In Yamataï you’re tasked with creating a beautiful new city in an archipelago, to win the favour of Queen Himiko. The full title of the game is Yamataï: For Queen Himiko’s Smile, to which I wonder…is there really no other payment than that? Seems like a lot of work for not such a hot payoff…but I digress.
Yamataï is the new title by Bruno Cathala and Marc Paquien, published by Days of Wonder. Right off the bat, you’re struck with how lovely the game is. In typical Days of Wonder style, the art is colourful and engaging, and while the components aren’t super flashy, they look good and they’re very functional.
The board represents the complex chain of islands that make up the archipelago as well as the trade routes in between the islands. Your job is to explore and build on the different locations earning prestige points along the way.
Each turn, five of ten Fleet tiles (numbered 1-10) are available for the you to select. The Fleet tiles earn you ship resources like bamboo, stone, and gold, may grant a special ability, and determine your turn order for the next round. The better the reward you get, the later you’ll go in the following round.
After selecting a Fleet tile, you can buy or sell one boat of resources at the going rate. Common goods like bamboo and wood aren’t worth too much, but clay and gold can be expensive to buy and sell. Sometimes you just need a specific type of ship.
The third step of a turn is where the really interesting decisions come into play. You can place the resource boats you’ve collected on a trade route following a couple simple rules. Any boat can be played on one of the entry points to the board on the left side, or you can connect to an existing chain of boats as long as the first one you play down is the same resource type (colour) as the one you’re connecting to. After that you can use any resource boat to continue the chain.
Now, as you expand out through the islands you’re going to get a chance to learn some culture from the different people living there. Each island starts with a culture token on it. As you lay your boats down you can take one culture token for each boat from an adjacent island.
If you have placed boats beside islands where the culture tokens have already been claimed, then you might have the option of building. Five building tiles will always be on display at the side of the board, each with a different set of resource requirements to build them. If one of the islands you added boats beside, has the required resources surrounding it, you can place a building down on it and take the building tile for end game scoring. If you’re able to add to a group of your own connected buildings, you can take a coin for each building in that chain.
Standard buildings are a little less expensive resource-wise to get out on the board. You’ll place one of your coloured buildings from your own supply. However there are also special Prestige buildings that can be constructed if you have the required boats surrounding an island. The Palaces and Torii are worth more end game points, and any future buildings constructed beside them earn an immediate point. Also, they just look cool on the board.
On your personal mat, you can save one boat for a future round, but all other boats that you didn’t use are put aside and count against you in end game scoring, so use ‘em wisely.
Now, you may be sitting there saying ‘Hey Goober, what about those Culture tokens? What are they used for?’ First of all, don’t call me Goober, but secondly, that’s a good question. Culture tokens can be used at the end of your turn to hire a Specialist. There are five Specialists available at the top of the board, and as they get purchased, they’re replaced at the end of the round. You can gain Specialists by cashing in three different Culture tokens or two identical ones. Most Specialists are worth some end game points, but they also provide a special ability like being able to exchange boats for different types, or being able to hold on to more boats between rounds, or earning more Culture tokens. Each of the abilities are helpful depending on the strategy you’re going for. Additionally, unselected Specialists get two coins placed on them between rounds, which accumulate, making them even more desirable to hire.
The game ends when either a someone places their last building, one of the types of boats runs out, or you can’t replenish the Specialist or Building row. You gain points for coins, Prestige tokens, constructed buildings, and Specialists. You’ll lose points for reserved buildings not built and unused boats on your board.
That’s it! The winner is the person with the most points and they get to claim the aforementioned..ahem…smile.
So, as I mentioned, Yamataï is a beautiful game. From the box cover, to the Specialist tiles, to the board itself, it’s all very pretty. It reminds me a bit of another Cathala design, Five Tribes. A lot of people love Five Tribes, and consider it to be brilliant. I’m not really one of those people. I like it fine, but there are so many different options each turn that it leads to massive AP. You can probably puzzle out your best move, but each turn will take a lifetime. Yamataï suffers from this a bit, but not nearly as bad. I love a game where you’re drafting turn order and abilities, and have access to special powers that can set you ahead of the competition. Yamataï is one of those games where what you can actually do is quite simple, but within those parameters there is a lot to consider. I’ve been enjoying it so far, and I’m not even a Five Tribes fan. If you like Cathala designs like Five Tribes and Madame Ching, this might be the perfect fit for your collection.