What is this game about?
VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game, designed by T.C. Petty III and published by Dice Hate Me, is a roll and write implementation of VivaJava: The Coffee Game, a game about brewing the best coffee blends. In the dice game, you'll roll dice on each turn and perform one of two possible actions: Make a coffee blend, or conduct research to make it easier to brew better blends in the future. Blends are the way to earn a lot of points, and the first player to 21 points wins. But there's a problem: There can be only one "featured blend" at a time, which means you'll have to have the best roll. If you manage to snag a featured blend, you then have to decide how long to hold onto it. From turn to turn, your blend will degrade one die at a time—all while other players are trying to beat your blend with one of their own.
Research is what you do when you aren't rolling well enough to make a blend. Each game, there will be five different research powers, each associated with a die color. If you choose to research, you can only use one die color from your pool to cross off one space per die on the research track. When you reach certain thresholds, you gain benefits from your work. Some powers let you flip or reroll dice, and others give you advantages on the research track. Reach the end of a research track, and you lose your abilities—but also gain points. So you have to time your research cleverly to get the most out of it.
How does it play solo?
VivaJava Dice comes with two evil AI corporations to pit yourself against. One is permitted to reroll repeatedly in pursuit of that featured blend, while the other gets to keep adding extra dice to its dice pool to increase its chances of success. If the AI opponents roll well, they put up a real fight. And if they don't roll well, the game slowly builds in advantages for them to help them challenge you!
One issue with the solo game, however, is that it isn't really built for all of the variable research tracks and player powers that are included with the VivaJava advanced game. Some of the advanced variants allow players to play semi-cooperatively, among other things that might make the game extra interesting for non-solo players. There is a solo-specific board with powers that are fine-tuned for solo, but those don't offer the same variety. You can go ahead and try the WILD board instead, and see what powers you draw, but you'll need to sift a few out that don't really work for a single player.
VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game is fun and very aesthetically pleasing. But it's also a bit uneven. When you are rolling well, it can really feel like you're making progress, and it's fun to try to gauge how long you should stay committed to one of your blends. Even the research track is satisfying when you get cool powers. But if you are rolling badly, it's possible to get—and feel—very stuck for turn upon turn. I think this is especially true in the solo (and possibly two-player) game, because there aren't other players to challenge your opponent's trudge towards total dominance. The solo game also doesn't give you full access to the range of what VivaJava has to offer, which I find a bit disappointing. It would be helpful to have more opponents, or more solo-friendly powers earmarked for solo play.
Do I recommend it?
This is a totally decent roll and write, and might be a good investment for those not planning to play it primarily as a solo game. The production values are spot on, and there are plenty of variants to keep things interesting. For just solo play? You may love it if you adore the theme or if you are a serious roll & write enthusiast.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
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