Full disclosure: A preview copy of Seize the Bean was provided by Quality Beast. Some art assets are not present in the preview copy, and some mechanics, art, and other … stuff may be added or removed between now and the game’s fulfillment, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Speaking of weird themes, here’s a game for me, someone who neither drinks coffee nor travels much; a game all about opening up a coffeeshop in Berlin! The premise intrigued me and I’m always here for a deckbuilder, so here we are.
In Seize the Bean, as mentioned, you’ve gotten super into this idea of becoming a barista and opening your own place and striking it rich as a barista, in what can only be called a both practical and obviously straightforward idea. Unfortunately, as bad luck would have it, anywhere between one and three other coffee shops have just opened up on your street as well! It’s variable. You’re going to have to out-coffee your opponents to build hype, get customers, and get good reviews! Will you be able to become the greatest coffee shop? Or is trouble the only thing that’s brewing?
Setup is a bit of a bear, so just kinda get through it.
First, set the resources into small containers (I believe these will ultimately come with the game). There are three major types. Coffee beans:
And milk cartons:
These are somewhat predicated on the game hitting a stretch goal, but I’m fairly confident that will happen, so, I’m going to carry on as though it already has. If you’re playing with the Scoop, put the Scoop into the coffee bean container:
Next, we’ll work on setting up the City. In the city, you’ll find customer groups:
Shuffle 5 sets together for a two-player game, or 6 sets for a three- or four-player game:
Place the deck in the center of the play area and flip five cards over, face-up.
Shuffle up the products (there should be a set of products for each customer group):
Place those in the center, as well.
Last and certainly not least, add the Decor to the center:
As with the Customers and Products, place the deck on the left and deal five cards face-up to the right. That should make the city!
Somewhere nearby, add the Reviews. You’ll want Good Reviews:
- 30 for two players;
- 36 for three players;
- 40 for four players
Place them somewhere accessible to all players and place the remainder aside to use if you run out. Also add all the bad reviews:
There should be Bonuses for each customer group (including Friends and Family, which I’ll get to in a second):
Set those somewhere visible.
Give each player a player board:
Give them 5 Hype Tokens, along with a Maximum Hype token:
Every player starts at 2 Hype, so cover up three of those spaces. The Maximum Hype token goes on the rightmost side of the player board; that can only be unlocked by attaining 5 Hype. Since it’s not unlocked, flip it over. More on that later.
There are also Player Board Bonuses! You can unlock them by doing various tasks. Again, more on that later. Place them on the board, 5 Good Reviews-side face-down:
Once you’ve done that, you’re pretty much done, which is nice. Give each player a starting deck of Friends and Family:
And give them resources enough to serve those friends and family; should be six beans and a milk carton. I’ll explain how I got there later.
Last thing! Give a player the First Player token and give the player on their left the Next First Player token:
Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
Gameplay’s actually … pretty straightforward. A game takes place over the course of a “Day”, and that has several phases. Normally, you’d expect each phase to be done sort of in turn order, however, Serve the Line is done for each player individually, and then Take Actions + Word of Mouth both go in turn order. Let’s talk more about those steps:
Serve the Line
This happens every morning — you have to help the clientele before they get to work!
Take a look at a specific customer:
They’ve got three things you should care about — the stuff in the top-left corner, the stuff in the top-right corner (only there sometimes, also), and the stuff in the bottom center.
If the customer has a Patience Token on them, they are optional to serve:
In either case, you must always serve customers left to right.
- Top-left: That’s what the customer needs. You must spend those resources in order to satisfy that customer. If there’s a Smile under this, then you get a Good Review when this Customer is served. There are a few types of resources:
- Coffee Beans
- Quality Coffee (gold symbol): Requires 2 Coffee Beans unless there’s a Quality Coffee symbol on an item in your pantry, in which case it’s only 1 Coffee Bean.
- Discount Coffee (red symbol): Requires 2 Coffee Beans unless there’s a Discount Coffee symbol on an item in your pantry, in which case it’s only 1 Coffee Bean.
