When you see the skull & crossbones on the box cover, you won't be in any doubt that this is a pirate-themed card game. The YOHO game title tho' isn't just short for the cry of 'Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum' but a punning acronym 'You Only Hang Once'.
Published by Sabrewolf Games, YOHO is a card game that appears predicated on the lack of honour among thieves. The 2-4 players each adopt one of the five supplied pirate persona and one of the players is chosen as the Captain. The rules don't suggest how this choice is made on your first play but, if in doubt, we suggest choosing the person who most recently plundered a merchant vessel. The Captain then allocates the remaining ranks to the other players and to the non-player persona.
Players always start their turn with a hand of five Blame cards. On their turn, they play a card to the discard pile and take the action on the card. Some of the actions might initially feel random: swapping hands, turning a pirate from 'loyal' to 'rebel' or swapping ranks, but there is method to the seeming confusion... When you play an Accuse card, you compare the sum of cards matching your rank with the sum of those matching the rank of the accused. Subject to some modifiers, the player with the highest total takes the Blame - which means they have to take into their hand all of the cards in the discard pile.
The cards of the rebels get added to those of the Captain, so the Captain is increasingly likely to be the target of an Accuse card as the number of pirates get flipped to their rebel side. If the Captain takes the Blame, it means Mutiny! The Captaincy passes to the highest ranking rebel and all rebel/loyal cards flip. The old Captain automatically becomes the Pariah (lowest rank) and the new Captain reassigns all the other rank cards.
Beneath the apparent chaos, designer Richard Wolfrik Galland has put together in YOHO a subtly clever 'pass the parcel' type card game where players are constantly jockeying for position so that they end the game with the highest rank but without having the most Blame (sum of all cards matching their rank). The player with the most Blame walks the plank (they lose) - so there's a delicate balance to be walked for the players with high ranks: it puts them in sight of a win but at risk of elimination... There's also a Treasure card that can be a mixed blessing. If you have it in your hand when the game ends (draw deck is exhausted) it adds a bunch to your total so risks pushing you over the point where you will be eliminated, but if you survive that then its value will secure you the win even if you otherwise end up as the lowly Pariah.
YOHO plays quickly - our plays at Board's Eye View mostly took around 20 minutes - and, for us, this card game is at its best with the full complement of four players. There are some modifying rules that initially seemed overly fiddly but nothing that set itself as a barrier to play or to our enjoyment. Played properly YOHO can be a cutthroat 'take that' game - as is appropriate for the theme - but, be warned, it's a game where card counters will have the advantage: you'll do well if you have a good memory and can keep track of all the cards that you and other players have picked up.
If you have any difficulty finding YOHO at your local game store, click here to order a copy direct from the publishers.