Many people generally consider roguelike games as a coffee-break game. Reference to this aspect of roguelikes is quite old -- the oldest one (most closest to the current "definition") that could be found on the Usenet (by Kornelis Sietsma):
>- Why do you like playing these games? Well, one big factor for me is the fact that they tend not to tie up a machine, or a person, for any length of time. They are great for that 15 minute coffee break at work, or while waiting for a long slow compile to finish. This seriously is a major reason I keep coming back to such games. You can't play Quake in a window and still pretend to yourself that you are getting some work done! :)
Many people argue though, that most roguelikes need a lot of focus and concentration to be played effectively. Also, most roguelikes are realy long games. Hence first in reference to DoomRL was that term applied as a sub-genre of roguelikes. Attribute should probably go to Artagas, for the following DoomRL related message:
> 6) What do you consider a "must" to be left and not changed? The coffee-break roguelike style. It is unique and the biggest strength of your game, imho. We have an army of roguelikes with 80 pages of documentation, 15,000 skills, 900.5 races and multi-classing. It is very nice to have one that you can get into in 5 minutes and have a quick game-session anytime without "mentally-preparing" yourself. Simplicity is bliss.
Coffeebreak roguelike definition and design was discussed in-depth on Episode 36 of Roguelike Radio.
There is no formal definition of whether a roguelike is coffee-break or not. There are even some that would consider NetHack to be a coffee-break roguelike. The above message by Artagas might be a starting point. General guidelines might look like this:
- One can jump into the game with little to no preparation - no reading of manuals, no learning of the keybindings
- The game is simple to learn (but may be hard to master)
- The game focuses on quality of elements instead of quantity
- It may be completed in a time period that would be considered "short" - something like up to a few hours
- A typical gameplay session is below an hour
Also the following might be considered valid but not exactly necessary features:
- Screen sized levels
- Limited inventory
- No need/option to save game