PLAYlist 43: Bubble Tea | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, January 16th, 2021  

PLAYlist 43: Bubble Tea

Jul 12, 2019 By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share

We really don’t cover enough dice games around here: the amount of playful mayhem supplied by these ancient, six-sided chaos cubes is unmatched. What’s weird, though, is that despite their absurd versatility, we rarely pause to appreciate them. In most of the games we’ve coverered here, dice are only one element of a bigger, more complex design, and are overlooked within a sea of other nifty components. Hex Roller was a recent exception in which a dice-centered game stood up and demanded our attention. The fast-paced and lighthearted Bubble Tea is the next one.

My personal history with the beverage bubble tea (or boba) is as such: having grown up in the rural Midwest, it wasn’t something I was exposed to until moving to New York City for college. One of my first friends at school introduced me to the drink on an early sojourn down to Chinatown. (This friend grew up in Taiwan.) Assuming from the name that it would just be a carbonated, tea-flavored soft drink, I was shocked to find that the “bubbles” weren’t bubbles at all, but large, gelatinous balls.

Here’s the bubble tea drinking experience, purely from my personal perspective. Imagine you’re enjoying a sweet, fruity beverage through a straw that feels suspiciously oversized. Suddenly, one of these goo orbs shoots up the tube and lodges itself in the back of your throat. In your alarmed panic, you barely manage to not choke. You remind yourself that it’s just tapioca and not an alien larva waiting to mature and burst out of your chest. You continue to drink, but with a determined focus on not sucking up any of the jelly spheres without knowing they’re coming. No matter how hard you concentrate, however, it’s little use: periodically gagging yourself on those edible choking hazards is an inevitable part of the bubble tea experience.

Some people love this stuff!

As for myself, it was something fun to introduce to out-of-towners when they came to visit but nothing I’d seek out just for me. It’s grown in popularity here in the U.S. over the last 15 years, for sure, and is now something you can buy in many suburban strip malls, and so I suppose it may be more than just an acquired taste.

Bubble Tea, the game, hails from Taiwan, the same place as bubble tea, the drink. It’s the latest Renegade Game Studios import from designer/artist Aza Chen, the creator of the equally cute Circus Puppy, Fireworks, Kitty Paw and Shiba Inu House.

Gameplay is simple and, like many of these teas, pretty sweet. You’ll start a round by shaking an honest-to-goodness martini shaker and then dumping the oversized, wooden dice inside onto the table. They’ll reveal an assortment of colors and “moji” characters. (The “Moji” are anthropomorphized tea ingredients, such as milk cows, ice fish, and green tea frogs. They’ve got happy, squishy faces and are *totes* adorbs.) On the count of three, players will scramble to complete the order faster than anyone else. The winner grabs the lid of the shaker and throws it over the dice, and everyone else pauses while someone checks their work. If they put together the order successfully, they’ll win a customer card and play starts over. The first person to earn three customer cards is declared the winner.

How the players build these orders is where the fun in Bubble Tea lies. Everyone is given the same set of nine transparent plastic moji cards to start the game, and a pair of gridded glassware cards to go with them. On each transparent card is an arrangement of moji, scattered across it in different numbers and with seemingly little rhyme or reason to their placement. When you stack these cards, you can still see through to the moji characters on the deeper layers. You’ll be attempting to place the ingredients you need from the different cups within your glassware card, but without accidentally covering up the things you need as you go along. It’s not an exceptionally difficult challenge, but not an especially easy task, either – particularly when you’re racing against friends to be the first to pull it off.

Bubble Tea is silly, fun, and fast-paced. There were numerous points in our games where two players would grab for the shaker lid at almost the same moment, banging hands and occasionally sending dice sailing off the table. It’s a quick, light game that will tickle your parietal lobe without breaking any part of your brain.

But wait—there’s more! Bubble Tea comes with two additional variants in the box. The first plays similarly to the version I just described, minus the dice. Players are dealt customer cards, each with an individual tea order. These vary in difficulty, as well as in point value – the more challenging drinks being worth more. You’ll race to complete the orders again, and the winner gets to keep their card. Afterward, everyone will be dealt a new order and play begins all over. At the end of a set number of rounds, the player with the highest total points wins.

The final included variant may as well be an entirely separate game. Making use of the 45 different customer cards, players will spread these out on the table. One player will vaguely describe one of the customers pictured (“A cat… wearing glasses…”) and the first of the other players to find and slap that card will win it for a point. If they slap the wrong card, they take it anyway but flip it over – it’s now worth -1 point in their final tally. This reminds me more of Guess Who than either of the tea-mixing games included in the box, but it’s a nice bonus to get for free, and a cool way to see the existing components repurposed into something new.

Speaking of the components, Bubble Tea is top notch. The plastic martini shaker is a fun touch, and it rattles oh so nicely when you’re rolling the dice. The transparent cards feel very sturdy, and won’t get bent up over the course of the frantic gameplay. The art style, though, is what really makes the game stand out. Everything is drawn in a hyper-stylized and extremely cute way, from the customer cards to the illustrations in the manual. The booklet even goes so far to dedicate page space to giving each of the moji ingredients names and personalities. It might be insane if it weren’t all so ridiculously precious. The theme and art style turn a game that could otherwise have been super dry and make it something irresistibly lovable.

Considering the game comes with a toy martini shaker, chunky wooden dice and a big stack of see-through plastic cards, the $20 retail price seems to us like a pretty rock-solid value. The components make Bubble Tea feel as much like a toy as it does a game, which makes it fantastic for roping in young players.

Speaking of young players… the box recommends ages eight and up, which seems like a fair enough age if I were passing it off to a group of kids to play amongst themselves. I have a four-year-old, though, and she’s totally in love with Bubble Tea. The adorable critters have a lot to do with it, for sure. (My daughter is very aware that Tapioca Dog is beloved by all the other animals in Moji Land, trust me.) While she can’t compete in a speed competition yet, she’s able to grasp the concept of arranging the ingredients to match the dice, and has a lot of fun doing so at her own pace. And so, yeah, don’t let the age recommendation deter you if you’re a parent looking to raise a little gamer – with a bit of guidance and patience, it’s something you could have fun playing with children half the recommended age. 

Bubble Tea is available now from Renegade Game Studios, and comes with enough cards to play the standard game with up to five people.

For this column’s playlist, we naturally had to go with a selection of contemporary Taiwanese pop tracks – perhaps things you might hear in a modern-day Taipei shopping mall. We went with a few suggestions, as well as popular hits on Spotify. This is all good proof that language barriers can’t do anything to stop a catchy tune. (Even though I only understand the three English words in the lyrics of playlist opener “Everybody Woohoo,” I’ve had the song stuck in my head for days. Good luck with that!)


Previous PLAYlist columns: UndoGizmosImhotep, Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, Happy Salmon, The Quacks of QuedlinburgThe ClimbersNEOMCrusaders: Thy Will Be DoneReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.


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