"Keep Summer Safe!"
This is a review I originally posted to my website in 2000 and updated in 2002. Note, I've only played twice. -- Brian
db Spiele games are one of my not so guilty pleasures. They are handmade, so they cost a bit more than I'd like to pay, and sometimes the quality suffers; but you get a good game (if you can get your hands on a copy). I've bought enjoyed Spekulation, Premiere (later published by Queen under the name Showmanager) and Timbuktu. I've been meaning to get a copy of Iron Horse, too; but I just haven't gotten around to it. Other people have copies I can play. So when I heard that Dirk Henn had a new game, and that he was tackling a business/trading theme, I braced myself to pony up the money.
The game arrived about a week before Thanksgiving. Without english rules. So, since I had a transcontinental flight I photocopied the rules, grabbed my German-English dictionary and (most importantly) lucked into sitting besides someone from the Netherlands. When I got back, I compared the translation with another persons and over the course of a week, got the rules down pat. Well, almost.
Then I played Vinci and Stephenson's Rocket. Three months later I finally get around to playing Yukon Company.
In Yukon Company, you play a trader in Alaska who is buying goods at Dawson City and then taking them out to the prospectors at various creeks, and trying to make as much money as possible before the inevitable end of the gold rush. The components are standard db Spiele. Nice (but weirdly) laminated cards and counters. This game has more cards and counters than usual, which probably accounts for the price hike. If you have one of their other games, you know what to expect. The only complaint I have is that the box is so full it's falling apart.
There are 5 types of goods: Alcohol, food, wood, tools and fuel. There board shows 5 market areas: one for Dawson City and 4 for the creeks. The price of goods ranges from 1-7 at the city, and 3-10 at the creek, so you'll tend to be able to make money. The outer edge of the board is the money track, and below the price guides are spaces for the regular cards and the event cards. Also on the board is a space for the market adjustment card.
The regular cards are the heart of the game. There are four stacks of cards: a stack of '1' cards, a stack of '2' cards, a stack of '3' cards and a stack of '4' cards. The cards serve a variety of purposes. Each card shows it's number (1-4), the name of a creek, a letter from A-D, and a set of commodities. There are a number of commodities equal to the card number, so a '2' card will have two commodities (which may be the same or different).
You start with six cards, and one of each good. A turn consists of the following:
1. Buying Cards
2. Purchasing Goods
3. Voting on which creek to go to
4. Voting on which event occurs
5. Selling the goods
6. And some end of turn fiddly stuff.
First each player can buy 0-2 cards. You get a card from the deck, and it costs the cards value. (So if you buy from the 4 deck, you pay $4). At the end of the turn you'll have to discard the same number of cards that you bought, so you are only buying flexibility for this turn. The rules (well, my translation) don't explicitly say what the order of purchasing is, but it didn't seem to matter.
Now you get to the meat of the game. Each player picks a card simultaneously and reveals. You then look at the set of commodities for your card and buy them at the price (at Dawson city) and put them into your storage. Then you get to discard your card.
Now each player picks a card to vote on the creek they want to go to. When you reveal, each creek shown gets a number of votes equal to the cards value. Now all players know which creek you are going to. Discard the card.
Now each player sets down two cards in indicated spaces. One card for the event, and one for what they take with them. On the board are the event cards in slots A-D. Every player reveals their first card, and "votes" for the event they want. The events do a bunch of things, such as have thieves raid players warehouses for a specific item, or modify the selling prices, or change where the boat is going, or end the game. More on that later.
After the event is known, then players flip up a card to show what set of commodities they had contracted to sell. The sell them at the indicated creek's prices (modifying for events). If they don't have enough commodities to cover, they don't sell the listed commodities, and pay a breach of contract penalty ($2 per missing commodity).
Then you do some fiddly accounting. Re-arrange market prices (according to the change card that all players could see at the beginning of the turn), refill the event, discard excess cards and refill your hand, and go to the next turn.
The event deck has four "End the Game Events". Since events that aren't voted on stay on the board, these gradually fill up the slots and eventually one will get voted in. Then you finish the turn and end the game. But a nice rule is that after a turn the leader can buy an "End the game" event, if one is showing. The cost depends on how many are showing, $15 if one is showing, $10 if two are showing, and $5 if three are showing. So if there is an early runaway leader, he can just end the game instead of prolonging everyone's pain.
I've played this game twice, once with 4 and once with 6. It certainly has a lot going for it. The game is tough to plan. You may want to use a card to buy stuff and vote on a creek, but you can only do one. You have 6 cards and have to use 4, so you have some flexibility, but not too much. You can buy more cards, but it can be expensive and turn out to not help. Buying cards that allow you to do more (have more influence in the vote or buy and sell more goods) costs more. There is interaction and planning, but you can't directly pick on another player. You can try to guess what other players want (from their goods in the warehouse and prices) and work against them, but you can't really gang up on someone.
But the game has problems too. The first is purely physical. The board is busy and if you jostle it the scoring markers and price indicators shift around. The markets would be better served by peg boards. If your group has trouble maybe break out the monopoly money. We knocked over the scoring cones several times in each game, but fortunately we could quickly fix it.
Another problem is time, if you don't buy any cards, there are 360 ways to play your cards. Often it's pretty simple to spot the reasonable choices, but sometimes it's hard. And you have to decide whether to buy extra cards. Of course, you don't have to play all four of your cards at once, so you have some flexibility. The decisions are the good part of the game, but the complexity means that often one or more players had to think about their moves, so if you have a group of people who try to ponder everything, the game can drag. We didn't have that problem.
But even without it the game takes time. The event deck is built so that the first "End the game" card shows up around turn 6-9, so the game could end by turn 7. In fact, our first game did as the leader was winning by ~$20 on turn seven and ended the game. But our second game had the first end the game show up on turn nine in a tight race. The game ended two turns later when two players voted to end it (one player because he thought he could win, a second player because he thought no other player had a winning play and has hand had a bunch of cards for that event so he'd have to play them sooner or later). That game lasted around 2.5 hours. It's possible for the game to go on another 8 or so turns, though unlikely. But the game will take around 10-13 turns on average, and that is a bit too much, I think. We were taking around 10 minutes a turn, with much prodding of players to keep the pace up. Our second game was over two hours, and it seemed to drag a little. Also, towards the end of the game as players got comfortable with their own cards, they turned their attention towards trying to guess what the other players intended to do. This inductive part of the game is very interesting, and Dirk Henn is good at making games that force you to do this. But it adds time to the game. Overall, I think that I will trim the event deck a bit. Right now you take about half of the event cards and mix in the 'End the Game' cards using certain rules. I think I'd use a few less event cards. Maybe 2 less, 15 instead of 17 (counting the four events that start the game on the board).
But the physical problems and the time issue are really my only problems. This is a solid game. Some luck (the decks of cards and dice to determine market prices) but overall it's a good game of planning and using limited resources. Some of the mechanics (letting runaway leaders end the game and letting the last place player break the tie in votes) are very good, and I'd like to see more games adopt them. But, after playing a few times, I'm not drawn to play it again.
Overall, I think Yukon Company is an OK game trapped inside a homemade little box. Right now, I'd play it; but it's not a desperate must have.
See my notes on db Spiele for more information on component quality and lists of their games.
Note added July 18th, 2002
I haven't played this game after the first two plays. Time is still an issue (and the fact that I'd have to teach it), but the game just doesn't hook me. I've updated my review accordingly.
Excellent review. Thanks.