Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 30 May 2017

Can't Touch This, Stop:-Yamataï

Game: Yamataï

PublisherDays of Wonder

DesignerBruno Cathala


Yamataï is a 2-4 player game in which you seek to build the most beautiful palaces and houses on the islands of Yamataï. To do this you’ll have to purchase boats worth of building materials and sail them along the winding inlets to where you plan to build. But you need to be careful because once the resources have reached an island anyone can use them, seeking your own success can often lead to setting your opponents up.

Yamataï is a relatively simple game on the surface, each turn you do a series of 5 actions (some of which are optional) in a set order. First you take one of 5 fleet cards which give you between 1 and 3 boats to play with. Some of these cards are clearly better than others, with more boats or powerful special abilities, but as a result you’ll be going later in the turn order next round. You then have the option to buy or sell boats for money, after that you must place boats, followed by either building a building or taking culture. Finally you lose all of your remaining ships bar one which can be saved for future turns, then you have a chance to spend culture tiles to recruit specialists. The exact details on how each of these actions works is what bogs things down a little. But once you master the rules, since you always know what actions you are going to be doing, turns are usually quick and the game has a good flow.
Special buildings are generally worth more points, but you need a wider variety of colour and number of boats to play them. There are also no placement bonuses, but there are bonuses for players who build adjacent to them in future turns, so placement can be critical.
Something that’s refreshing with Yamataï is that it’s quite possible to win in multiple ways. Ultimately you gain points from 4 sources, built buildings, recruited specialists and money, you can easily take a strong focus on any of these options and end up with a valid strategy. You can’t go wrong. The specialists themselves often give powers which reward playing in a different ways, many of them can grant you a great number of points if you are willing, and able, to use them strategically. But if you want you could gain a large number of points just by taking cards with expensive boats and selling them.

Yamataï is held back by being unfriendly to new players, there’s so much that you can do, and none of it seems a bad option. That is great. But there’s always a best option, or an option that helps your opponents the least, and it takes time to realise what that might be. The building system itself is relatively simple, but it works so differently to any other game that it takes a play to understand how and why you can manipulate boat placement to build correctly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it speaks of the rich strategies hidden beneath the depths. But it does make Yamataï a hard game to teach, when you play with a new player you are going to beat them, and they may not fully understand why.
The player board - a nice, language independent player aid, giving the turn sequence and a space to store your boats and/or coins
I have to mention the art style, Yamataï is gorgeous, it’s wonderfully vibrant (a nice change from all those depressing zombie and Cthulu games), and by the end of the game your islands almost look like a work of art with dashes of colour spreading across the beautiful board. There’s a lot to be said in favour of the game’s rapid play-style, with there being so many ways for the game to end you can feel pretty secure in allocating a 60 minute slot per game, so long as everyone knows the rules. The fact that you always wish that you had more turns to achieve everything you want to speaks for the game’s balance, but overall there’s something that feels off to me. It might be that you are forced to move slowly with no real chance for surprise plays, or the fact that so many of your actions can accidentally help your opponents more than you. I like Yamataï, but I can’t say I love it, it’s worth trying, but definitely before you buy.


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