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Writer, EFL teacher, web developer, amateur chef, and gamer. When out of the classroom and offline, Jay is eating homemade tacos on his balcony while reading a rulebook. He enjoys his expat life in Taipei. 

#023 Strange Vending Machine (2018)

Designer: Clark Lee & Tsai Huei-Chiang
Artist: Rich Kuo
Publisher: SOSO Games
Published: 2018
Player Count: 3-6
Time: under 30 minutes

Strange Vending Machine is a fast-paced and light family game that explodes off the table with table presence and laughter. It also comes with six tiny 3D vending machines! If you have ever suffered from a vending machine denying you your rightful food or drink, this game is your sweet revenge. Don’t want to buy anything? Crack open the vending machine and take all its money—real and fake! Just don’t eat Cheetos with your bare hands while you game and nobody gets hurt.


Component Breakdown

01 box insert.jpg
02 money.jpg
03 fake coins.jpg
04 two decks.jpg
05 muscle man.jpg
06 wizard.jpg

And now for the stars of the show!

07 VM empty.jpg
08 VM full.jpg
09 VM back & sides.jpg

They even have cooling vents on the back! Hilarious!

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You actually use the game box in the game! Place all 6 vending machines on top and slowly rotate the box to view both sides! Of course, you could be like me and buy a proper Lazy Susan.


On your turn…

…you’ll only take one of two possible actions.

12 action 1 buy1.jpg
13 action 1 buy2.jpg

1. Buy a card - Insert the cost of said item into the side of the vending machine and take out the card. Place it face-down in front of you, and place the vending machine back on the box.

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2. Take the money - Choose one of the six vending machines. Open the top and dump out ALL the coins. ALL the money (real or fake) is yours to keep! Place the vending machine back on the box.

—End of Game—

Play continues clockwise with each player taking one action. After one player obtains their 5th card, all other players will take one more action. All cards are revealed. Then, beginning with the player with the most ICE CREAM, each player chooses one vending machine and takes all the coins inside. Each food card scores points according to its special ability. Each fake coin is worth negative 1 point. The player with the most points wins STRANGE VENDING MACHINE!


Final Thoughts

When I first opened the box to Strange Vending Machine, I was completely surprised. Not only were all 6 vending machines already pre-assembled, but they were already stored neatly and snugly in the box in their own assigned place! The 6 vending machines were on the right, and the cards & pre-punched out coins were on the left. AWESOME! What more could you ask for? In fact, the only thing I really had to do was unwrap the deck of cards, read the rule book (which took less than 5 minutes), and we were ready to game!

The first time I played Strange Vending Machine I was unsure about the math. Here I was in deep thought coldly calculating which card to purchase to trigger which winning set while methodically and meticulously calculating how much money was in each of the vending machines. All the while the little girl next to me would shout, “Ice cream!” and just buy the ice cream. And sure enough by games end, she won. Now deep down inside I hated her, but losing was totally worth it to see her face as the vending machine she chose exploded like a pinata containing Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin—money everywhere. I doubt I’ll ever forget her screaming, “Ice cream money!”

After a few more games, the tactics and strategy really began to emerge. Should I go for the Lizard Apple Juice & Poison Snake Chocolate Egg strategy, the Armadillo Mocha & Poison Chocolate Egg strategy, an early Rat Tail Biscuit Stick strategy, or the Unicorn Ice Cream strategy? Oh, she might be going for the Unicorn Ice Cream strategy, so I’m going to dump all my fake coins into the vending machine with the most money. After a few more games, scores usually evened out around the mid to high 20s with last place maybe scoring under 20. The fake coins were just punishing enough. (It is a family game after all.) There were quite a few games though where it came down to who had the fewest fake coins. That’s a tight well-balanced game.

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There isn’t a negative section to this review because I really don’t have anything really negative to say about Strange Vending Machine. The vending machines were quite light and easily tipped over. This was unfortunate, but it’s easily avoidable by (1) rotating the game box slowly or (2) placing a few actual coins or heavy tokens in the vending machines to make them bottom heavy. This game screams to be played with a Lazy Susan. I bought one just for this game. (That’s the level of gamer I am.) I would have been nice for SOSO Games to have included score sheets as well as player aids for new players to be reminded of which food item does what.

Games with gimmicks, no matter how well executed, usually have a problem with re-playability. I don’t really see that being a problem here. There are actually two games with two separate decks included in the box. Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard is the best option to play and offers a bit more strategy than the Muscle Man’s Purchase Challenge—which feels more like a race to get a flush. Both rule sets play 3-6 players and both play well at all player counts. I personally prefer the Ingredients and Recipes of the Mysterious Wizard variant with a player count of 4 or more, but it still plays fine with 3.

Overall I was very impressed with Strange Vending Machine. The packaging and components were all top notch and well produced. Hearing the entire table scream in awe for the first time as your vending machine dumps a pot of gold coins in front of you, is one of those great gaming moments. Short fast games with easy rules and explosive fun are great for family night. It really explodes off the table with table presence and laughter. Sure. It’s a gimmick, but there’s enough weight in the set collection that makes Strange Vending Machine more than the sum of its parts and worthy of shelf space. Definitely give it a try! And don’t forget to pick up a Lazy Susan!

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TL; DR

Gamer: Cardboard East STRONGLY recommends Strange Vending Machine for gamers who love short set collection games with table presence or if you’re often complaining about the lack of games with a food theme. (Looking at you, Tom.)
Family: Cardboard East STRONGLY recommends Strange Vending Machine for family game nights due to its unique theme, easy rule set (there are only two actions in the game), adorable art design, and its explosively fun nature.
Party: Cardboard East strongly recommends Strange Vending Machine for the party environment due to its easy rule set and the bursts of laughter it’s sure to generate.

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