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Yokai Pagoda

If we've learned anything from playing games themed around Japanese folklore it's that Yokai are shapeshifting spirits akin to demons or goblins. The notional theme of Yokai Pagoda is one in which the 2-5 players are making offerings to the Yokai, presumably to placate them, but in reality Yokai Pagoda is an easy-to-play but cleverly designed card game from PIF Games that's designed by Jacobo Rufete with art from Nakara Studio.

Played over three rounds (four if you're playing with just two), the game is played with a deck of 100 cards. These comprise 10 different Yokai (readily distinguishable by art and colour) numbered 1-10. Players start each round with a hand of 7 cards and on your turn you must play a card to one of the two face-up discard piles either side of the Pagoda card that marks the round. These discard piles represent offerings to the Yokai. If the card you play matches the Yokai or the number of the card it is played on, you give a card from your hand to another player. If the card you play does not match either the Yokai and is higher than the card on the offering pile, you must draw either the face-up card from the other offering pile or the top card from the face-down draw deck. However, if the card does not match the Yokai and is lower than the card it is played on, you add up the value of cards in your hand and can choose to end the round if the total value is 3 or less. If you end the round, you have to show your hand and then all the players place their remaining cards in their 'failed offerings' piles; these will score at the end of the game, with the win going to the player with the lowest value of cards in their failed offerings pile. Ending the round is optional: there's a good chance you'll catch opponents with high-value cards but on the other hand it means you have to reveal to the other players the cards you are placing in your own failed offerings pile which can give them advantage in subsequent rounds.

What makes this a tactical card game is the way in which cards are totalled: for each Yokai you only count the lowest value card; so, for example, if you have in hand a pink 10 and 2, and blue 8 and 1, these will total just 3 (the higher values of each Yokai type are ignored). Likewise, when at game end you total all the Yokai in your failed offerings pile you'll only count the lowest number for each Yokai type.

As you might guess, this simple scoring device crucially affects game play: you can lose rounds but still end up with a lower score in your failed offerings pile than other players. And other than when you've called an end to a round the cards in your failed offerings pile are not known to other players so when, for example, they pass you a value 10 Yokai, it could be a card that has no negative value to you because you currently have lower value Yokai of that type in your hand or tucked away in your failed offerings... It will usually be in a player's interest to limit the number of Yokai types in hand and in their failed offerings pile, so you may be able to deduce from another player's card play which Yokai they are 'collecting' and which they are trying to avoid...

In our plays at Board's Eye View we've been genuinely surprised at the depth in such a seemingly simple card game. We've enjoyed it at all player counts but we found it became much more a game of deduction, and sometimes therefore bluff and misdirection, as a two-player game...

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