As a fan of light-hearted games like Golden Sky Stories, I had to check out Spirited Cafe the moment I learned about it. Spirited Cafe is a game in which you play a family that have by some means become indebted to Baba, a cruel and demanding spirit who forces you to work in a cafe and serve guests. Your goal is to get out of debt to Baba by making the guests (a host of spirits) happy with good food. The trick is that your whole cafe is kind of a mess and you aren't trained on what the spirits want. Since most spirits cannot communicate in any language you understand, you have to guess or intuit what they want. Do it right, and they'll leave you payment for Baba. Screw up and they'll leave without paying (and increase your debt!). In a one-shot, you might be spending just a single evening here to secure your freedom; in long-term play, you could have a whole season of guests and strange events.
I am amazed to see something based on Forged in the Dark translated into something this adorable (while maintaining an edge of horror). Everything is here: clocks, resistance rolls, bargaining (with Baba, in this case) for extra dice. Most of it works well. The only time the system feels like a hindrance is in its Action Ratings ("Moves"). Like Blades in the Dark, Spirited Cafe has nine Action Ratings. It feels like overkill for a game this focused, and indeed, it was sometimes difficult to tell which Action Rating felt appropriate to the situation. Sometimes it felt hard finding which of the nine Action Ratings was appropriate to the situation; in particular, there isn't a single cooking and/or prep action rating, and sometimes dishes feel like the options on display don't make sense. In that case, just picking something that was good enough was fine, but I would love to see either a smaller and broader list, or one that has a different set of nine Action Ratings. Despite this, the system rolled along fine.
This is a highly-structured game: you have a literal three-hour clock for serving guests, you flip between a sunset, night, and sunrise mode, and there's a number of individual and group resources to track. So it was delightfully surprising to see how easy it is to fit roleplaying in. With its heavy emphasis on events happening, and encouraging the GM to invent interesting situations for the players to solve, a group will spend a lot of time working their characters' personalities into the game's narrative. The biggest challenge may be making sure that the PCs have a reason to interact with each other, in addition to the environment and the spirits wandering through. A GM needs to be careful to give them equal spotlight and think about how their actions will bounce off each other.
Each of the four playbooks (Bow Tie, Ringmaster, Knife Witch, and White Hat) comes with a set of abilities that help them do their job. There is a lot of joy to be had in realizing that your Knife Witch's ability to put out a fire before it begins is suddenly useful, or the White Hat stopping the business hours clock until they are done cooking their current meal. I just wish there were even more playbooks: we have a waiter, but not a bartender. I would love to see someone who works as an entertainer or even a bouncer for disgruntled guests.
The game's only other limitation is its page count: at 44 pages, they squeeze in a ton of great content, but you can feel there's room for more. More playbooks, playbooks for the cafe type itself, more spirits, more meals, other shops in the area, more complications. What we have already is fantastic, and I would love to see it grow.
I had fun running a one-shot of Spirited Cafe. It's a game I definitely want to return to at some point for a longer campaign. Even at a slim 44 pages, it has plenty to give it steam for several sessions of play. Choosing an Action Rating and determining an outcome can sometimes be difficult to figure out, but the session won't fall apart if a group struggles to intuit the mechanics. So long as you come into the game with the right spirit, you'll leave the session happy.