Yamatai Review - My Eyes!! The Beauty Overwhelms Me!

If I was to name my Top 5 Publishers, it would be a crime to not include Days of Wonder in the list. They don't produce a hundred games a year or demand a million bucks off Kickstarter for half a game. Instead they take their time and put the effort into making each one a solid hit. Now they may not appeal to everyone and not everything published by them is a financial hit (Cargo Noir, Rails & Sails, hello?), but the majority of the time, their games will hit it out of the park. They seem to cover all the bases of what a decent game should include without leaving out any glaring faults.

So as I said, they don't release many games a year, so when they do, I'm always keen to get stuck in and see if the trend continues. Which reminds me, does anyone own a copy of Relic Runners, I want to try that as well? As for their older games, they become so sought after on the secondary market it's unreal. I got very lucky in obtaining a copy of Cleopatra which I'm never getting rid of and if only I could find a reasonably priced copy of Coliseum somewhere (note I'm not keen on the look of the new one. . . )

So Yamatai is here and from the cover . . . . no idea what it's about. I hear rumours of it being a "thinky" Euro akin to the same levels as Five Tribes. Good start, I love Five Tribes. And it's obvious at first glance that it's going to look gorgeous on the board. And Bruno's name is on the cover, always a good sign! Let's set sail for the ancient country of Yamatai!


Designer: Bruno Cathala & Marc Paquien
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Age: 13+
Players: 2-4
Time: 60-120 Minutes
RRP: £49.99


From Board Game Geek

In Yamatai, 2-4 players compete to build palaces, torii, and their own buildings in the land of Yamatai. The game includes ten numbered action tiles, each showing one or more colored ships and with most showing a special action. You shuffle these tiles, place them in a row, then reveal one more than the number of players.
On a turn, each player chooses a tile, collects the depicted ships from the reserve, optionally buys or sells one ship, then places the ships on the board. The land has five entryways, and you must start from these points or place adjacent to ships already on the board. You can't branch the ships being placed, and if you place your first ship adjacent to another, then that first ship must be the same color as the adjacent one; otherwise you can place ships without regard to color.
After placing ships, you can either claim colored resources from land that you've touched with new ships this turn or build on one vacant space. To build, the space must have colored ships around it that match the ships depicted on one of the available building tiles. If you build a personal building that's connected to others you own, you receive money equal to the number of buildings.

You can bank one ship before the end of your turn, then you can use any three resources or a pair of matching resources to purchase a specialist, each of whom has a unique power.
After all players go, you shuffle the action tiles, place them face down in the row, then reveal enough tiles at the front of the line to set up for the next turn, with the turn order being determined by the numbers on the tiles that players chose the previous turn. Once you trigger one of the game-ending conditions — e.g., no ships of one color or no more specialists — you finish the round, then count points for buildings built, specialists hired, and money on hand.



LIKE A DISNEY PRINCESS PRODUCTION


Even in the rare occasions that Days of Wonder make a dud game, they always look great. Great is an understatement here, Yamatai is just simply beautiful to look at. The artwork depicting Japanese ships, people and culture is stunning and the box art alone is going to pull in anyone noticing it on a shelf. I would actually want that box art on a canvas print on my wall.

Components wise, again did you expect anything less than great? Chunky wooden buildings, thick tiles, coins etc. Though as a nitpick, can we stop printing coins where you have to poke out a really tiny centre, it's really annoying? What's wrong with a solid round circle? I also really like the rulebook itself. Not only is it colourful, but it includes a fully detailed setup diagram, some of the clearest rule descriptions ever and a full list of all the abilities from the fleet tiles and specialists for quick reference. Learning this game and teaching it is simply a breeze.

And to round it off, Days of Wonder in the last few years have come around on their inserts. Simple and made of plastic, but they hold everything you need in place, not too much to ask. Yamatai stores quickly and easily, but a word of warning. If you feel you're going to stack it on its side, consider keeping one or two of the punch boards handy on the top. Just like you did with Quadropolis (if you've not played that, check out my review, then give it a try).


NOT A CLONE!


Yamatai takes Days of Wonder out of its comfort zone again with a game that's fairly taxing on the brain when trying to separate out your options on any given turn. Five Tribes was a similar excursion, however let me make it clear now that Yamatai is NOT a clone of Five Tribes. It is of a similar weight level and you're trying to spot combos as they arise, but other than that they both play very differently and use different mechanics.

