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JUST GAMING AROUND - Yucata.de Online Gaming Review with my Impressions after 100+ plays

-matt s.
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A year ago I was just not that interested in playing games online. But as of late, I have found that I've actually been enjoying it quite a bit.

So what changed? I thought I'd describe my experiences with Yucata (http://www.yucata.de/), what I like about it, what I don't.

In the Beginning
First, let's back up a bit. Last year in March I signed up for an account on Yucata I played a handful of games including Vikings, Oregon and Saint Petersburg. I had a good time with it on and off for about a month but life got busy then and I kind of dropped off playing in May.

Then, I started back up in September again. I really got into playing Oregon (mainly because of my friend garygarison) and also playing Vikings which I played with a variety of people. I loved playing Stone Age FTF but shied away from playing it online at first - it's a dice game and I kind of like actually rolling the dice. However, I later started playing it as well and found that I was having a great time trying out a variety of strategies.

Why might you want to play a game on Yucata?
So, I used to be very against playing games online. I think this stemmed from me playing Hive with an AI - I could play a number of games really quickly and, eventually, I figured out what the AI was doing to win and started emulating it - honestly, it kind of ruined Hive for me.

So, I was tending to shy away from online gaming at all. But, then when I thought about it, playing another player (which is what Yucata offers) seemed much more interesting than playing an AI. When I realized this is when it seems my playing more online really took off.

Reasons to Consider Trying Online Gaming
There are many reasons to play games online. Here are some that you might consider if you are hesitant yourself:

* You can try out a game you aren't sure if you will like or not - before making a purchase. However, keep in mind that some games are better played FTF rather than online - your preferences may dictate this so keep this in mind.
* Ability to play games with someone that is far away from you or that you may never be able to meet FTF. I've been playing with some online-only friends that live half-way around the world and it's a nice way to interact with other people that I might not otherwise have spent time playing actual games with.
* Play games with someone that you normally don't have time to play games with. I play games with several people that are in town but that I don't normally have time to get together with more regularly. It's a nice way to stay in touch and get some gaming with them between FTF sessions.
* Ability to play games in the small time slices in your day. There are many days I am not able to get together with friends to spend even a couple of hours to play a game. Usually if I want to get together with people to play I want to get more than one game played so we usually require several hours. With Yucata, you are splitting up those hours across days, fitting in your moves when you have time. Sometimes I'm waiting for my kids or my wife to finish a task (say brushing teeth before bedtime). In those couple of minutes I can sit down and get in my next move.

Even better, because I'm often playing multiple games, I can play through turns on several games at the same time.

Features of Yucata
So, what is Yucata like? Well, the interface is fairly basic, no fancy bells and whistles in terms of main web site interface. It's 'clean' but somewhat dull. However, it IS fairly functional and not too difficult to get around. It has it's quirks but none that frustrate me too much. Except maybe the in-game chat....

Some features that the site has:
* All the game rules are available on the site and, in fact, can be reached directly from the game interface if you need to check on a rule.
* There is a messaging feature where you can send private notes to other users outside of any games.
* There is a public chat area where anyone could be chatting at any given time - usually it's just for quick meet-ups or for people to give congratulations, etc. I tend not to use it and prefer private messages or in-game chat messages.
* There are user profile pages where information can be customized including putting in your BGG username for cross-referencing purposes. It also has user ranking overall on the site as well as ranking information for each specific game. I don't care about the rankings too much other than maybe to size up other players. Also, I'm ranked in the top 30 currently for the game Oregon so I check on this from time-to-time so I'm aware of it but it's not critical to my happiness in playing games (although it does contribute I guess )
* There are also discussion areas where you can report bugs or ask questions about specific games. The developers are pretty good about getting back with answers to questions within a day or two usually.
* If you're looking for someone to play a game you can check the Invitations list to see if anyone has an open invitation for a game. If not, you can create your own open invitation, or you can stick to inviting just players you know.


