Yamatai is an amazing game to play with people who want an involved and engaging game play experience that centers around trying to help out your opponents the least, while advancing your own well thought out plans. The game centers around placing boats around islands to build structures that have building costs of certain colored boats needed, ie this building needs 2 brown and one green boat around an island to build. The idea is simplistic, yet when combined with all aspects of the game, you can surely see you have plenty of options. Overall, the game has several "simplistic" ideas, that integrate together to make for a fairly intense decision making process.
There are different Gods available to help make you more efficient at building these structures and enhancing the resources you have at your disposal. There are roles you select each turn that determine what resources you have, and what special power you have for the round. Then, there are areas on the board you want to try to build on to gain maximum points and rewards. All these elements will be familiar to people who have played games like Puerto Rico, Abyss, Lords of Waterdeep, even Ticket to Ride.
The uniqueness of the game comes from how the players interact with the board and resources to affect upcoming turns. When Player A removes cultures tokens to gain a God, Player B can now build buildings on the islands that have just opened up. When Player B, places boats to build a building, Player C can use those same boats to build another building. This may create frustration, as long term planning can be limited since the board will change considerably before your turn.
The game succeeds in creating a tense back and forth experience where every turn feels like you are gaining points and progressing toward a goal. You'll be amazed how everything seems to flow together seamlessly, and every aspect of the game needs to be paid attention to. The winner will be the one who succeeds in finding a combination of unique powers from Gods, buildings with high scoring points, and locations on the map that help them become the most efficient point machine of the group.
I really enjoyed this game and would enjoy playing it more with people who wanted a more strategic game that lasted around 2+ hours. This would not be a game, I'd play with someone who was looking to try board games out for the first time.
Shout out to Vince at Snakes n Lattes in Toronto who took the time to not only recommend the game, but to teach it to us too. He would frequently stop by and we would discuss and marvel at how well the game worked mechanically. What a fun night getting to play this game!