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.Cafe International,