Thu. Jun 1st, 2023
Yamataï's board becomes more and more colorful as the game progresses.
enlarge / Yamataï’s board becomes more and more colorful as the game progresses.
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Days of Wonder – the board game publisher behind hits like Small world and Ticket to drive-it came out Yamata, the “big game” of 2017. It’s a veritable mishmash of modern board game mechanics, everything from role selection to area control bonuses to turn order bidding, but the whole thing is greater than the sum of its brightly colored pieces. In short, I love it.

Yamata stems from the prolific brains of designers Bruno Cathala and Marc Paquien, and it resembles Cathala’s earlier game more than a few, the mancala-driven Five Tribes. Just like in that game, here you have to deposit multicolored wooden pieces along a connected path, earn resources until you can build structures or buy useful bonus figures (“djinns” in Five Tribes“specialists” here).

But I love Yamata better. Each turn starts with an elegant turn selection and special drive mechanism; choose one of the five face-up “fleet tiles” and you get a special power for that turn, along with a corresponding turn position for the next turn. Now take a super duper power and you’ll find yourself going late into the next round; take a modest force now and you could put yourself for the first step next time.

Many of the fleet forces give you colored boats from the main stock, and you can always buy another one if you want. Then it’s time to put the boats on the board – a beautiful map of islands and the sea routes around them. Starting from either an “entry point” on the left side of the map (where you don’t have to worry about the first boat color) or next to an existing boat (where you need to match the color to your first new boat), you can lay a contiguous line of your own ships.

Now that ships have been placed, it’s time for a choice: collect “culture tokens” from islands touching your new ships, save them to buy “specialists” with special powers, or knock down a building on an empty island. These buildings each require islands to be surrounded by a specific collection of ship colors. Once placed, buildings can earn points and sometimes coins.

At the end of a match, the board is a kaleidoscopic mishmash of boat and building colors. Victory comes from having the most “prestige points” or “PPs,” which may have sounded less ridiculous in Cathala’s native French. Points come largely from coins, buildings and specialists, and it can be difficult to determine who is in the lead until everyone has finished counting their scores. (Certain special powers also affect the score.)

By akfire1

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