Cafe International

Multiplayer:Pass'n'play only
AI:Yes, three levels of difficulty
Universal App:Yes (there is a single app which works on both iPhone and iPad in HD)
Purchase for iPhone:Use link below to purchase universal app
Purchase for iPad:
Café International
Price: $3.99
User rating:
GD Star Rating
Cafe International, 8.4 out of 10 based on 177 ratings

Cafe International is a game of modest popularity hailing from German designer Rudi Hoffman; released in 1989 it was that year’s Spiel des Jahres winner.


The game’s premise is eminently simple, with players assuming a role of waiters in a cafe of international reputation, serving jet-setting nationals from all around the globe (but mostly Western and European countries). The object of the game is to arrange these guests around a table set up according to specific rules. Different configurations score different points, and guests that cannot be placed incur a penalty. Completing a table is also a way of significantly scoring.

The board shows a configuration of tables, each with four seats around them. A single ‘seat’ can be adjacent to one, two, or even three tables, and so each placement must conform to the rules of all adjacent tables. Further, the cafe seems to operate by rules of segregation, as customers may only sit in a seat if it is adjacent to a table relevant to their nationality. Each table bears a flagged to indicate its nationality. Beyond the tabling rules players must ensure that there is gender parity at tables at all times.

There are 100 tiles which represent the customers, with 12 nationalities represented within the game: Central African Republic (simply referred to as Africa), China, Cuba, France, Germany, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Each nationality has four men and four women (12 countries times 8 customers for 96 tiles), with the final four customers as colourful jokers; wild tiles. All tiles are drawn randomly at the end of each turn to replenish a hand up to five.

Guests that cannot be seated can be placed at the bar, which room for 20 guests of any nationality. Seating a customer at the bar will either gain or lose points, with the amount indicated on the stool. The first five are beneficial, but the last fifteen are detrimental.

The game will end when either: all 20 seats at the bar are occupied, all chairs around the tables are occupied, if only four tiles remain, or if a player reduces their hand size to null.

There is also a helpful strategy guide available for free on iTunes if you need it.


This is a chipper little game, haunting us from the 80s. I can assure you that you’ll find this to be a nice passing amusement. It will take maybe ten minutes to play a single game, making it something you can pick up when you need a quick fix.

The developers have worked to ensure the basics are met, and while I’m not a fan of the cartoony illustrations they probably work for this game. Light-hearted bemusement rather than serious overtones. There is no provision for online play or online multiplayer, but you can engage with any combination of 2-4 human and computer players in pass’n’play fashion, and the tutorial shows care and attention, taking you easily through the few necessary basic steps.


6/10: Depending on people’s tastes, you may find different levels of satisfaction in this game. It has a simple premise, with somewhat complex strategy, but I found the novelty wearing off after about ten plays.

Postscript: Part of me really wants to politically deconstruct this game, but really most of you aren’t here for this so I’ll leave a few quick comments only. I mostly think this game is a product of its time. Also, take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt, as I thoroughly enjoy Peurto Rico, despite its implied themes of slavery. I was just a bit put off by the caricatures, which is exaggerated by the cartoony illustrations and the jingoist catch phrases. Would people please stop reducing “Africa” to a country? It has at least 50 countries of its own. I think I also betrayed a bit of bias in the use of the term segregation… but then again your millage probably varies and it is only a game in the end.

There are 21 comments

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  1. Adam McIntosh

    Yes, analysis please! I was starting to think Marco Arment and I were the only people noticing the troubling themes in so many otherwise-awesome board games.

    For instance, why are so many board games built around colonialism? As if colonialism doesn’t inherently come with exploitation, slavery and genocide?

    • Angelus_Morningstar

      This is why I left the analysis in the postscript… it’s not directly relevant to the review of the game in and of its own right, but as an academic I would argue that you cannot separate social and context criticism from its objects. I’m glad to have provoked some thought on this.

  2. Hans Juergen Richstein

    Hi, I did the coding of Café International, and as such I am a bit prejudiced anyway (and disappointed by your verdict, to be honest…), but personally I prefer a nice and funny harmless entertainig game based on 80th stereotypes over the tons of 1st person shooters and other war games that seem to be the hottest titles these days.
    Well I am German, I never wear leather trouthers or look like a Bavarian at all (like most people in the world still believe everyone over here does, blue/white shirt and drinking beer), but I have absolutely no problem in being shown on carricatures like that. It’s IMHO ridiculous to assume anything more than some funny exaggeration behind that.

  3. Nick

    it’s just a game so being judged on political correctness is absurd.  take it with grain of salt people, most of us are usually hypocrites anyway.  for what it is, A GAME, it’s fun.  it’s well designed, it executes well and it is unexpectedly strategic.  it’ engaging play and recommended!

