I’m always looking for board games with unique themes which is what initially drew me to Dulce from Stronghold Games.
Dulche is a shared input style board game that has players competing to build the best confectionary empire.
Disclosure: Thank you to Stronghold Games for sending us a review copy of this “deliciously fun game.” Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
What is Dulce, A deliciously fun game?
This dessert themed game plays one to four players with games taking less than an hour, getting quicker with the more experience players have. The game is listed for ages fourteen plus with an MSRP of $39.99 USD.
In Dulce, players compete to make the most popular confectionery empire by planting fields, building cafes, harvesting ingredients, and scoring points for completed confections. Each player has their own deck of cards but will be dealing with the same input each round. Used ingredients can produce byproducts which can be passed to another cafe or used to feed your chicken. The player who uses their cards to build the best engine will score the most points and win the game.
For a look at the components you get in this engine builder check out our Dulce Unboxing Video on YouTube.
Inside the Dulce box, you will find surprisingly thick player boards (for a Stronghold game), an eight page rulebook, a twenty-four card cafe deck for each player, a wooden scoring meeple and chicken token for each player and plastic ingredient cubes in five colours. There is also a set of four reference cards that we recommend leaving in the box until after you’ve actually started playing the game.
The component quality here is good. I appreciate the thickness of the boards. I love the little wooden chicken token and dig the plastic ingredient cubes. Where this game loses some points is in the graphic design choices.
The grid on the player boards is very light, the art on the factory cards is repeated on every card with only minor changes like colour between them, and the iconography for ingredient levels could have been much clearer.
Also, this box comes with a lot of air. The actual game components take up less than one third of the box.
How to Play Dulce
At the start of a game of Dulce everyone takes a player board and a scoring meeple and a chicken in the colour of their choice. The scoring marker and chicken are placed on the zero spot on the player board. Personally, I like to put the chickens outside. just off the edge of the board and the meeple on the track itself.
One player is selected to shuffle their deck of cards but everyone else’s cards should stay in numerical order. That selected player then removes four cards from the bottom of their deck without looking at them and returns them to the box. Their deck is then placed Cafe side up on the table.
The first card is drawn from this deck and all of the other players search their deck and find the same card, then everyone has three choices of what to do with that card.
A drawn card can be converted into a Cafe by playing it face up beside your player board. Cafes turn ingredients into points at the end of any turn in which you take a harvest action. Each cafe requires two different ingredients to produce points, and the level of ingredients depends on the specific cafe card.
Before I go on to the other two actions, let’s talk a bit about ingredients.
There are four main ingredients in Dulce; peanuts, cacao, vanilla and coffee. Ingredients in this game come in three different quality levels, pure bean, ground bean and butter. Cafes require ingredients at varying levels. For example, the Fudge Cafe requires pure cacao and ground peanut to score, and the cafes that are pre-printed on the player boards all require pure beans.
Freshly harvested ingredients come out as pure beans. These cubes can be placed onto cafes needing pure beans or any lower level of the same ingredient. The tricky part is that after a cafe scores the ingredients used downgrade by one level and can then be passed on to another cafe.
Trust me, this confuses everyone at first and the small icons on the cafes showing ingredient levels don’t help with this.
Now back to playing the card for the round. If you don’t place the card as a cafe, the next option is to use it to plant fields. To plant a field you place the card anywhere on your player board face down. The backs of the cafe cards show four ingredients. When a field is placed you will place one ingredient cube onto each of these spots, matching the ingredient shown. In addition, if you cover up an existing field with a matching ingredient you get to place two cubes instead of one.
Note the most cubes a single spot can hold is two and if you end up covering up an existing cube that ingredient will be fed to your chicken, moving the chicken along the scoring track up to one spot for each extra ingredient. Cards played as fields can be rotated any way you wish and can even cover up the starting cafes on your player board.
The final action option is to harvest. To do this you discard the card and then chose one row or column on your player board and take all ingredient cubes from that line. Each of these cubes must be placed onto a cafe. If you don’t have enough spots in your cafe any leftovers go to your chicken.
Finally, you can have your chicken lay eggs. For every three places the chicken has moved down the scoring track, they can produce one egg. Eggs are wild card ingredients that can be used to fill any one cafe ingredient spot. However, eggs are single use and don’t produce any byproducts.
Remember that all freshly harvested ingredients are pure beans and can be used to fill any ingredient requirement.
After all of the players have chosen and completed one of the three actions with their card, you then move onto a scoring phase.
Here any player that has any full cafes (either on their main board and/or in their tableau) will consume ingredients and score points. The scoring player goes through their full cafes one at a time in any order.
First, they score one point for the full cafe, they then remove the ingredients from that cafe and re-spend any byproducts produced. When removed from a cafe each ingredient downgrades one level. Pure beans turn into ground beans and ground beans turn into butter. Butter is the bottom of the chain. When you use butter there is no byproduct and the cube is just discarded.
Byproducts can be placed on to any empty ingredient spot that matches their type. If you don’t have an empty spot that can use a byproduct you instead feed it to your chickens, which allows you can to later produce eggs during a harvest phase. Remember, when consuming eggs, there are no byproducts.
Using this byproduct system you will be trying to set up chains where you will use the byproducts of one or two cafes to fuel another and the byproducts from that cafe to fuel another and so on. You can even use the same cafe more than once within the same byproduct chain.
For each cafe that scores, move your scoring meeple one place on the scoring track.
The game continues for twenty rounds, at the end of which the player with the most points wins. In the case of a tie, players produce as many eggs as they can and then total their number of eggs plus the number of ingredients left in their fields, and the player with the most wins!
What I just described are the two to four player rules. Dulce can also be played solo.
