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Greg Schloesser
United States
Jefferson City
TN
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Design by: Sebastien Pauchon
Published by: Ystari Games / Rio Grande Games
3 - 4 Players, 45 minutes
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser


NOTE: This review was first published in Knucklebones magazine

Ystari Games is batting "1,000" with me. I have thoroughly enjoyed every game in their line, and so had high hopes for their latest release, Yspahan, which is designed by newcomer Sebastien Pauchon. I was not disappointed.

The Persian city of Yspahan has become the empire’s capital, and is enjoying a cultural and economic boom. Players are merchants attempting to monopolize bazaars in the various neighborhoods, and send their goods to the far reaches of the empire via the camel caravans.

The main board depicts the center of Yspahan, which is divided into four neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is further subdivided into various souks, delineated by the color of their shops. Souks will contain from 1 - 6 shops, and merchants will attempt to gain control of all of the shops in a particular souk.

There are to additional boards: one for the caravan, which depicts twelve camels in a serpentine pattern, and the other upon which dice will be placed and actions determined (the "tower" board). Players also each have a building mat, which depicts the five buildings each player can construct. Buildings grant players special powers and possibly victory points. Players begin with a handful of cubes and two gold coins.

Each turn, the active player rolls the nine dice and arranges them on the tower board, from lowest to highest. He may increase his chances of getting desired numbers by paying up to three additional gold to roll three additional dice. Like numbers are grouped together, so all "1s" will be placed on the bottom rung of the tower board, followed by all "2s", and so on. All dice depicting the highest number rolled -- no matter the value -- are placed on the tower’s top rung. Beginning with the active player, each player selects one group of dice, removes them from the board, and executes one of the three actions associated with that rung.

Two of the three possible actions are the same for all rungs: move the supervisor or take a card. Each rung does have one unique action. One of the rungs allows the player to take camels, and another one gold. The other four rungs allow the player to place cubes in the neighborhood depicted. The number of camels or gold taken, or cubes placed is equal to the NUMBER of dice on that rung, not the value.

When placing cubes, a player must place them in the neighborhood depicted, but he may split them amongst the souks in that neighborhood as he sees fit. However, once a player has placed a cube in a particular souk, no other player may claim shops in that souk. A player will only earn points at the end of a week for a particular souk if he occupies ALL shops in a souk, with more points being earned for the larger souks. Since a week (turn) consists of seven days (rounds), a player will have seven possible opportunities to finish occupying shops in a souk. Of course, depending upon the dice taken by opponents each day, the player may not have many opportunities to occupy those shops, so tough choices must be made when placing cubes.

Choosing the option of moving the supervisor allows the player to move the supervisor token a number of spaces equal to the VALUE of the dice selected, not the number of dice. A player may move the supervisor more or less spaces, but must spend one gold for each space added or subtracted. If the supervisor ends his movement beside a shop containing a cube, that cube is sent to the camel caravan. A player can prevent his cube being removed, however, by discarding a camel and placing one of the cubes from their supply onto the caravan. A wise player will try to retain a camel or two in his supply for just this occasion.

When a cube is placed on the caravan, it immediately earns its owner 0 - 2 victory points, depending upon its location on the caravan. However, significantly more points can be earned on the caravan at the end of the week. Players score a number of points equal to the number of cubes they have on the caravan multiplied by the highest level occupied by at least one of their cubes -- either 1, 2 or 3. So, if a player has four cubes on the caravan and their highest cube is on level two, the player will earn 8 points (4 x 2 = 8). Cubes remain on the caravan until all twelve caravan slots are filled, at which point all cubes are returned to their owners. As a result, a player may often earn these end-of-week points two or perhaps even three times. Pursuing a caravan strategy can be potentially lucrative!

The final option a player may choose is selecting a card. Cards provide a variety of benefits, including swapping camels for cash (and vice versa), placing extra cubes, earning extra gold, building without expending either camels or coins, etc. Cards can also be used to give the player an extra die when selecting dice from the tower. So, no card is useless.

After executing their action, a player concludes his turn by having the option to construct a special building. There are six possible buildings, each of which grants a special power. For example, the paddock gives the player an extra camel whenever he chooses to acquire camels, while the bazaar grants two extra victory points for each souk that the player completes by the end of a week. Buildings cost camels and/or gold to construct, ranging from 2 - 4 of each. Players also earn five victory points each time they construct a building beyond their second one, with ten points being earned for the construction of their sixth building. The powers that are granted by the buildings can be quite significant, and their construction cannot be overlooked.

At the completion of a week (7 rounds), a scoring is conducted. Players earn points for each souk they have completely occupied, as well as points for the caravan as described above. The main board is then emptied, with cubes being returned to their owners. A total of three weeks are played, with victory going to the player with the most cumulative points.

I find Yspahan refreshingly different. There are a variety of mechanisms present, but they blend together nicely. The sight of the abundance of dice may be off-putting to some, but in reality the luck aspect here isn’t dominant. Players have numerous choices to make each turn, and there are a variety of strategic paths to pursue. There doesn’t appear to be one dominant strategy, and there is enough to investigate to keep me coming back for more.


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Stephen Sanders
United States
Henderson
Texas
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DNA results:English, Dutch, Irish, German, French, Iberian Peninsula = 100% American!
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I liked Yspahan for a while, and played it at least 12 times before trading it away. Probably regretted this trade the most of any of my almost 50 trades, but I was frustrated by the lack of success with the caravan. This seemed to make it a one dimensional game of souk control more than anything else. Thanks for the review.
 
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Jimbo Sutherland
United Kingdom
HAMPTON
MIDDLESEX
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My most played game. I played it some weeks ago at one of the groups I attend (Isleworth Board Gamers) and all four people I played with subsequently bought their own copies!

I would recommend that you use the rules that came with the Ystari Box (available on the Ystari web site) because they not only help reduce the luck of the card draw but also limit the potential for a "carvan strategy" being an almost certain winner!

And you do not need the new cards, but they make the game even more challenging/interesting - they seem more "balanced". Of course, I mainly play with the old (original) cards (familiarity and all that... whistle)

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Peter Folke
Denmark
Lyngby (Copenhagen)
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Interesting. I find that if you can build the Caravanserai in the first week, the caravan dominates everything else. Those cards are extremely powerful.

Edit: 4 minutes.. OK it seems I need to check out the Ystari web site!
 
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Eric Knauer
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Heathrow
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caltexn wrote:
I liked Yspahan for a while, and played it at least 12 times before trading it away. Probably regretted this trade the most of any of my almost 50 trades, but I was frustrated by the lack of success with the caravan.


Interesting since most people think this strategy is too powerful.
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