  4. UncleP1977

    This is one of the best board games on the ipad and I absolutely don’t understand the 6/8 rating. Especially to some other games.
    It has a perfect UI, an excellent AI, is the right game after work – and I am so happy that they kept the original art and didn’t change it to some political correct nonsense…

    • James Bruce

       @UncleP1977 In fairness, thats why we have user ratings and comments. There is no bias towards the reviewer when they add their rating the mix; your vote counts for as many as their do, which is great because now the game has an average of 8.9

  5. Mike

    “you cannot separate social and context criticism from its objects”
    no offense but please, you are reviewing “an activity engaged in for diversion or amusement.” (Meriam-Webster, et al).  a freaking game sir, not apartheid or the death penalty.  and regardless of how you dismiss your “postscript”-ed view,  it is all to evident that the intent was to besmirch the game.  you must be studying for the bar.  

    • Angelus_Morningstar

      I think you’re just emphasising my point. There is an assumption that we can compartmentalise things like games, and tv, and literature, etc from social context because they are just art after all, entertainment is entirely innocuous right? I offer instead the argument that because they are so innocuous we don’t even consider the subtext because it’s so subliminal. I merely highlighted a subtext, whether it was intentional or not. That is the whole point of critiquing.
      Further, my ‘6’ had nothing to do with the subtext anyhow. I’ve said before that I give a rating above 6 if I feel I want to play it again, and below 6 if I play it a few times and don’t feel much desire to return to it. I found after a few days of playing it, I had reached a plateau. I recognise that there is replay value, but not one that endured in the context of things. 

  6. Mike

    i am not talking about TV or literature and neither were you so don’t aggrandize your take on a silly game in the name of all mankind…geez.  
    but enough of this.   i have the game, i enjoy the game, i like the Africans.  BTW, when i talk to my African friends they say they’re from Africa, not from Cameroon or Chad.  bye

  7. Chris

    After seeing this game in the Charts I thought about trying it out.
    The graphics looked horrible, though I didn’t know if I should really buy it. After reading some reviews and finding out, that the app graphics are based on the classic board game, I gave it a try.
    After downloading and reading the instructions, it was kinda fun to play it against my gf and the cpu.
    I’m not familiar with the point system, but that’s why boardgame apps are so wonderful – you don’t have to think much about the right amount of points and look over the other players.
    I think it’s a good board game, but they should have considered modern und fresh looking graphics.

  8. Bianchi

    I was interested in the game after seeing it featured in iTunes. So I searched for reviews and found this thread (among other good stuff).
     @Angelus_Morningstar  – I am German and I was laughing hard about the Bavarians and I have a lot of friends who are deep republican Texans and it makes me laugh if Cubans are needed to close an American table.
    Also I wanted to mention that it really took me a lot of games to finally understand that this is not all about luck and that it is quite nifty how you can develop a strategy for better scoring. Still amazed that people make it to over 600 points in Solitaire.
    @Chris – you are right, it is nice that the computer counts your points. However it is essential to understand the scoring. I found an additional manual sort of hidden on the companies web site. That explains it really well and comes with examples that easily show how different the scoring can be by just placing one card on a different seat and what the impact is for the game going forward.
    See here:
    They have it as an iBook too, but it is better as PDF, I think. Anyway, hope that helps.

  9. PasserBy

    I was actually searching for a user fan page for the Cafe International app (I just found their Facebook page) when I stumbled upon this review.
    I was about to move on to the next Google hit when I got caught by some rather fierce statements in the review / comments.
    I don’t want to plunge into any discussion; nevertheless let me at my “grain of salt”:
    (1) I’m playing the cardboard version of the app for years. The app is an excellent 1:1 version of the original game and that’s one of the reasons why I love it (not even sure if the developers would be allowed by the brand owner to vary names, flags, character, colors).
    (2) I also like to play chess. Would anyone complain about the fact that pawns are smaller pieces than rooks or bishops? That they are even sacrificed in certain movements? And that there are only black and white pieces – and no yellow, brown, or red ones? And above all why do 95% of the chess apps stick to those quaint characters as given by the board game?

  10. Hans Juergen Richstein

    in the meantime Café International has a turn-based Multiplayer mode, and local games are supported by the board being automaticqlly rotated towards the current player.
    Regards, Hans-Juergen (Café International dev.)

  11. Steven Lewis

    Regardless of whether the card illustrations and voices are politically correct or not, I love this game and think it is fantastically implemented. I appreciate the fact that is is easy to get started, but there is depth and strategy involved that you can learn over repeated playing. The game even includes a nice tutorial to get you started and an in-depth strategy guide is available online. It is nice that even with some study, a turn usually only takes a minute or two. The fact that the game has multiple single player modes is icing on the cake.
    For the record, while I can see that the game character could be offensive to some, I really enjoy the goofy illustrations and voice samples and appreciate the fact that they are derived from the board game which dates back prior to these more sensitive times. It never occurred to me that they might not be PC until I was directed to this discussion.

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