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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Thursday 1 June 2017

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Yamatai


PublisherDays of Wonder

DesignerBruno Cathala


Yamatai is this years big release from Days of Wonder. We like most of their games, and particularly enjoyed last year's release Quadropolis. Yamatai is from Bruno Cathala, who also designed Five Tribes with Days of Wonder, a game I really enjoy, but Amy wasn't as excited for. With a good track record, Yamatai is one of the few games that we will buy this year as soon as it is released.

In Yamatai you each take a set of buildings in your player colour which will be built in the regions of the board throughout the game. On your turn you choose a tile from the five face-up in the supply which will typically allow you to take a combination of different coloured boats and give you a special ability. You can then buy or sell boats and then place the boats that remain on the board.

Boat placement and ensuring that you acquire the correct combination of boats to do it efficiently are some of the crucial and brain burning decisions in this game. Islands need to be surrounded by the right combination of boats to allow you to build buildings but you can also only string boats together by matching to a colour of boat already on the board. The building you choose to build is also from a face-up supply and they have different point values that are related to the difficulty in attaining the right combination of boats on the board. You represent the building with your big chunky building tokens and when one player runs out of these the game will end, although there are other end game triggers too. 

However, instead of building buildings you can also acquire the favour token in each region by placing a boat next to the region. If you choose this strategy then you can trade in favour tokens for specialists who usually have end game victory points as well as giving you special abilities.

The very colourful board at the end of the game
Our first two games were definitely learning games and on our third game we taught a new player who really struggled to understand how to make meaningful decisions in the game. However, now we understand it, it's clear to see how there are definitely multiple paths to victory, with the potential to focus on stock-piling coins, building high value buildings or being led by the specialists. We've really enjoyed exploring these different options and each has been successful.

Yamatai is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful board games I've ever played. It's super colourful, but this doesn't distract from how clear the board and player aids are and how simple it is to pick up the game. However, this colourful skin is covering a pretty deep game. In our first and second games and when we've taught new players it's apparent that it's challenging to decipher exactly how to play the game best - which move is best to make on each turn? 
Placing your buildings on mountains is rewarded with victory points and placing buildings adjacent to your own is rewarded with money.
What I believe makes Yamatai special is the way in which the ability to score points by building buildings is not based on just your actions but also the state of the board, so there's definitely reward for being opportunistic and risk when leaving an opportunity open for your opponents. I'm sure that, like Five Tribes, Yamatai could definitely induce some analysis paralysis in players who want to overthink their options, but we've found that with two players the game should only take 45 minutes and is a very meaty experience for a short play time. With two players, you each take two turns per round, selecting two tiles from the face-up supply, so the length should be pretty similar to a four player game and the board should become just as crowded.

Yamatai has grown on us as we have played it for and are less frustrated by making the miscalculations that were common in our early games. There's not really anything thematic to latch on to to help your understanding, but so long as you're not looking for theme then the mechanics are strong enough to hold the game together. I'm really keen to get it back to the table and for now the Yellow Meeple gives Yamatai a 7.5/10.

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