- Milk Cartons
- Soybean: Requires 2 Milk Cartons unless there’s a Soybean symbol on an item in your pantry, in which case it’s only 1 Milk Carton.
- Croissants: Requires 2 Sugar Cubes unless there’s a Croissant symbol on an item in your pantry, in which case it’s only 1 Sugar Cube.
- Cake: Requires 2 Sugar Cubes unless there’s a Cake symbol on an item in your pantry, in which case it’s only 1 Sugar Cube.
- Donut: Requires 2 Sugar Cubes unless there’s a Donut symbol on an item in your pantry, in which case it’s only 1 Sugar Cube.
- Top-right: That’s what the customer wants. If you choose to spend these resources as well, you can get bonus Good Reviews!
- Bottom-center: This is what you earn by serving this customer. You must take this reward; you cannot opt out of serving customers or collecting the reward (unless they are Friends and Family [pink cards]; you can ignore their reward). Some rewards might be (a non-exhaustive list):
- Add Patience Tokens to any customers in line. This lets you opt out of serving them, and you can even add them to customers you’ve already served!
- Add people from the City to the end of your line. Remember, you must take the benefit if you serve the Customer, and you must serve the Customer if they’re in line and you have the resources. Adding people to the end of your line during the Serve phase means you must serve them, … or else.
- Increase / Decrease your hype. This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you ever hit 5 hype, you hit Maximum Hype, and for every additional hype you gain after that, you gain one Good Review instead. If you decrease your hype (minimum of 1, I believe), you lose Maximum Hype and you have to earn it back again by hitting 5 Hype.
- Gain Products or Decor. You add them from the City to your player board as though you took the Gain Product or Gain Decor action (see below). Some have the /* symbol on them, which means that you can use actions from the row corresponding to the Gain Product or the Gain Decor Action instead. If it just has a * (without the slash), you can do both!
- This isn’t an exhaustive list, so there may be more as stretch goals are unlocked.
So, let’s say you’re in a bit of a bind and you can’t serve a customer. You don’t have the resources. Well, this frustrates them and they become angry. You should put one of these tokens on them:
Note that this can be cancelled by a Patience Token, naturally, and Patience Tokens prevent Anger Tokens being placed on Customers. Just … like real life.
If your opponents are feeling generous, they can help you avoid that fate. If one of them has extra resources, well, they can serve your Customer for you. You still keep the Customer, but they get the benefits!
Either way, serve all the customers you can in your line. Once you’ve done so, check them! For each customer:
- If they have Patience Tokens on them: Take one Patience Token, flip it to a Good Review, and place it in your stack. Leave this Customer in line.
- If they have Anger Tokens on them: Take one Anger Token, flip it to a Bad Review.
- If you have < 3 Bad Reviews, discard this Customer to your Discard Pile.
- If you have >= 3 Bad Reviews, discard this Customer to the Customer Discard Pile in the City. They’re gone, friend.
- If they have no Patience or Anger Tokens: Discard them to your Discard pile. They’ll be back.
During this phase, you may take two actions of the six on your player board. I’ll describe them starting on the right side:
- Right-Top / Add Customer: You may take any customer from the 5 City spots and add them to your discard pile. You may not dig through the Customer Discard. There are six Customer Groups in my copy of the game, each focusing on a different area:
- Friends and Family: Friends and family are how you get places started! They’re your first customers! Generally, they don’t get super impatient with you as a result, but you can also ignore their effects. You’ve got a business to run!
- Hipsters: Hipsters! They’re what coffee is all about, probably. They know where the best cafes are and they help keep each other in the loop. Generally speaking, Hipsters will boost your Hype.
- Tourists: Tourists … aren’t great for your business. They’re loud, they take lots of photos, and they annoy the regulars. But sometimes that’s exactly what you want. Tourists will lower your Hype.
- Start uppers: Start uppers are as forward-thinking as they are … kind of obnoxious. But that’s okay! They can help you optimize your business model by utilizing multi-faceted scalable approaches for dynamic customer satisfaction. Or they’ll help you pick art. Start uppers will help you add decor to your cafe.
