Can you brew the perfect cup of joe?
Android & iOS
# of Players
Coffee Roaster is a solo bag-building game from Brettspielwelt GmbH. Players spend the first half of the game roasting beans to prepare them for the second half which is when you assemble your brew. A full game is played out over a series of three brewing sessions, with the whole series taking about 15 minutes, and your total score tells you how well you did.
Coffee Roaster is a unique game. It’s a bag builder, which is a mechanic I have little experience in, having only played Quacks of Quedlinburg (digital version coming soon!) It’s not just a “pull from your bag to be able to buy better stuff for your bag” builder either, you are actually taking care to nurture your coffee beans from weak zero-potency beans to fully flavored, four-potency beauties. Except when you don’t want that because the specific brew you are chasing doesn’t actually need that many strong beans. Oh, and if you let your beans steep (I’m fairly certain that’s not the right term here, but I’m not a coffee drinker so back off!) too long, they will go bad which means they won’t provide any value in the second half of the game and will actually hurt you if you are forced to use it in your final brew. Got that? Great.
At the start of a game, you will be given a brew to follow. It will tell you what starting tokens are in your bag, what flavor level you are aiming for, and which special flavor tokens will unlock the brew’s full potential (i.e. points). Your beans will start out as either zero- or pre-bean levels. A set amount of tokens, based on the round, will be pulled from your bag. Aside from a small outlier, the only thing you can actually do on a turn in this phase is to play one of three special flavor tokens. These each have a special ability which allows you to manipulate your beans in some way; combine, split, or preserve. You may use none, any, or all of the flavor tokens on a turn, so long as you have drawn bean tokens which allow the corresponding actions to be taken. When taking a special action you will place the token on a space on the board, these spaces will either provide an immediate one-time action or (when two are played in the proper row) unlock a special ability in the second phase of the game. These abilities include a free three-level bean, a wildcard flavor token, or some abilities which make it easier for you to brew a perfect blend.
The most important part of the first phase of the game is that, after each round, all of the beans on the table increase their level by one (or two, in certain rounds). You will need to know the target potency level for your brew and manage your beans accordingly. For weaker brews, you don’t want a bunch of three and four level beans in your bag, you will overshoot your target quickly. For strong brews, using even a couple of weak beans will ruin your chances for big points. Luckily, the game doesn’t make you hit an exact number, but rather provides a scale where you can score some, but not maximum, points by finishing on either side of the target by a few points.
The second phase of the game is where you actually brew your cup. All of your tokens are in the bag and one is drawn out at a time. You can either place it into the next spot in your cup or place it in the discard tray to the side. Your goal here is to hit that target potency number and also end up with the right combination of flavor tokens (remember those? The ones that provided the special abilities in the first phase). The ultimate goal is to exactly nail the potency number to get the maximum roast points, while also matching the four flavor tokens needed to unlock the full flavor of this particular brew. Bonus points are scored for having many matching beans in your cup. There are also harmful tokens, which you have some recourse for eliminating during the first phase. If you are forced to place them into your cup, you lose points on top of them wasting a valuable spot in your small cup.
I feel like I did a terrible job of explaining this game. I also feel like this is a very unique game which makes it very difficult to explain, so I’m giving myself a pass on this one.
The crux of the game is that you have to properly manage your beans, but there are a handful of other small, but vital moving parts in play that you can’t afford to simply come out of the first phase with perfect beans. Given that the second phase has you draw one token and either place it in your cup or one of only four spaces in the discard tray makes the game very tight. If your bag is full of penalizing tokens and the draw doesn’t go your way, you’re in trouble. So spend some time in the first phase trying to remove those. Well, there are only two one-time use actions that allow you to remove tokens. One of them is a random draw out of your bag, so good luck there. And, of course, taking either of these actions requires the use of a flavor token which means one less in your bag for the second phase where you really want to hit that flavor bonus.
I hope the point is coming across: Coffee Roaster is a tight game. Every action, every decision has to be considered and has a very important consequence. Do you chase the roast points, which are usually worth more, or do you try for the flavor points? Do you ditch one altogether with an all-in strategy? The decisions are made with a quick slide of your finger so it’s easy to miss how many lasting ramifications are going to come out of your choice not to spend the flavor token to store off a couple of those three level beans instead of letting them remain and mature into four level beans which are a bit too potent for that Reneacimiento brew you are attempting (yes, the game features real brews).
This game falls in line with the other games we’ve reviewed from Brettspielwelt: Friday, and the two Clevers. All of them provide a wonderful solo puzzle experience. All of them can most succinctly be described in one word; tight. Specifically, if you like the challenging chain reaction decision making the Clever games provided, Coffee Roaster is probably going to be right up your alley.
