The full review, photos, and our accompanying music playlist for the game can be found here: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/blog/the_playlist_06_yokoham... Feedback is always welcome. Our reviews are intended for board gaming neophytes stumbling over to the article from our music and movie coverage, so please excuse any unnecessary-feeling explanations of common terminology or mechanics.
Different strokes for different folks – that’s what they say, at least. (Who said it first, exactly? It turns out that historians aren’t even sure.) The various types of board games that will appeal to you all depend on the sort of experience you want to get from your time around a table. Should gaming be light and casual? A thought-provoking challenge? An out-and-out battle of wit and skill? Just a trivial way to pass the time? Can it be all of the above?
With that in mind, there will be games that we are going to whole-heartedly recommend, but not recommend to everyone. As with music, food, movies, or really anything where individual tastes are something to be concerned about, it’s important to keep your audience in mind. And so, if you’re someone who only turns to gaming as a way to unwind, or perhaps to lighten the mood after a dinner party, well, Yokohama probably isn’t going to be a title we’ll hustle your way. Y'see, Yokohama is a competitive brain burner, and it’s a really good one. If you’re the type of gamer who doesn’t mind giving your mental muscles a healthy workout after-hours, then you’re in for a treat.
By designer Hisashi Hayashi, Yokohama is a much-lauded Japanese title newly imported for English audiences by Tasty Minstrel Games. While the deluxe edition looks like it features some cool, custom tokens and metal coins which will no doubt make a satisfying clinking noise as you toss them across a table, the standard retail edition we sampled (and which can be obtained for a very reasonable $40-ish dollars) was certainly no slouch in terms of presentation. The box – which weighs about the same as a youth-sized bowling ball – comes packed with no less than 500 colorful wooden and cardboard pieces. The tiles come printed on a classy, thick stock, which means you’ll have to really work these pieces over if you think you’re going to wear ‘em out.
Yokohama’s board is modular, meaning that the tiles are laid out randomly. (Other boards, such as the score track, can be stuck wherever nearby you can fit them.) This builds in a lot of variety, as the various locations will be in different places each time Yokohama sees the table. On top of these – literally on top – you have building cards, bonus tokens, and various technologies and trade orders which are shuffled and set out (also at random) on the board pieces. You’d have to play no less than a bazillion games before you see the same arrangements repeat themselves. That is cool.
I’m aware that, from photos, it may look like there’s an unthinkable number of bits and bobs to keep track of. (Yes, there are a lot of pieces.) If you find your nose starting to bleed just looking at this image, you should relax. You may be suffering through a case of complexity shock, but there’s no need to worry: the gameplay itself is, thankfully, far simpler than it looks.
The first thing you do each turn is place little wooden cubes that represent your assistants; either three on different locations, or two on the same location. The second thing you do is move your president – a taller, lankier wooden token – through any number of locations that have at least one of your assistants on them, stopping on a place of your choice. There, you carry out the action printed on that board – which usually involve taking money or goods from the bank, or gaining more assistants or cards – which will be increasingly more powerful depending on the number of cubes you already have there. After that’s done, just scoop up all the little guys surrounding your president so you can place them again on a future turn, and you’re done.
Really, that’s it! For a game that can look a little like somebody shook together a bunch of bingo sheets and beautiful Japanese postcards in a bag and dumped it all out on a table, the basics couldn’t be easier to teach. Because there’s not a long list of actions to ponder and because the benefits of every tile are printed clearly and plainly on each board, the turns move very quickly (especially compared to many other games of this complexity level.) While the method of play itself is very straight-forward, Yokohama is a game packed with nuance.
Of course, you have to think about timing. Do you jump on a tile the first chance you get, or do you wait several turns and cash out when you have several assistant cubes accumulated there, reaping bigger rewards? There’s also the matter of other players, because if you try to pass over a tile where an opponent’s president rests, you have to pay them a small fee. (Or worse: if they’re sitting on the tile you’d like to visit, you can’t go there at all.) So there’s a blocking game going on, and depending on the lay of the land and how many people are at the table, you’re going to run into some occasional logjams. Or, if you want to be a jerk (or, a “cunning strategist,” if you prefer) you can even try to predict where your opponent will want to go and cut him off with your own president token.
Wait, though! We’re not done. There are also technologies – cards which you can purchase from a randomized store area – that give you special powers that allow you to bend the game’s rules in ways your opponents can’t. You can also take (and fulfill) orders, which require you to trade in unique assortments of goods for bonuses. If you’re savvy enough to collect technologies and orders in sets with matching flags, you'll collect a foreign agent token which allows you to take an extra action regardless of whether someone else is blocking the spot you want. Do you feel like throwing an extra wrench or two in your opponents’ plans? You can build a shop or trading house on a card to claim yet another bonus and get paid $$$ each time someone else uses that location. Want more shops, trading houses, or assistant cubes? There are ways to get those, too. (And this is just cracking the surface.)
Most of these activities score you points – even giving goods to the church nets you points – because, in the end, Yokohama is a race for the highest score. There are so many options for scoring that it’s impossible for any one player to dominate any particular play style; games will end with close scores even when players followed totally diverging strategies. In the board gaming community, this is sometimes referred to (somewhat disparagingly) as a “point salad” style of design – because of how the wide range of options resembles a salad bar. Yokohama, with its grandiose scale, more closely resembles one of those super-sized buffets you’ll see at a casino, where it’s moderately acceptable to throw crab legs, BBQ ribs, and a brownie ice cream sundae together on the same plate.
Like one of those casino mega-buffets, though, it’s not surprising to walk away from a game of Yokohama feeling a little winded and wanting to take a nap. I’m not going to lie: Yokohama can be a little exhausting. While it does play close to the 90 minutes advertised on the box, it’s a pretty think-y hour and a half. Turns move very quickly, but that means players will typically need to spend the time in between them staring at the board and silently hashing out plans for what they’ll do next. You'll be trying to outsmart your opponent at points, but above all Yokohama is a puzzle, and your focus will be on improving and executing whatever strategy you’ve personally devised. If a game like Monopoly is the equivalent of a word search, then Yokohama is an expert-level Sudoku. It’s an extremely fun metal workout – but one we won’t fault you on if it’s not your scene, either.
To listen to the playlist curated for this game, please head over to UTR: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/blog/the_playlist_06_yokoham...