Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Yokai are mythical spirit creatures or demons from Japanese folklore, but here the word is meant simply to imply the criminality of the city setting for this game. Yokai: City of Crime is set in a cyberpunk, dystopian, Blade Runner neon future where you represent a criminal faction. Tho’ what we played was a prototype, the components were of good quality: thick cardboard chits, wooden tokens and stylised standees. The board is modular, comprising eight hexes that can be randomised to improve replayability, and the artwork is evocative of the theme. The rules are relatively straightforward, although we’ll expect to see visual examples in the final product. The aim of the game? Just be the first to get to 12 Reputation (ie: victory points).
Designed by Anna Owarzany and published by Mad Lab, Yokai: City of Crime is a smart stylish game with a small footprint. It takes 3–5 players and you should be able to complete a game in less than 45 minutes. The gameplay is simple and elegant, with each turn comprising four phases: City, Action, Police and Reputation. Rinse and repeat until someone hits 12 points. During the City phase a card is turned over which will place tokens on specific hexes seeding the board each turn with credits, crime and tip-offs.
During the Action phase each player uses a dial to select one of four available actions in a neat simultaneous action selection process. Players can move between adjacent districts, increase crime, placing a crime token in the district they are in or an adjacent district, or tip-off the Police by placing a cartoon speech bubble tip-off token in a district. The fourth action allows the player to use the ability provided by the district hex. The players undertake the simultaneous action selection twice, taking two actions before moving on to the Police phase.
The Police phase is where the game gets really interesting as the Police move in to Raid the hex location with the highest combined total of crime and tip-off tokens. They are, after all, just plods following up on leads. They remove all tokens from the hex and send any of the players on that hex to the Jail. The Jail district has its own hex and players can move to any location from it. That may not be especially thematic but, given that the player will have just missed out on a scoring phase, it gives them a chance to quickly get back into the game.
Finally, the Reputation phase is where players gain credit tokens placed in their current location and gain Reputation for each crime token in their location. This creates an interesting push-pull where you want to be in an area with high crime but you want the Police to raid another district location and not yours. Criminals sharing a location share the Credits and Reputation.
The game makes use of an interesting deck of Intrigue cards that can be played during a particular phase. Want to stop your opponents messing with the Slums? Use an Intrigue card to stop further tip-off tokens being placed there. Need to get across to the other side of the board? Play a card to gain two move actions. Need Reputation points? Play a card to score a point for being alone at a location at the end of the Police phase. Many of the cards have enhancements that generally cost a credit token to make the effect more powerful or to provide a secondary effect.
Other than at set up there is no real randomness to this game, beyond the card draws obviously. This is a dyed-in-the-wool Euro game with typical passive aggressive Euro interaction. Although you are not directly stealing from opponents, you can use Intrigue cards to force an opponent to move or swap places with you and you can disrupt his plans in a district. The city feels deliberately small and enclosed, and this game has you trying to outwit your opponents, staying one step ahead in a confined space.
All in all, Yokai: City of Crime is a good solid game with some beautiful artwork, good graphic design and easy-to-learn gameplay. It does fall into that dangerous niche between ‘full-length’ game and filler. That can be a difficult path to walk but it has been mined very successfully by Gamelyn Games and Scott Almes’ ongoing Tiny Epic franchise. Yokai: City of Crime is coming shortly to Kickstarter. We'll add a link to the campaign when it goes live.
(Review by Jason Keeping)