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CAMPUS CAFÉ by Doppio Gioco Press – REVIEW

Theme and What is it?

Welcome to Campus Café! Would you like to try one of our delicious milkshakes or taste our sweet cupcakes? Take a seat and ask for the menu to an available waiter. And if the service is good, don’t forget to give him a tip and help him become the “Employee of the Month”!

Campus Café is a light strategy game where players are students who work as waiters and waitresses in a snack bar in a fictitious college campus. Their goal is to fulfill the orders of as many clients as possible, serving espresso coffees, hot chocolates, mint shakes, strawberry shakes and cupcakes in various combinations. Different kinds of customers hang out at the bar and, once served correctly, they all provide bonuses to the players such as larger trays or extra tips. In addition to competing each turn for the highest earnings, the students also contend for monthly goals as it happens in real restaurants, and at the same time they try to advance their career in the food service.

So, clock in, put your apron on and clean your tray: your busy day at the campus café is just about to start!

Gameplay Mechanics

Campus Café can be played in two different modes, a Basic mode and an Advanced one. Since the core mechanics don’t change, I will be describing here the Basic Game, that is played on the face of the board characterized by a total white score track.

Setup is pretty intuitive. The resource tokens are placed in their specific area on the board and their initial number varies according to the number of players; 7 Customer cards are placed face up in the “table area” of the café, while the remaining cards form the Next Customers and the Last Customers decks; 3 goals of different types (gray, yellow and light blue) are chosen randomly for each game; discount tokens fill their assigned spots on the board and the two dice and the first player token are then assigned to the first player. The Waiter cards are given out randomly in the Basic Game, while they are chosen by the players in the Advanced Game, because each student has a unique and special talent. Abigail, for example, has a secret goal that only she can achieve; John has a larger tray and he can carry up to seven resources at the time instead of four.

Campus Café is primarily a dice game, where the dice rolling and management phases represent the heart of the game dynamic. The players take turns rolling the dice, choosing the resources or actions they want to take according to the result, serving the customers, acquiring bonuses and receiving an income. The game continues until all customers at the tables and in the Next Customers deck are gone. Then players add to the money they have already earned during the game (the points on the score track) anything they gain from their careers and/or for achieving the monthly goals and the value of any remaining resource on their tray. The waiter or waitress with the most money/points is the best employee of the café and wins the game.

The Worker Placement mechanic is actually a “dice placement”, since the players physically put the dice on the board according to the actions they want to perform, that can either be receiving resources, gaining money or getting the possibility to serve a resource instead of another for a fixed number of times during the turn. Set Collection, on the other hand, comes into play when trying to pursue a monthly goal or a special career; if one of the objective cards requires to serve the highest number of Art Students, for example, players will try to fulfill the most orders from tables hosting male and female Art Students, and so on.

Initial Impressions

I must admit the things that attracted me the most about this game were the light and cheerful theme and the super colorful materials. I just found them to be very appropriate to the joyful atmosphere of a real campus café. The picture on the box says it all: you just would like to try those strawberry shakes and chat with that smiling waiter. However, the game revealed itself to be a bit more articulated than I expected at the beginning. I’m not saying it’s hard, because it’s not at all, but it surely requires more thinking and planning than simply “I choose the resources, serve the customers and get the money”, especially if you’re playing the Advanced Game. In retrospect, I wouldn’t approach Campus Café assuming it’s just an easy and lighthearted family game.

Game Build Quality

Although the game is one of the first products of a rather young publisher, materials are very good.

Resource tokens are super colored and chunky; the double-sided board is thick and big enough to contain everything it needs to; Customer cards are big and strong (I always recommend to sleeve them because they get thoroughly shuffled at the beginning of every game and it’s easier to make them slide one under the other when playing).

The box contains a pre-shaped paper insert to store the materials that I honestly consider useless, but I recognize it’s quite appropriately decorated with shakes and croissants, adding to the feeling of the game.

The rulebook is one of those manuals you either love or hate. It’s literally filled with images, text, explanation boxes of three different colors (!), examples and meticulous reproductions of the board. If you like very detailed rulebooks, you will probably love it: it says really everything about the game, maybe even obvious things that are a bit redundant for habitual gamers. If you like briefer and less full manuals, you will hate it, because it will bore you and give you the feeling of never getting to the point. I personally think it should have been shorter for the type of game Campus Café is, but occasional gamers will probably appreciate its completeness.