Here are the games I have been playing and a bit of info about how they work on Yucata:
Note that I've almost exclusively been playing all my games as 2 player. There's just something about the head-to-head competition that I really enjoy. Also, there isn't a dependency on more players to make their moves so they tend to move along a bit faster.

Can't Stop - This is a classic Sid Sackson push-your-luck game rolling dice to get to the top of the board first. It's a simple and fast game. I haven't played for real since I was a teen but it's been fun to play online. Although, I think I'd rather be rolling real dice, but it's nice to play just the same. Interestingly, it somehow inherited a dice cup that looks like the real leather one from Stone Age! At least it doesn't smell!

The implementation is a little strange as the board is turned sideways to fit the window so you're kind of moving up at an angle. But it's nice that your choices are highlighted at the top for each roll. It just needs a 'wah-wah' sound when you bust

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers - What I like about this implementation is you can hover over your hunters and your huts to see how much they are worth - no more counting and re-counting ... and counting again which you have to do FTF! Also, when placing tiles, as you rotate your tile to see where it might fit, it highlights all of the legal placements for it. Overall it's a very good implementation although the zooming of the board is a little cumbersome.

Chinagold - This is an interesting abstract game where each player is playing on a different 'board' but each is overlayed on top of the other such that actions you take can benefit both you and your opponent. This implementation is nice as it scores everything for you. The one thing I DON'T like is you can't undo your move - you must click correctly the first time or you're screwed.

ConHex - A nifty connection game that is interesting as it's non-obvious just looking at the board how you're doing - sometimes you think you're doing fine and then you realize you're in trouble. The implementation is really good as it does all the hard work for you AND you can revert your move after clicking somewhere.

Egizia - There's a lot of accounting in this game and the implementation handles it really well. It's clear what actions you can take (although not always obvious). It even has an option to turn on more highlighting to show all of the available action spaces (good for newbies). The unfortunate thing is the board is sideways and can put one a bit off-kilter, especially on the first play or two. It IS nice that there is an option when starting the game to not use two of the more powerful cards if you prefer not to.

Hacienda - Only played a few times and the implementation is very good here. It will let you know what is and isn't legal which is nice in a game that is fairly wide open. Unfortunately, it doesn't highlight all your options when you click a card. And, if you accidentally click a card to buy you can't backtrack because it has already revealed the next card, so make sure you click on what you really want when buying cards. When setting up the game you also have the option of a couple of different boards including ones not normally available in the real world.

Luna - Luna was a really tough game for me to learn FTF. Playing online didn't help that a lot, although this implementation has pop-up lists that show you all of your options when you click on or hover over different parts. This is nice, BUT there are SO many options around the board it's still confusing/overwhelming for someone new to the game. Also, you REALLY need to be able to plan out your moves ahead of time for several turns in advance. There is a NOTES features where you can make notes for yourself, but this can be a bit cumbersome. Personally, I've decided to avoid this game online because I'd rather just put my head into the game and play it through due to it's complexity. I will say it is a very good implementation overall though - very well done.

Oregon - Really nice implementation of this game. You can play very quickly if you know what you are doing. If you need to think/see your options you can click the cards and it grays out areas that you CANNOT place, thus showing where you CAN place - in real life you just do this in your head but clicking the cards and looking makes it much faster and less confusing. I only wish the gray-out part and highlighting showed a bit more contrast for some areas of the board as sometimes it's difficult to distinguish where you can place. Scoring in this game can be a bit tricky so it's nice to have it handled and just let you play the game. garygarison and I can knock out a full game in 20 minutes.

Ponte del Diavolo - Sometimes with abstracts it's hard to know what is and isn't a legal move. This is one where it's nice having the computer manage that for you - if you can't move on a spot you just can't click it. Being able to undo a move is nice as well. This game can play pretty fast although I think a FTF version of this must be really neat with the nifty bridges, so you kind of miss that, although it still looks great on the screen.

