Yamatai

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

From the picture, it doesn't look like any of us succeeded in securing 'Queen Himiko's Smile' (the curious subtitle of the game) but we were nonetheless engrossed in optimising the choices available to us as we boated around the archipelago collecting 'culture' and developing its buildings.


In Yamatai (Days of Wonder), players each turn choose a tile that allows them to place out specified boats and take a specified second action - usually to erect a building or collect tokens. The tile also specifies turn order on the next turn. Players can additionally buy or sell a boat, and they can recruit specialists to give them a special ability. An interesting mechanic in this game is the fact that boats played out on the board are not owned by the player that placed them and they can subsequently be used by all the other players.

This was a first play for three of us. The different ways of scoring meant that it was difficult to be sure who was ahead, and scores at the end were all very close. This is worth mentioning because Yamatai is a game where a player may put themselves in a position where they can force the end of the game - so you'll want to be sure you're ahead when you do this.

The start of the game is reasonably brisk because the placement rules limit options. Turns take longer as the board fills and options broaden, so Yamatai is probably not a game to play with anyone who is overly prone to Analysis Paralysis. Options begin to close off as the board fills but there is still a lot for players to process when they take their turn. Though this is not a game where players are attacking or will necessarily be deliberately frustrating each other, it is difficult for players to plan their actions ahead of their turn because they cannot be sure which tiles and what actions will be open to them.

Visually, Yamatai is attractive, if potentially confusing for onlookers as the board fills. One imagines that in poor light, some of the tokens might be difficult to distinguish from each other, and there is no concession here for builders who might suffer from colour-blindness. On the other hand, the iconography on this game is pretty clear so Yamatai isn't a game where you are constantly having to look things up in the rules.


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