The Story of Raid the Pantry
A card game with a cooking theme where the initial deal doesn't seal your fate
In early 2011, Julia Schiller “Schil” and Amanda Milne “Mil” began meeting and developing games. They’d made a start on the game that would become Komodo when Schil began experimenting with a food-themed card game.
“Recipe Rummy” revolved around a large variety of Action cards. Some helped players to collect the Ingredient cards they needed to put together dishes; others hindered their progress. Schil also constructed recipe lists for 30 dishes representing five cuisines: American, Chinese, Continental, French and Italian.
Early trials quickly proved the number of cards to be unwieldy: There were 100 Ingredient cards alone! In the game’s original design, each player was secretly assigned one of the cuisines and its dishes scored the player extra points. Using an Excel spreadsheet to balance the number of ingredients demanded by each cuisine, Schil followed her son Nicolas’ advice, simplifying the recipes and allotting four per cuisine. Mexican replaced Chinese during this process, since it had more ingredients in common with the other four cuisines.
With these initial tweaks in place, the new company SchilMil Games hosted its first official test session for their two nascent games in early June of 2011. Common feedback at this stage was that players wanted more opportunities to get ingredients.
Three of the initial bonus cards were simply one-point cards requiring no interaction. Testers seemed confused by the concept behind the other bonus cards: playing a herb or condiment against a completed dish in the same way a 500 rummy player can, for example, lay down the fourth jack if their opponent has put down a set of three. So Schil came up with the idea of Instant Dish Bonus cards, one-ingredient recipes appearing amidst the Action cards. These enable players to get cooking faster and to lock in common ingredients, which they can reuse later in more complicated dishes. Because they represent eight other cultures and cuisines, these cards also add culinary depth to the game.
Another tweak was the elimination of the cuisine cards. Now players were encouraged to cook as many dishes as possible, although there is a cuisine bonus for players making more than one dish from any of the five primary cuisines. Continued testing had determined that four was the maximum player number. A two versus two variation was developed and tested. It is the recommended way for four people to play.
Meanwhile, there was the matter of sourcing photographs and other graphics for the game. With his photographic equipment and expertise, Mil’s partner was a huge help. In one marathon session in May, 17 ingredient, three dish, and two action card photographs were shot.
Over time, Schil and Mil took most of the other pictures needed, cooking, fudging, or buying many of the dishes along the way, or, in the case of the Marketplace and Cooking Tip photos, finding them in their personal collections. Mil’s extensive crockery collection came in handy.
Flickr had proved a good source of exotic animal photos for the Komodo game, so we sought permission to use great photos of flan and ceviche found there.
Nicolas was volunteered to be our dumpster diver, a task he embraced intrepidly, so one winter morning was spent driving around Mil’s suburb searching for a colourful dumpster that wasn’t too disgusting. It was discovered that many are kept locked but eventually we found one.
Two suggestions from testers helped refine the design of the cards: run the name of the ingredients down the side so you can see what you’ve got in your hand easily and use an identical photo for each different ingredient.
A graphic artist, Aaron Barron, was brought in. His design for the back of the cards was used through the end of the testing phase. It was at this time that Aaron and Mil convinced Schil that Raid the Pantry was a catchier sobriquet than Recipe Rummy, the original working title. Meanwhile Mil brought her Photoshop skills to bear on the Dish card design, greatly enlarging the area featuring the photo of the food. They felt encouraged when a tester commented, “we all felt very hungry afterwards.”
By August, the game had entered the blind testing phase, where a prototype and directions are given to testers so they can try to play it without the designers present. As directions were finalized, graphic designer Stephen Boswell was hired to lay them out professionally. As a decorative element, Stephen used food icons from a font called Counterscraps. These also feature on the box and revamped card backs, both of which were designed by Schil.
After making a couple of last-minute tweaks to improve game flow, Raid the Pantry was ready for production. The first edition hit the New Zealand market in May 2012.
In May 2014, Julia Schiller launched Cheeky Parrot Games, which took over the intellectual property of Granny Wars and Raid the Pantry. Cheeky Parrot released a second edition in June 2015 that is more professionally presented, with artwork by Katie Curd on the slimmer, one-piece magnetic box. Gameplay was also tweaked to make it more balanced and interactive. Some of the original European Instant Bonus Dishes gave way to more multicultural fare, the direction booklet is shorter, and some aspects of the card designs have been upgraded, including the back designs and point areas.
Raid the Pantry has been a consistent seller for Cheeky Parrot Games. In late 2021 a ten-year anniversary edition was released, with box cover artwork by Anne Heidsieck (Welcome To...) that flips 50s gender stereotypes on their head.