Ahh, the aroma of fresh coffee in the morning, it is a daily treat I have really come to enjoy over the past few years. My enjoyment of coffee was one of the reasons I was drawn to Viva Java: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game, despite it long name. The dice mechanic and the beautiful production also drew me in from Dice Hate Me Games. I’ve been very selective of Kickstater Games, but I am very glad I supported this endeavor.
Goal of the Game
In VivaJava the Dice Game, players are competing to create the best blends of Coffee and complete research projects in order to gain Performance Points (PP). Through luck and balanced play, the first player to gain 21 Performance Points will win the game.
Components / Set-Up
The game comes with 10 white Coffee Dice. This are placed together to form the Coffee Supply. In a two player game we usually give five dice to each player. Each face has a different colored bean: white, yellow, brown, red, green, and black. Under each bean, except black, is a number of pips. The more pips means the better quality of the bean. Black is the best bean and this is shown with a circle around the bean. The 5 black Flavor Dice should be placed on the Flavor Dice Coaster to form the Flavor Supply. Each side of the Flavor Dice shows the same beans as the Coffee Dice, but there is no black. Instead, this face shows a circle with all five colors and acts as a wild die.
The base game also comes with three Research Coaster (Lite / House / Wild), players should choose one of the coasters and place it in the middle of the play area. We have also found it helpful to put the Ability Reference Cards that go with the coaster either under it or near it for easy reference. The game recommends that you start with the “Lite” Coaster for your first few games.
The Featured and Rainbow Blend Coasters should be placed in the middle of the play area.
Each player is given a Player Reference Coaster. On one side of the coaster is the turn order reference and on the other side is artwork of a coffee blend / company. They are also given three wooden discs of their player color and a Score Sheet / Research tracker. Players will also need a pen and pencil.
Players determine the first player by rolling a Coffee Die. The player with the highest roll (most dots under the coffee bean) is the first player. All the other players add a Research Point to the color Research track that they rolled.
There are three phases for each players turn
1. Score – Score any Blends you control
2. Roll – roll the dice, use abilities, and decide what to do with the results
3. Activate – activate any new Research abilities
This phase will be skipped on your first turn since there are no blends to score. I will discuss it more later.
After scoring the player will take five of the white Coffee Dice and roll them. If you have gained black flavor dice, you must roll these at the same time. When players have gained research abilities (like re-roll) they can use these during this phase.
If a player has broken apart a Featured Blend (more about this soon), they will only have roll the dice remaining on the coaster this turn. This will always be four or less.
After a player has finished rolling and using Research abilities, they then decide what to do with the dice. The play may either Blend or Research.
When a players blend their dice, they place them on the Featured Blend or Rainbow Blend coaster and immediately score one Performance Point. They keep this blend until your next turn, unless another player betters it.
Creating a Featured Blend – Players can create a blend when you roll two or more beans of the same type. Placing five dice onto the Featured Blend coaster creates it. To create a feature blend, it must include five dice and must be higher ranked the current Feature Blend. (If there is no current blend, it is already the highest)
Blends are ranked by two criteria: Quality and Robustness. The six beans on the Coffee Dice all have a different quality. The pips under the bean show its quality – with white being the lowest and black the highest. The blend is also judged on Robustness. The more beans of the same color in the blend the better the Robustness. So a blend with three white beans would be more Robust than a blend of two brown beans. A blend of two beans is a decaf blend, three regular, four bold, and five extra bold.
To determine if a Featured Blend is better than another decide which blend is more robust. If there is a tie, then decide which blend has the better Quality. If there is still a tie, the blend already on the board wins. The extra beans on the blend are not used for ranking.
When players have created a Featured Blend, you take the coaster and place it in front of themselves with the five dice on top. They will then score one Performance Point for creating the blend. If they used Flavor Dice to create the blend this are returned the Flavor Dice coaster and replaced with Coffee Dice. If no one creates a better Featured Blend by your next turn, their blend will score either 2 or 3 PP, depending on the number of players.
Creating a Rainbow Blend – When players roll five different bean colors they can create a Rainbow Blend. A rainbow blend doesn’t score as many points as a Featured Blend, but it also doesn’t degrade. When a Rainbow Blend is created, the player takes the Rainbow Blend Coaster and scores one Performance Point. They will also score points (depending on the number of players) at the beginning of their turn. They do not place the Coffee Dice on the coaster. Rainbow blends are not ranked. The player keeps the Coaster until a new Rainbow blend is created or the player creates a Featured Blend.
