Yamatai

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This video was provided by Man vs Meeple, check out their Youtube channel for more great content. Queen Himiko has tasked every builder in the kingdom with a prestigious mission: build the capital of Yamata¯ and make it the jewel of the archipelago. Your task: surpass your competitors and build the most prestigious city of them all, using resources from the fleets that travel throu…
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Awards

Value For Money

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Easy to learn but with lots of depth.
  • Works well with all player counts.
  • Gorgeous design and components.
  • High replay-ability.

Might Not Like

  • Slight risk of analysis paralysis.
  • Minimal table talk.
  • Colourblind players could struggle.
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Description

In Yamatai players are competing against one another to hire specialists and build buildings, all for the Queen’s Pleasure. At the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins.

Yamatai is a network building game, using different coloured boats to make chains and ultimately, gain control of different islands. At the start of each round players take fleet tiles each marked with a different number, coloured boats and a special ability. The number determines where the player will be placed on the turn order track for next turn. The boats show which boats players take to build their network this turn. The special abilities are optional ways to impact on gameplay, such as by enabling players to move boats around on the map.

At the start of the game players can only place boats at one of the five starting points on the edge of the board. In subsequent turns players can only place a boat to continue a chain if it is the same colour as the last boat in that chain. As long as this matches players can place the remainder of their boats as they wish. They are also able to purchase additional boats, for a cost.

If a boat is placed next to an island with a coloured token on the player can take that token. Once a player has acquired enough tokens these can be traded in for specialists, who are worth points and/or have special abilities.

When placing boats, if an island has all the required boats around it and it is empty, players can build a building. There are special buildings - Palaces and Torii which are worth extra points.

At the end of the game players add together points from buildings, their specialists and money earned. Whoever has the most points wins.

Number of Players: 2-4
Age: 13+
Game Length: 40-80 minutes

This summer I wandered about the UK Board Game Expo in a slight daze. I’d barely had any sleep and after a few hours in the press area my mind was a mess of caffeine and future releases. As I returned to the convention floor I’d completely forgotten why I was there, my list of must-see games totally forgotten. Luckily, I quickly stumbled across Yamatai, a game so wonderfully colourful it’s like having skittles poured directly into your eyes, but you know, less sticky and traumatic.

Publishers Days of Wonder are mainly known for the ubiquitous and gateway friendly Ticket to Ride franchise, but despite not having a vast catalogue of games they have gained a reputation for quality. This has largely been down to them putting their efforts into one major new release each year and recent years have seen the excellent Quadropolis, Small World, and Five Tribes.

What these games have in common is a slightly heavier weight and high production values. Their standards have set the bar for Yamatai and raised expectations. Does it meet them? Well, let’s have a look.

Overview

Set in an island region of Japan in the shrouded past, Yamatai (2-4 players / 40-80 mins) is a medium weight route building euro game designed by Bruno Cathala (creator of Five Tribes and Kingdomino of which it shares some similarities) and Marc Paquien.

Players are cast as master builders, given the formidable task of creating a gorgeous new capital on an archipelago of islands. Like most euros, this is a game about amassing ‘things’ to gain points, in this case, called prestige. You can gain these by collecting money, constructing buildings or hiring a variety of specialists.

In the simplest of terms, this is a game about resource management, creating trade routes, outmanoeuvring your opponents and, of course, constructing a whole load of buildings.

The Five Phases of Yamatai

The structure of a turn is split into five phases with some of these being optional, some mandatory, but all being easy to follow thanks in part to the helpful player mats. This gives each turn a well-paced flow and helps the game keep moving along at a relatively smooth pace. The game’s graphic design uses symbols over words but despite an initially confusing array of these, Yamatai is a game that is surprisingly easy to decipher. Praise must be given to the manual which is both clear, concise and gives great references to the game tiles and I’ve never had a situation where a quick glance at it didn’t clear things up.

Yamatai Review – Fleet Tiles (Credit: Days of Wonder)

So, to get a better understanding about how Yamatai works let’s look closer at those player phases. Turns start by players choosing from one of the five available Fleet Tiles. There are 10 of these in total and they will see a heavy rotation throughout the game, meaning you’ll get to use all of them at some point should you wish. Fleet tiles provide an interesting starting point as they not only dictate which resources (boats) and special power you’ll gain on a round but also your future turn order.

The stronger the resource and power combinations, the further down the turn order you’ll be for the next round. This balancing mechanic means that your best choice isn’t always the strongest fleet tile and you’ll need to consider how turn order might affect your choices before deciding. After this, the game allows you to buy (or sell) an extra boat, meaning you can often buy your way out of trouble if another play snags the fleet tile you had your heart set on.

After you’ve chosen your fleet tile, collected your boats and perhaps bought (or sold) an extra one you’ll be using them. There are a few simple rules to placing the first boat on your turn which are: they can either be placed at an empty entry space or next to a boat of the same colour. After this, any additional boats (if any) you place must be next to your first one, regardless of their colour.

This leads to paths of boats winding through the islands like ivy, looping left, right and back on themselves as you clear and build throughout the archipelago. Towards the end of the game, as space gets tighter, you might be limited by which boats you can place, meaning those fleet powers (swapping or moving boats for example) become all the more powerful.