Saint Petersburg - This is another game where you kind of need to plan far ahead. Interestingly, I kind of don't mind it online as much as in Luna. I think the reason is because your options are fairly limited in what you can do and it's just a matter of planning what you want to do with your cards, plus the system automatically calculates discounts for you which is very nice. Yucata has a Notes feature which lets you take notes for yourself so you can remember what you want to do on future turns, esp. if you are only taking a couple of turns per day and I tend to make notes to myself in this game. However, you aren't planning so far in advance like in Luna so it's not as bothersome.

When playing St. Petersburg, I was having trouble distinguishing when the switch between rounds occurred so I made a recommendation for an updated implementation and they actually added a highlighting change to indicate a new round had started! Unfortunately, I haven't played much since they made the change, but it's great to see they listen to user feedback.

Stone Age - This is another of my favorite games to play on Yucata and FTF. On Yucata it is REALLY nice because it will highlight all of your legal placements for you which is really helpful in a 2 or 3 player game where there are limits to where you can place. This implementation also shows you your total points (including with your cards in hand, not just the scored points) if you hover over your scoring area. You can also see the other person's total points as well as all cards they have, so you ALWAYS know where you are at in terms of score. This is both good and bad - FTF it's a nice surprise to see who comes out ahead at the end. On Yucata, you always know and the tension is there because you know if you have to catch up and you know what cards the other player(s) are going for. The fact that the cards are all out doesn't bother me because its easy to scan them quickly so it doesn't slow down play much. In person, I could see that being a real problem (plus it would take a LOT of extra table space)

Two things to watch out for on this game: 1. When all placements are done and you're at the end of the round, be sure to click and activate ALL of your tribe members and make sure you didn't overlook anyone. The system will warn you if you forgot one, but if you play too quickly you might click past the message and effectively 'skip' part or all of the end of your turn. It's happened more than once, mainly from people trying to play through multiple games and not reading the messages closely. 2. Be sure to click on and activate your tribe members in the correct order - if you don't click the tool guy first to pick it up, you won't get to use it for your rolls! I wish the game gave you the food and tools first automatically, but alas it doesn't.

Torres - This is a relatively recent implementation of a game despite it being a fairly old game. I love Torres but don't get to play it much FTF, so it's nice to be playing it online. I wondered how they would do the stacks of tower pieces and, at first, I was quite disappointed because they just show an overhead view of the map and then show a number for how many tower pieces are stacked there. This was difficult to get over at first, but then it became apparent that this was a very good solution to the problem on a flat screen - it suddenly became a lot easier to calculate where you were in relation to the other player. Also, one really neat feature is for moving - you can click on one of your pawns and it immediately shows you how far you can move it with the actions you have and how many actions it will take to get there. This is MUCH easier than when playing FTF. I still miss the stacks of towers all over the board though.

Vikings - For this implementation, the circle of Vikings and tiles becomes a simple line of Vikings and tiles that move just move closer to the zero value (instead of turning the rotating circle like in real life). This is a fair change I supposed, but turning the wheel is kind of fun. A great feature here is if you pick a tile/viking combination then the system highlights all legal placements for the tiles. So, you can click on each of the options and see where you might be able to place them - very handy. My biggest gripe with this game, though, is the end-game scoring - it gives you a scoring summary, but it only shows you what you earned for each Viking, but not for any of the end-game bonuses and such! Really annoying and not helpful for newbies at all. Still, it's one of my favorites to play on Yucata because the turns are fairly quick and yet they are interesting as well.

MY FINAL COMMENTS:
Overall, I've really enjoyed my experience playing games on Yucata. The attitude there seems to be very similar to that on BGG with people just happy to play. There's no arguments or swearing and such, just nice civil people wanting to play some fun games.