- Cyclists: Cyclists care a lot about what you sell, not just that you’re selling something. However, they also know the best stuff. Cyclists will help you add products to your cafe.
- Musicians: Musicians bring the entertainment with them, which is always nice. Nobody minds waiting when there’s live music, right? Musicians generally focus on adding Patience Tokens to customers in line.
- Party Animals: These guys always roll up with a crew, and they will. Party Animals focus on adding more customers to your line.
- Right-Center / Add Product: You may take any Product from the City and add it to your Pantry (the left side of your board). Place it such that the lines it creates overlap (but do not cover) the other products in your pantry. It will add extra symbols to your left side player board actions; you take those actions in addition to the actions you normally take for doing those player board actions.
- Right-Bottom / Add Decor: You may take any Upgrade from the City and add it to your Decor (the right side of your board). Place it such that the lines it creates overlap (but do not cover) the other upgrades in your decor. It will add extra symbols to your right side player board actions; you take those actions in addition to the actions you normally take for doing those player board actions.
- Left-Top / Gain Beans: Gain a Scoop of Coffee Beans (or, if playing without the Scoop, 6 No-Fun Beans). If you are using the Scoop, you may only make one attempt. Any beans that fall out of the scoop are lost and you can’t go back to try to get a better scoop.
- Left-Center / Gain Milk: Take three milk cartons from the supply.
- Left-Bottom / Gain Sugar: Take three sugar cubes from the supply.
Remember that the products and decor add extra actions to these player board actions. Currently, I’ve been playing that you may take those actions in any order, which may be wrong and I’ll edit this if it is. Either way, they also add symbols to your player board (not just for the line). What do those other symbols mean? Let’s find out.
Word of Mouth
Word of Mouth is interesting. During this phase, look at your Product and Decor cards. You must add a customer from the City whose group matches the symbol on one of those cards to your discard pile. If none match, take nobody. If more than one match, then you may choose which one.
End of Day
First thing’s first: when the day’s over, cycle the city. This means moving every card in the city one space to the right, except for the fifth card. That’ll be the discard pile, effectively. Add a new card from the top of each deck in the city.
Next, look at how much hype you have. For each hype you have, draw a card from your deck and add it to your “line”. There may already be characters in your line (either via Patience Tokens or from Actions), so just add them to the right of those characters. Naturally, if you run out of cards in your deck, shuffle the discard pile and use that as your new deck.
Finally, move your two meeples back to the Actions space on your player board, and give the First Player token to the player who has the Next First Player token; the player to their left gets the Next First Player token.
Like I said, once the final Good Review is taken from the starting stack, you do one more “Day”, only taking the Serve the Line step. Once you do that, calculate your Review Score, which is just:
# Good Reviews – # Bad Reviews
Add 5 Good Reviews for each Player Board Bonus you got.
I generally like to do this stuff Mario Party-style, so I announce the Review Scores at this point before moving onto bonuses. Have every player count the numbers of each Customer Group in their deck, adding in the number of Customer Group icons on their most recently added product (their top one) and all of their decor. The player with the most of that Customer Group in their deck gets a bonus chit, which is worth 1 Good Review for each symbol of that group in your deck, on that product, and on all of your decor.
If you managed to scare off all your Friends and Family (you monster), you also earn the Friends and Family bonus, which is an extra 5 Good Reviews! Nice job, jerk.
If there is a tie for any of these bonuses, award 0 Good Reviews to all tied players. Ties are mean!
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I suppose the biggest difference with each player count is that there’s a bit more contention for Customers if you have the same strategy, so it’s a bit more likely that there would be players with similar strategies as you get more players in the game. This is not the biggest concern, though. You’ll also add another Customer Group at 3 Players, so, it should mostly balance itself out. To that end, I have a slight preference for 2 and 3 players, since, like Dominion, it just kinda takes longer at 4 people (because more people who aren’t you have to take their turns).
