This game is unusual in that it is a board game that is for 3-8 players and although it is mainly card driven it isn't a card game with a board, it is a board game with cards. Designed by T.C.Petty III with some nice artwork by Chris Kirkman and Darrell Louder, it was published originally by DICE HATE ME GAMES (their name is still on the box) but the news, as I understand it, is that they have amalgamated with FABLED NEXUS GAMES and SENTINEL COMICS GAMES to form one group named GREATER THAN GAMES. Under this umbrella you can find games like SENTINELS of the MULTIVERSE, of which there is the Core game plus 9 additions/expansions, GALACTIC STRIKE FORCE and ISLE of TRAINS.
VIVA JAVA: The COFFEE GAME was first play-tested in 2009 and there are reviews of it on Boardgamegeek.com that date back 5 years. The rulesbook in the game I have shows that this edition is copyrighted for 2017. There is a credited list of play-testers but I wonder if they all played it with someone telling them the rules rather than them having to read the rules and play it from scratch. I never saw the 2012 version so I cannot comment or compare on whether anything has changed between editions, though I would hazard a guess that the Rules Book hasn't changed and that it was either poorly designed in the first place or the translation from American into English has somewhat suffered, in other words the rules could have been set out better. But, and this is a really important but (almost as big and important as Kim Ks), once you have managed to decipher your way through the textual minefield there is a really good game to be discovered. This review is based on playing with three, four and five players, I have yet to play it with six or seven players or with a full compliment of eight, but my thoughts are that it will play just as well because the adjustments made for 3-5 player games and also for 3-6 player games are minor, though effective.
The game is about Blending coffee beans and researching better Blends, not a particularly exciting theme and I had to really convince my group to play it the first time, but after that first time, well actually less than halfway through that first game, we had all decided that this was going to be regularly played. It has luck, memory testing, decision making and thoughtful play, a small amount of bluffing and a little disrupting of the other player's actions; all the qualities a good game requires. This is a good family game but a better core gamer's game.
There are starting sets of pieces for each of the eight players, so 8 players equals 8 coloured sets of pieces. If you are playing under regular house lighting my advice is that you play with the following colours, depending on the number of players. This is because under house lighting some of the pieces for Blue, Black and Green look the same, as do some of the pieces for White, Brown and Beige. My suggestions are as follws: With 3 players use Black, White and either Red or Yellow pieces; with 4 players use Black, White, Red and Yellow. With 5 players use Black, White, Red, Yellow and Brown. From 6 players onwards it makes little difference on your choice from the remaining three colours, just try to play under good lighting.
The Coffee Beans are represented by 90 small wooden pieces, PLEASE be very careful if you have young children around because the Brown Beans look extremely like the chocolate bits you use in cake making/decorating. The beans are set out in small piles to be the Fields from which they are taken each Turn as required. At the beginning of games with 3-4 players,you use what is called "the Intern Inspansion" which means you are adding Interns to the game to sort of take the place of human players. Once the piles are positioned alongside the World Map board you have to put 33 Beans into one of the Roaster bags to be used filling the "Question Marks" on the Blend Slate cards, specifically 3 Black, 4 Green, 5 Red, 6 Brown, 7 Yellow and 8 White.
Interns are useful on the Turn that you take them, giving both a positive and a negative influence, but after being used they are flipped over, face down where they will for the remainder of the game give players an extra Research point, the cost is that at the end of the game each Intern costs you a Victory point. We liked this idea very much, having something that gives and then takes poses yet another option for the players and most boardgamers enjoy having options (not the chocolate drink, well maybe, but perhaps not during a Coffee game?). In our opinion VivaJava plays best with 3 or 4 players because Interns make the game just that little bit more interesting and fun. In a 5-8 player game players have only one action "In the Field" whereas in a 3 and 4 player game they have two actions, one of which must be placing the Field Researcher on the World Map (is the only action in the 5-8 player game) the other is to Pass or to mentor an Intern which basically means choosing to take an Intern. If a player selects an Intern then the first thing they must do is perform the action on the Intern card which always is a negative, generally a minor inconvenience but always a negative. Some Interns have an attitude or ineptitude; there are three ineptitudes: Cannot Brew, Cannot Select and Cannot use abilities.
