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Subject: Somethin' was abrewin' at PrezCon rss

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Clyde W
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I've just returned from 2012's PrezCon in Charlottesville, VA, where I had a fantastically fun time playing lots of different games, and TC Petty's VivaJava was one of the highlights of the con for me.

Now, for background, I am a huge fan of coffee, I Kickstarted the project the day it went live, and while I had not yet read the rules prior to playing the game this weekend, I was fairly certain the game was right up my alley. So when I heard that TC and Chris of publisher Dice Hate Me would be demoing their game there, I was overjoyed.

Negotiation games are certainly one of my favorite types, as evidenced by what I played directly prior to and after to this, Genoa and Cosmic Encounter, and any game with direct player interaction is my kind of game--I'm a big of screwing with other people at the table but not in the forced "discard two cards!" Dominion-style method of "interaction." I also am a fan of bluffing games, and VivaJava is definitely a bluffing game, but in new and fresh ways.

As I told TC after the demo, I was kind of worried that the game wouldn't live up to my preconceived notions about it, but in short, the game exceeded my already-high expectations and I can't wait for August, the game's expected publish date, to come.

As for the session itself, I had been wanting to play the game all weekend, but finally found time Saturday evening. We rounded up 8 willing participants (TC and Chris included) and launched into the rules explanation, which took about 15ish minutes.

Brief mechanics explanation

Briefly, the game is a VP collection game played out over 7 or so rounds. A round consists of everyone placing their one worker on a coffee-growing region of the world. Placing the worker there confers to the player a bean from that region and also things like positive or negative victory points. If you're first in turn order (ie, last in points) you get to place your worker first. Typically you'll be choosing a region based on the color of beans you currently have collected from prior turns (there's six colors) and also the special abilities conferred on you for taking that space. Spaces like the +2VP or +1 extra bean space fill up quickly, while the -1VP space are left for the players who're at the end of the turn order, which means you want to be as close to Start Player as possible.



After everyone has played their workers out into the 9 spaces available (so in an 8p game, only one space is left empty), everyone is now a part of a team, based on which region you went into (South American, African, and Asian). Two teams have three brewers, while one will only have two. The team selects whether they want to blend a coffee that round, or research coffee-making skills that round, and this is done with public, simultaneous voting, but much of this part of the round involves negotiating with your teammates and explaining what you have in your bean collection (which is conveniently hidden from others in a bag). You can lie or bluff what you have in this phase of the game, or you can be 100% truthful, and this is one of the fun aspects of the game. Is that person who claims to have only yellow beans really telling the truth? Finally, after everyone has chosen to blend or research, all teams blending begin creating a coffee blend. Every person on the team MUST draw at least one bean from their bag and add it to the team's blend. As each blend has 5 beans in it, and you only have up to 3 people on a team (but sometimes 2) you might be drawing a few beans from your bag, or only one. This is done randomly, but the game's mechanics give you a lot of ways to ensure you only draw the color(s) you're hoping for.



The blends are then ranked according to Poker-style ranking (so five-of-kind beats four-of-a-kind, both of which are better than a 5 unique colors blend, which in the game's parlance is a Rainbow blend). A "one pair" "hand" (say, red, red, yellow, white, black) is the worst, and is typically the result of a just-missed Rainbow blend. If blends from previous rounds are better than some of the blends from this round, those blends don't go away, but in fact knock out the bad blends from this turn, so there's ever-growing pressure to make sure you're pumping out high-quality coffee on a regular basis. After the blends are all ranked, the players involved in creating those ranked blends each earn points individually, based on their ranking, with a first-place finish earning 3VP, and the 4th and 5th blends earning 1VP each. The blends then degrade, each losing the least-significant bean (so a 5-of-a-kind now is a 4-of-a-kind).



Then, you readjust turn order, based on score. Start player is the person in last place, and the leader goes last during the next round. The game ends when someone passes the 21VP spot or all of the blend cards have come out. A third way the game ends, I suspect fairly rarely, is when a player has researched four techs to their maximum ability.