Players can only control one blend at a time. If a player has a Rainbow Blend and creates a Featured Blend, the Rainbow blend coaster must be returned.
Players may choose to research, instead of creating a blend, during their turn. Research allows players to gain certain abilities and Flavor Dice. If a player cannot outrank the current Feature Blend or create a Rainbow Blend, they must research.
The Research Coaster has five Ability Discs: one for each bean color. On a players score pad they also have five research tracks. Players choose one color to gain research points. Players simply cross off the number of beans they rolled (in one color). For example, if you rolled three white, one green, and one yellow, you can research one yellow, one green or three white. Two of the beans are larger than the other on the track. Once you reach these beans you receive a new ability. For the first bean you may use the ability once, and twice once you reach the second large bean. Most abilities will be available each turn with the exception of the “gain a token” abilities. These only activate once on the turn that a new Ability Level is achieved.
When players cross out the last space (coffee cup) on a research track that have completed that research. They will gain the number of points listed on the ability disc. They also can no longer use that ability.
Flavor Dice – Research points also allow player to gain Flavor Dice. A player gains Flavor Dice equal to the number of black beans they rolled. If they roll more black beans than flavor dice in the supply, they only gain as many as are available. Flavor dice can be used in two ways during a game. A player may choose to donate the dice. They would roll the flavor dice during another players turn. If the active player decides to use the Flavor Dice, a token of the donating players color is placed on top of the die in the blend. The donating players scores one point immediately and keeps any of the Flavor Dice not used to create the blend. On that player’s next turn, if the blend scores, the donating player again scores one point. A player must roll any flavor dice they have on their turn. Once they have been rolled or used they are returned to the Flavor Coaster.
After a player has completed their rolling and has either researched or blended, research abilities are now available. If you would “gain a token” this is when you take one, of your color, from the supply. After you have activated your abilities, they next players turn will begin.
Players score prestige points, at the start of their turn, if they control a Rainbow or Featured Blend. Each blend scores a different number of points. A Rainbow Blends scores 1 point in a two or three player game, and two points in a four player game. A Featured Blend scores two points in a two-player game, and three points in a three or four-player game.
Degrade – After a players scores a Featured Blend the blend degrades. Players remove one die, of their choice, from the featured blend to degrade it. When it degrades to one bean, it cannot be ranked and the player must break it apart. Rainbow blends don’t degrade and may be kept under a players control.
After degrading the blend, a player must decide to keep it or break it apart. If they keep it, they skip the rest of their turn. They cannot perform abilities during the roll or activate phase. If they break apart the blend, they take the remaining dice off the blend and place the coaster back in the middle of the table. They roll the remaining dice from the blend. Since they don’t have five dice, they cannot create a new blend.
When a player has scored 21 Performance Points the game ends immediately.
All the components of VivaJava the Dice Game are of great quality. The dice are beautiful and clear and the colors are all really clear. They look really nice when you roll a Rainbow blend, with all the different colors. The black flavor dice are very impressive on the wild side. It isn’t easy to get five colors on one dice, and I haven’t seen any flaws on ours. I know a lot of care and effort was put into getting these dice perfect and the end result shows that.
The artwork and iconography really evoke the feelings of a coffee shop, in what is really an abstracted game. I love the different flavors on the backs of the Player Reference Coasters. My favorite is the Night Owl; it reminds me of my husband because I am certainly no night owl.
The coasters also impart the theme, and I like they were used instead of a board. They are nice, thick cardboard of good quality and the printing is clear and easy to read. The iconography can be confusing at first, but will become easier to understand as you play the game more.
I like the variety of research discs and the wild disc. You can customize the difficulty and create completely different options every time you play. This offers a lot of re-playability. A solo variant is also included for anyone who wants to play a solo game.
The Ability Reference cards are small, the perfect size to fit on the table and under the research coasters. They are very helpful at explaining how to use the research disc. We like placing them under the coaster so it is easy to see what the ability explanation.
The Score / Research Pad can be a divisive component. They are full color and very nice. At the same time there are only 50 double-sided sheets with the game. I honestly thought there would be double that from the picture on Kickstarter. I do plan on laminating a few sheets and Dice Hate Me Games has offered a downloadable PDF of the score sheets to create more of you own. Find them here: https://dicehatemegames.com/games/vivajava-dice/. I also find that the 1x and 2x levels of the research beans were a bit confusing at first. These levels beans are slightly larger than the others on the track, so be sure to fully explain them to new players.
