Doug Adams writes:
Designer: Rudi Hoffman
Cafe International is a simple game where the players take on the role of waiters in the famous "Cafe International". Their goal is to seat customers of various nationalities with other customers from the same nationality, and also to keep the numbers of men and ladies at the tables even.
This is essentially a tile placement game. There are 100 tiles which represent the customers. There are four men and four women from 12 countries. Clever readers would have deduced that 12 countries by 8 customers is 96 tiles - the last four customers are jokers, or wild. These customer tiles are drawn from a bag, so you never know who you're going to have to find a seat for.
The customers are seated in the Cafe, which is represented by the board. The cafe has 24 tables, with four chairs around each table. This is a strange cafe, however, as one or two chairs from each table link in to other tables, and so on. A better way to imagine it is a chair may belong to more than one table.
This is a rather segregated cafe, as only customers of a single nationality may sit at any table. Each table is flagged to indicate what nationality the patrons have to be to sit there. If a chair links two tables of different nationalities, then a patron from either of the two countries can sit there.
In the centre of the cafe is the bar. There is room for 20 patrons at the bar, and they can be from any nationality.
To win this game a player must score points. Players earn points by skillfully seating the various patrons at the bar and tables. Each player begins the game with 5 patrons face up in front of them, drawn randomly from the tile bag. These are the patrons the players must try to seat.
When a player has a turn, she must do one of the following:
One or two customers can be seated at tables but they must score points. The more customers at a table, the more points they score. There is an important rule however that says that the numbers of ladies and gentlemen at a table must remain equal, or be one different. For example, you can't have two ladies, but a lady and a gentleman is fine. A couple will score 2 points; a table of 3 will score 3 points; while a full table of four will score 4 points. If a table is completed with 4 patrons from the same nationality, then that earns 8 points. Coloured chips are used to record points.
At the end of their turn, players refresh their hand back up to 5 tiles. However if a single nationality table was formed, then the players hand size is reduced by one.
Customers may instead be seated at the bar, and indeed if no customers can be seated at a table, then one customer must be seated at the bar that turn. The bar is an area in the centre of the board consisting of 20 seats, in four rows of five. If you seat a customer at the bar then you will lose or gain points - the amount indicated on the bar stool. This is cleverly done, as the first five seats gain you points, so there's no harm in sitting there. However, the next fifteen seats have negative values, that increases across each row of seats, but then falls back at the start of the next row. Getting good seats at the bar for your customers becomes very much a game of cat and mouse.
The final move you can make is exchange a joker, or wild, tile. Wild tiles can be placed on the board and may represent any nationality, earning points as normal. At a later stage, a player with a tile that can legitimately replace the wild tile may take up the tile and replace it with the correct tile from their hand. This wild tile may then be used again at a later stage.
The game will end when one of four, yes four, situations occur:
Every player deducts five points for each customer remaining face up in front of them, or ten points for each joker, and the player with the highest amount of points is the winner.
This is a simple game that does require some careful thought and continual monitoring of the board in order to succeed. Early in the game the number of potential moves is very limited, as you only have five tiles and none of them may be able to be played. In this case seats at the bar become the order of the day, especially the first five positions as they gain points. Once the game warms up complex placements become apparent, and it's quite possible a tile can be placed that will earn lots of points - I've seen one tile score 17 points.
If the game suffers from anything, it may be that your play will be very much governed by what tiles you draw, and to a certain extent luck plays a role. This is true in most tile games, and it has been noted already in the Hans Im Gluck game Euphrat & Tigris. Personally I think this is a nice feature of tile placement games and I find the better players still spot the best moves and take the win.
I can recommend this game as a worthy addition to the collection.