Review: Viva Java: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game: The Review

T. C. Petty III is a designer I really admire. I really enjoy VivaJava: The Coffee Game. It was one of the first games I added to my collection. It was also the first game I played from Dice Hate Me Games. But after owning it for 3 years, I haven’t been able to play it as much as I want, because it really wants to be played with a larger group. Then, about a week and a half ago, I got VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game. I played it every day last week (and thrice on Friday), and I love it.

VJDiceBox

There’s no crying over spilled dice

What you get

VJCoasters

Some coasters, some dice, and some tokens

  • 10 ivory-colored custom coffee bean dice
  • 5 black coffee bean dice
  • Featured Blend, Rainbow Blend, and Flavor coasters
  • Solo/Lite and House/Wild coasters
  • Ability Chips and associated reference cards
  • 3 wooden tokens and reference coasters in the 4 player colors
  • Burlap storage bag
  • Score pad, and “Brewple” shaped eraser
  • Rule Book

As typical for Dice Hate Me Games, the graphic design and art for this game is top notch, though the art is mostly incidental. There are some complaints over the burlap bag leaving a slight oil mark in the box, but this seems insignificant to me. The rulebook could be a bit clearer, as there are some questions I had trouble answering just from the rules. But a lot of the questions are answered in the clarifications posted on BoardGameGeek, and it’s easy to get an answer in the forums. It might sound weird, but the dice are some of the most satisfying dice to roll. They make a great sound, and have a good weight, which is absolutely critical in a dice game.

What you do

The basic turn structure is score, roll, blend or research, then activate any other abilities. You score if you have either the Featured Blend or Rainbow Blend coaster in front of you. marking it on your score sheet. The value of each changes depending on the number of players. Next, you roll 5 dice and may use any abilities you have earned to manipulate them. Then you choose to either research using up to 5 dice of one bean color (value) or use the dice to create a blend.

VJResearch

The “Lite” research coaster, and matching ability cards

Research is marked on your score pad. Each bean color corresponds to a different ability, and each ability has two levels. If you complete a research track, you score points but lose the ability. If you choose to research black (highest value) beans, you gain black flavor dice instead of marking research. Flavor dice may be rolled on another player’s turn to improve their blend and score you points, but they must be rolled on your own turn. When rolled on your own turn, flavor dice act just like regular dice, and can be used for blending or research.

When you blend, you can create the less valuable Rainbow blend from any set of 5 different beans. It always replaces the current Rainbow blend. You can instead try to form the more valuable Featured Blend. A featured blend is a set of at least 2 beans of the same bean color. The more you have, the better the blend, and ties are broken by bean color. If you have a better blend than the current Featured Blend, you take the Featured Blend coaster and place your dice on it. When you successfully create a Featured or Rainbow Blend, you earn 1 point. However, you can only have one at a time.

After you score a Featured Blend, on your turn, you must “degrade” it by removing one die from it. You may then choose to pass on the rest of your turn, and hope nobody will take the Featured Blend from you before your next turn, or you may break the blend and roll only the dice remaining on it as your turn.

What I liked

VJ:TCG:TDG is a ton of fun. Randomness is a factor, but the game’s strength is letting player choices balance and mitigate the randomness. Nearly every turn is a difficult decision of whether to research or take flavor dice or try and create a featured blend. The research abilities are varied, and the ability to create your own game by mixing and matching means it won’t get stale. the game encourages you to take risks, but really doesn’t punish you too harshly, because there is almost always something you can do with the results of a roll. A game plays in about half an hour, so you can play a game at lunch or play several in an evening. And because it supports 2-4 players, I don’t have to wait for a big game night. The game has a lot of choices, but is quick and simple to explain, so more casual gamers can get into it, too. There is plenty of interaction, because you have to consider what everyone else can roll, and whether they can take the featured blend. And the turns are fast anyway, so you aren’t waiting around. If you tuck everything in the included burlap bag (or, you know any bag) it’s easily portable, and doesn’t need much space to play.

What I disliked

I have very few complaints with the game. I was disappointed that the art is incidental, unlike VJ:TCG, where the brew slates are an important element. As a result, VJ:TCG:TDG feels more abstract than VJ:TCG. This isn’t even a bad thing, because the gameplay is so strong, you don’t have time to notice. If you absolutely hate randomness, you won’t like VJ:TCG:TDG, but it feels like the right amount for the weight and length of the game. My biggest disappointment is that I didn’t back it on Kickstarter to get the Game of the Year expansion.

Conclusions

VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game is one of my top games. It’s the only game (except my own) I’ve rated as a 9 or above on BoardGameGeek. It’s something I want to pull out with everyone I know. I love playing because when you do well, you can proclaim your skill, but when you don’t, you can blame it on the luck of the dice. Even so, some of the best moments come when you throw caution to the wind and let the game hinge on one amazing roll of 5 black dice at exactly the right time. It definitely captures the “stand up dice roll” that they talk about on the State of Games. It’s the right amount of emotional and intellectual investment, with a very reasonable time investment. I’ve stated before that rolling dice isn’t usually my thing, but VJ:TCG:TDG completely exceeded my expectations. It’s a rolling success!VJDiceOverview

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  1. #1 by Marcel on October 21, 2014 - 7:07 pm

    I found a copy of this game in Halifax and thought I’d give it a whirl. I’m not a fan of coffee but quickly fell in love with this game. As you said in your review, it’s quick and easy to explain. I also enjoy playing the solo variants that come with it, which will hopefully improve my game when I play against my caffeinated friends.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the game, great review!

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