Game: Coffee Roaster

Release Year: 2019

Publisher: Stronghold Games

Designer: Saashi

Player Count: 1 player

Play Time: About 15 minutes for a single-cup game; about 45 to 60 minutes for a full 3-cup game

Rules Complexity: Moderate

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I love coffee. I used to hand-brew my own every morning until I was gifted an espresso machine a few years back, which I've been using to this day.

But I've never roasted my own coffee beans! Which sounds fun.

That's just one of the things that drew me to Coffee Roaster, a solo-only board game about roasting your own beans and using them to brew a delicious cup of coffee. (Read my thoughts on the appeal of solo board gaming!)

Coffee Roaster is an oft-made recommendation in the solo board gaming community, so I knew it was one that I had to try. After being on my wishlist for many, many months, I finally took the plunge last year and got a copy.

Is it worthy of the hype? How good is Coffee Roaster? Good enough to warrant a spot in your board game collection, perhaps? Here's everything you need to know about how it plays, my experiences with it, and what to expect from it.

This review is based on my own personal copy of Coffee Roaster, which I bought from Cardhaus. Not a free review copy. While Coffee Roaster was originally published in 2015 by Saashi & Saashi, this review is of the Stronghold Games edition that was released in 2019.


Coffee Roaster is a bag-building game: you have a bag of tokens, you pull tokens from the bag, and those tokens may or may not be used to perform various actions. In this case, the tokens represent either coffee beans, actions you can perform on the coffee beans, or otherwise undesirable elements (e.g., water).

The ultimate point of Coffee Roaster is that you start with a big bag of tokens and must manipulate the bag in various ways to optimize the contents. You want the coffee beans to roast without burning, you want to get rid of as many undesirable elements, and you want to balance the flavor components.

Here's how that happens:

Every turn, you reach into the bag and pull out a number of tokens dictated by what stage of brewing you're at. It's a small number at the start, but you'll be pulling out a bunch of them by the end.

For each token that comes out, something happens:

  • If it's a Coffee Bean, it gets roasted and leveled up. For example, a Roast Level 0 Bean becomes a Roast Level 1 Bean, a Roast Level 2 Bean becomes a Roast Level 3 Bean, etc. If a Bean exceeds Roast Level 4, it becomes a Burnt Bean.
  • If it's a Water, it gets thrown away. Water tokens solely exist to clog up your bag until they're pulled, at which point they're removed.
  • If it's a Flavor Token, you can either do nothing with it OR you can spend it to activate a special ability according to its flavor type. Special abilities let you do things like return tokens to the bag, pull more tokens out of the bag, combine Beans to increase Roast Level, split Beans to reduce Roast Level, etc.
  • If it's an undesirable token—like Hard Beans, Defective Beans, or Smoke—you can't do anything about it unless you use a special ability that lets you.

So, the flow of Coffee Roaster is pretty simple: pull tokens, roast beans, discard water, make adjustments by spending flavor tokens if you can, and then everything gets put back into the bag for the next turn.

Again, you're trying to roast your Coffee Beans as much as you can without burning them. You keep going with this cycle of pulling tokens and returning tokens—with each turn pulling more tokens than before—until you decide you want to stop.

Once you stop roasting, you enter the brewing phase.

When brewing a cup of coffee, you essentially pull tokens out of the bag one by one, then decide whether to place that token in your Cup or set it aside. You can only set aside a certain number of tokens, so you have to be careful.

If the sum roast level of Coffee Beans in your Cup matches the target roast level of the type of coffee you're brewing, and if you have the right mixture of Flavor Tokens in your Cup as well, you'll earn more points. You'll lose points for undesirable elements in your Cup, like Smoke, Burnt Beans, etc.

A full game of Coffee Roaster is a series of three different Cups, and you're trying to score as many points as you can between them.

Setup and Table Footprint

Coffee Roaster isn't the quickest game to set up, but there's a clear enough order to the process that it almost feels like a ritual—not unlike the ritual you'd go through to prep your coffee gear when brewing a real mug of coffee.

You bring out the main board, the Temp Gauge, and the Cup. You choose from among the various brew types that you want to play for this game, and then you retrieve all the necessary tokens from the organizer and place them in the bag.

There are a few other minor steps, but that's generally it. Everything is aided by the wonderful box insert with individual compartments for all the different token types, and this organizer really comes in handy during gameplay (as you'll be swapping out Bean tokens, discarding tokens you no longer need, etc.).