- Figure out your strategy early and try to stick to it. You should take products and decor that help, to that end, so you will be forced to take Customers that you want. Specialization is not a bad idea, in this game, and you will be rewarded handsomely for it.
- That said, don’t get into too specific of an engine, too early. You need to have a solid engine, but if you peak too early and get locked in, it’ll be hard for you to end the game quickly (since you won’t be generating enough Good Reviews per turn to outpace your slower-starting opponents). Plus, you’ll be rigid to the point of being brittle, and taking the wrong customer could wreck you, badly.
- You should upgrade early, as well. That lets you start attracting Customers via Word of Mouth. It also is useful as you don’t necessarily need to collect resources on your first turn, since you already have the resources you need to serve your first few customers.
- Know what your customer groups are good for. I’d argue there are early-game-useful Customers, late-game-useful Customers, and good-for-recovery Customers. Cyclists, for instance, are great early because they make your resource draws better. However, by the end of the game, you usually have enough resources that you’d rather get more Customers or other actions that only the Start uppers can provide. Similarly, Tourists are generally not good (lowering your Hype is a bummer), but can get you out of a sticky situation and help you avoid taking Bad Reviews.
- Get those Player Board bonuses. Cyclists and Start uppers help a lot with this, since they let you add Products and Decor, but if you focus on Hipsters mostly, then you’ll get a lot of points from Hype (and force the end of the game quickly). Who knows?
- I generally don’t use the “gain a person from the City” action. I find Word of Mouth generally gets me the people I need. Late in the game, you’ll want to use the Party Animals to add a lot of customers to your line when you need to, for instance, so just getting one person isn’t as helpful, anymore.
- Keep track of other players’ decks, if you can. You want to know if they’re coming close to overtaking you on bonuses, or if you can overtake them. Someone’s got to get those bonuses; it might as well be you. Just make sure that you do not tie them. Then nobody gets them. Those points just get thrown on the ground.
- Don’t take more customers than you can serve. Getting Bad Reviews is terrible. If you’re getting swamped, take a Tourist to calm down the hype so people don’t get as excited about your place. Or invest in Products so you can get more resources.
- Using customers to help you serve other customers is good. When you start getting the * reward from Cyclists, you can get more resources, which you can then spend on other customers in line, which can get you more resources, on and on and on and on and on into eternity. How inspiring.
- Use Patience Tokens to help you sculpt the line to your liking. Making certain customers Patient means that they’ll stick around between rounds, which is very good. It also means that they’ll generally be towards the front of the line when you come around to serve them again. I did this with Grandpappy for a few rounds and really sculpted my deck to be what I wanted, as a result.
- Get rid of Grandpappy last (out of the Friends and Family). As with Dominion, trashing remains an extremely useful ability. Don’t take it for granted if you’re about to get rid of it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- You know what? I think the dexterity element is great. Not my most popular opinion, far from my most surprising, but I like that you have to try hard to scoop beans and get extras. It’s going to frustrate some people, so you should be aware of it, but how many other deckbuilders have a random and honestly needless dexterity component? Game designers, do the right thing: add needless dexterity optional variants to your games. It’s your civic duty.
- The theme is really well-done. I’m hoping the coffee beans and milk cartons and sugar cubes make their way into the game, because it makes the game feel pretty thematic, which I appreciate. It also makes sense that certain customer groups have certain effects, like party people bringing people into line with them or a particularly loud and rowdy group negatively impacting the ambiance of your tiny coffee shop. The line mechanics work pretty well, as well; it does a good job of incorporating all of those things. The whole “patient customers waiting until tomorrow to be served” doesn’t quite work, but honestly, enough of the rest works really well that it would just be needlessly nitpicky to get on about that.
- Feels diverse and vibrant. It’s got the hustle and bustle of a big city with the Customer Groups, which I appreciate. The art isn’t like, my favorite style of all time, but I think it definitely works for the theme, and that’s pretty awesome. I also love the diversity of the different customers themselves. Representation is important in games, and I feel like it’s got a good bit.
