Full disclosure: A review copy of Board Game Cafe Frenzy was provided by The Wood Games. It’s coming to Kickstarter for a wider release, but, this seems to be a pretty close to final copy so I’m calling it a review? I mean, it’s got embossed meeples on the cover; that’s pretty fancy. I’m sorry, this isn’t really a spot to ramble, but I wanted to be clear and consistent.
And we’re back. This one’s an amusingly weird spot to review. I’m not calling it a preview, since I am reviewing a finished game, but in order to get a wider distribution run, they’re putting this on Kickstarter. Interesting strategy; hope it works out. You may remember The Wood Games from the absolutely-delightful A Pleasant Journey to Neko, or That Game With Penguin Points. Well, they’re back with something new: Board Game Cafe Frenzy!
In Board Game Cafe Frenzy, you are an up-and-coming restaurateur who wants to open up one of the most lucrative establishments known: a board game cafe! You’ve got games, food, and employees, but you also got some bad news; you’re not alone! A bunch of your heated rivals are gathering resources to do the same thing and you need to outshine them if you want to survive. Will you be able to make the most money? Or is it already closing time?
First off, give each player a Capacity Card:
They should then put one of the Store Cards on top of that:
Pull the store down so that the 0 is showing on the Capacity Card. The player with the lowest Store Number (top right) goes first. Now, set out the various levels of Customer Cards (1 / 2 / 3), and shuffle those piles separately:
Flip two of the Level 2 cards face-up; those will be Common Customers for the game. Shuffle the Action Tiles as well and reveal 3 of those:
If you’re playing with fewer than 5 players, return some of the cards to the box:
- 2 – 3 players: Return the 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 of each suit to the box.
- 4 players: Return the 9 / 10 of each suit to the box.
Place the Marketplace Tokens in the middle of the play area from left to right, depending on your player count:
- 2 – 3 players: -2 / -1 / 0 tokens
- 4 players: -2 / -1 / -1 / 0 tokens
- 5 players: -2 / -1 / -1 / 0 / 0 tokens
Set aside the coins:
Give the first player 16, the second player 17, the third player 18, and so on. Also set aside the action discs:
Reveal the top X cards from the deck (so that every one of the Marketplace Tokens has a card below it) and you’re ready to start!
So Board Game Cafe Frenzy is fundamentally a game of building up and running your board game cafe dream. It’s also a trick-taking game, so that’s fun. Along the way, you’ll collect some money, and the player with the most money at the end of the game will win! There are two phases: Preparation and Store Opening. Let’s cover each in turn to see what’s going on.
Over the first 10 rounds of the game, you’ll try to build up your potential cards. You do this by revealing cards equal to the number of players and placing them below the Marketplace Tokens. After doing that, sort them so that the highest-value card is on the left and the lowest-value card is on the right. Then, in turn order, each player must purchase 1 card, paying the cost (0 / 1 / 2) shown on the Marketplace Token. When you’ve done that, you’ll also potentially receive rewards:
- Meal (Pink): No reward.
- Board Game (Orange): No reward.
- Wi-Fi (Blue): No reward.
- Employee (Yellow): Take an action disc.
- Storefront (Green): Take an action tile.
If you paid 2 money for your card, also take an action tile. When you take action tiles, always take one of the three face-up tiles and then immediately refill. Action discs, on the other hand, are always taken from the supply.
Now, determine the next round’s turn order. The player who took the rightmost card (and paid 0) goes first; the player who took the leftmost card (and paid 2) goes last. Continue on until all ten rounds have elapsed, and then move on to Phase 1 Scoring.
Each player scores as follows:
- Wi-Fi: The player with the most Wi-Fi icons gets 6 coins. The player with the second-most gets 3 coins. The player with the third-most gets 1 coin.
- Meal + Board Game: Every pair of Meal + Board Game cards owned by a player earns them 3 coins.
Next, flip the Marketplace Tokens over to become Turn Order tokens. Give the 1 to the player with fewest coins, and distribute them from fewest coins to most coins. You’re ready for round 2!
If there’s a tie, break it as follows:
- Most employees wins
- Fewest coins wins
- Lowest store number wins
Store Opening Phase
Now, the trick-taking begins. There are another 10 rounds in this phase of the game.
