Game Night Verdicts #35 – Dim Sum Jam

Some things simply go together. Like honey on your cream cheese bagel. Or espresso powder in your chocolate cake. Or Annie Lennox & Al Green.

Even board gaming has some crossover, that may seem random at first but delivers surprisingly solid results: cooperative games and real-time mechanisms. You‘re working together to reach some kind of goal, with the added pressure provided by an app or a sandtimer. It‘s a combination you can find in escape room style puzzle games, in convoluted communication challenges like Space Alert or even brightly colored card smashers like 5-Minute Dungeon.

Dim Sum Jam, then, is a new entry into this genre of real-time cooperative games. In it you will be in charge of an Asian restaurant that has to serve seven packed tables. To do so, each player places one of their token on tables until they‘re fully served and can be replaced by new ones. This is how you work your way through a small stack of 16 cards. In the second half of the deck, you will find a VIP guest, that you have to serve successfully before either time or the deck of cards run out. If you‘ve managed to do that, you‘ve won the game.

An arrangement of the seven available dishes

The monkey wrench that the game throws your way is that every token you place tells the following player in turn order which table they have to serve next. This creates an inadvertent action chain that you have to keep going without interruption. If a player doesn‘t have the dish their table is asking for, they can discard any number of tokens and draw new ones from the bag. But doing so also angers one of your customers. If you end up with three angry customers, you can kiss your restaurant goodbye.

In play Dim Sum Jam feels reminiscent of the mine car chase from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It‘s fast and chaotic. When you do get a chance to choose which of your tokens to play, you get to pause for a moment to give you a quick overview of your fellow players‘ options. But most of the time, you‘ll be playing by the seat of your pants. It‘s difficult to plan more than one step ahead.

While most cooperative games are about puzzling out your optimal move or judging probabilities, this is all about quick decision-making. If you hesitate for too long, you waste precious seconds. This often feels much worse than placing the token that will throw your gourmet mine cart off the rails. This whiff of hysteria tends to provide enough of a thrill to keep you entertained. Will the rollercoaster ride last long enough before your VIP guest storms out of your restaurant in a fit of anger?

The tea is wild.

All of which makes Dim Sum Jam a great entree for your game night. It forces players to come out of their shell, since defeat might be waiting behind the next corner. It‘s a game that can be over in a flash. Every table you manage to clear is a small win, that seemed unimaginable only a few turns ago. It results in an emotional up and down, that is occasionally interrupted by a despairing wail as a player discovers that they lack the plate of shumai that table 4 is waiting on.

But after a few games, you might also discover that Dim Sum Jam is the kind of game that can be mastered. Bad luck can still stop you in your tracks, but an experienced group is likely to win this game far more often than not. That‘s what pits Dim Sum Jam against the received wisdom of veteran gamers, who will only deign a cooperative game with a second glance, if its difficulty is punishing enough to bring other people to tears.

Dim Sum Jam presents you with some optional rules or achievements to increase the difficulty. You may have to play the game using only one hand, with multiple VIP guests in the deck or even determine a player who has to play with their eyes closed. As a reward for successfully completing the game, you get to put stickers included in the game, on your game box. With this, designer Liu Xiao empties another bucket full of charme and playfulness over the whole thing. It might not be everyone‘s cup of tea. But then again, there are also people who don‘t care for chocolate, ice cream or puppies.

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