Dale Yu: Yokohama Review (TMG edition)

Yokohama Review

  • Designer: Hisashi Hayashi
  • Publisher: Okazu Brand, Tasty Minstrel Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 90 Minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Tasty Minstrel Games

Yokohama was one of the hottest games from the far east in 2016.  Many of the Opinionated Gamers imported in a copy, and there was much love to be had for the game.  I was just about to try to figure out how to get a copy shipped to me from Japan when I got news that Tasty Minstrel was going to bring an updated English-language version to market.  As much as  I wanted to play the game immediately, I decided to wait for the updated version.  There have been no changes to the rules, but the components have been updated a bit as they are EN only (the originals were bilingual EN/JP).

As the rules haven’t changed, I will strongly paraphrase Lorna’s review from last year, and then add updated comments afterwards…

Original review posted on June 23, 2016 by lornadune  (with small sections edited by me in parenthesis)

Yokohama is the latest game from Hisashi Hayashi of Okazu Brand. He is one of the most diverse designers out there currently and I’m always interested in his latest games. Yokohama may be his most ambitious game to date. The game emulates the development of international trade in Yokohama during the Meiji era. You play merchants trying to gain contracts with foreign ministers and obtain import goods. Along the way you might also stop at church to show your faith or gain some technological advancements.

Components:

The game consists of a modular board. The size of the play area adjusts to the number of players. The board tiles are nicely done with thick cardboard and functional art. The games also comes with quality cards and ubiquitous cubes. The cards (in the original contain both Japanese and English so the print is on the small side) are English only, and they are easy to read. The game box has great graphics and is just the right size to fit everything.

3 player setup. The index marker is 3 inches square

Play:

The rules are well done and straightforward. Each player has a president pawn, assistant cubes, shops and trade houses. Some of these start in hand and the others start in your warehouse/reserve and are not available immediately.

Each area of the board provides different actions resulting in acquisition of different things such as resources, money, contracts, technology and points. Each area will have a random building site card on which to build shops and trade houses. To activate an area a player moves their president to an area with their assistants.

On your turn, you may play 1 assistant in 3 different areas or 2 assistants in one area from your hand. Then you may move your president only through areas where you have an assistant. You cannot stop in the same area as an opponent’s president. You may choose instead to pick up your president from the board in order to place it next time.

Then you may perform the action associated with the area and activate it. Afterwards you return any assistants that were in the area to your hand. The benefit of the action is dependent on the power the player has in the area. The power is the sum of the president and any assistants and any buildings in the area. If a power of 4 or more is reached you may build a shop or trading house which will earn points or other rewards. In addition, these buildings will add to your power on subsequent visits to the area.

On your turn, you can also fulfill contracts, complete achievements, and/or use a foreign minister to perform an extra action. Foreign ministers are obtained from completing contracts or purchasing technology from different countries.

There are multiple game ending conditions. (When any player has built all 4 of his trading houses, when any player has built all 8 of his shops, where there are not enough order cards to refill the supply, or when either the conditions of the Church or Customs board is met.  When any of these are met, the current turn finishes, and then players have one additional turn to try to finish up their work in the game).

Points are earned in multiple ways. You can earn points from fulfilling contracts, completing achievements (there are 3 random achievements selected each game), visiting the church, using the customs office, and end game points for having majorities in church, customs and tech. Money, left over goods and unused foreign ministers also earn points. You also gain points for sets of different foreign contracts or technology cards collected. The most points leads to victory.

Lorna’s opinions (of the original Japanese version):

I really enjoy this game. The components are great and I enjoy the graphics. My only complaint has more to do with my lack of ability to see small script than the game.

The game has a lot of replayability. The modular board can really change the feel of the game as the location of different areas may affect your strategy. The building cards also provide more variables as do the order in which technology and contract cards appear.

I’ve played 4 times already with 2 and 3 players. It plays quite well with both numbers. The game does go to 4 but I think I will wait to play with 4 experienced players. There are a myriad of options to consider in this game and that could potentially slow the game a bit too much for me with too many new players. (YMMV on this point but I prefer snappy play) That said, mostly what I enjoy are the options in this game. You can go for points in many directions. Point salad some might say, but the big plus for me is that Yokohama feels so cohesive with these options. It does not feel disjointed at all.  I have seen some very different strategies and the game has been close. I also like having to balance actions for points with actions for moving assistants and buildings from your warehouse to your hand. The mechanisms are not new but the way the game meshes keeps the mechanisms fresh. Is there interaction? Yes, it tends to be a little indirect but a well-placed president can certainly change someone’s plans. Of course there is a race aspect to meeting achievements or finding a place on the church or customs board. With the multiple game ending conditions you may be able to control it to your advantage and it’s important to watch your opponents closely. So far Yokohama is my favorite game this year.

Red player board and pieces

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers (of the original Japanese version) . . .

 

Dan Blum (4 plays):  Yeah, what Lorna said. This is a very good game. Point-salady games are often not my favorites, but I agree that the various ways to score are well-integrated so it doesn’t feel much like a point salad. There is a lot of built-in variation from game to game – aside from the expected aspects of which achievement cards are used and which technologies are available early, the board layout can have a large effect on the game. It works fine with four players as long as no one is particularly AP-prone.

My only issue with the game is the tiny print used for the English on the technology cards; while the original edition is certainly playable, I would advise English speakers without excellent eyesight to get the now-Kickstartering TMG edition which will have more room for English since they are not including the Japanese. And if you like lots of wooden bits, TMG will sell you a deluxe version, but I think the cardboard in the regular version is perfectly fine (as opposed to the components in Hiyashi and Ozaku’s earlier Minerva, which were a bit too small and thin).