To play the solo version you need just one deck of cafe cards which you will then shuffle and remove four cards from as normal. Gameplay then goes on just like in a multiplayer game, with you deciding what to do with each card in your deck. At the end of the game, compare your score to the back of the rulebook to see how well you did and get ranked somewhere from Baking Beginner to Macaron Master.
Dulce has a lot more going on than expected.
When Stronghold Games first contacted me about reviewing Dulce I was intrigued. The first thing that caught my attention was the theme. While there are a few dessert making games out there, like King Chocolate and Just Desserts, it’s far from a common theme. I also really liked the sound of the byproduct system.
Plus I have a soft spot for bingo style games (a.k.a. games where every player gets the same input every round and gets to choose what they do with that input). I’ve enjoyed this system in games like Tiny Towns, NMBR 9 and Railroad Ink. What I love most about this style of game is that despite everyone dealing with the exact same inputs everyone ends up going their own way, making differing choices, and ending up with totally different boards, layouts, and scores by the end of the game.
I’m pleased to say that both of these two aspects that I was looking forward to deliver in regards to Dulce.
The dessert theme really is great and it’s well integrated through the byproduct system. So not only do you get a cool pretty unique theme you get interesting mechanics tied to that theme. Even the way you feed the chickens feels thematic. Though the amount of coffee we’ve ended up feeding chickens in our games is somewhat concerning.
The real highlight here mechanically is the whole byproduct system and the engine building that is required to make the most out of that system. While it sounds pretty simple in theory whoever designed which cafe takes what ingredients was very good at making it much more difficult than you would think.
One of the pitfalls I’ve seen almost all new players fall into is in thinking that two cafes with the same ingredients, but at different levels, will combo well by feeding into each other. It only takes your first scoring phase to realize that in all of these cases, each cafe needs to feed one ingredient to the other, and you can’t actually do that during the game as you score one at a time.
When first reading the instructions for this game, and even when watching a couple of how to play videos. it sounded much simpler than how it turned out. There’s actually quite a bit of strategy and thought required to pull off a solid engine in Dulce, and that alone means this game won’t be for everyone.
For me though, I love that. I love that this game is actually quite meaty despite some pretty simple rules. I would put this game into the category of thinky filler along with other shorter games that should appeal to medium to heavy euro fans. What this means though is that this Dulce is definitely not a quick, fun, party style game.
While the whole byproduct system works really well and is very fun to play with, it does have a problem and that’s all to do with the iconography that is used to represent ingredient levels. Instead of nice big ones, twos or threes over the ingredient spots they instead went for small icons with rather thin rings about them. Pure beans are represented by three rings, ground beans by two rings and butter by one. These icons could have been MUCH more clear.
In addition, two of the ingredients icons are very similar looking, the cacao and the coffee. These rings and icons aren’t just hard to see on the table in front of you but can be hard to distinguish even when the cards are in your hands. I don’t recall a game of Dulce where someone didn’t ask “Is that a two ring or a three ring?” at least a handful of times.
What confuses me even more about this is that the icons are small and off to the side to presumably show off the cafe art. This would make sense if the art was worth looking at. Every single cafe in this game is identical except for minor colour differences and the words on the signs. I might have understood the lack of functionality if they were trying to show off twenty-four totally unique looking pieces of cafe art, but they aren’t.
Another issue we found when playing Dulce is how the player aids are written. Usually, when teaching a game I hand out the player aids while I’m doing the teach so players can follow along with the card as I describe things. You do not want to do this with Dulce. The way the information on these cards is presented makes them confusing and overwhelming to new players. I suggest only handing these out after everyone has heard how to play. As a reference, once you already know how things like byproducts work, these cards are great, they just aren’t helpful for learning the game.
My final complaint about this game, and one that’s going to be an issue for some players, is the fact that this game is totally and completely multi-player solitaire. While playing Dulce you don’t interact with the other players at all. The other players at the table and what they are doing has nothing to do with what you are doing.
With this game you could have the first player shuffle their deck then set up everyone’s deck in the same order then everyone could go into another room and play through all twenty rounds on their own and come back and compare scores. I can’t think of a game in my collection with less player interaction than this.
That said, this lack of interaction means that Dulce could be an awesome game to play online at any player count. As long as each person playing has their own copy of the game, you could stream a game of Dulce with a hundred players, having the streamer just read off which card is next each round and it would work.
Overall I like Dulce. It’s got a distinctive theme that actually comes out while you play the game due to how well the mechanics tie into it. This is the heaviest bingo style game I’ve played and it’s much deeper than the pretty straightforward rules would seem to indicate. This is a thinky filler game that my friends who are medium to heavy euro fans really dig. While there isn’t any player interaction to speak of I’ve really enjoyed trying to figure out the puzzle that is Dulce each time that I’ve played.
If you are looking for a thinky filler, something to play solo or with other medium to heavy euro fans, you should check out Dulce from Stronghold Games.
If you were hoping for a light dessert making party game, stay away from this one. That is unless you are in the mood to try something that requires some thought and lots of planning.
If you’ve enjoyed other bingo style games, games where everyone deals with the same input each turn and then chooses what to do with it, you really should check out Dulce. For me, this is the best of these style of games that I’ve played so far.
For the rest of you, this is very much a try before you buy. Find someone who knows the game well and get them to teach you, ignore the reference cards until you need them, and dig into building, planting, and harvesting peanuts, cacao, coffee, and vanilla while keeping those chickens well fed.
It’s not too often that I get blindsided by a game after reading the rules. That totally happened to me with Dulce. When I first heard about this game, I thought I was getting into a quick, probably silly, dessert making game. After reading the rule book, I expected something light and fluffy like cotton candy and instead, I sat down to play something that was much more thick and rich. I was totally shocked to find out just how much depth this game has.
What about you folks? What other games have you found to be much more complex than expected?