That's the other aspect of the game: if you decide not to blend a coffee that round, you get to spend 3 Research Points (RP) on a coffee brewing tech, and these basically assist you in drawing "randomly" the beans you want from your bag. I won't go into all the techs, but they combine really well together allowing you to blend better than the less "smart" roasters at the table. If you research, you can also convert VPs to RPs, which makes you even smarter, and also makes you more likely to be Start Player (which I found to be a good thing to be). For each tech ability you unlock, you earn a certain number of VPs during end-game scoring, which researched-focused players can use to their advantage during the game to keep the coveted Start Player position.



Session report

In our Saturday evening session, I decided to go heavily into the Flavor and Invest technologies. The Invest technology allows you to "invest" in other teams' blends, as if you were part of the team yourself. I didn't have to do any of the work, I just had to hope the brewers made a good blend--again, the ability to read the players at the table to choose which team to invest in here is crucial.

The Flavor tech allows you to draw Flavor cards, which allowed you to essentially break some of the game's rules. The first Flavor card I drew allowed me to form a fourth team at the start of a new round and be the only player on it. Because at the time, I had 5 beans of one color in my bag and no other colors, I was guaranteed to make a five-of-a-kind blend, and no one would get to share in the profits of it. The other Flavor card allowed me to move one of my investments from one blend to another, something you typically can't do. When one of the blends I had invested in was about fall off the charts, I moved my investment from it to the top blend for that round, thus ensuring my investment was going to last for more rounds than it normally would.

In addition to being a semi-co-op game (forced cooperation in blending beans), there's also a certain bluffing, body language-reading aspect to the game, and a couple of significant screw-your-neighbor moves, much to my delight (and in fact were used deftly against me multiple times during the game). Because it's often in your best interests to be fairly honest about the type of poker hand you're hoping to team up to make, players can realize you have a bean they want and take one of the spaces in the worker placement phase of a round that allows them to swap a bean from your bag with a bean from their bag, helping their ability to make a rare hand while simultaneously hindering yours. If, on the other hand, you're fairly tight-lipped about what beans you're holding, players are less likely to want to team up with you, and will go elsewhere instead, but will be less likely to steal from you. And of course there's the ability to lie about what you have if you don't want to help a specific player, like the player in the lead that round. If he's asking around about who has a specific color, you might want to claim not to have that color, because helping him means you'll be giving him even more points.

"Review"

(as I dislike reviews of games after only one play, this is only a "review")

VivaJava's mechanics all blend together in a fairly intuitive way. There's just enough luck to make things interesting, but you can easily mitigate that luck through a lot of strategic and tactical decisions. And, of course, the ability to correctly read your potential teammates during the game will give you an advantage over players who can't. Our session, including rules explanation, was no more than two hours long, but it felt to me like it only lasted about 30 minutes. There's very, very little downtime, despite it supporting 8 players. I can't comment much on the game's components (though the prototype was totally playable) but according to Chris, the publisher, they're going with the same printing company that Tasty Minstrel Games used for Belfort and the second edition of Homesteaders, both of which have highly-regarded components.

As for comparisons to other games, I was reminded (very tangentially) of Dominion in the way you go about combining your research techs and the way you build up a bag of winning bean combos. I was also reminded of games like Liar's Dice in the way you had to peer into a hidden container and either tell the truth or lie about you had in there. I was reminded of Cosmic Encounter in the way you go about forming alliances during the round. If you believe you can make, for instance, a Rainbow blend, it's to your advantage to ask the table if anyone else is feeling Rainbow as well, and go about putting together a team that can make that type of blend. Finally, the the VPs-to-turn-order relation reminds me a bit of Power Grid. I was in last place for much of round 1-5, then shot forward on round six and ended up winning the game on round 7 due to early conversion of VPs into RPs. And because I appeared to be in last place for most of the game, players weren't locking me out of negotiations or stealing my beans (at least, all that much). I just didn't appear to be much of a threat.

