If you live in the US, there’s a solid chance the Starbucks in your city has already unionised or is deeply embroiled in the process. One tabletop RPG designer is showing support for this growing movement with a one-page RPG, and companion fundraiser, that imagines overworked baristas creating a galaxy of planets on the clock.
Starbucks locations across the country continue a spree of union pushes, but the coffee-slinging corporation has recently fought back with sudden closures that workers allege have nothing to do with advertised safety concerns and other reasoning offered in official statements.
Pearse Anderson, an independent tabletop designer, said that’s what happened to his local Chicago Starbucks, which had already organised and was a mere four days into their bargaining period. As reported by Block Club Chicago, the store closed suddenly on October 30th and offered little in the way of explanation beyond the safety of workers and customers.
Leaders within Starbucks Workers United, a growing group of unionised franchises, said the Chicago location was the tenth unionising store to be suddenly closed in a handful of months.
Anderson saw an opportunity to channel the frustration of watching the massive corporation squash worker collectives while also supporting those directly affected by the closings. Cosmic Latte, a one-page RPG that combines journaling prompts with dice rolls and timed rounds, reproduces the tense work environment behind the counter and balance workers maintain between gathering solidarity and pleasing the corporate structure that governs their fate.
Cosmic Latte plays out in short 87-second rounds - inspired by the reported time it takes to create the complex and labour-intensive frappucino - where players must create a planet within the infinite cosmos, detailing its physical features, landmarks, population and more in a journal before time runs out. Sessions usually take about half an hour to complete and apparently plays easier with more people - there is strength in numbers.
Corporate mandates will tack on arbitrary complications throughout each round. Suddenly, 87 seconds seems like no time at all when every entry must also allot space to praising the infinite corporation who delegates this celestial work, or demands no sentence contain more than seven words. Creation becomes soured under the judgmental eye of a boss who views work as a system of efficiency divorced from reality.
FREE GAME: my new galatic barista unionization #TTRPG, Cosmic Latte. Can you create new planets and a bargaining unit before Celestial management retaliates?— Pearse Anderson (@PearseAnderson) October 27, 2022
If you want a PDF, look below - all PDF profits will be split between @SBWorkersUnited + @NickWardFor48 for union causes. pic.twitter.com/LcA7mPnsB4
As players spin out planets, they will also be rolling a six-sided die to build solidarity among their fellow galactic baristas. Tying this system to the partial luck of dice was intentional and mirrors the risk workers accept when fighting for more power and control over their own conditions. A drawn-out fight risks a pyrrhic victory marred by firings and retaliation, but rushing through and fumbling a mandate means drawing the eye - and destructive thumb - of the corporate overlord.
Anderson is offering Cosmic Latte as a pay-what-you-want digital game, and all proceeds will be halved as donations between the Starbucks Workers Solidarity Fund and Nick Ward’s pro-union campaign for one of Chicago’s aldermen. He doesn't intend for the RPG to fully encapsulate the experience, but as he recently told Teen Vogue, insteads imagine the game as an initial foray into the intersection of labour rights and communal play.
More information on Cosmic Latte can be found on the RPG’s Itch.io page, which also includes print-and-play instructions.