chance of actually succeeding. 

If you’re looking for the video guide rather than read through a wall of text, you can check out the video below to see what you need to do:

But if you’re interested in understanding the game in greater detail, read through the tips below:

Basic strategy tips to survive your first game of Food Chain Magnate

  • Placing your starting restaurant: Balance staying close to customers with being close to drink distribution centers. Being close to customers makes it easier to do business without having to fight on price. Being close to drink distribution centers protects you from competitors spamming drink marketing campaigns that you cannot fulfill.
  • Hiring employees: When the game gets underway, prioritize the “First to Recruit 3 Employees in one turn” milestone. Here’s how to do that: 
    • Turn 1: Get a Recruiting Girl.
    • Turn 2: Get a Recruiting Girl and pick up whatever else makes sense. Examples:
      • If no one’s picked up a Trainer in Turn 1, you may want to consider picking one up to get First to Train and cheaply upgrade your personnel.
      • If you think the competitive landscape is ripe for a price war, pick up a pricing manager.
    • Turn 3: Hire three people, whatever makes sense, and get the milestone “First to Recruit 3 Employees” so that you get access to two Management Trainees.
  • With your organizational capacity, start executing your strategy.

But if you want to better understand why these are good suggestions and get some alternative pathways to consider, watch on. I’m assuming, of course, that you have a good idea for how to play Food Chain Magnate.

Placing your first restaurant

If you’ve read the Food Chain Magnate rulebook, the adage “location, location, location” holds true. A restaurant’s location affects two things:

  1. Proximity to customers: This determines how much discounting you’ll need to attract and serve those customers, and
  2. Proximity to drink distribution centers: this determines how well you can stock up on drinks in the event a wave of drink marketing messes with the customer demand landscape.
The key areas to focus on when choosing a location.

3 considerations for that first restaurant:

  1. Find a location close to customers – Being closer to your customers decreases the amount of effort you need to put in to generate a sale. Rather than spend time hiring Pricing Managers and making sure you have space in your org chart for them, you can focus on higher priorities like finding other ways to undermine your competition.
    • Consider placing your restaurant so that it straddles two blocks. This becomes important when employees like a Local Manager can turn your restaurant into a drive-thru.
    • With a drive-thru, customers that were previously 1 or 2 squares away may now wind up being 0 or 1 square away, respectively, all because they can now enter a new corner of the restaurant.
  2. Understand the concept of islands – No customer is an island, but some customers effectively live on their own island with their own set of neighbors, all of whom are isolated from all of the other dwellings. So serving that neighborhood may prevent you from serving others. What this allows you to do is determine which competitors you’ll need to prioritize.
    • Some competitors will be vying for the same houses you’re serving. You’ll have to pay really close attention to what they’re doing, how they’re manipulating the marketplace, and work to counteract them.
    • Some competitors will be servicing houses you don’t have access to. Those, you can safely ignore.
    • If you’ve lucked out and are the sole restaurant servicing an island, you’ve basically cornered the market and have the potential to make insane profits.
    • Look at the below picture to see different island neighborhoods being outlined.
  3. Have access to drinks – One way for someone to steal your business is to advertise for something you’re unable to produce in large quantities. And drinks can often be a bottleneck because of how hard they are to get.

    The reason for that lies in the employees available to you who can get drinks. You have Errand Boys, who can get you whatever drink you want. Then there are couriers like Cart or Truck Drivers who can get you more drinks in larger quantities, but rely upon the distribution centers to do so.

    Having no access to a variety of drink distribution centers leaves you vulnerable to sudden demand shifts. To prevent that, you’ll need a robust drink supply chain. You’ll achieve that by training those cart and truck drivers and making sure your restaurant is within driving distance to these drink distribution centers.

    Likewise, being close to drink distribution centers allows you to wield drinks as a weapon to catch your opponents off guard. Train some marketers to flood drink demand onto the board and any competitors without access to those drink distribution centers will be left high and dry, generating no income for the work they’ve done.
Conceptualizing islands, showing two groups of houses that won’t connect.

Now that you’ve placed your restaurant and are ready to kick things into gear, it’s time to start thinking about how you want to play. And in my experience, there are two openings that are viable in Food Chain Magnate

Opening 1: The Trainer Strategy

Having your first-turn recruitment be Trainer means your immediate objective is to promote staff members quickly. This gives them more capabilities, allowing you to create a roster of high-power employees who can shape the map to your whims and desires.

What to focus on when you choose a Trainer Strategy in Food Chain Magnate.