Each player starts by playing a card in turn order. Unlike most trick-taking games, you must play a card of a different type on your turn. So if Player A plays a Board Game, Player B cannot unless they only have Board Games remaining. Provided everyone played different types of cards, the turn order is set from the player who played the highest card to the player who played the lowest card. If there’s a tie, see the tiebreaker rules posted earlier.
If multiple players play the same card type, treat that type as lower than any other type of cards with one card and then resolve normally.
Now, take cards and earn rewards. The new first player takes 2 cards, and every subsequent player takes 1. The player who goes last will not take any cards; they’ll get two Action Discs, instead. When you take a card, gain its rewards:
- Meal (Pink): Gain 1 coin.
- Board Game (Orange): Gain 1 coin.
- Wi-Fi (Blue): Gain 1 Wi-Fi icon.
- Employee (Yellow): Take an action disc.
- Storefront (Green): Increase your store’s capacity by 1.
Speaking of capacity, generally, when you add Meal / Board Game / Wi-Fi cards to your store, they count towards your capacity. Storefront and Employee cards do not. If you are over capacity, you must get rid of one of those cards in order to play the new one; if you get rid of the one you just took, you do not collect rewards for it. Storefront and Employee cards go to the left of your Store Card to make it clear that they can’t be removed.
Now, you can use Action Discs! The red side is for a specific ability — these generally allow you to upgrade cards, get new action tiles, recruit new customers, or increase your capacity. The blue side is the Preserve icon; placing that on a card type symbol allows you to count having one of those symbols for the purposes of meeting customer requirements. If you want an upgraded symbol, you’ll need to place a second blue token on the same space on a subsequent turn.
End of Game
Once all players have played all the cards from their hands, the game ends! Move on to final scoring.
- Wi-Fi: Players score coins based on how many Wi-Fi icons they have.
- 1: 2 coins
- 2 – 3: 4 coins
- 4 – 5: 8 coins
- 6 – 8: 16 coins
- 9+: 28 coins
- Customers: If you met a Common Customer’s requirements, you score their indicated points. If you did not, you lose the points indicated below the X. If you had Mystery (secret) Customers, you don’t lose the points if you fail to fulfill them.
- Action Discs: Every two unused action discs are worth 1 coin.
- Capacity: After +3 bonus capacity, you start to earn coins (up to a max of 10).
- Employee Wages: Fortunately, this game forces you to pay your employees. Every employee costs you 1 coin and every upgraded employee costs you 2 coins.
- Cafe Bonus: Your cafe may earn you additional coins, based on its ability. You cannot score more than 10 coins this way.
The player with the most coins wins!
You use an AI player for the two-player game. In it, you still start out giving the AI coins, based on its Store Card and turn order, but during the Preparation Phase it just always takes the last card (instead of going on its turn). It will score between-round bonuses, as well.
During the Store Opening Phase, it will play randomly from its cards. It will follow turn order in this phase, meaning that players cannot play a card that is the same type as the card that was played by the AI. If it gets to choose cards, the player whose turn is earlier in the ordering will choose for the AI. When it gets cards, it immediately upgrades them, as well.
At the end of the game, total its coins and then double it. If the sum of both players’ scores is lower than that number, the AI wins. Otherwise, the player with more coins wins!
For an initial game / short game, have every player draw 10 cards to start. Pass two of them to the left and two of them to the right. This comprises your starting hand. Play the Store Opening Phase as normal, and the player with the most coins wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is the AI player at two, but beyond that there’s not much else changed. There are more cards, so there’s a bit more variance at higher player counts, but your general availability is still roughly unchanged. Just be careful; as more cards get into the mix it becomes easier to get 9 Wi-Fi tokens (which is 28 coins); you should keep an eye on your opponent(s) to make sure nobody’s running away with that. Beyond that, though, you should be fine. I don’t have a lot of strong recommendations on player count. The AI player isn’t bad, but I have plenty of excellent two-player games, so I may tend to stick to a higher player count.
- Don’t buy every card that you can. This is something that will definitely mess you up during the first phase of the game. You generally want higher-value cards; they will let you have your pick of cards later in the game (again, generally). But if you buy every card, you’re going to be operating at a pretty significant deficit going into the second phase. That might cost you the game. Instead, try to take certain very-high-value cards and leave others. There’s no point spending 2 money on a 4, for instance, especially if you’re playing with enough players that 10s are actively being played.