Now as thinky as it is, it's not overwhelming. We're not talking heavy strategy here, but you've got choices for picking your turn bonus, your turn order, your fleet of boats, the specialists you want, the buildings you can aim for, certainly plenty to consider before you even start thinking about what your opponents are doing. And of course you're juggling all this while adapting to how the board changes each round. You'll need a backup plan if someone blocks your way, but sometimes the enemy is your friend when you notice the ships they've laid out for you on that uninhabited island.

At no point does Yamatai feel clunky. It flows super smooth and your player board is a near flawless rules aid to the phases in your turn with iconography that's simple to understand. I say near flawless because the "optional/mandatory" symbol on Phase 3 is a little ambiguous, but to be honest, I've never seen a turn where someone didn't place boats so it's pretty irrelevant.

It requires a careful look to realise that the paths to victory aren't just simply "build or hire". Generally players will do a bit of everything, but focus on one specific archetype. What do you choose to build? A large group of standard buildings for money and game-end rush or the big prestige ones? Or maybe forget about them entirely until someone pops a Palace near you and you take advantage of the bonus points. And the Specialists are no different. You could go for mass hire, but some of them will provide bonus points for various things supporting your initial game plan.


YOU MUST HAVE X INTELLIGENCE. . . . . 


The challenge in Yamatai is being able to spot the best combos that can benefit you points wise from placing ships down. Similar to how you have to spot the best moves in Five Tribes. Of course the inherent risk of having multiple options available is that anyone who likes to min-max is going to cause some analysis paralysis (AP) if you're not careful. I would say this game doesn't fall victim to it as often, but still best to keep them away or include them only in 3 player setups. I was afraid when the rules said each player plays through all of their 5 phases before the next, but in reality they flow through pretty quickly if you plan your turn.

Without those AP players though, Yamatai scales pretty well. The style of game changes slightly with a 2 player affair being more strategic and a 4 player being more tactical (more players = greater change of board state basically), but all those modes play pretty well and you'd be surprised how quickly a 2 player game can finish. Even a 4 player should typically not take more than 90 minutes to finish after teaching the game, again as long as you keep those AP players away. I had one game taken 2 hours, but we had a very slow player present. You've got 4 different ways the game can end, two of which are more common/fast (player buildings running out and exhausting a ship pile) and two which essentially stop the game from dragging out too long (running out of buildings or specialist tiles).

In terms of variety, there could have been some more interesting standard buildings rather than just the trading post, which is really only worth building if you have a large group already. There's a good range of Specialists though for a base game and Yamatai could easily be expanded in the future. You don't need another mechanic Days of Wonder, just give us more buildings, specialists and maybe some alternate fleet tiles to change up each game.



VERDICT ON YAMATAI


They've done it again! Yamatai is another solid Euro game for Days of Wonder that shows that Five Tribes wasn't just a fluke when venturing out of their comfort zone. It's utterly beautiful on the table, always catching a passer by's attention and yet challenges your brain as any good "thinky" Euro should. However you should be wary of any players who suffer from analysis paralysis as they might drag this out a bit too long, though it's not as bad as Five Tribes "million options" approach.

Multiple paths to victory combined with tactical game play and flexible turn order/end-game triggers make this an entertaining experience and one which doesn't overstay its welcome especially with 2-3 players. Those who enjoy spotting clever combos out of nowhere will also appreciate the mix of strategy and tactics give here. And yet it can be fully taught in less than 15 minutes so you're quick to get stuck in.

It's not simply a Five Tribes clone, it's that same level of weight, but it's a completely different game in its own right. At gunpoint I'd give the slight edge to Yamatai on the grounds of being easier to teach and quicker to finish. But I'm keeping both in the collection, alongside many other examples of why Days of Wonder's business model of quality over quantity....works.





BROKEN RATING - 9 FLEETS OF RAINBOW COLOURED SHIPS






YOU WILL LIKE YAMATAI IF:


You want a really "thinky" Euro that offers multiple options for how to play.


You want something that looks truly beautiful on the table.


You want to be able to teach it really quickly and get stuck in.





YOU WILL NOT LIKE YAMATAI IF:


You know any AP players - there's plenty of scope for an AP player to drag this out.


You want a thematic experience - it's a beautiful theme, but it's pasted on.


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