When you get to that point, you’ll be running such a high-octane operation that no one else can catch up. The key milestone that enables you to do this is the Salary discount milestone, giving you three employees who won’t cost you a dime, but will help you run hot.

Within this Trainer-first paradigm, there are two branches that you can conceivably take.

Use the Trainer with the goal of getting a Guru or Coach

One good approach to take is to gun for Guru or Coach. These guys allow you to tech up and catch up to anyone who’s got their engine going. Here’s how you do it:

  • Turn 1: Hire a Trainer
  • Turn 2: Hire a Management Trainee, Train him into a Junior Vice President, and get the First to Train milestone so you don’t have to pay that salary.
  • Turn 3: Train that Junior Vice President into a Coach if people are starting to blitz the board with marketing, or Train them into a Vice President if you have time.
  • Turn 4: Train the Vice President into a Guru if you didn’t go for a Coach.

Now that you have that, you can use the Coach or Guru to start massively upgrading your organization.

What your Guru or Coach should be pushing towards.

Benefits of Coach/Guru strategies:

  • You can hire and train employees into jobs that are really high up on the tech tree. Some of these jobs are strong, potentially game-breaking jobs. If you want to run amok with Brand Directors, Chefs, CFOs and Executive VPs, this is the path that will enable you to do so. 
  • Once you get going, you’ll be hard to stop. When you’re the one parading around with a Brand Director, showering radio advertisements willy nilly with no one able to meet all of the demand, then your engine will help you take home the prize.

Downsides of Coach/Guru strategies:

  • It locks you into a route so that you don’t have much in the way of flexibility.
  • You won’t be able to quickly get up to speed if other players blitz the board with marketing campaigns and begin to sell faster than you’re prepared to go.
  • If the game turns out to be shorter than you expected, your chance of winning just took a hit.

Use the Trainer to market and get early food/drink sales

If the heavy upgrade path isn’t for you, you can try going for early food or drinks. Of the paths, this one will get you some early income. You’d hire and then upgrade a marketer in round 2, figure out what you’ll market at the start of round 3 and then bring on a food or drink producer and lay down some mailbox campaign that will fire off a bunch of demand.

Benefits of early food/drink sales strategies

  • It’s slightly more flexible than the Guru strategy
  • It allows you to lap up some early milestones.
  • It can help you do well in short games.

Downsides of early food/drink sales strategies

  • Slower than my preferred opener.
  • It’s not great for longer games.
  • It’s harder to maintain the tempo and flexibly respond because you’re deliberately neglecting the Recruiting Girl which lets you be more flexible in how you want to run your org chart.

Opening 2: The Recruiting Girl Strategy

Of the openings, Recruiting Girl is my favorite. That is because Recruiting Girls allow you to recruit, which in turn, allows you to respond to threats that materialize on the board. The key to this is the “First to Hire 3 Employees” milestone. It gives you 2 free Management Trainees which allow you to accommodate all of the new employees you’ll be bringing to bear.

What a fourth-turn Recruiting Girl Strategy should look like.

Benefits of the Recruiting Girl Opener

  • It is extremely flexible. It allows you to build up a hierarchy and respond to whatever your opponents are doing. When you’re first starting out and you’re not sure what you should be doing, you should remain as flexible as possible to react to the business environment.
    • Example 1: Someone starts to market products.
      • Response: Hire people to produce food and drinks necessary to satisfy demand AND hire the Pricing Managers. This will knock prices down to increase your likelihood of being able to satisfy that demand. While they’re trying to make their sales, you can harass them with a price war while devoting some resources towards upgrading your personnel to seize control in the late game.
    • Example 2: People are taking their sweet time to build the less-flexible upgrading path.
      • Response: Hire and train a bunch of marketers to scatter demand for goods in one turn, then hire a bunch of people who can produce what’s being demanded. By the time your upgrading opponent can get things to work, you’ve already collected a bulk of the income.
    • Example 3: People go the same Recruiting Girl route you do.
      • Response: This becomes more of a cat and mouse game where you need to out-think and outmaneuver your opponent. Maybe you purposely leave some spaces in your org chart empty so you go last and see what others are doing. Maybe you spot a weakness from your opponent’s side and start bombarding the demand landscape with something you know your opponent can’t produce.

Downsides of the Recruiting Girl Opener

  • It requires that you be able to observe or anticipate what others will be doing. You can’t go into this route by playing solitaire. But then again, this game is highly interactive, and you’ll be ignoring your opponents are your peril.
  • It’s better for medium to longer games.

Hopefully these tips have been helpful. If you have any others you’d like to share, let me know in the comments section below!

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