Overall, I can be ready to play Coffee Roaster in about 3 to 5 minutes.

Another thing I appreciate about Coffee Roaster is its reasonable demands for table space. It's far from the tiniest game, but you don't need a big table for it. I've even played it on a small laptop desk before.

The main thing is the bag, which you can hold in your lap as you handle the tokens. Surface-wise, you just need enough room for the main board, the Temp Gauge, the Cup, the card of the current coffee type you're brewing, and a little bit of room to manipulate the tokens you've pulled from the bag.

Learning Curve

I had a hard time wrapping my head around the nuances of Coffee Roaster's phase-by-phase gameplay. Some of that was due to the rulebook, which could've had a better flow when introducing concepts; some of it was due to the gameplay design itself, which feels a bit unusual in parts.

To be fair, everything about the gameplay makes sense. Once you've played a few games, you probably won't need the step-by-step reference anymore. But if you're anything like me, those first few games will likely be confusing. Some of the steps are also easy to forget, which I've done way too many times...

For these reasons, Coffee Roaster isn't a good choice as your first solo board game, especially if you aren't a hardcore gamer. (For that, I highly recommend Grove instead, which I've previously reviewed.) It's a good next step, though!

Game Experience

Decision Space

The weird thing about Coffee Roaster is that you don't actually have that many decisions to make. It's a luck-heavy game and you're mostly seeing how far you're willing to push your luck, with a few mitigating decisions along the way.

After you pull out the requisite number of tokens in a given turn, you only have decisions to make if you pull out Flavor Tokens. These Flavor Tokens, after all, are what allow you to activate special actions. No Flavor Tokens? Nothing you can do.

So, most of the decision-making in Coffee Roaster comes down to when are you going to spend Flavor Tokens and which special actions are you going to use.

Keep in mind that Flavor Tokens are needed at the end of the game when you switch from Roasting Phase to Brewing Phase. Without Flavor Tokens, you seriously hamper your ability to score points!

While interesting in theory, my problem with this concept is that many of the special actions are only useful if you've pulled out a certain composition of tokens.

For example, there's a special action that lets you discard all of the Burnt Beans, Defective Beans, and Smoke that you pulled from the bag this turn. If you pull out a bunch of those but don't have a Flavor Token, you can't use the ability.

For another example, the blue Flavor Token lets you take one of the Coffee Beans you pulled from the bag this turn and split it into two Coffee Beans with lesser Roast Levels. To make use of this, you need to pull a high-roasted Coffee Bean and a blue Flavor Token in the same turn. Doesn't happen as often as you'd like.

I oftentimes find myself in predicaments like this, where I have the right Flavor Tokens but can't do anything useful with them, or I have the stuff I want to manipulate but don't have the right Flavor Tokens to do it.

But if you look at it from another angle, this is part of Coffee Roaster's charm. You don't have to think hard. You just pull from the bag, see what comes out, do what you can, throw it all back in and pull again. It almost feels mindless—almost!—which is what makes it such a relaxing game for when you want to unwind.

Luck Factor

At its core, Coffee Roaster is a push-your-luck game. It should be no surprise that there's a lot of luck involved. You can massage your bag with all the right moves and still get an unlucky string of token pulls when brewing your cup at the end.

That's just how it is. If that bothers you, Coffee Roaster isn't the game for you. But if you like push-your-luck games, Coffee Roaster is one of the best takes on solo push-your-luck. (Most push-your-luck games have you testing your luck against other players. Lucky solo games are surprisingly uncommon!)

If it helps, think of Coffee Roaster as a game about rigging the lottery. You can add, alter, and remove balls from the lottery draw, and you're trying to get your numbers to come out. The actual game is in manipulating the balls—and then you stand back and hope for the best.

You can't take Coffee Roaster too seriously. If you do, it'll be massively frustrating. But if you're keen on the concept of "rigging the lottery and seeing how it turns out," Coffee Roaster is an enjoyable experience.


One of my favorite things about Coffee Roaster is the pacing.

Every turn, you pull more tokens from the bag than the previous turn. Depending on the cup you're brewing, you might only pull 6 tokens on the first round yet end up pulling 14 tokens toward the end.

This is genius because your options open up over time. You might not be able to do anything with the 6 tokens early on, but there's a good chance you'll be able to do something when you're looking at 10+ tokens. Not always, but usually.

