Coffee Shop Tycoon Review
I suffer from a caffeine addiction. It’s not great, I know, but I can barely get through the day without something solidly caffeinated in my system. I hopped headfirst into Coffee Shop Tycoon with shaking hands and a rapid heartbeat, excited at the prospect of becoming a coffee tycoon, but I wasn’t truly prepared for what was about to be thrown at me.
Coffee Shop Tycoon, the debut title of Seattle-based developer, Riff Studios, is a management simulator/brew-em-up with a surprising amount of depth. Initially starting with a single coffee shop, you go on to open a second, and then a third, and so on, as well as eventually establishing your own headquarters, where you can conduct coffee experiments, manage your chain of stores, as well as play the cafe stock market.
Graphically, Coffee Shop Tycoon isn’t going to wow you. However, there’s a certain quaint charm to the Parkitect-like character models, and store furnishings that would be right at home in the alternative-reality shopping app of a certain popular Nordic furniture retailer. On the other hand, your stock and product icons look like relatively basic clipart, and the rest of the UI makes the game look like it was originally designed as a mobile title. I want to say that the simplicity of the design works to some extent, but I found it took me out of the experience.
Unfortunately, the first couple of hours of Coffee Shop Tycoon might turn people off altogether. If you make the mistake of overspending on recruitment or furniture, you will quickly realise that you do not have the funds to maintain fresh stock. The quality of your food and drink will drop as they sit in your store, and customers will refuse to pay the established prices for them, meaning you’ll have to lower them to maintain customers. This ultimately means that you’ll be making miniscule amounts and be unable to order more coffee beans, leading to you having to restart your save. This isn’t a particularly unfair mechanic at all, but it means that you’ll have to do a ludicrous amount of micro-micro-micromanagement as you get your store established. You’ll have to manually set your barista to brew coffee and fill the airpots, as well as continuously adjust the prices of all your items — which will have to change frequently, as the vastly varying quality of products initially will cause customers to leave if the price isn’t right.
As you progress your franchise, you will find yourself levelling up your staff and unlocking new research, which will drastically reduce your need to micromanage your store, and allow you to think about more long term progression. Staff can be trained with specialties once they reach a certain level, meaning they can automatically brew new airpots of coffee, or order in fresh stock and dispose of ageing ones. Coupled with the unlocking of higher quality food and coffee supplies, you’ll start raking in the cash, and you won’t have to adjust your prices as often, except for a few times when you’ll have to pump them up higher because they’re just that damn good. This is where the game really opens up, and you can focus on growing your empire through the stock market, or by devising your own special concoctions. You can also strive to hit the markers to win awards during the annual Du Latte award ceremony — which reminded me a lot of the awards sequence from Lionhead Studios’ 2005 title, The Movies — earning a decent boost to your popularity.
You’ll naturally unlock new types of drinks as you earn more money and fans, starting from regular coffees, and then moving onto fancier beverages, like cappuccinos, frappes, and flavoured lattes. Different drinks will perform better in different seasons, such as Almond Lattes being a hit in the autumn season, and Iced Coffees ruling the summer. You’re able to make seasonal menus so that you have these seasonal drinks in rotation at the right time, as they will suffer popularity penalties when sold during the wrong parts of the year. Eventually you’ll unlock the ability to roast your own coffees and concoct your own unique blends, which will really set your franchise apart from the competition. It’s fun to mess around with the roasting options, and you’ll find that a decent blend will make you some solid cash, so it’s well worth dipping your toe into it once your shops are set up to run themselves.
Despite blooming into quite an enjoyable sim after a few hours, the initial startup of the game feels like a bit of a drag — I found myself wanting to stop playing at certain points — and it can really be off-putting for those not as committed to the more fiddly parts of management sims. The graphics and UI are also a weak point. Though the mobile title look of the interface suggests a certain simplicity, you’ll find yourself forgetting where things are due to the layout, and having to click through various windows and buttons to get to the right task gets tiring. The sound design also leaves a lot to be desired. There’s the general hum of coffee shop atmosphere to supplement the muzak soundtrack, complete with indiscernible chatter, as well as the sounds of your espresso machine and coffee grinder whenever you fill new airpots. However, I found myself enjoying the flow of the game better with the soundtrack off and the audio lowered, so that I can enjoy my own background music.
If you can get through the initial slog, there’s a decent amount of fun to be found in Coffee Shop Tycoon, and as a long time fan of the genre, I can see myself going back to it to continue my empire and test out new recipes, but if you aren’t committed to the grind, you’re likely to get little out of it.
Coffee Shop Tycoon (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Some truly satisfying management and creativity options lay deep within the confines of Coffee Shop Tycoon, but frustrating early game micromanagement and a weak UI might prevent many players from reaching that rich centre.