The box is also of good quality. It is small, but still larger than it needs to be. But I know companies are not always willing to make smaller boxes, and not everyone wants a small box. Our copy did have a oily stain, that was probably from the burlap dice bag that came in the game. My husband took care of that before I even saw it. I will not comment on how bad it was. No other components, other than the insert and the Brewple were affected. I know Dice Hate Me Games is working on a solution to this problem and did not anticipate it happening. I admire them for offering upfront answers and not putting the game out to consumers until they have come up with a solution. I hope this happens soon as I would like to see this game on store shelves in the near future.
Overall the components and artwork are beautiful. I love coffee, so I love the theme, but is also a theme that almost anyone can enjoy. The variety of components and ability to play a “Lite” game is a nice way to get non-and new gamers into playing.
The rulebook and writing is tiny, so be sure to use your reading glasses if you need them. There are promised online video tutorials coming if you like learning that way. Right now, there is a Beta video for the print and play version.
The Rule book itself, it very nicely set up with the Goal of the Game as the very first thing, a Table of Contents and rules for each phase of the game. There is also an appendix to explain the Flavor Dice, token, and Research Coaster and abilities. Solo rules are also included. There isn’t a short rules summary on the back because each Player Coaster has a rules summary.
The rules are nicely written, but do use some game jargon (Robustness / Degrading) that can be confusing the first time. They will make sense, as you read the rules, so don’t be disheartened. Read the rules and play the game and it will make sense. The player coasters really help during your first few games. After awhile I didn’t even need mine and instead turned it over to the artwork because I really liked it.
We weren’t completely sure how to play after reading the rules the first time, but once we started we only had one or two rules clarifications that were easy to find, thanks to the index. We weren’t sure if research was complete when you crossed out the last bean or the coffee cup (coffee cup), and what some of the research abilities did and when to use them.
After you have learned the rules and played a few turns or games, VivaJava the Dice Game is very fast to play. The box says a half hour and I agree with that. The included components are perfect for two people, as you don’t have to pass the dice back and forth. I think that more players will slow the game down as you share dice. I would be tempted to buy an extra copy if I wanted to play with four players. The player coasters also offer nice rules summaries so everyone knows what to do on their turn. This won’t be as necessary as players learn the rules.
The games works well with two players, but three players may be best because of the different abilities that play off of the other players. For example, we found that the “House Rules” research coaster wasn’t as good with two players. More players would give you more options and keep one player from getting too far ahead in points.
Because you roll the dice and then decide what to do with them, it always seems there is something good you can do every turn. You may not get the exact result you wanted, but you are never left with nothing to do on your turn. This leads to multiple ways to score points in the game. You can make a Featured or Rainbow Blend or you can research to get abilities and score points for completed research. These also seemed balance, as players won games focusing on mostly on research, mostly creating blends, and trying an equal balance of both. No one path to victory is the obvious choice and only one worth going for each game.
The research abilities also offer some nice ways to manipulate the dice. Being able to re-roll is very important and offered on most of the research coasters. Each coaster has a different feel. These add a lot of re-playability to the game. I really like the wild coaster; there are so many different ways to use that in the game. The coasters give the game a modular board of sorts, creating a different variety of game each play.
Research also offers the player meaningful choices. What ability do you research and get up to the 2xs level? Do you finish the research for the points, but lose the ability? Do I use these dice for research or to create a featured blend?
Because of all of this, the game is also ripe for expansions. There are so many things that can be added such as preset coasters, new abilities, tokens, or new dice. There is already one expansion “The Game of the Year Expansion” and there are some interesting ideas in it.
VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game is a quick, fun, light game with a great theme. Like a good brew of coffee, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The amount of variety from the research and dice rolls means the game doesn’t go stale, and it is a different game every time. Each turn, decisions are entertaining and meaningful. Players just need determine what is best at that point in the game.
The game is a good value for the prince point. I think it will be around $30 when it is available for retail. There also seems to be a lot of support from the publisher. They answer questions in a timely manner, are trying to make right any mistakes that were made, and have offered copies of the score sheets, for free, on their website.
I have really enjoyed playing. Every time a game ends I want to start another one right away. The components are beautiful, the artwork adds to the theme, and the game a real joy to play.
Designers: T. C. Petty III
Artist: Christopher Kirkman
Publishers: Dice Hate Me Games
Players: 2 – 4
Game Length: 30 minutes
Ages: 10 and up
Thanks for sharing your great pictures!