Sometimes we just need a little peace in our lives, especially during these tumultuous times.
What can be more peaceful than brewing and selling tea?
Ok, maybe a certain panda game, but other than that?
I’ve heard a ton of good things about the card game Chai by Steeped Games (designed by Dan and Connie Kazmaier with artwork by Mary Haasdyk, Sahana VJ, published in 2019) but I hadn’t had the chance to play it yet.
Then a surprise announcement from Digidiced, one of the best boardgame app publishers, said that it was coming to digital soon (and then quickly it was “soon” and it was out!).
After having played an asynchronous multiplayer game and a few games against the AI, I have to say that this is probably one of the sleeper hits of 2022, if you are into these kinds of games.
What is Chai? And is it any good? How about the app?
This review will answer all of those questions.
But only if you bring me a biscuit.
Players in Chai are tea merchants trying to sell tea to customers and getting tips.
Each tea house (player) has its own type of tea (green, black, rooibos (how often do you have three vowels together, anyway? That’s so weird), oolong, and white). That becomes important because if you sell tea to a customer who likes another merchant’s kind of tea, you have to actually pay that merchant a coin.
Each player is also given a set of 8 customer cards of customers who like their type of tea. You will randomly get one of these to hold, putting the others into a big stack of all the other leftover customers.
This customer likes oolong (blue) tea, but she’s worth 15 points!
On your turn, you can do one of three actions: go to the market for flavour tiles, go to the pantry for pantry items (like milk, sugar, etc), or reserve a customer and use a special ability.
Whenever you go to the market, you get 3 coins for going there. You can then buy as many flavours as you can afford.
You pay coins equal to the section that the flavour is in (one coin for the leftmost column, two coins for the next two columns, three coins for the last three columns).
You can get as many flavour tiles of the same type that are next to each other for one low price!
Though if the grouping crosses into another section, you pay for the most expensive section.
If you’re going to the pantry, you can take up to three pantry tiles that are in the pantry, or you can draw a random one.
For both the market and the pantry, tiles aren’t replaced until you end your turn, though in the market the tiles will slide to the left to fill empty spaces.
The third action is reserve a customer and use a special abiity.
The customers are in the right-hand box and the special abilities are right above your own pantry items.
The highlighted ability in the above picture will let you swap two of your pantry items for two available ones.
After any of these actions, you can serve an available customer, either one that you’ve reserved or one of the publicly available ones.
This only can be done if you have the right combination of pantry items and/or flavours to make the tea that they want.
You get the points indicated on the customer and then you will use one of the available tea cups (or fewer if somebody’s already served a customer or two this round). The number of available tea cups is equal to the number of players.
You will receive a tip from this customer consisting of one to three coins.
If all tea cups are used, the next round begins.
There are a total of five rounds. When the endgame is triggered by the third cup being filled in the fifth round, finish the round so that each player has had the same number of turns. Customers can still be satisfied, but no tips will be given.
In a 3-5 player game, each player also counts up the number of different tea types from their fulfilled orders and adds that to their score, along with their remaining money.
Whoever has the most points is the winner!
Is Chai a nice tea house with charming music and peaceful ambiance? Or is it a tea house where they play Led Zeppelin for some reason?
I have to say that I really like Chai, both as a game and as an app.
The game is quite calming, a simple set collection and order fulfillment game with light, fluffy graphics and gorgeous artwork.
The customer art is quite cool and there are some nice easter eggs (like Jean-Luc Picard and his Earl Grey as a customer).
It’s a very whimsical game.
It’s not something I may play a ton of, but it’s something that would be a good lunchtime game or maybe a filler at the beginning or end of the night.
I may have to look at picking this game up.
How’s the app?
It’s typical Digidiced quality, which means it has a lot of strengths and a very good, if clunky, online play interface.
The interface for the game itself is very neat and organized (though the “undo action” button is kind of hidden within it).
All of the player stuff is on the bottom. Your flavours are on the left and your pantry items are on the right.
It even reminds you that you can only have 12 flavours and 6 pantry items!
The board also gives you a rundown of the last few actions on the left side of the market, though it’s easy to miss that. I didn’t even realize it at first.
What I really love about the interface, though, is how the customer cards are done.
Each needed ingredient or pantry item is checked off if you have it, so you can see at a glance what you still need in order to fulfill that order.
That is amazing work.
Tapping and holding a special ability will show you what it does too.
This is a gorgeous game and the interface doesn’t get in the player’s way. In fact, it makes it so easy to navigate.
You can play against three levels of AI or you can play against opponents either pass and play or online.
Online play can be synchronous or asynchronous, the same as the other Digidiced games.
Your friends even migrate so you don’t have to refriend them.
The clunkiness comes in the invite, or at least in my experience.
Notifications work fine for your turn, but for some reason I don’t get a notification when I receive an invitation.
I do get a badge on the Chai game icon, so at least there’s that. But if you don’t notice it because you don’t have that icon where you can see it, you’ll miss the invitation.
Other than that, Digidiced has one of the best asynchronous multiplayer mechanisms out there for one very reason: it walks the line between playing friends and playing random people as far as timing out goes.
The games do have a turn clock (I think it’s 2 days? It may only be 24 hours, I’m not sure).
If you don’t take your turn in time, then you are Out of Time (and your notification badge on the game icon goes away, which is bad).
The good part about that is that you’re not automatically kicked from the game.
You have to be kicked by one of the other players.
If you’re playing with friends, they can just nudge you, or indulge you because, hell, life happens.
If you’re playing with random nobodies that you met in the lobby, go ahead and kick them!
The game really does lend itself to asynchronous multiplayer as, unlike Morels, you are doing a bit more than just taking a card on your turn. While I wouldn’t call the turns exactly meaty, they are solid enough that it seems worth going through the “open the app up, let it load, then click on your game and watch the other players’ actions” process.
In some games, it takes longer to load the game than to take your turn!
As for solo play, I’ve only played against the Easy AI so far and got my butt kicked until the last game earlier today.
I think I may be up to taking on the Medium now!
(That’s my hidden way of saying that I can’t really comment on the quality of the AI, but it seems fine for what it is).
Another cool aspect of the game is that the variations that are in the rulebook are also included in the game.
Connoisseur plays with a player’s customer cards face-down instead of face-up. You also get one point for each of your tea tokens remaining (you lose a tea token each time a customer who likes your type of tea is fulfilled). You also lose a point for each unfulfilled customer in your tea house (so you can’t just reserve a bunch of them).
It also includes the in-game solo variant and the cooperative variant, which is a nice touch.
I’m assuming that “shuffle players” means that the player who set up the game won’t be the first player automatically.
The tutorial for the game isn’t too bad. There were a couple of things that either weren’t in there or I completely missed (most likely I missed them) which made me have to go read the rules just to make sure I was understanding things correctly.
But overall, the tutorial is fine and you will learn the game.
I do have to give them credit that the humor in the tutorial is toned down from the way it usually is. Sometimes it’s just cringeworthy and I don’t remember any of those moments in this tutorial.
I really fell in love with this game and app when I first played it.
Almost enough to go out and find a physical copy of the game.
I’m not quite there yet, but if I happen upon it, it’s mine!
I highly recommend it if you like light, fluffy card games.
And really, who doesn’t?
Ok, maybe not him.