One thing you will make sure you’ve bought in to, however, is the luck of the draw. The cup filling phase of the game only allows you to draw one token and a very limited amount of which that you may discard (of course, you can mitigate both the amount draw, at least in certain spots, and the amount of discard spaces by unlocking bonuses in the first phase). This means a few bad draws and you are done. You could have trimmed your bag down significantly in the first phase using special abilities, or even stopped prepping by ending that phase early, but you still might get awful draws in the second phase. Have you noticed that each time I describe a scenario in the game I end up going down three different branches of decision options? That’s what type of game this is.
Barrier to Entry
This developer has a history of making it difficult to learn games, and Coffee Roaster, unfortunately, carries on that same torch. There is a tutorial here which I believe is the first time for a Brettspielwelt game, and it does help, but is still woefully short on getting you prepared to play.
There is a set of text rules and they aren’t great. The ordering is strange and it really doesn’t do much to get you ready to play, although it does function as a lookup for when you inevitably have questions about the meaning of the various icons in the game (except for the icons which aren’t explained anywhere, of course). Which brings us to the biggest issue, there is no way in game to find out the meaning of any of the tokens or spaces. There is a lot of iconography here and it would be fantastic if I could long press or double tap tiles to find out what they do. It would have sped up learning exponentially.
I read the rules, played through the tutorial, play a handful of games, referenced the rulebook, and at this point I finally started to think I had an idea about what was going on. I still couldn’t put up a decent score, but that started to come after more plays.
Coffee Roaster is a fairly difficult game to explain, it is really quite unique all around and needs a great tutorial, which the app is lacking. Don’t get this app unless you already know how to play or are interested in investing the time it takes to learn, which is probably best done outside of the app.
Look and Feel
This game has solid artwork and presents a decent looking game. It matches the newer printing of the game, the one from the upcoming US release, not the original which is featured in some of the early video reviews you might find. The app looks a bit unpolished in some places, but overall it looks nice. The main menu is pleasing and things are laid out fairly well throughout. You will notice the soft buttons are show in the Android version, but the app doesn't respond well to the "back" button.
In the game, controls are easy for the most part, but there are a few confusing parts. I had issues trying to figure out how to use one the second round bonuses that is supposed to take place after you are done placing tokens (it is automatically triggered, so just select the tokens you want to remove). The drag-and-drop to finish a round needs to be dropped a little too precisely than I feel is necessary, and it often takes me multiple tries to successfully complete this step. The same goes for dropping tokens onto special action tokens. There is no particular reason why these actions couldn’t be performed via a click rather than drag-and-drop which makes it a little extra frustrating (better yet, allow both). There also isn’t an undo button. In short, there are a lot of small details which could be tightened up to make the experience a bit easier for the uses.
In a random bit of weirdness, the game has a mute button on the main menu. This is only odd because there doesn’t appear to be any music or sound effects of any kind in the game.
There is no online play, this is a solo game even in the physical version so this is expected. The game does feature weekly online leaderboards which show you how you stack up against players around the world. This is a great feature for a game like this.
To start, you can play either one or three rounds of Coffee Roaster. I believe the official way to play is three rounds, taking your total score combined from all three rounds. There is an expert mode as well, which is initially blocked, but the game doesn’t tell you how to unlock it. It opened for me after my first full “3x” game. I’m unsure if there as a point requirement to meet to unlock it or if just playing once was enough. The difference between 3x and Expert is that Expert will draw three Expert level brew cards for you to play with.
There are achievements to chase. It isn’t intuitive how some of them work, but many of them appear to have different levels to achieve.
The physical game isn’t actually out in the US at the time of this review. Stronghold Games will be publishing it, and is currently taking preorders, but it hasn’t been released quite yet.
The Wrap Up
I really like the solo puzzle Coffee Roaster presents. I think the app is okay, but has some serious flaws that will bring this final score down. The app makes it nearly impossible to learn the game unless you want to barrel through will a bunch of trial-and-error. The tutorial is a good step for them, but a game like this desperately needs in-game help options so you can learn what each of the ten different special action/token spots on the board mean. Elsewhere, the controls could use a bit of refining and things occasionally carry a bit of an unpolished look, but the latter is a deep nitpick.
One the positive side, the game is a lot of fun and provides a lot to chew on in a fairly quick and challenging game. The weekly online leaderboards are a nice touch to see how you stack up, and the achievements give you something else to chase.
If there were a better tutorial or the game were easier to learn without one, this score would shoot up quickly. It’s one of the more fun solo puzzle games I’ve played. I really like the bag building aspect, even if I’m sure the developers are out to get me with those “random” draws sometimes. It does add a bit more of a luck aspect than some might like, only because it is much more difficult to mitigate bad draws here than it is bad rolls or shuffles in other similar games.
As it stands, if the game interests you I would recommend watching a few YouTube videos to learn the game before jumping in. If you’re not interested in an uphill battle in learning the game, or are especially annoyed by touchy controls, I would suggest passing on this one.