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Alex Barbieri on His New Game, Uptown Espresso

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The Inquisitive Meeple
Alex Barbieri on His New Game, Uptown Espresso

A brief interview with Alex Barbieri (designer of Damage Report) discussing his newest game currently on Kickstarter, Uptown Espresso, being published by Break From Reality Games.

Alex, could you introduce yourself and share with us what got you into gaming?

Alex: My name is Alex Barbieri. I am a game designer, publisher and retailer living in Seattle, WA. I have been a gamer since I can remember. I've played board games since I was a kid. My uncle Mark was a big influence on that. He's always kept abreast of new games on the market and has inspired me to do the same.

What are some of your favorite games to play?

Alex: Favorite games are always hard to pick, because it's a list that is always changing for me. My latest flavor of the moment is Archipelago. I love how it ties so many familiar elements together in such an elegant way. I am also a big fan of Glory to Rome, Krosmaster Arena, Ascension and (perhaps a little bias here) Damage Report.

What in your mind makes a game fun?

Alex: Games are fun because of the challenge they present. It's not about winning or losing, it's about the journey. You also need a good mix of luck and strategy of course. Lately, I have also been noticing that the way a game can pull you in personally or emotionally is important as well. With a rich theme that you can really sink into, games can be much more appealing.

You currently have on Kickstarter a game called Uptown Espresso, could you explain what the game is and how it is played?

Alex: Uptown Espresso is a real-time card game where each player assumes the role of a Barista making delicious drinks for their customers. The game maintains a steady pace using a single 15-second sand timer. Each time the timer is empty, any player may choose to flip it over at any time, which then allows all players to take a turn. Turn options are quick and simple: take new orders, restock your store with supplies, make drinks, ring up customers, and trade supplies with another store. The game ends when one player reaches $50 and wins.

So how do you fill a customers order?

Alex: You fill an order by taking the "Make Drinks" turn option to swap your supply piles to the matching spot indicated on the order cards. So, for example, if you have to make a Tall Latte, you'll need to be sure the double shot card (the espresso) is in the same spot in your actual 3 x 3 card grid as it appears on the Tall Latte Order card, AND you'll need to make sure the milk is in the right position as well. Then on your next turn, you can "Ring Up Customers" to sell the drink and discard the ingredients used.

What is the story behind the creation of Uptown Espresso?

Alex: Uptown Espresso - the game, was created as a project to bind together Break From Reality Games (the publisher of the game) with Uptown Espresso (the Seattle-based coffee chain). This past winter, Break From Reality partnered with Uptown to create a new venue for the Seattle gaming community to call home as well as a place for existing coffee-loving patrons to learn about modern board games. Thus the birth of Uptown Espresso & Gameporium. Everyone involved in making this happen feels as though a coffee shop is a great place to meet with friends for a tabletop game, and Uptown Espresso's store sizes and homey, comfortable atmosphere lend themselves quite perfectly to the concept.

So, the theme came first, how did you decide to go with the real-time pattern mechanics?

Alex: Real-time is kind of Break From Reality Games' mission right now. We feel that it's going to be a trend in the board game industry and we want to be on the cutting edge of it. Real time mechanics do more than any other game mechanic to bring players into the game emotionally. The idea of a tabletop game that can get your adrenaline pumping and make you feel like you are inside the world it creates for you is pretty amazing to me.

Do you feel like the mechanics really nail the theme of being a barista?

Alex: I think it simulates being a barista in the middle of a rush just about as good as you can expect in a card game. You feel the pressure to fill the orders quickly, but you have to maintain a cool head to pull it off. One of the first things I learned at Velvet Foam University from Uptown's owner, Dow Lucurell, was "don't forget to breathe". Not every minute of a barista's shift is going to be a mad rush though. In the Uptown Espresso game, you never have to worry about wiping down cafe tables or cleaning up the condiment counter - and best of all, you don't need to do the dishes!

In the game there are Event cards that can put a wrinkle in your plans. Could you explain what Event cards, how you get them and how they work?

Alex: Event cards in Uptown Espresso can come from a variety of places. All 3 decks (Orders, Stock Room and Back Fridge) are equipped with event cards to keep the game unpredictable. In the Stock Room and Back Fridge decks, event cards are used to trigger re-shuffling the decks. The Order cards have 4 events in them that can help or hinder players' efforts when they least expect it. However, the most rewarding events come from the Events deck itself. You can earn the right to draw one of these cards by maximizing your efficiency and ringing up 2 or more customers at the same time. This is not as easy as it sounds, as you'll have to make the drinks at the same time in your previous turn!

Do you have a favorite Event card?

Alex: I absolutely have a favorite event card: Shift Change. This card makes all players pack up their registers and move to the next shop clockwise. Some may benefit from this if their neighbor was well stocked, but others may find they have some work to do to prep their new store for business. This event card really helps to keep the game light - as it is intended to be - while simultaneously deterring players from hording cards to themselves.