I will say that occasionally I've played random people where the experience isn't quite as fun as playing someone that I know - someone I can chat with during the game and have a bit of conversation in addition to playing the game. I've played some games where we never chatted much at all and it just felt like I was playing against an AI or robot. I have found I WANT a bit of social interaction and sometimes it's lacking depending on who you are playing. I've sometimes even sent messages to these people afterwards to say 'nice game' and such but still no response. I typically won't play with them again.

What I like about Yucata:
* Large variety of games (72 currently - see list below)
* Relatively easy interface
* Lots of people available for playing
* You can see when people are online and when they are offline (although I've had some consistency issues with this, but it's fine most of the time)
* Performance is generally very good
* Regular additions of new games
* Ranking system encourages good play (but is not critical to whom you can game with although some people might not play with you if not ranked high enough)
* Ability to play games quickly live with people
* Ability to go back and review a game
* Site has relatively friendly people without worrying about getting into disagreements or seeing poor behavior
* BGG username can be entered for cross-identification - many BGG frequenters are also on Yucata
* Private and Public invitations can be left
* Easy to find a game via the invitations

THINGS I WOULD LIKE CHANGED ON YUCATA:
* Chat feature in games is significantly lacking - This one really bugs me. First, you can typically only send in-game 'chat' messages when it's your turn. The other person only receives it when it's their turn - even if they are online at the same time. Also, if it is NOT your turn, you can't consistently 'send' messages AND, if you are successful in sending, the other player won't get it until their NEXT turn. The chat really needs to be 'live' like Yahoo Instant Messenger. This would be REALLY helpful for those teaching games to newbies because they could give instructions to them when it's the newbie's turn.

* Final scoring sometimes not obvious/shown - Some games need better final scoring summaries so that you can see where all the points are coming from. Sometimes its obvious, but when it's not there should be something more explicit.

THINGS THAT ANNOY ME ABOUT YUCATA (but I can live with them):
* No page that shows everything about current invites and games together - There is a page that shows the general chat window, any games where it's your turn and any invitations you have received. There is also a page which shows you ALL of your games (even if you aren't on turn) but nothing else. But I'd like to see them combined so I can see ALL my games AND my personal invites. My reason is that I like to see who is online and who isn't so I might not have a turn but will know I might have a turn soon if they are still online. It's not a huge deal, but I tend to stick to the page just listing all the games and so I miss out on any new invites I might have received. I suspect others may have the same issue.

* No longer works on my (WebOS) phone and some games don't play properly on other mobile devices depending on what features are implemented. I know my WebOS phone is not as well supported now, fine, but it would be nice if the games could be revamped to ensure they work on more mobile devices in general as it's a bit inconsistent right now.

* Some players refuse to play with other players that are ranked significantly lower (due to how the rank scoring works). This is not too wide-spread and I usually just avoid playing with these people and move on to another player or someone I know instead.

ANNOYING THINGS ABOUT ONLINE GAMING IN GENERAL:
* Waiting for a long time for slow players - This is more of problem with other users than anything. If I have to wait more than a few days to make my next move, I've forgotten what I was going to do and kind of lost interest. Usually this isn't a problem, but it does happen.

* Can be a lot less social, especially if playing with random players. Sometimes a pick-up game is nice when your usual gaming buddies aren't online, but it can be hit or miss if they even want to 'talk'.

One other comment: playing several games simultaneously detracts from being immersed in a single game. Sometimes this isn't a problem, but some games its something that bothers me. I love it when someone I'm playing is online and we can play through a lot of turns and maybe even play a full game or finish out a game in one session - its just a much more satisfying way for me to play.

Well, that about wraps up my review on Yucata. Hopefully I've given you some insight into Yucata for online gaming and perhaps have given you something to think about if you've been on the fence about trying it.

Below is the full list of games available on Yucata currently which I pulled from the site then added links to quickly get you to the information or to set up an invitation.

Hopefully you give Yucata or some other online site a shot to try a game or two. There are many other sites out there as well, although I'm not going to provide details here as the focus is on Yucata which I prefer at the moment, but maybe try to find a site you're comfortable with where you like the games and the interface and the players - and if you don't like it move on to another site.

