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Game Preview from BGG.CON 2016: Yamataï

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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BGG.CON 2016 is over — or at least it is for me as I'm no longer in Dallas surrounded by hundreds of games and gamers. No matter as I can reminisce over the many games that I played during the fair. Most of those titles were already familiar to me as I frequently played with my son and our family's exchange student — which meant going with the flow of what they want to play — but I did put on my reporter's hat for a few upcoming titles, and I'll post about them here and in a few posts later this week.

We'll start with Yamataï, a design from Bruno Cathala and Marc Paquien due out in May 2017 that presents players with a lush, somewhat fantastical world that is a hallmark of Days of Wonder releases.

In the game, 2-4 players compete to build palaces, torii, and their own buildings in the land of Yamataï. 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.

First turn of the game

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.

Mid-game; one action lets you place a dragon to make an area off-limits

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, fans collected, and money on hand.

Yamataï feels like a spiritual successor to Five Tribes in two ways. First, players constantly jockey for turn order, with you ideally being able to go last in one round, then first in the next in order to set up particular moves — especially since you can't build on a land bearing resources, and clearing the land potentially opens it to building by others before you can put a stake in the ground. As you might expect, the tiles with more powerful actions have higher numbers to push you back further in turn order on the subsequent turn, but this isn't necessarily bad since the less powerful (and lower-numbered) tiles might still be available when you finally get to go.

Second, players own their personal buildings, but everything else on the board is shared, with the ship trails being built collectively. Actions let you swap, move or remove ships, letting you build where you otherwise couldn't or blocking someone else from building because they lack the ships (or funds for a ship) that will let them expand into a new territory. Thus, you're constantly trying to judge who can (or might) build what on their turns, then choosing actions of your own to minimize what others can do.

Final board; building on hills & next to special buildings earns you fans

I've played Yamataï twice with four players — once at BGG.CON 2016 and once at Gen Con 2015 on a somewhat different version — and those two games have played out quite differently, with the latter being a drawn-out building fest that occupied nearly everything on the board and the former being a quick dash to the finish line as Cathala took advantage of our resource clearing to erect six personal buildings (and trigger the end) before we could do much on our own.

Note that the pics here include some final artwork, with the graphic design, components, and other elements still being works in progress.

Co-designer Bruno Cathala played Yamataï constantly at BGG.CON 2016
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