Artistic Direction

Artwork is consistent with the overall feeling of the game.

The nice picture on the box is what attracts the most and it does its job of making people want to try the game. As I said, even the decoration of the paper insert fits perfectly.

All cards are colorful and pretty self-explaining. On the same wavelength of the rulebook, Customer cards are full of information, showing the customers types, their orders, the bonuses they provide, the amount of their bill and special prizes the give all on one side!

If I had to be picky, I’d say that $5.75 for an espresso at a campus café is way too much… After all, I’m just a broken college student!

Fun Factor

Campus Café is a fun game to play. It’s a light strategic game with no downtime and where the luck factor of having to roll two dice is quite mitigated by the numerous options the board offers and by the dice manipulators bonuses. Planning is required when deciding which resources to take and which customers to serve, but it’s usually a smooth process for habitual gamers.

The most satisfying aspect is succeeding in fulfilling the orders of many customers at the same time, which also provides extra income and prizes: the combo of resources and cards allows the players to get a lot of points/money in a single move, leaving the opponents empty-handed and with a wide gap to fill.

I personally have fun embodying a cute waitress serving strawberry shakes with a bow in her hair. It’s so Eighties!

Age Range & Weight

The suggested age for Campus Café is 8+. Unfortunately I believe it’s a bit low. The game implies some choices which go beyond the simple “take the resource and fulfill the order”. My 9-year-old niece plays a lot and she really had fun with this game, but she wasn’t able to plan her moves from turn to turn, or think ahead or use the dice manipulators correctly. Probably the author and publisher were thinking about a family game where adults help and guide the kids, and this is fine, but I don’t believe children as young as 8 can play correctly by themselves. Nevertheless, they will greatly enjoy the theme of being “student waiters” and the chunky wooden resources.

According to the box, a game can last 20 to 30 minutes; I believe they forgot to add “for each player”. If this is the case, I think this is pretty accurate; in a two-player game we never exceed the hour span, including setup.

Campus Café can be played from 2 to 4 players and I must admit the game flow is smooth with any player count. Setup is different; the number of Customer cards and resources changes accordingly, therefore the game gets neither too long in 4 nor too short in 2.

As I already said, Campus Café is not a heavy game. It’s quite easygoing, even though it requires some thinking ahead and the ability to combo resources and cards to gain as much money as possible in every turn. I like the Basic Game because its smoothness is consistent with the theme and the overall feeling; on the other hand, I don’t like the Advanced Game, because it adds too many things to a game experience which was thought to be light and laid-back. The only aspect of the Advanced Game I like is the Variable Player Powers mechanic; I tried to combine it with the Basic Game, but the addition of these special abilities makes the Basic Game a bit too easy for experienced gamers.

Conclusions

I must admit I enjoyed playing Campus Café, even if it’s not a brain burner like other strategy games I like. It provides a thorough experience: it’s a pleasure for the eye, it’s easy to learn and play, it requires enough thinking and planning without being heavy and it encourages you to use even your tactical abilities to get the most out of each rolling of the dice.

It’s well-balanced with all player counts and the theme can attract different kinds of people, from occasional gamers looking for a light strategy game to heavy gamers searching for an easygoing worker-placement game (dice-placement, in this case!) to start a game night with. And it will surely fascinate children as well, thanks to its colors and immediateness of the rules.

Doppio Gioco Press is a young publisher in Italy. I think they did a very good job overall, from the choice of the materials to the implementation of the mechanics, which are not new, but blend well.

Replay value is fairly high and it’s guaranteed by the random selection of the students’ powers, Customer cards and monthly goals. It’s true that after a few games players know exactly which is the best strategy to pursue, but the presence of the dice makes control more difficult. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say the luck factor is predominant here, since, as I already said, there are so many ways in which you can manipulate your dice.

Game flow is smooth and time flies playing: the Customer cards will be all gone before you can finish your hot chocolate.

The only thing I really don’t like is the complete Advanced Game. I feel there was no need to have one, since the Basic Game works perfectly as it is and heavy gamers will surely choose another type of game if they are looking for a more complex experience.

Campus Café didn’t get a place on my top shelf, but it definitely is a game I will bring back to the table often with people new to the game hobby or with kids. Thumbs up.

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