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Subject: Mike's Cleverly Named Yardmaster Review rss

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Michael Tunison
United States
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Get your finger out of my face!
Game Overview:
Yardmaster is a card game launching on Kickstarter April 29, 2014, published by Patrick Nickell's Crash Games and designed by Steven Aramini. In this game, players each build a train by purchasing Railcars and connecting them together in Uno fashion, matching either the color or the number. The winner is the first player to reach the point goal for your player count (about 16-18 points) and the value of your train is simply determined by adding the value of your connected cars. Railcars are available in four colors and are purchased by paying the cost (from 1-4) from your hand using matching Cargo cards. During a purchase, Cargo can also be exchanged at 2:1 if you have the corresponding exchange token in front of you. On your turn, you take two actions to either draw Cargo cards, buy a Railcar, or switch Exchange tokens. There is also a rotating Yardmaster token which provides an extra third action to a player each round.

My Plays:
I’m about 10 plays in with various groups and player counts. These plays have been fairly evenly spread between experienced gamers and very light/casual gamers. I have been responsible for teaching the game about 3-4 times. The games have all finished in about 25-35 minutes.

I'm quite smitten by this little game. I'll discuss that further in a minute, but let me start by sharing some thoughts on a few specific key areas.

Visual Design: This game is beautiful. I absolutely love the clean, simple design paired with the use of bold, distinct colors. The cards are extremely easy to read, values are easy to see, everything is clear and obvious. This seems like a given, but many otherwise great card games are wrecked by lousy visual design. With Yardmaster, I want to play the game more just because I love the style so much. Hey, it even inspired me to do a fun little photo shoot. Kudos all around to the artist, Dan Thompson.

That being said, I have bumped into a few fairly insignificant issues. First off, the Livestock token easily gets mixed up with the Yardmaster token due to similar coloring. I know I’ve been dealing with prototype art so I’m guessing the token design and coloring will likely improve for the final product, so no major concerns here. I’ve also heard a few complaints that the back of the card art, which includes a diagonal line along the same angle the cards are usually spread at in a player’s hand, making it difficult to determine how many cards another player is holding. I’m not sure if this was designed to be intentionally misleading, although I don’t really see any value in making it difficult to see someone’s hand size. It has never really bothered me and I do like the art on its own, but I hate to think some players could be irritated by it.

Teachability: Teaching this game is quick and easy, which I appreciate since this task often falls to me. Sharing a similar chaining mechanism with the ever-loved Uno gives this a familiar feel with new players. The core concept is fairly simple, but there are a few slightly fiddly rules which add some extra time to teaching. The Exchange tokens have been a source of confusion with a few players so I now spend some extra time showing a few examples. Their usage seems pretty obvious to me and I’m not sure how they could be improved, but maybe this is something to re-explore for the final design. The Yardmaster token moving backwards relative to turn order has also caused some confusion, but since this doesn’t involve any hidden hand cards, I generally just keep an eye on it during the first few rounds until everyone is comfortable with it. I’ve also forgotten to mention the 7 card hand limit during teaching a few times. Overall, the intuitive play makes teaching this very friendly.

Replayability: I was actually a bit concerned about this early on. The game play is clever, but not overly meaty and therefore I was skeptical about how it would hold up over several plays. At this point, I’m still personally enjoying the game quite a bit so my fears are quickly subsiding. There doesn’t seem to be a big change in play from one game to the other, but that’s not uncommon with basic card games. I know Patrick is also already exploring expansion ideas and variants which should add a lot in terms of depth and varied play. Having a good, solid foundation for a game opens up all kinds of options later on, so I’m eager to see what’s included as part of the kickstarter and beyond. I love Coloretto and could happily play it many times, but I also love having the option to throw in the Extra or Limit cards for some variety -- I’m hoping to see the same thing here.

Final Thoughts:
In terms of where the game fits into my collection, I love having a few super portable games on hand which are easy to teach, quick to play, and have a friendly approachable theme. My current rock stars in this category are Coloretto, No Thanks, and Sushi Go. I can play these with anyone and they never disappoint. I’m very happy to say that I can very easily see Yardmaster fitting in perfectly with this group and having just as much appeal and an equally positive response from new players. Everyone I’ve played it with so far has enjoyed it. I don’t think this will replace any of my previous favorites, but that’s largely because they all thankfully have a slightly different feel so they complement each other well without stepping on each others’ toes. I also appreciate that Yardmaster scales really well in terms of playability by different experience levels. As a light gamer or non gamer, the play is easy and turn-to-turn decisions are pretty intuitive and generally forgiving. As a more serious gamer, calculating the remaining train cars late in the game to determine probabilities and whether or not buying that 3 Green car will wreck me can be a lot of fun. Well, a very nerdy kind of fun. I would definitely like to see more Bonus cards in the deck, but I believe Patrick’s already exploring that as well. I would also like to see a 5th player option. The turns are quick enough that I don’t think this will slow the game down and will certainly open it up to more groups.

In summary, Yardmaster is a great game and I predict it will be one of the big releases of 2014. I plan to back it on Day 1 of the Kickstarter and if games like Coloretto, No Thanks, and Sushi Go appeal to you, then Yardmaster seems like an obvious addition. I’m really eager to see what minor tweaks and improvements make it into the final version and I’m even more eager to see what cool stuff gets added in the next year. Depending on the production schedule, this could definitely shape up to be my go-to Christmas gift this year.

Update 4/29/2014: Funding for Yardmaster is currently live on Kickstarter -- grab a copy for only $15

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