Is there any difference in the 2 player game vs the 4 player game in either rules or in the overall feel of the game?

Alex: There isn't too much difference between a 2 to 4 player game. Players tend to get laser-focused on their own boards and don't pay too much attention to their neighbors until it's time for a shift change. But of course, those pesky event cards add a fair amount of player interaction and make you want to outshine your opponents.

How long typically does it take to complete a game of Uptown Espresso?

About 20 minutes, plus or minus.

The art uses very simple, yet cool iconography. Why was this decision made for the art direction?

Alex: The art is still somewhat under development, but what you see on our Kickstarter page is pretty close to final for iconography. The icons in Uptown Espresso had to be simple because of the real-time nature of the game. You have to be able to easily recognize the cards you have and what they are used for because you need to make decisions very quickly. I also wanted to make the game appealing internationally, and I believe the icons used should be fairly recognizable for coffee shops around the world. For the same reason, you don't see much text on the cards - only the events are language dependent, which I try to incorporate into my game designs whenever possible.

What makes Uptown Espresso unique among other pattern recognition or real-time games out there, in your mind?

Alex: What makes this a pretty unique game in terms of pattern recognition and real-time mechanics, is how it integrates those 2 categories together with the theme. It turns into a sort of workout for your brain to try to match up all the symbols and get cards where they need to be with only 15 seconds shared between analyzing your board and executing your turn. Sure, you can take all the time you need to plan and strategize, but the real-time mechanic forces you to act quickly, or lose turns. You'll often make moves that aren't necessarily optimal, but doing something that is at least somewhat helpful is better than looking at all of your options too carefully and doing nothing at all.

Did any published games inspire you when you were still designing Uptown Espresso?

Alex: Not exactly. The main inspiration for the Uptown Espresso game is (spoiler alert!) my work-in-progress card game "Damage Report: New Recruits", which I have been tinkering with on-and-off in the past few months.

What was the best piece of advice you received from a playtester when you were still playtesting the game?

Alex: Playtesters are so great. I put this game in front of a lot of baristas and gamers to get a feel for how it was being perceived from both sides of the fence. The best re-curring piece of feedback was that shuffling was going on way too much and was a distraction from gameplay. I was able to solve this by putting the event cards in the supply decks as I mentioned earlier and it completely eliminated that issue. I may have overlooked that problem if it weren't for some of the really great testers I've been able to work with.

What was your favorite part of designing the game?

Alex: I really liked using the new knowledge I gained since I (very recently) was trained in the art of being a barista . The game accurately portrays coffee drinks (most of which I would never have been able to define only months ago), as well as the layout of Uptown Espresso's bars.

What was the most challenging part?

Alex: The most challenging part of designing the game was figuring out which aspects of the drink making to leave out. I could have gone into much more depth with the ingredients, but that would have hampered the gameplay and balance of the game. I had to sacrifice the idea of having multiple syrup flavors, varieties of milk and milk-alternatives, scooping that sensuous velvet foam into the cup...yum. In the end however, the game is not about the specific drinks, but rather running the overall coffee shop, and I'm happy with the way it's turned out.

When you step back and look at Uptown Espresso now, what as the designer makes you the most proud of the game?

Alex: I definitely get a kick out of how much actual Baristas enjoy the game. To have somebody whose job it is to make drinks all day sit down to a card game that looks like "work" and then get excited about it is pretty flattering.

Why should gamers consider adding this game to their collection?

Alex: It's a great filler for serious gamers with it's gameplay length, and it's approachable for non-gamers in the group as well. It'll also make for a nice energy kick...kind of like drinking an actual cup of coffee.

Finish this sentence in 12 words or less. Uptown Espresso is _________.

Alex: a simple and thrilling game that simulates being an actual barista .

What 2014 game releases are you looking forward to?

Alex: Well, again, kind of biased, but Damage Report for sure. It'll be the first actual game for sale with my name on the cover, so it's pretty exciting personally. But as far as less egotistical titles...I can't wait for the Krosmaster expansions (Frigost, Quest, Not Mines, even the Junior version looks cool). I backed Chaosmos and Lagoon on Kickstarter, so I'm looking foward to both of those. And of course, SeaFall is probably going to blow everyone away.

Is there anything you like to add as we wrap this up?

Alex: Thanks very much for the interview, and the interest in our Kickstarter project. To any readers in the Seattle area, feel free to stop by the Uptown Espresso on Delridge Way and try out the game with me!

Thanks Alex

What's that you say? Inquiring meeples want to know more?
You may want to check out these links:

Break From Reality Games official website

Already a fan? Check out these microbadges:

Uptown Espresso fan - mb

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