My friend Kris owns The Board Room Cafe in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although I only get to see him a few times a year, I always look forward to those encounters. Not only because he’s a fun guy to hang out with, but because he almost always introduces me to great games. A few years back, he taught me Mini Rails, which remains one of my all-time favs. At a BGGcon he got me to pick up the hard to find Eggs of Ostrich. This winter at Basecamp, he taught The Crew, a cooperative trick-taking game (never thought I’d see the day) and Soviet Kitchen Unleashed. The latter is one of the weirdest games I’ve played in a long time, but it was so fun and addictive that after a few rounds, my friend Trevor and I immediately placed orders for it online.
The idea of Soviet Kitchen Unleashed (SKU) is that you’re cooks in the glorious Soviet Union preparing meals for the troops fighting for Mother Russia. The problem is that supplies are VERY limited and you have to be a bit…creative with what goes into the pot. Working as a team, you have to provide ingredients to make a variety of dishes that meet the standards of those receiving them.
You can play SKU in pure survival mode, or in a story mode that allows you to unlock more ingredient cards as you go. Each round, you’re shown a dish that you have to do your best to recreate using the items you have on hand. In Soviet Russia, taste is secondary to appearance, so a successful dish just has to get the colours right, or as close as possible. Whatever doesn’t kill our troops will make them stronger.
Depending on the number of players, everyone starts with a hand of ingredient cards. These can range from the relatively appealing Carrots, Blueberries, or Cheese to Moths, Toe Nails, or even Rusty Nails. Desperate times…
Most of the dishes you’re trying to make are some combination of sausage and slop, so really anything can be ground up and served. The companion app shows you what each element in the dish should look like colour-wise, and as a team, you must add ingredients from your hand to the grinder to match it. The way SKU does this is actually quite brilliant. The back of each card has a QR code on it. When you want to add an ingredient, you just hold it up over your device’s camera and it reads the code and adds it in. Once all of the necessary cards have been added, the grinder explodes with colour and you get a percentage score depending on how closely you matched the dish.
Players can discuss what cards they have to add to the dish, but can’t show each other until the ingredient is added. You might have to come up with a purple-ish sausage and players may have blue and red cards to add to hopefully get close to the correct colour.
On top of matching the colours, you also have to consider how toxic the ingredients you’re adding are. For example, Blubber or Grass is not too bad for the soldiers to consume, but throwing in something like Rotten Meat, Coarse Sand, or even Nuclear Waste is going to start to take its toll on the digestive tracks of our fighting forces. A toxicity metre on the side of the app lets you know when you’re getting into the danger zone. There are even items like Vodka that can be added to lower the toxic levels and make the meal easier to stomach.
Now this all may sound a bit stupid, and it is, but the designers know that and fully embrace the silly fun of SKU. If you continue through the story mode, the app gives tongue and cheek information about the next round. Some of the ingredients are brilliant like the Jeans which are known as Traitor Pants, or the three-armed nuclear squirrel. Even the side of the box declares that 9/10 Lenins approve it. This game knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else.
Some cards, like the Vodka, have special powers. Add the Squeezebox and players hand a card to the left. The Grenade destroys the next item added to the grinder. If players can add both the Hammer and the Sickle to the grinder they will make a perfect mix and receive 100% on that meal.
Your attempts are measured in Matryoshkas. If you fail to meet the required percentage for a meal or if the mix gets too toxic, you’ll lose a life. When you run out, your game is over.
I’ve had a lot of success playing SKU with both gamers and non-gamers. It’s easy to pull out and play a few rounds. Everyone immediately understands the concept, but you can definitely apply strategy to the decisions you make. It also have one of the best integrations of an app that I’ve seen in a game. SKU is unique and I think that’s its strength. I can’t think of another game where the goal is colour matching. It taps in to a different part of the brain and having a successful round is extraordinarily satisfying. Definitely pick it up if you get the opportunity.