When I interviewed Lynn University professor and toy inventor Gary Carlin for a profile in our current issue, the subject turned quickly to Coffee Talk – Carlin’s first adult party game, co-created with Richard Levy. The game has enjoyed a lightning-fast transition from its initial acceptance to the shelves of Toys R Us, and it has the potential to be Carlin’s most lucrative effort yet in a business not known for turning vast profits. The game currently enjoys an average five-star rating on Amazon.com, where it sells for $15.99.
Carlin and Levy were nice enough to offer me a copy of the game, and I wasted no time setting up a family game night to test it out. The most immediate distinguishing facet of Coffee Talk is its innovative packaging; instead of a box, the materials are enclosed in an economical coffee bag that resembles a gift item at Starbucks.
The rules are simple: Two or more players take turns reading a topic they pull from the bag at random; sample subjects include everything from “Howard Stern” to “hands” to “MasterCard.” A sand timer is turned over, and players have a limited amount of time to write down everything they can think of about the topic.
Like Scattergories, responses that match another player’s are disqualified. Only original responses earn points. So if you’re working on “Charlie Sheen,” answers like “Two and a Half Men” and “winning” will likely get you nowhere, but you might have a better shot with “Violent Torpedo of Truth tour” or “Wall Street.” Winning answers are tallied on score tablets shaped like lattes; Coffee beans, also included, act as the score markers. Small cards in the form of sugar and cream packets add twists to the game, but that’s the basic idea.
Much of the fun of Coffee Talk arises from the occasionally wacky answers that accompany a topic. A good round of the game is rife with debate among friends, whose responses will range from predictable to sharp and witty to downright strange. It was this interactive, communicative aspect of the game – it was pitched as “conversation in a bag” – that most appealed to Carlin and Levy.
“It really does conjure up conversation in a different way,” Carlin says. “You start learning stuff about your friends, about how you think. I’ve played every adult game under the sun, and one thing I feel this game does that none of the others do is truly get people laughing and talking about themselves and learning about each other and wanting to play more.”
Coffee Talk was certainly a success around the table of my extended family; only my uncle, who found the element of defending his answers too confrontational for his taste, disliked the game. The rest of us appreciated its immediate learnability, its ease of use, its creative presentation and its open-ended gameplay – rather than dealing with ingrained parameters, the playing material is culled entirely from the heads of its players. The result couldn’t be less rigid; at its best, Coffee Talk channels the freewheeling spirit of a bunch of friends chatting and arguing over coffee. It’s no surprise that coffee shops around the country have already hosted Coffee Talk game nights.