On top of that, you have the built-in threat of Coffee Beans burning. Turn after turn, you're pulling Coffee Beans out of the bag and they're slowly increasing in their Roast Levels. If they cross the Roast Level 4 threshold, they'll burn—so there's a gradually increasing tension from turn to turn. This is the fun of push-your-luck.

Coffee Roaster crescendos to one of two climaxes: either you decide to stop before your best Coffee Beans burn and become undesirable, or you push one turn too many and destroy your chances at brewing an ideal Cup.


As with any bag-building game, Coffee Roaster has a bit of fiddliness to it. For example, the constant pulling of tokens from the bag and throwing them back in at the end of the turn? Might be annoying if you've never played a bag-builder.

More than that, it's the constant exchanging of tokens that might get to you. Whenever you pull Coffee Beans out of the bag, they need to be exchanged for next-level-up Coffee Beans from the box. If you combine or split Coffee Beans using the special actions, that's more exchanging from the box.

There's also the tracking of the Temp Gauge and the Roast Meter using small red markers, though I don't consider these to be that annoying. You don't even need to use the Roast Meter if you don't want to.

So, I don't think Coffee Roaster is fiddlier than it needs to be, but I do think you need to be aware of that before deciding to buy it. If you tend not to like games with lots of pieces constantly being shuffled about, you might dislike this one.


Coffee Roaster is the quintessential game for when you want to play something on your own, you want it to be relaxing, you don't want to think too hard, and you want to enjoy the tactile satisfaction of well-made components.

Is there strategic depth? A little bit. But that isn't the draw of Coffee Roaster. In reality, it's the board game equivalent of comfort food.

Yes, there's some variability in the setup that prevents every game from feeling the exact same as previous games. Some Cups are easier than others, and some Cups have you approaching the game in different ways. All of that certainly adds to the replayability, helping to keep the gameplay feel fresh.

But at the end of the day, Coffee Roaster is there for you when all you want to do is pull tokens from a bag and see how things go.

Do I want to play it all the time? No. Is it among the most exciting, most memorable, most iconic games in my collection? No. But no other solo board game gives me the same blend of comfort and complexity. It fills a unique niche!

Production Quality

From the moment you lay eyes on the box, you can tell that Coffee Roaster's production is something special. Stronghold Games went the extra mile to not only make the box look like a bag of artisanal beans, but to make sure all the components evoke the feeling of actually roasting beans and brewing coffee.

The cloth bag and cardboard tokens are satisfying to play with. In any bag-building game, no component is more important than the bag and the things that go into the bag. (See Quacks of Quedlinburg.)

In Coffee Roaster, the bag is large and made of a premium cloth material that elevates the experience, and the tokens are all made of a thick, chunky cardboard that's hefty and satisfying—unlike many bag-building games. (Again, see Quacks of Quedlinburg without the GeekUp Bits upgrade.)

The overall aesthetic is lovely and brings out the theme. I love the colors used throughout the game, from the earthy tones of the boards to the pristine white of the Cup to the bright hues that differentiate all the Flavor Tokens. You get a real hipster vibe that's noticeably fresh compared to most modern board game visuals.

The layout of the main board and the iconography are confusing. If I have one usability complaint about Coffee Roaster, it's the fact that the main board isn't the most intuitive to grasp. If you look at it without reading the rulebook, you can't make sense of it—and even after you read the rulebook, it's still iffy.

If I have a second usability complaint about Coffee Roaster, it's the iconography design used on the various tokens and the main board to explain the special actions you can take. Again, you can't decipher what they mean without reading the rulebook, and even afterwards remain fuzzy and ambiguous.

The box insert and organizer are absolutely top tier. Not only does the box insert make setup and cleanup so much simpler, but the plastic organizer for all the tokens single-handedly raise Coffee Roaster from good game to great game.

Honestly, the experience would be an absolute pain in the neck without the included organizer. You're regularly swapping out tokens, putting tokens back into the box, adding tokens into your bag—it'd be a nightmare if it were all kept in baggies!

The Bottom Line

Coffee Roaster

Recommended Score Guide
  1. Engaging yet relaxing puzzle-style bag-building game
  2. Great pacing that crescendos to a satisfying climax
  3. Well-made production with high-quality tactile components
  4. Smooth setup and a modest table footprint
  1. Luck can cause you to lose even if you play well
  2. Most of the Cups play the same way with minor variations
  3. Iconography isn't intuitive and can be confusing
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