I enjoy solitaire games. Despite blathering on a month ago about how tabletop gaming is a social experience, sometimes I just like playing with myself (#wentthere). I am almost exactly halfway along the extrovert-introvert spectrum; sometimes I just want to take my time and savour the challenges of playing against a well-designed “system”.
One day I will share my favorite solo games; today, however, I will discuss a game that is just making its way to market here two years after its Japanese release. Coffee Roaster’s designer and publisher is known only by his nom du conception, Saashi. Saashi’s only other designs are two little card games which I have not played, Take the “A” Chord and Wind the Film!. Saashi’s games share a graphic sensibility which is half Tintin, half Playmobil, but where Chord and Film! appear to be light filler-type games, Coffee Roaster is another beast entirely.
In the game you take the role of a bean roaster trying to achieve the perfect blend–or, rather, three perfect blends, since a full game consists of three Brews. There are 24 varieties provided at three difficulty levels, so there’s plenty of replayability right there.
Your roasting skills are represented by a cloth bag which you fill with tokens at the beginning of each brew. The composition depends on the Bean you’re brewing, but basically you’ll be throwing in tokens representing beans of varying Roast Levels, Moisture, and Flavour.
Over the course a number of Roasting Phases, you’ll be drawing tokens from the bag and placing them on the Roasting Board, thereby either immediately manipulating the ingredients in your bag or earning Unique Effects which you will use when it’s time to Test your brew.
The Roasting Phases are the “meat” of the game (mmmm…meat coffee…). Each of the three types of Flavour token manipulates the Roast Level of your beans in a different way when you play it to earn a Unique Effect; if you play it for an Immediate effect, though, you don’t get to use its special Flavour-Flav power.
Any beans which have not been flavoured or otherwise finagled by the end of the Phase get roasted; they are replaced by tokens with a Roast Level which is one higher. This is good, inasmuch as you generally need your beans to have high-ish values for the Cup Test. But Level 4 Beans don’t get roasted–they just BURN, BABY, and get replaced by useless Burnt Bean tokens which are hard to get rid of. Not good.
After each Roasting Phase you have to decide if you want to keep on Roasting or move on to the Cup Test. If you decide for another Roasting Phase, you will have to draw more tokens next turn–which on the surface you’d think was a Good Thing since it gives you more options, but as the Phases pass and you use up your Flavour tokens you’ll just be pulling more and more Beans which end up getting Roasted or even burnt. Plus, there are two special Phases (representing “cracks”) which not only add useless smoke tokens to your bag but also roast your beans two levels instead of one. So there’s a push-your-luck element here you have to deal with.
Inevitably the Roasting ends (by choice, or automatically if time runs out) and you have to Test your brew. This involves “pouring” tokens one at a time from your bag onto spaces on the Cup Board until you have filled ten spaces. You can stash a few “bad” tokens on separate “tray” spaces, and you can use those Unique Effects you earned during Roasting to optimize your results. But otherwise the ten tokens you pull represent your Test Brew and are used to calculate your score.
Ultimately, your Test earns points three different ways:
You then lose points for Bad Beans, Smoke, not having any Flavour tokens at all, and worst of all, not being able to fill all ten spaces on the Cup Board. A final score of 10 for or more for a Brew is decent; 15 or more is pretty damned impressive. Then you start all over again with a harder Bean. After three Beans, you tote up your final score and earn a rank anywhere from Apprentice Roaster to Meister.
If anything, Coffee Roaster’s lineage reaches back through TMG’s 2014 hit Orléans (currently sitting at #27 on BGG) and arguably back to Mayfair Games’ Pillars of the Earth in 2006. All three are worker-placement games which use bags to limit players’ control over when and how they get to take their actions.
In Pillars, there is One Bag To Hold Them All; all the players’ workers go into the bag and are drawn out randomly. As each round continues the choice of what to do with them shrinks and shrinks. In Orléans, each player has her own bag which holds all her Character tokens, only some of which are randomly drawn every turn. Each Character’s profession can only be used in certain situations, but over time the player has the ability to alter the composition of her bag to tailor it to a particular strategy.
Coffee Roaster has been called “Orléans for one” by some BGG commenters (although with its recent expansion, Orléans has its own solo scenarios now), and there is merit to this comparison. Almost every Roasting Phase presents a wealth of choices, and there is seldom an obvious best one. You will usually earn most of your points from your Roast Level, but you can make almost as many from your final Flavour, especially in the more advanced Brews. This means holding Flavour tokens back–but on the other hand improving your Brew and acquiring Unique Effects requires using them up. What’s a barista to do??
So as you can see, Coffee Roaster is not an easy game. In fact, you could call it quite the bean burner (#dadjoke). I know barely anything about coffee and I still love it–it may well join my list of favorite solitaire games. If you have a introverted gamer buddy who loves covfefe this could be a perfect birthday present…
…except for the price tag. Right now, the game is going for $79.95 at my FLGS, and you’re probably not going to find a new copy for any cheaper near you. Saashi & Saashi needs to find a better NA distribution deal, because for eighty bucks I would expect the game to come with an actual coffee maker included.
This is unfortunate, because Coffee Roaster is, to paraphrase agent Dale Cooper of the FBI, “a damn fine game of coffee”.