- Consider who wins ties before you play something. Sometimes you want to lose the tie, to be fair, but you should know whether or not you will before you play something. As with most strategy games, surprises aren’t really the experience you should be shooting to have.
- Know what people are considering. You can see the types of cards on every card back, so, you should have a good idea of what people are playing. For the AI player, specifically, you can always see what type of card it’s going to play, so, don’t let it mess you up.
- You need to fulfill the Common Customers. You will take a decent loss if you don’t, so, make sure to do so, even if you need to use Action Tiles to do so. Whatever works, really.
- Try to use 10 Action Discs. This one is, I think, pretty critical. Every action on an Action Tile is a benefit to you. You should be using as many of them as possible, especially
- Track your capacity. You should not be burning cards from your store if you can avoid it. If you have to, try to get rid of cards that you’ve already reaped the benefits of (and not upgraded); I usually get rid of Board Games if that’s the case. Just make sure getting rid of things doesn’t suddenly cause you to fall below your Customer requirements.
- Sometimes it’s best to not be first. If you get last in a trick, you get some Action Discs, and you don’t have to take any cards. It’s sometimes worth throwing some cards in an attempt to manipulate the turn order so that your opponents get stuck with cards that they can’t fit in their store or so you can use some more bonus actions after the trick-taking part of the round. Personally, I also like it because you go last in the next round, which often gives you some interesting choices (provided you aren’t forced to tank a category because you have no other cards). It’s worth thinking about how your turn order affects the opportunities you have in the second round.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Wonderful theme. Who wouldn’t want to build a board game cafe? I wish you had the ability to choose what games you stocked, but maybe that’s for an expansion or something.
- I love the different cafes, as well. They’re all delightful. On principle, my favorite is the promo cafe, Neko Cafe, based around A Pleasant Journey to Neko. I love it when games include references to previous games in the series; I think it’s a fun easter egg for supporters.
- Very bright and colorful. It’s got a fantastic color scheme; I wish more games were this upbeat.
- The embossing on the cover is awesome. It’s embossed meeples! I love it! Like it’s super well-done.
- Fantastic art. Naturally, no surprise there, but I appreciate how distinct it is from A Pleasant Journey to Neko — Citie’s really got a lot of artistic range, and it shows. They’ve done something that just, looks great, end-to-end, and I really appreciate how good it looks.
- An interesting spin on trick-taking. Being honest, it’s much closer to the kind of game I thought Honshu was going to be when it was first announced. Honshu isn’t really trick-taking, though, so it ended up being more of a bidding game. This has some cool elements around what you play when to try and get certain cards for your store.
- The shorter game + additional variants are a nice touch. They make the game a bit easier to take on, though it’s still pretty heavy for a trick-taking game, if you ask me.
- Probably needs more Customer Cards. Having only four Level 2 Customers means that your customer requirements get fairly rote from game to game; it would be preferable to have a larger set of Customers to draw from (similarly for 1 and 3).
- It’s got a lot of separate, distinctly-moving parts for a trick-taking game. I think it might be a bit complicated for its own good, but that’s not the worst thing in the world? I do think it’ll turn off a few people if you just try to play it straight out of the gate; I’d recommend starting with the short game and adding on the Preparation Phase. It may even be worth considering just the Store Opening Phase to be the main game and the Preparation Phase is an optional variant to increase the complexity? I’m not sure.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, I think Board Game Cafe Frenzy is fun! I think, being real, it’s probably slightly heavier than I tend to go for for trick-taking games, just in terms of cognitive load and complexity. You’re tracking money, capacity, types, customers, actions, and mystery customers on any given turn, and while that’s plenty fun, that’s also a lot to keep inside my brain. That said, I think there’s a lot of appeal there for people who are looking for a more challenging trick-taking game (instead of your more casual ones). I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest, and I think it’s a really cool evolution in the space. I’d argue that it might be more of an economic tableau-builder with a trick-taking element, but calling it a trick-taking game where you get to prepare your hand in advance is equally fair (and a bit more compelling, if you ask me). The game is definitely helped by Citie’s quality art and some solid color / graphic design work, and I really appreciate how the whole product came together. It looks great on the table and I’ve had fun playing it, so if you’re looking to take your trick-taking to the next level, I’d suggest checking out Board Game Cafe Frenzy! If you like more of a challenge, it’s certainly interesting, and it’s even got more challenging variants!