Played in Rounds of three phases; 1. In the Field (players place their Field Researcher pawn onto a Country on the World Map), 2. Blend or Research (this is very interesting so I'll explain it further below), 3. Popular Opinion (New Blends may make it onto the Best Selling Coffee list)
Blend or Research. At the beginning of the game the World Map is set with the Nine Country Tokens - it doesn't mention it in the rules but these Tokens stay in place for the entire game. On our first game we shuffled them and placed them at the beginning of each Round which after consulting the rules amongst us we figured our interpretation was incorrect. However, the game actually played okay doing this, the only real difference being if any Blend Slate cards remained because that took a possible strategy off the board. I'll explain; at the beginning of a new Round the World Map is reset in as much as the Blend Slate card at the far left is removed from play and any other cards remaining are slid to the left and new cards drawn and placed from the last remaining card backwards, thus filling up the three spaces again - there are always three Blend Slate cards on display from the start of the game and the start of each Round. It may be advantageous to you to let one of these stay in play so that it slides into a better position for your strategy. If you re-assign the Country Tokens every Round then that strategy is sidelined. Another thing we couldn't see noted in the rules is that one of the 9 Country Tokens is for 5-8 player games only and thus should be flipped to its negative side in games with 3 or 4 players; our thoughts are that it would have been better to have 12 to 15 Country tokens so that you can remove any determined to be only for 5-8 player games and still have enough to fulfil all game setup requirements.
Gameplay throughout is strong. Each Round the Players in turn order have to place their Pawn onto a Country, only one pawn per country. The World Map is split into three regions with three countries in each region. Above these regions Blend Slate cards are placed in the marked positions. These cards show, by coloured circles, which Beans are placed in the countries at the start of each Round (any beans remaining at the end of the Round are returned to supply). In turn order the players place their pawn and take the bean associated with the country they have chosen (in 3-4 player games players may also take an Intern either as their first or second action). When all players have placed their pawns they each take their Blend/Research token into their hands and decide whether they wish to Blend or Research this Round. If there is only one Pawn in a region then that player has no opposition and thus has free choice, but if there is more than just one Pawn in a region then there may be a conflict; players not choosing the same option. If there is conflict then the majority choice, Blend or Research, from all players involved counts for the winners; all ties mean that all players in the region will do Research this Round.
If Research is selected or voted for then all players with Pawns in the Region are "given" 3 Research points to spend on their personal Research board, it is possible that some players may have additional RPs to add to the 3. The Research board is a way to gain extra bonuses and points at the end of the game; Grow, Select, Invest, Brew and Flavour may be researched but for a quicker or newbie game flip the boards over and Flavour is removed as an option.
If Blend is chosen then the players take turns to add beans to the Blend Slate card hoping to fill the spaces on it to the benfit of all players involved. The Blends are sorted like Poker hands; five of a kind, 4 of a kind etc and each takes its place on the Performance (and Scoring) Board being of VP value to the player or players who have created the Blend. Blend popularity can change Round after Round as beans are removed from the completed Blend cards and thus may change the dynamic of the Blend - another very clever and neat game mechanic.
I don't wish to go through all the rules here so let me just say I have barely touched on them on this page. VIVAJAVA is an excellent game which has non-inspiring box cover art and an unassuming theme. This is a shame because players who judge by looks rather than gameplay will miss out on avery, very good game with strong replayability. Amazon have VIVAJAVA on sale for just under £35.00, Thirsty Meeples are selling it at £49.00. Obviously the Amazon price is the best but if you find they have sold out it is still good value in components and gameplay for the higher price. A very enjoyable game!