Needless to say, I had an absolute blast playing the game, and I had already fallen in love with the game about two rounds in. It's absolutely, hands down, one of the best 8-player games I've ever encountered, and a very worthy addition to the negotiation genre of gaming. I've already Kickstarted the game, but am thinking of pledging at the $200 level now, simply to get a prototype of the game and a copy of one of TC's other prototypes. Yes, it really was that good.

My initial rating of this game is 8.5 out of 10, after one 8p play.

(edit: John Sizemore, of Chicken Caesar and BGG fame, was another player during this session, and has just posted a review of the game here: A Refreshing First Impression: Maybe Better than 7 Wonders...)
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Dice Hate Me
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Clyde,

Awesome write-up! I'm so glad you got to play VivaJava, especially because it was better than you expected. That particular game was pretty epic, and I really enjoyed it. I love when we can get together a full group of 8 and show what VivaJava can really do.

It was great meeting you and gaming with you and Emily! Hopefully we'll all be able to do that again before too long.

Cheers,
Chris
 
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Rob White
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Nice write-up Clyde. Nice meeting you at PrezCon. We played Airlines Europe, not VivaJava. But I did get to play Viva Java earlier in the weekend and it was terrific!

Rob
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Tim Seitz
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Clyde!

I can't believe you were at Prezcon and didn't play in the "fabulous" A Few Acres of Snow tournament we had! laugh
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Clyde W
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out4blood wrote:
Clyde!

I can't believe you were at Prezcon and didn't play in the "fabulous" A Few Acres of Snow tournament we had! laugh
Wha???! I didn't even realize there WAS an Acres tournament. I'm not huge on either a) wargames or b) tournaments, and the only tournament I participated in was Tichu, and after playing the game for three hours Friday night, I was sorta like, eh, I'm okay with bowing out of the next day's heats.

How'd the tournament go? Let me guess, you won? And Brits dominated? Which ruleset did you play with? Too bad we didn't get to meet, in any case.
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Clyde W
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Rob in Richmond wrote:
Nice write-up Clyde. Nice meeting you at PrezCon. We played Airlines Europe, not VivaJava. But I did get to play Viva Java earlier in the weekend and it was terrific!

Rob
Rob! That game of Airlines Europe was probably the best play of it I had ever experienced...it was super enjoyable, and you were a very worthy opponent (for a geometry teacher, at least). Next time, you and me will go Red all the way, yeah?
 
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John Sizemore
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This was a much better write-up than mine, Clyde -- well done!

And for the record, Clyde brought a lot to the game, as well. It would have been fun with just about anyone, but he made it truly memorable. I will never see the tokens on a filled-in brew card without rmembering that first game, man. 8^)
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Tim Seitz
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clydeiii wrote:
out4blood wrote:
Clyde!

I can't believe you were at Prezcon and didn't play in the "fabulous" A Few Acres of Snow tournament we had! laugh
Wha???! I didn't even realize there WAS an Acres tournament. I'm not huge on either a) wargames or b) tournaments, and the only tournament I participated in was Tichu, and after playing the game for three hours Friday night, I was sorta like, eh, I'm okay with bowing out of the next day's heats.

How'd the tournament go? Let me guess, you won? And Brits dominated? Which ruleset did you play with? Too bad we didn't get to meet, in any case.

PM'd you to avoid going further OT
 
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Rob White
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All I can tell you Clyde is that the first thing Tim did when I saw him on Saturday was pull down his sweater so I could see the champion's t-shirt. "Winning!"

Rob
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TC Petty III
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Awesome session report. Gotta say this was a pretty good crew of gamers revolving around the old VivaJava table.

I'm still bitter about Clyde's tie-breaker win against me on Saturday, but I'll just chalk it up as a "learning game" and put an asterisk by the win. Great getting to play Cosmic Encounter and some Resistance. Next time I'm in DC we'll have to play again (not Cosmic Encounter). Haha.
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Clyde W
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TheCrippledWerewolf wrote:
Awesome session report. Gotta say this was a pretty good crew of gamers revolving around the old VivaJava table.