Before any building can be placed, the culture tokens which cover the islands will need to be cleared but beware, by collecting these you can no longer build on that turn. It’s one or the other and it’s often a difficult choice to make. Without the islands being cleared no one can build, however, spend all your time picking up tokens and the other players will be building on those spots after you. This is yet another reason why turn order can be all important. For example; if you are last on a turn, it might be worthwhile to ensure you go first on the next so you can clear culture tokens and go on to build on those islands without anyone else getting in there first.

Buildings, however can only be placed if the required resources are available to an island, in the shape of your colourful boats. Buildings come in a variety of forms, from standard to high-scoring torii gates and palaces. Manage to connect a series of your standard buildings together in a chain of islands and you’ll start to make money out of it too. Building on top of mountains and next to special buildings also gives you bonuses so you’ll need to grab these opportunities when they come available if you want to maximise your points.

After hearing all this you might be thinking well what’s to stop me from just sitting back, building up my boats and throwing them down on the board when the timing is right. Yamatai knows its choices live on forcing you into these tough decisions turn by turn and will punish you if you subvert that. Try storing more than one boat and you’ll lose them, each pair losing you points at the end of the game.

Remember those culture tokens you needed to clear for buildings? Well, they actually have a use and are traded in for specialists, powerful allies that give you new abilities or bonuses for the remainder of the game. This might be letting you buy or sell gold boats, getting additional prestige for your wealth or just a simple bundle of points. Regardless, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to these so you’ll want to be collecting them, just only when the timing is right. If their powers weren’t tempting enough, each round a specialist isn’t claimed they’ll have money thrown on top of them. They’ll literally be bribing you to hire them.

The game comes to a close when a player places their final building or the available building or specialist tiles can’t be replaced. Unlike some games this means you’ll always have a conscious awareness of how far through the game you are and the opportunity to change tactics based on this.

Yamatai Review – Building Tiles (Credit: Days of Wonder)

Simple to Understand, Harder to Master

Once you’ve got a basic understanding, the rounds in Yamatai are initially a relatively straight-forward affair but as you get further into the game the board gets busier, the strategic options broaden and everything weaves together into a complex web. Your future plans will regularly require other players to complete and knowing how to proceed can require stacking up the odds. This is when the game starts to reveal its more complex core and things can start to slow down a touch.

You’ll never struggle for choices but understanding the best ones will require forward planning but also a flexibility to change things up. Your plans can quickly be spun on their head by another player building where you wanted to, taking a fleet tile you needed or refusing to take that culture token you need them to GOSH DAMN IT. This can invite to your doorstep the oft-dreaded analysis paralysis, the inability to make long-term plans leading you to need to rethink your best choice once it becomes your turn.

Thankfully in my experience, these have never dragged on for too long and again the structure of the game is to thank here.

The Bits & Pieces

The theme of Yamatai is based around the historic tale of a Queen called Himiko who after years of war in the lands appeared, unifying them and ruling in relative peace until her death. This game does away with many aspects of that story (shamans and magic for starters) and focuses purely on the archipelago of islands in Japan where she is thought to have lived and ruled. The theme does allow one of the finest features of this game to exist, it’s artwork.

From the stunning box illustration, all the way to the insert, every part of this game is both well designed, gorgeously illustrated or both. The game board depicts a colourful archipelago of islands all wonderfully drawn and supported by clean and vibrant graphic design. The components, such as the buildings and ships, are made out of chunky colourful wood meaning once play begins you are going to clearly see trade routes grow, countless buildings spring up and the landscape of the board change before your very eyes.

The result of a finished game, a mixture of ships, buildings, towering torii gates and palaces is a visual feast and makes this an eye-catching game like few others. My personal favorite in all of this though is the specialist tiles which have their own different character illustrations, superbly drawn and each worthy of their own cartoon series.

If I was going to rain on Yamatai’s boat flavoured parade a little it would be that I’m not sure how those suffering from colour-blindness will cope here. This is a bag of skittles exploded into game form and if you can’t taste the visual rainbow I think you may well struggle.

Final Thoughts on Yamatai

Yamatai is easy to learn, with plenty of depth and due to the randomised nature of the game’s different systems during setup,great replay-ability. Underneath all its colourful visuals though it can’t hide its slightly clinical euro core.

In every choice you make you’ll always have an eye on what will gain you the most points but unlike a lot of euros this isn’t a game that keeps your head down as you create your own private points engine and doesn’t want to be. This game challenges you to think on each and every turn and throughout all of it forces you to use other players resources to achieve your goals.

There are similarities here to Five Tribes, but the choices here are more manageable, analysis paralysis being reduced making this a much more palatable experience for many. We aren’t breaking any new real ground here but this game delivers the goods with such ease and charm that you’ll be keen to give it one more try.

The story states that the prize for winning is Queen Himiko’s smile so luckily for us it’s a stunner.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Easy to learn but with lots of depth.
  • Works well with all player counts.
  • Gorgeous design and components.
  • High replay-ability.

Might not like

  • Slight risk of analysis paralysis.
  • Minimal table talk.
  • Colourblind players could struggle.