The Unique Blend: A Coffee Roaster Review
Solo games do not always receive the same praise as multiplayer board games. While we still have video games that provide a solo experience, books to enjoy amongst ourselves and even television and films to binge alone, many gamers prefer their cardboard games to be accompanied by a social aspect. I can personally agree that the social aspect is a HUGE bonus to playing games, but it’s not the defining factor. Just as multiplayer games have developed from Monopoly to Agricola, Pandemic Legacy and Gloomhaven, single-player games have evolved from Solitaire to Onirim, Friday and (the topic of today’s review) Coffee Roaster.
Coffee Roaster, similar to what one sees on the cover, is a quirky little game, in appearance and gameplay. Even the theme is out in left field. The board gaming scene doesn’t have a mass selection of coffee-based games, minus VivaJava, VivaJava: The Dice Game…. and this, to name the significant ones. But unusual themes are what Saashi (the pen-name of Coffee Roaster) likes to stick to. Not only does he have a game about roasting coffee, but he’s also designed games about photography (Wind the Film!) and improvising jazz musicians (Take the “A” Chord).
Saashi has partnered with Takako Takarai for the art in all three of his titles, which some people are going to be turned off by. We’ve got our coffee roaster all smiles on the cover next to his trusty… coffee roaster... (Wait, our cover boy is nameless! We’ll name him something fancy, like Hans. Props to the best Christmas move ever: Die Hard) The cream yellows and aqua blues fill the background of Hans’ workplace, along with the reds, greens and blues of the flavor tokens drawn out of the bag.
I can see why some may think this game looks ugly. The colors are fairly childish. The grinning face and beady eyes of Hans are scattered about the two player boards. The circles on the turn track aren’t even fully rounded. Compared to the illustrations of famed artist Klemens Franz, many would say Franz does bright and colorful correctly. But that’s just it! The art of Coffee Roaster only adds to the unique qualities of the theme and gameplay (which I’ll get to in just a moment).
And to be honest, you don’t need a ton of art for this game. We’re not looking at a Rosenberg epic with a billion cards. It has cardboard tokens with numbers and different tones of browns. There are two player boards, a rulebook, and Bean Sheets that aren’t even graced by Hans.
Coffee Roaster is a bag builder, an uncommon offshoot of deck building. Each game you start with a pre-determined number of beans, flavors, moisture and maybe a bad bean or two, all based on which type of coffee you are attempting to roast. You set out the five smoke tokens on their spots on the player board, the red timer disk and you’re all set to begin roasting with Hans!
Each round, you pull a number of tokens based on where the red token is on the timer track. Most beans are numbered and they can be combined, split in two or kept the same using the flavor tokens drawn in that round. Flavor tokens also can be spent on one-time use abilities to draw more tokens or trash some of those bad tokens.
If none are used, the regular beans then roast up to the next level bean (level 1 to level 2 as an example. If level 4 beans roast, they become burnt beans, which are negative points if used in the pour). There are also the two red circles on the timer track, where smoke is added before and when beans roast, the roast up two levels instead of just one, making it a prime place to roast all your low level beans or get bit in the butt by playing your chances one round too many.
Other tokens are bad beans, from the aforementioned burnt beans, reject beans that might have mold or bug bites on them, smoke tokens, which are added twice a game, and the hard beans that begin below zero but can be roasted.
Where Coffee Roaster shines is comparing it to other deck builders. Looking at ones like Dominion and Star Realms, you begin with the same starting cards and grow from there. In Coffee Roaster, it’s abnormal in both the start and the growth. In each game, you determine which blend of coffee you’re attempting to roast, from South American cups to blends from Asian and Africa, all which vary in difficulty, scoring opportunities and starting tokens. Plus, additional theme is added on each bean sheet that informs players about the real version of the coffee and even some hidden hints among the text if read between the lines.
But the real game-changer is the tending to your coffee. From the get-go, you must eliminate and manage the bad while also growing your vast number of beans and still score well. “I pulled three flavor tokens this round,” one might think while evaluating, “so do I use all three to manipulate the beans I pulled or put them all back in the bag to potentially score? Well, I need two acidity and one aroma to get max flavor points, and I only have two acidity tokens and two aroma tokens left in the bag, including these. Do I run the risk of scoring lower to make my beans better?”
These are the types of questions you’ll be asking as rounds continue. Plus, any time you use a flavor token to manipulate the beans you pull, you may place those beans on the player board. Once two are placed (determined by the pair shown) you get a nice ability while pouring your cup, from another tray to place bad beans to a fourth flavor token that is needed for maximum flavor points on certain blends. This extra mechanic makes finding the right answer that much harder.
Speaking of answers, most of you are asking if this game involves luck. Well, yeah. Pulling tokens out of a bag with sometimes 25 different options makes for quite a bit of luck. But there’s where the puzzle happens. It’s how you tweak and press your luck to when you see fit. You can pour your cup whenever you feel ready, from turn one all the way to the final turn on the track. Sometimes it’s good to wait an extra round, other times saying “just a little warmer” scorches a handful of your ripe beans.
Pressing you luck is all over this game, which is why I like it so much. The tension built at the pour is always at a highest. You’re confident you roasted for the right number of rounds, you’ve pulled three straight 4s, so it’s looking good. But then you pull a smoke token, an unscoring flavor token and, somehow after extra roasting, a zero bean, all which you toss on the tray. Instead of eating the zero point, you’re now stuck with the next bean: more smoke. And then a one bean. And another one. And at this point, looking at the extra abilities you’ve acquired, there’s nothing really you can do.
While that sounds like it can make for a miserable experience, part of that falls on your shoulders. The use of the flavor tokens and getting those pour abilities is crucial. Reading yourself for the best options and the worst options is the entire point of the game. And honestly, a single challenge is so short (ten to fifteen minutes) that you’ll not think of it as a waste of time, but that feeling of wanting to another challenge to better your score.
The game doesn’t come without its faults. Instead of the win/lose type of solo game, this is the high score variation, which can turn some people off. But if you are a solo gamer, you are probably used to games in that style. The big thing that will keep people from purchasing it is the price. There is one place to buy coffee roaster, which is the BoardGameGeek Geek Store. It is a game shipped from Asia, so the price point for this single-player game is $60. Yikes. That is quite a bit for a game you can’t enjoy with another player in the same game.
But for those that enjoy a good solitaire game, this is one you should really be eying. I currently have Onirim, Friday, and Coffee Roaster that I go to for a solitaire experience. Onirim is quality, but I enjoy it best in app form on my phone. Friday is good, but it is the game I am worst at. I enjoy the puzzle, but to be honest, I prefer the theme and art of Coffee Roaster.
Similar to what fellow co-host Nick has said, this is a game that I could enjoy in the morning, fittingly, with a cup of coffee and our good friend Hans.
Median Score - 6 out of 7
Dylan - 6
Nick - 6