Now get out there and give an online game site a try!


Yucata Info / Yucata Invite / BGG Game Link / Comment
1. (Info / Play) A Few Acres of Snow BETA --> Martin Wallace designed 2 player deck building of war between Britain and France in North America.
2. (Info / Play) Alchemist --> Mix potions and try to make your secret ingredient the most valuable.
3. (Info / Play) Arkadia
4. (Info / Play) Arktia
5. (Info / Play) Aronda
6. (Info / Play) Atlantida
7. (Info / Play) Atoll
8. (Info / Play) Atta Ants
9. (Info / Play) Awale --> aka: Mancala
10. (Info / Play) Balloon Cup
11. (Info / Play) Bangkok Klongs
12. (Info / Play) Black Friday --> Recent Friedemann Friese game.
13. (Info / Play) Campaign Manager 2008
14. (Info / Play) Can't Stop --> Classic Sid Sackson!
15. (Info / Play) Capt'n W. Kidd
16. (Info / Play) Carcassonne H&G
17. (Info / Play) Carolus Magnus
18. (Info / Play) Chinagold
19. (Info / Play) Down Under
20. (Info / Play) Dragonheart
21. (Info / Play) Egizia --> A game I acquired a couple of months ago and now I know how to play because of Yucata! Now to play FTF….
22. (Info / Play) Era of Inventions
23. (Info / Play) Famiglia
24. (Info / Play) Fearsome Floors
25. (Info / Play) Finca
26. (Info / Play) Firenze
27. (Info / Play) Founding Fathers
28. (Info / Play) Four in a row
29. (Info / Play) Gobang & Gomoku
30. (Info / Play) Hacienda
31. (Info / Play) Hexxagon
32. (Info / Play) Hey, that's my fish
33. (Info / Play) Industrial Waste
34. (Info / Play) Just 4 Fun
35. (Info / Play) Just 4 Fun Colours
36. (Info / Play) Kahuna
37. (Info / Play) Kamisado
38. (Info / Play) Kanaloa
39. (Info / Play) King of Siam
40. (Info / Play) Luna --> Good implementation but I only want to play this FTF.
41. (Info / Play) Maori
42. (Info / Play) Masons
43. (Info / Play) Morris
44. (Info / Play) One-Eye
45. (Info / Play) Oregon --> One of my very favorites to play on Yucata - especially if played 'live'
46. (Info / Play) Othello
47. (Info / Play) Pergamon
48. (Info / Play) Pompeii
49. (Info / Play) Ponte del Diavolo
50. (Info / Play) Richelieu
51. (Info / Play) Roll through the Ages
52. (Info / Play) Saint Petersburg --> A tough game to play - Yucata is a great place to get some practice.
53. (Info / Play) Santiago de Cuba
54. (Info / Play) Shanghaien
55. (Info / Play) Six
56. (Info / Play) Sobek
57. (Info / Play) Space Mission BETA
58. (Info / Play) Sticky Fingers
59. (Info / Play) Stone Age --> one of my very favorite games to play on Yucata.
60. (Info / Play) Sudoku Moyo
61. (Info / Play) Tally Ho!
62. (Info / Play) The Speicherstadt
63. (Info / Play) Thunderstone --> Have yet to try this but am interested in seeing how it plays.
64. (Info / Play) Thurn and Taxis
65. (Info / Play) Torres --> A recent addition to the site and a good implementation (although I miss the 3D tower building in real life)
66. (Info / Play) Trias
67. (Info / Play) Two by Two
68. (Info / Play) Tyrus
69. (Info / Play) Vikings --> Another of my favorite Yucata games to play!
70. (Info / Play) War of the Roses
71. (Info / Play) Yspahan
72. (Info / Play) Yucata --> The 'original' Yucata.de game (duh!)



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