- The lack of a money-sort-of-economy is pretty interesting. It’s kind of nice not having to worry about card costs when you buy them, even if you still need to worry about whether or not you can serve them when they eventually come up. I like it. It’s not too far away from a money economy for a deckbuilder; it’s just sort of one-step-removed.
- Good mix of strategies based on which customer groups you get. Honestly, it kind of feels like Dale of Merchants in that sense, since they all sort of work together symbiotically within a set. The six I’ve played with all have fairly clear uses, as well. There are definitely sets that vary in their early-game and late-game usefulness, with some only useful at the very end and some extremely bad if they’re still in your deck at the very end.
- Forcing players to take a customer that matches one of their symbols encourages a particularly careful playstyle. You don’t necessarily want to take certain cards that might be good for you now if they’re going to force you to take something that will completely junk your strategy (or worse, get you bad reviews!) later on, which encourages careful play. Weirdly enough, this kind of makes me think that this could be a good first deckbuilder (especially for folks that like a slightly more complex game), even though it’s more complex than some of the lighter deckbuilders I’ve played with.
- Seems pretty expandable. Again, the Dale of Merchants idea works well here — by having sets that are based around an effect, you can add more sets in as you want to expand the game, which is nice, as the core game concept works pretty well.
- Having tokens to put / take off the Hype Tracker feels unnecessary. You could just have a little marker and then flip the Maximum Hype piece or just have it hit a zone. The problem with it in its current form is that you end up jostling the other pieces whenever you move one, which is … aggravating. I think they’re working on the Player Board, though, so I’ll keep my player board complaints in the mehs column now until the game ships.
- In general, the player board requires a lot of things to be placed fairly delicately and precariously on it, which aggravates my perfectionist instincts. The bonuses, the pantry, the decor, the hype tracker; all of it has a lot of straight lines and looks best with perfect placement. Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside of mine or Seize the Bean’s control, my preview copy had a fair bit of water damage (I assume the package got left out in the rain), so the boards were a teensy bit warped, which made this extremely difficult.
- Lots of fairly tiny pieces. I find this particularly frustrating, honestly, because the Good Reviews and Bad Reviews are tiny without much of a purpose to them being tiny other than them being easy to clump. It makes them hard to organize, hard to set out, and difficult to process. Add in the different awards and you’ve got a bunch of tiny cards just kind of moving around. It’s nice that they’re small because it makes them seem less major than the actual cards you’re using, but it makes them easy to jostle and misplace and hard to keep track of. You’re going to have trouble figuring out how many good reviews the next player has, if that’s something you’re trying to do.
- Lots of moving parts, as well. Moving all the cards at the end of a round is a bit annoying, especially if you’re the only person doing it.
- Lots of iconography is generally good, but it makes the game less accessible to new players. This is generally a thing I see in a lot of games — the nice thing about icons is once you know them you know them, so the game plays more quickly. The problem is that not everything is immediately explainable via icon (the shovel and gift icons are of note, here), and some things that are explainable via icon are easily confused when you read their description — one icon adds customers to your discard pile, the other adds them to the line. I think this will be cleared up a bit more by having a player aid available (which I did not have, to be fair), but you may be checking it a lot until everything clicks (and there are many icons).
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Honestly, Seize the Bean is pretty solid! It’s got some quirks (the Action flow working differently between serving the line and taking Actions is … odd) and some things I don’t like (tiny pieces are the bane of my existence), but it’s very similar to a heavier Dale of Merchants, which is a particularly great thing, especially when it’s also got a pretty diverse set of characters. Basically, it’s committed fully to its theme, and even though it’s got some odd quirks, I think the theme more than compensates for it and comes out as a really solid game. It’s been a pleasure to preview and is a game I’ve really enjoyed playing, and I look forward to having the opportunity to play it more in the future, since it’s a shoo-in to fund! If you haven’t checked it out by now and are looking for a fairly weighty deckbuilder, I’d highly recommend it!