Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com —and let us know what you think.
Days of Wonder—the board game publisher behind hits like Small World and Ticket to Ride—has released Yamataï, its “big game” of 2017. It’s a veritable mashup of modern board game mechanics, everything from role selection to area control bonuses to turn order bidding, but the whole is greater than the sum of its brightly colored bits. In short, I love it.
Yamataï springs from the fertile brains of designers Bruno Cathala and Marc Paquien, and it bears more than a few resembles to Cathala’s earlier game, the mancala-driven Five Tribes. Just as in that game, here you’ll need to deposit multicolored wooden bits along a connected path, earning resources until you can build structures or buy helpful bonus figures (“djinns” in Five Tribes, “specialists” here).
But I like Yamataï better. Each turn begins with an elegant turn selection and special power mechanism; choose one of the five face-up “fleet tiles” and you gain a special power for that turn along with a corresponding turn position for the next turn. Take a super-duper power now and you’ll find yourself going late in the next round; take a modest power now and you might set yourself up for the first move next time.
Designer: Bruno Cathala, Marc Paquien
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Playing time: 40-80 minutes
Price: $51 (from Cool Stuff, Inc.)
Many of the fleet powers grant you colored boats from the main supply, and you can always buy one more if desired. After that, it’s time to place the boats on the board—a beautiful map of islands and the sea lanes that surround them. Starting from either an “entry spot” on the left of the map (where you don’t need to worry about initial boat color) or next to any existing boat (where you have to match its color with your first new boat), you lay down a connected line of your own ships.
With ships placed, it’s time for a choice: collect “culture tokens” from islands that your new ships are touching, saving them up to buy “specialists” with special powers, or slap a building down on an empty island. These buildings each require islands to be surrounded by a specific collection of ship colors. Once placed, buildings can offer points and sometimes coins.
By the end of a match, the board is a kaleidoscopic hodgepodge of colors from boats and buildings. Victory comes from having the most “prestige points,” or “PPs,” which possibly sounded less ridiculous in Cathala’s native French. Points come largely from coins, buildings, and specialists, and it can be difficult to tell who’s in the lead until everyone finishes tallying their scores. (Certain special powers also affect the scoring.)
More Info: arstechnica.com