Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 21 July 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Chai

Game: Chai

Publisher: Steeped Games

Designer:  Dan Kazmaier, Connie Kazmaier

Year: 2018

Chai is a game all about tea. Each play is a tea merchant., specialising in either rooibos, green, oolong, black or white tea. In order to fulfill customer orders you'll need different flavours and ingredients to suit their tastes. Some like tea with milk or cinnamon, while others love a whole variety of fruit in their tea. Depending on the complexity of their order, characters will give you different points, but will also tip you for your services (most of the time!). If you can fulfill the most demanding of customers you'll make a name for yourself as the best tea merchant around.

Dan and Connie's enthusiasm for tea is incredible! They are true tea ambassadors and have really embraced everything they can in the theming of Chai, its expansion, High Tea, and their upcoming 2-player game, Chai: Tea for 2. As a very British tea drinker myself, I totally appreciate a love for tea, although it's Amy who truly embraces all of the flavours and ingredients - mine's a simple English Breakfast.


Each turn in Chai you will do one action, then, if able, serve one tea. There are three main actions you can perform; you can go to market to get new ingredients, get new flavours or reserve a customer. When you go to market the first thing you do is earn some money from "selling your tea" to the market. Next you will get the chance to buy ingredients. The ingredients appear in three long rows with three sections on the market board, indicating those which are worth 1/2/3 coins to buy. But you don't just get one ingredient for your cash, you can get all the ingredients of one type that are touching each other so long as you pay the highest price of any of those ingredients. The remaining ingredients will then slide along the rows to fill the gaps left by your purchase, leaving you free to buy more ingredients at their now lowered prices.

Gaining flavours is simpler, there is a flavour board with 5 flavour tokens: milk/sugar/honey etc on it, you can take any three of these tokens for your action. Should you not like whats on display you can pay to refresh the board, or simply take blind from the bag. Reserving a customer simply lets you take one of the customers who are currently in the row awaiting their orders. and hold onto them privately, only you can now serve this customer. In addition you get to perform one of the bonus actions laid out on the board.

After performing your action you can, if possible, serve a customer. You must discard every ingredient and flavour token that that customer requires and also place one of the tea leafs that they require into one of the tea mugs. If you tea leaf is that of one of the other players then you must pay that player one coin for their tea leaves. After serving the tea you get to take the tip token from the tea mug you used. Tips can be money, bonuses or nothing at all! After enough customers have been served the round will end, refilling the tip tokens. After five rounds the game ends and the player who served the highest value of customers wins.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

I came to tea and coffee relatively late in life. I blame my current love for the drinks on working at a board game cafe, which has turned me into a bit of a coffee snob, but also introduced me to the wonders of flavoured teas. Chai is designed by people who love tea more than I think I ever could, and this love shines through. Particularly in the customers who all want a wondrous mix of fanciful flavours. Does a vanilla and honey green tea sound good, or perhaps a rooibos based mint tea is more your cuppa? Either way they are on customer cards with gorgeous art of famous people and characters.

In fact the entire game is a glorious production, from the game trays to the hefty ingredient tiles. When playing Chai I think about what I like about board games over video games or roleplaying games. Certainly an element to that is the tactile nature of them and here Chai has gone all in. With the deluxe edition you have heavy ceramic tokens, thick cut card tokens, cloth bags, metal coins, quality plastic cups, as well as regular playing cards. A veritable feast for your sense of touch! The biggest drawback in terms of the game's quality is one of the bags isn't really big enough to properly shuffle the ingredient tokens in. But that's a very minor complaint. The whole game focuses on a complete charm offensive, which I can honestly makes me like it more than I should.

The gameplay is simple, far simpler than 90% of the games I typically enjoy playing. The one action per round keeps the game flowing fast, while the puzzle of how to get the best value for money for your ingredient tokens keeps the game mentally stimulating. The five rounds gives you just long enough to mount a comeback from a bad start, while the variety of customers gives you the ability to either play for big points, or rush after tips by getting the cheaper cards. The biggest drawback I had while playing was the pain of not getting a tip when your opponent just got big money or a wild ingredient token. The whole tip system feels extremely arbitrary in a game that otherwise leaves little to blind luck.

Overall I'd say the gameplay is above average for a simple game such as this. The most important thing for me in a simple game is that the game flows well and Chai certainly achieves that. When you combine solid gameplay with a  game that is a gorgeous as Chai is then you are certainly on to a winner. That being said it could do with coming in a smaller box!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Chai is a family weight game, but that certainly doesn't mean its an extremely simple design. Each of the different actions you can take each turn gives you very different decisions. Taking your additives will often be a choice of the face up options or trying you luck at drawing from the bag and you might need to make the best of your current situation and serve someone else if you can't get what you need. Reserving a customer may feel like a wasted turn, but the bonus actions can be a really effective way to get that last little ingredient you need to keep your tea conveyor belt moving. The candy crush style puzzle for collecting flavour tokens at the market is certainly my favourite, and especially at two players you need to be very careful about the opportunity you might be leaving behind for your opponent.

Each area of the board is an open market and that's where player interaction can really come in. You can sometimes spot which customer a player is working towards, and the fact that each merchant is predisposed to certain customers helps you to decipher this. I've not come to a point where I hate draft, but I have made decisions influenced by what I know my opponent is planning to do. Nothing about the game is mean, but other players do matter.

I'm loving Chai more and more every time we play it. It's really just a pleasure to play. The production quality goes a long way to really making the game a special experience. The only thing I could ask for is a slightly larger bag for the plastic fruit tokens. For two players, Chai is only a 30 minute game at most, but it feels like I get a lot out of that 30 minutes and come out of the other side more relaxed. The gameplay alone isn't enough to wow me, but the package makes a fantastic family game.

You Might Like...
  • Chai is a wonderfully tactile game. The deluxe edition is one of the nicest games we own.
  • Everything about the game screams relaxing!
  • It's a quick game to play, but it has some depth.
You Might Not Like...
  • Making your choice of tip when you serve a customer can cause quite huge swings of good and bad fortune.
  • The two player game typically hinges on who can serve two consecutive customers in order to inch ahead.

The Verdict
8/10 Chai is a wonderful production. The look and feel of a game aren't often a factor for us, but when a game looks as good as Chai it completely contributes to how much we have enjoyed playing it. Chai is a family weight game with a collection of interesting resource management mechanisms. Much like a great cup of tea, it's a fantastic blend - in the case of Chai it's a blend of puzzliness, player interaction and wonderful artistic flare.

Chai was a review copy kindly provided to us by Steeped Games. Photos are of the deluxe edition which can be purchased from the Steeped Games website.


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