I drink a lot of coffee and spend a lot of time in coffee shops and local cafés. Even now, some of my local favorites have a few tables open and plenty of outdoor seating while the weather permits. It’s no surprise then that I write about coffee and think about how to make a great cup of coffee both, trying different brews, making different mixups at home and even dabbling in coffee + alcohol mixes. But a game about roasting coffee beans? Yes! It turns out that there’s a great solo-only resource management-esque game called Coffee Roaster. Originally published in Japan, Saashi partnered with Stronghold Games for this second edition which also has improved tokens and playing elements along with much wider distribution: that’s what I review here.
The concept is deceptively simple. You start with a bag of unroasted beans, some flavor tokens, moisture and bad beans and iteratively roast a subset of your beans each round until you feel it’s sufficiently roasted for the type of coffee you desire. Then you “cup” the coffee by pulling out tokens one at a time until you’ve filled up your cup. That’s scored, you go three times for a full game, and you can choose progressively harder roasts to challenge yourself as the game progresses.
There’s a lot of swapping of tokens as they roast, so I really appreciate the organizing tray affixed to the bottom of the game box. Makes it easy to jump in and get playing with just a minute or two of setup:
The left columns are roast levels, lower left being an unroasted bean, then 0 -> 1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4. The third column are the bad beans. They will subtract points during the cupping phase if you end up with any of them in the cup. Top to bottom they are smoke, defective, and burnt beans. The final column are the cup-effect tokens (square), flavor tokens, and moisture. Your goal is to have all the good roasted bean tokens in your cup and none of the bad!
To start out, you pick a roast. I’ve been sticking with the easier roasts as I learn, so for this game I choose Altura Oaxaca. Each card details exactly what tokens start in your roast bag, as you can see below:
Once you have your starting beans and tokens, the other important thing to notice is the lower portion of the card. It details your target roast level: 14. If you can have your cup add up to exactly 14, you’ll earn 10 points. Get 13 or 15 and you points go down. Overshoot by ending up with a roast of 18 points and you’ve only earned 4 of 10 possible. On the lower right are also the target flavor tokens you should aim for too, if possible: Two green (acidity) and one blue (aroma).
Initial tokens identified and target roast point ascertained, it’s time to play! All of the above tokens go into the bag and are then mixed up.
Before you can take your first roasting turn, however, you have to set up the three boards, the thermostat, the roast board and the cup testing board. They fit neatly together and those square cup effect tokens are randomly placed on the board as shown:
I admit, the iconography is confusing. The very top of the board is the thermostat and your starting position is based on how much moisture is in your initial roast. Altura Oaxaca has 4 so we start at thermostat setting 8, as the circular red token denotes. On the 10 and 12 mark are smoke tokens: If you opt to keep roast to those levels, you’ll add those smoke tokens to your selection bag. Those are also double-heat rounds too, so a level 1 coffee bean will be roasted to level 3, and so on.
The middle track is the roast counter board and it’s a way for you to keep track of the overall amount your beans have been roasted. If you’re trying to attain a roast of 14 and are combining 10 tokens (the oval spots on the cup) out of a total of 30 tokens, well, you can do the math. Suffice to say that if you stop roasting too soon, your beans will be undercooked and you won’t be able to attain the desired roast. Wait too long and they’ll be burnt!
The lower portion of the board, the Roast Board, is where all the complexity comes in, and sad to say, the instructions for Coffee Roaster will undoubtedly leave you a bit confused, particularly the “light” beginner mode. I’ll try to step through this standard roast board to help out.
On the top left, just above the spoons, is a wildcard flavor token that has blue, green and red. To bring it into play, you need to place a 0 roast and 1 roast token on the board (rather than staying in your roast bag for cupping). Immediately below that are the immediate effects. The topmost, for example, allows you to pull out and add two tokens from your roast bag at the cost of using a red (body) flavor token. These can be critical to clearing up all the junk (bad beans, smoke, etc) out of your roast bag so your cupping is the best possible.
The next column have two flavors that combine to unlock a cup effect. Those square tokens apply to the second phase of the game when you’re placing tokens into your cup. For example, the top is an instant roast 3 token at the cost of one blue and one red flavor token. The two empty trays and the coffee cup are for the cupping, so I’ll defer on that explanation for now. Suffice to say, it’ll take a few playthrus for you to get it all figured out!
For now the thermostat indicates that you need to pull 8 tokens out of your roast bag. I do so and here’s what I draw:
This is good because the two moisture tokens are immediately discarded and won’t waste space. Two of these are unroasted beans that will roast to a level 0, and the two roast 0 bump up to roast level 1. Downside is that the flavor tokens don’t have much value yet. And here’s the part I didn’t realize until I watched a few videos about the game: Each flavor token has a cost to use. The red (body) requires you to merge two roast tokens into a single combined roast. 0 + 0 = 0, however, so not so good. The blue (aroma) does the opposite, letting you split a single roast token into two that add up to the same total roast value. Green is acidity and it requires you to put two roast tokens right back in the bag, unroasted, to use.
I don’t use any of the flavor tokens at this point but increment four roast and discard the two moisture. Next round (on the thermostat board) I pull out 9 tokens. Here’s what that looks like:
Just about all coffee beans, which is good; we need to roast that coffee!
Round three is interesting because it requires me to add two smoke tokens but everything increments two, not one. The 10 token pull for this round isn’t particularly good, however. Round four isn’t too bad though, since I draw a lot of the roast 0 tokens which let me get this coffee a’roastin’…
I decided to spend one blue flavor token to pull five tokens from the bag and discard two. The five I draw are:
A great move as I can dump both of the smoke tokens. I also spend one green and one blue to unlock the ‘extra tray’ cup effect. This is very helpful because it lets you skip more tokens during the cup phase.
In fact, let’s just jump to the cup phase. Once you’re done roasting, you shake up the bag again and pull tokens out one at a time. Each must be placed on the board in order, either in an empty tray spot or on the cup itself. Here’s what I ended up with:
Add up the beans in my cup and I have a roast of 15. Off by one from the perfect roast, but 6 points for that. I didn’t get any flavor points, however, with my one red token in the cup because I needed two green and a blue (as shown on the lower right of the roast card). Darn. I do get 3 skill points for using five of the same roast token, however, and avoid minus points by having no smoke, bad beans, unroasted beans, etc. That’s 6+3 = 9 points. Not great, but not too bad. If you want a reference, multiply your score by three (27) and check their reference chart. 27 makes me an “assistant roaster”. Or, better, play through three times and add up your three scores!
I really enjoy Coffee Roaster and while it was more than a bit confusing to learn – honestly the “light” learning mode needs its own instructions to remove ambiguity – once I figured out the interplay it’s quite fun. Fast to set up, easy to play, doesn’t take much table space and yes, would be perfect to play at a coffee shop while sipping on a nice mellow roast. Recommended for puzzle game fans.
COFFEE ROASTER from Stronghold Games. $44.99 MSRP. Learn more at http://strongholdgames.com/our-games/coffee-roaster/
Disclosure: Stronghold Games sent me a copy of Coffee Roaster in return for this review. Thanks, Stronghold!