I'm still bitter about Clyde's tie-breaker win against me on Saturday, but I'll just chalk it up as a "learning game" and put an asterisk by the win. Great getting to play Cosmic Encounter and some Resistance. Next time I'm in DC we'll have to play again (not Cosmic Encounter). Haha.
TC, after this weekend, I've decided that the ONLY games I'll ever play again are Cosmic Coutner, Resistance, and VivaJava.

I'll chalk up the win to beginners luck and your very helpful advice to me throughout the game. I mean, I sat next to you for a reason, and it's not because I'm stalking you. Because, you know, I'm not stalking you, I swear.
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great report. im now tempted to kickstart, as i like the theme alot, and am looking for more games to play when we have 7-8 players show up. that said, i HATE Cosmic Encounter though enjoy the Resistance, and most of my group feels the same way. Perhaps that seems odd, but there you go. Negotiation is a love/hate sort of mechanic for me, and rubs me wrong in most games. The comparisons to Cosmic ENcounter frighten me.

Think my group might like this? Is playing politics the main/only real skill in the game, or do the other choices help counterbalance that aspect of the game?
 
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Clyde W
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flamejuggler wrote:
great report. im now tempted to kickstart, as i like the theme alot, and am looking for more games to play when we have 7-8 players show up. that said, i HATE Cosmic Encounter though enjoy the Resistance, and most of my group feels the same way. Perhaps that seems odd, but there you go. Negotiation is a love/hate sort of mechanic for me, and rubs me wrong in most games. The comparisons to Cosmic ENcounter frighten me.

Think my group might like this? Is playing politics the main/only real skill in the game, or do the other choices help counterbalance that aspect of the game?
I think there's many pathways to victory. It has a MUCH, MUCH different feel than Cosmic. While there's a lot of player interaction, it's not of the head-to-head, me-destroy-you variety. It's more trying to read other players to see if they'll be good teammates, and also then potentially stealing beans every once in a while from a player at the table. There's only one potential steal per round, and sometimes it's in the player's best interest to NOT steal, so in our game it only happened three times I think, and twice it was me who was getting stolen from. I think I stole the third time, but I was only stealing to get rid of a bean in my bag I didn't want.

Also, you can go off and concentrate on research and not interact much at all, especially in the 3-5 player version.

I really wouldn't worry about the comparison I made to Cosmic...the only comparison I was making there was how when you're offering up alliances, it's sometimes helpful to figure out if it's in your best interests to actually ally with the players at the table, and which ones, and you have to do that in similar ways to VivaJava.
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Clyde W
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I'll also say this. I rarely play Resistance with more than 7. 8+ gets too chaotic and difficult (sans plot cards, which I don't like), so to me, I'm always going to pick VivaJava over Resistance if I have 8. Nearly always at least.

You know how Airlines: Europe you might be wanting to invest in a color that's in your hand but you don't want to do the work in building it out? Maybe say you're sitting on 3 or 4 whites, but hope someone else has one or two? Well, VivaJava is sort of like that. It's in your best interests to figure out which player is holding white, convince them they want to go all in on white, and then lay down the whites right before scoring. That's similar to the interaction found in VivaJava. Sorta.
 
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Ive only played the Resistance with more than 7 once, and that was recently. the game dynamic changes alot when there are 3 folks sent on the initial mission, making it easier for the spies to fail that one. seems alot harder on the resistance and little to go on, but want to play more to understand this group size.

we like airlines europe. more like that, less like CE is encouraging. hmmmm
 
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Clyde W
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flamejuggler wrote:
Ive only played the Resistance with more than 7 once, and that was recently. the game dynamic changes alot when there are 3 folks sent on the initial mission, making it easier for the spies to fail that one. seems alot harder on the resistance and little to go on, but want to play more to understand this group size.

we like airlines europe. more like that, less like CE is encouraging. hmmmm
I would also say that CE is a gamers' game while VivaJava is more of a gateway, while still having lots of strategic decisions.
 
