I remember the first time I played Cafe International. My friend Mark brought it over to my house and said, “This is a good game, but it’s not politically correct.” We played this at a table in my garage on one of those summer nights here in the Central Valley of California when it cools down just enough to be really pleasant. I think those kinds of experiences are what I like most about tabletop gaming, and how all those memories can stick with you because the game itself acts as a point of connection in your mind. I’ll probably write more about that concept at some point. I think it’s interesting.
Cafe International was designed by Rudi Hoffman and was selected as the Spiel des Jahres for 1989. It’s been published primarily by AMIGO. The game comes with a colorful board and 100 guest tiles that feature cartoon stereotypes of men and women from 12 nations. The art by J. W. Thompson and Oliver Freudenreich is so politically incorrect that it almost makes it okay. Does that make sense? Sometimes something can be so over the top that it becomes acceptable because it’s so ridiculous. You also get some point chips with various values and you may or may not also get a cloth bag from which you will draw the guest tiles.
The game will play from 2 to 4 players of ages 10 and up. If you play it with young children, you might want to take the time to explain that not all Chinese people look like Mao Zedong and not all German women look like the football coach from Glee. I actually went to college with her and we lived in the same dorm. I remember Dot being really nice. The game plays in less than an hour, even if you make silly stereotypical voices when you place the guest tiles, which I think is essential.
The goal is to earn points by seating guests at tables appropriate to their country of origin. There are four chairs for each table, which must seat two men and two women, and you must make sure that both genders are present at the table before you can add another guest of the same gender. All LGBT rights and considerations are out the window on this one; although, I am somewhat dubious of the male Joker and the woman from Turkey. I’m also pretty sure the German dude is not wearing pants. Even though many of the chairs count as being part of two tables, only one guest can sit in each chair. It’s not THAT kind of party.
You can also place guests at the bar, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. It all depends on your timing, which I think aligns well with real life experience. Once the seats at the bar are full, then the game is over. The game also ends if all of the seats at the tables are filled, or there are limited guest tiles left in the bag.
I don’t want to get too in depth about the scoring. It makes perfect sense, but it’s really dull to explain. Suffice it to say that you earn more points when you place a guest at a table where people have already been seated. You start with five tiles in your hand, which you refill as you seat guests; however, tiles in your hand count against you at the end, so you can reduce your hand size by completing tables that have guests that are all from the same nation.
There are also jokers that can be placed at any table regardless of nationality. You still have to obey the gender restrictions, because heaven forbid if you’ve got three women at a table when one of them has rainbow hair and is making balloon animals. You can also exchange a seated Joker if you have a guest tile that fits. You may not place a Joker at the bar. The bartender will not serve Jokers, or droids for that matter.
I like Cafe International well enough, and it’s one of those games that I hope to get a hold of someday. I think you can still get a copy on Amazon.de or you can always try and find a used copy somewhere. Once you get familiar with the rules for placement and scoring, the game can hum along at a pretty good pace. I think there’s an iOS version out there somewhere but I haven’t played it. Go find a real copy and have some politically incorrect fun.
This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 1989 winner, Cafe International, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.