Games you can play for dessert: Doughnut Drive-Thru

Something interesting happened on Kickstarter in September 2016. In a brief flash of odd synchronicity, two projects for card games featuring anthropomorphic, kawaii-cute doughnuts launched within a day of each other.

I couldn’t decide which one of them looked better so, of course, I backed them both. (I have a problem.) Both of them ended up funding.

The first, Go Nuts for Donuts by Daily Magic Games, is still in pre-production. However, after the campaign, it was signed by the publisher Gamewright—pretty much guaranteeing it will appear on store shelves everywhere, eventually.

On the other hand, the second project, Doughnut Drive-Thru by Grail Games, has already been printed, delivered to backers, and will soon enter distribution channels.

Doughnut Drive-Thru

Doughnut Drive-Thru is a game for two to four players where you bake and serve doughnuts. On your turn, you can draw a doughnut card, prepare a doughnut card you have drawn, or serve a doughnut card you have prepared. Each doughnut card has a preparation cost (the amount you must roll on a die to prepare it), a serving cost (the amount you must roll on a die to serve it), and a point value. The game ends once one player has served five donuts and the winner is the player with the most points.

A lot less intimidating than an actual pastry kitchen.

Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that, though. You start the game with two doughnut tokens (or three tokens in a two player game). To take the action of drawing, preparing, or serving a card, you must put a token on that action. If the action you want is full, you cannot take it. If you run out of tokens, you must pick up tokens from one of the actions. So, you need to be able to get the actions you want before you can even try to get the particular die rolls you need to prepare and serve your doughnuts.

Also, doughnuts that you have served can be used to give you a “plus-one” for any die roll. At the start of the game, you only have a realistic shot at preparing and serving low-cost doughnuts, but the more you serve, the better you get at it. Eventually, as you build up your supply of plus-ones, you can even try to prepare and serve doughnuts that require a seven or eight—higher than it is even possible to roll on the game’s six-sided die. However, even with plus-ones, nothing is guaranteed because rolling a one is always an automatic failure.

I don’t know exactly what it is, but this game sucked me in. The rules are simple, the cards are cheerful, and rolling the die is fun, but there’s also a lot to think about. You can’t just play on autopilot. What doughnuts do you want to go for? How many of your plus-ones do you want to spend to try to guarantee success? What action are you going to take next if you get the roll you need? What action are you going to take next if you fail? Also—and this is really important—what are your opponents trying to do?

Since you can see what doughnuts other people have in front of them and what they need to do, you can get into a bit of a mind game where you can try to block other people from getting the actions that they need. You’ll constantly be asking yourself, “If I go here, they’re going to go there… so should I go there instead of here?”


Some of the foods aren’t doughnuts, but are still adorable.

Evaluating artwork is entirely subjective, but I still think I’ve come up with a foolproof proposition for determining whether the artwork in a food game is good:

The artwork in a food game is good if and only if it makes you hungry.

If the game reminds you of the food so much that you start craving it, the artwork is probably pretty good, yeah? For Doughnut Drive-Thru, the smiling dessert cards are very stylized, but they make me really, really want to eat a doughnut. I’ve been dreaming about biting into a Boston cream or raspberry filled pastry ever since I opened the box for this game.


I came across a few little things in Doughnut Drive-Thru that stuck out and distracted me.

One of the types of actions you can take on your turn is called “work.” I wish they had called this literally anything else. Bake? Cook? Confectionify? Kitchen-up-a-storm? An action called “work” makes me think about, well, work—which is the last thing I want to think about during a game.

Similarly, most of the doughnuts have fun names (“Tastalicious Almond Bomb”) and/or names that are understandable puns (“General Custard”, “Cinnamoan”). However, one of the doughnuts is called “Annoying Wasabi and Guava.” As far as I can tell, this might be some kind of reference that I’m too web-is-a-series-of-tubes-ignorant to get. Who knows, maybe the other cards have in-jokes that I’m not getting either? Whatever the case, every time I see this card, it jars me right out of the game because “annoying” is not an adjective that describes food. All of the donuts sound delicious, except this one.

The only food I would describe as “annoying” is red lettuce. Every time I see a salad with a red lettuce, I’m like, why is there a tree leaf in my salad… did they just pick these up out of someone’s yard… this is annoying.

Also, the back of the box says the game includes “eight very small wooden doughnuts.” This just sounds weird. “Very small” is so relative—what does that even mean? Sure, they are “very small” compared to real doughnuts. But, at approximately the size of a defectively large Cheerio, I would say they are averagely-proportioned wooden board game pieces. I guess describing them as “very small” is expectation management that means people will be pleasantly surprised when they see the actual size.

Honey Nut Meeple-os compared to a typical meeple.

The thing that is actually “very small” is the die that comes with the game. It’s a custom six-sided die with a doughnut instead of a one, but it’s tiny. Rolling the die is such a critical part of the game that I wish it came with a big, beefy die instead of this decidedly diminutive one. I’m sure price point and production costs were a factor here, though.

14mm doughnut die (center) compared to basic 16mm die (right). 2mm doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it is.

In spite of the size, having a custom die with something different on the one face is still a huge positive feature for the game since it treats rolling a one differently than rolling any other number.


The game includes four optional special “baker” characters. I love how compactly these are implemented: the reverse side of each player aid card has a unique power. The rules suggest that you should either deal them out randomly or let players choose them in reverse turn order.

“Gerdt” is an anagram for “gredt,” the sound you sarcastically mumble under your breath if you get stuck with that card.

I’m concerned the powers might not be completely balanced. Ordinarily, when you’ve used one of your served doughnut cards for a plus-one, you can’t use it for a plus-one again until you reset it by taking the “Coffee Break” action. However, the Peter baker allows you to Coffee Break one card each turn. Arguably, I can see how this might be balanced because you need a served doughnut to use it, and some of the times you are getting a plus-one from it, you would have gotten one from taking a Coffee Break anyways. However, when playing the game, this seems to generate a lot more plus-ones than the other powers.

This is not a huge deal, though. The powers are an optional part of the game, and you could just play without this one if you wanted to. Or, if you were playing with a younger player, you could give them this card. Or, maybe I’m wrong and it is balanced.

Final thoughts

You know how, if you just eat sugary doughnuts for breakfast, you end up hungry and wishing you’d had something more? This game is not like that.

I didn’t expect this game to stick with me, but it did. I keep finding myself wanting to go back and play it again.

And also wanting to eat a doughnut.

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