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i love gamers games, with complex rules and vp engines and such, and CE is one of the few games ive actively disliked. i see CE as a party game masquerading as a gamers game, where table politics has more to do with winning than real skill or strategy. an illusion of a meaty game, backed up with zany rule breaking BS and plastic spaceships. gulp ive had folks tell me if i saw it in that more casual light without expecting a gamers game, id like it more. so im a bit confused by your comment and think we may just have very different tastes in games.

Im glad VJ is accessible, but youd call it a gateway, eh? im less sure now.
 
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What a great session report! I've already back the project, but this is probably the first time that I fully understand how the game feel like. (Sorry I was unable to watch the video).

Clyde, have you played Chicken Caesar? It feels like your type of game. I'd like to back it if only there's a option for more than 1 copy of a game to share the international shipping fee.

Edit: Oops, I see that many people have already said about CC in another thread.
 
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flamejuggler wrote:
i love gamers games, with complex rules and vp engines and such, and CE is one of the few games ive actively disliked. i see CE as a party game masquerading as a gamers game, where table politics has more to do with winning than real skill or strategy. an illusion of a meaty game, backed up with zany rule breaking BS and plastic spaceships. gulp ive had folks tell me if i saw it in that more casual light without expecting a gamers game, id like it more. so im a bit confused by your comment and think we may just have very different tastes in games.

Im glad VJ is accessible, but youd call it a gateway, eh? im less sure now.


While I think VJ is a great game to introduce to non-gamers, I don't think it has the typical weaknesses of other gateway games (excessive luck, simple strategies).

It certainly didn't remind me of CE. While I don't dislike CE as much as you do (you have to give it a bit of slack in light of its age), it's not a favorite of mine either; it always seems to come down to convincing other people to let me win. There are a lot more decisions to make in VJ, and the decisions have subtler implications.
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Clyde W
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flamejuggler wrote:
i love gamers games, with complex rules and vp engines and such, and CE is one of the few games ive actively disliked. i see CE as a party game masquerading as a gamers game, where table politics has more to do with winning than real skill or strategy. an illusion of a meaty game, backed up with zany rule breaking BS and plastic spaceships. gulp ive had folks tell me if i saw it in that more casual light without expecting a gamers game, id like it more. so im a bit confused by your comment and think we may just have very different tastes in games.

Im glad VJ is accessible, but youd call it a gateway, eh? im less sure now.
Heh. Er. Okay. Well, I would call CE a gamer's game because when I play the game with gamers it's always significantly better than when I attempt the game with non-gamers. There's lots and lots of moving parts, lots of hidden information, lots of corner cases for rules. I would not at all call it a party game. If you have played it and believed it such, then I would suggest you play it again, with experienced players, and the game will unfold for you and reveal itself to be a big, heavy, strategic, tactical, bluffing, chaotic, great time. Trust me, it is. It's not a party game, by any stretch of the imagination. Don't let one bad session ruin your opinion of CE, because it's a classic for a reason.

Anyway, as for VJ, I would call it gatewayish. It's not a gateway like Ticket to Ride is, or even Settlers probably, but the game's mechanics are so intuitive that I think it qualifies. Non-gamers typically understand poker hands, and that's about the only gamey thing in it. Perhaps it's a gateway like Carcassonne is a gateway: the rules are fairly simple (even more intuitive thank Carc, I think) but there's definitely tons of strategy in there and you can mitigate the luck factor as long as you realize this. Unlike Carc, which I view as a 3p chess variant, VJ I would imagine is easily best with exactly 8, but probably plays quite well with 6-8.

(For the record, I'd consider Resistance to be a gateway game and NOT a party game. I think it's an amazingly heavy game, but not in the way most people mean when they claim a game is heavy.)
 
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