 

Joe Huber (5 plays):  I mostly agree with Lorna and Dan, so I’ll just note that I have seen the final turn slow down.  Once you know the game is ending, many things are calculable, and the combinations of possible moves is not always easy to trim down.  It’s not a big deal, but it does mean the game tends to drag a little at the end.  This isn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the game – but might be enough to keep it from being an all-time favorite.

 

Craig Massey (2 plays): My reaction after my first play was tepid, but I saw the glass as half full. I enjoyed my second play more, while a few things bothered me a bit more too. Dan’s observation about the myriad ways to score points is spot on, but it doesn’t feel any more integrated to me than any other game of similar ilk when it comes to lots of points scoring options. Joe’s observation about the last turn is more bothersome for me. The last round turn feels unnecessary and tacked on. The end game should really not be a surprise to anyone. Adding that final round after the end game conditions are met really slows down the pace of play for a series of turns of point counting, min/max analysis, and little fun.

Thoughts of the new TMG version

 

Dale Y:  Yokohama is a challenging game that gives players multiple options on every turn to try to earn victory points.  At first, there are so many options that it can seem overwhelming, but I have found that most of the gamers that I’ve played with get the feel of the game within the first few turns. The setup to each game is different as you deal out the tiles, and this causes you to work on strategy from Turn Zero. Like other Turn Zero games (Dominion, Istanbul, etc.), the player who can most quickly find favorable loops / combination will do better in the game.

It’s a table eater!

There is a lot to think about and do in this game.  It’s the sort of game that you are completely absorbed in as you’re constantly calculating what to do next.  I love the multiple ways to score points, and the game has an increasing tension level because there are so many ways for the game to end –  you have to track a lot of stuff. For me, I tend to just keep my head down and worry about my own engine, and let the cards fall where they may.  But, not everyone is this way, and for those that like to know where everyone stands at all times, the game can be a bit AP prone.

Most of my games have been 4p, and I really enjoy the game in this setup.  The board is crowded, and I like the way that players can block each other. This causes the game to become very tactical as you’re often not able to do exactly what you want to do.  My one 2p game was not as tense – though the board is proportionally smaller, I never really felt like either player was blocking the other.

The new components appear to be a huge upgrade from the Japanese version.  As the component space is reserved for only a single language, everything is easily readable.  The table can definitely look cluttered with all the different components, but the icons on the cards are clear, and I’ll take the cluttered look in return for a game with variable setup that leads to interesting gameplay.  I have the standard version from Tasty Minstrel, and I am very happy with the components for the most part.  The only thing which I wish were better are the Foreign agent tokens. They look a lot alike from across the table.

i find these hard to distinguish from each other

That being said, there is also a deluxified version of the game – one with better meeples, metal coins, and more wood bits in place of cardboard chits.  TMG has done a great job with the details, to the point that the different versions even have different example illustrations – the Deluxified rules even have deluxified illustrations!

deluxified on the left, regular on the right

another example

Well, this is the first and only version of the game that I have played, and I must say that I really love this one except for the final round.  The game is filled with tension and complex choices, and this is quite enjoyable and challenging.  However, with the advance warning of the end game – in that each player knows exactly when his last turn is – the final round can be an excruciating min/max calculation and this does make the game sometimes end on a slightly down note for me.  This doesn’t always happen – but depending on the current game state and the players involved in the game – it is definitely a possibility.

Yokohama is another excellent game which TMG has found and brought to the EN market.  I’ve become a huge fan of their choices, and I am eagerly awaiting news of the next set of games that they plan to do.

 

Mark Jackson (1 play): Here’s the deal with Yokomhama… for me. This is an intricate game of point production with tactical elements – and mechanically it works very well. However, the theme is highly abstracted – enough so that I didn’t feel like I was part of a story that the game was telling. With the length of the game (nearly 3 hours with rule explanation for 4 players), my overall impression was mixed. I’m glad I had a chance to play it – and I wouldn’t refuse to play it again with folks who wanted to play – but it’s not a game that I would ever seek out and/or ask for myself.

 

Doug Garrett (9 plays): Shelley and I LOVE this game. You know when you like a game so much that you leave it set up (or at least don’t put it away completely) because you know that you’re going to play it again and again over the next few days?  That’s Yokohama for us.  Fantastic as a 2-player game, but scales incredibly well.  I agree that the original’s tiny print was problematic, but TMG’s version (whether you were lucky enough to get the pimped-out Kickstarter version or the ‘regular’ version) is just gorgeous.  This is going to be a perennial ‘go-to’ game for us.

A note about the deluxified components – they look awesome – but the wooden pieces are big enough to obstruct your view of various board elements, which can be frustrating.

 

Jay Bloodworth (1 play): A lot of the commentary has mentioned the potential for slow play / analysis paralysis with Yomohama. That’s there, certainly, and my game did have its share of slowish turns, but overall I was impressed at how steadily it clipped along for a game with so many moving parts. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is just a nice alchemy to way the point scoring opportunities are laid out that makes choosing workable short and long term goals in the game relatively easy. That’s not to say those goals will necessarily amount to a winning strategy, but having them be so accessible keeps players from flailing.

Matt C. (1 play)  My single play was dominated by one person who found a winning/overwhelming combination (leave a cube on when activating combined with buy a cube on your turn) early and drove the rest of us into the ground.  He had played once before and the rest of us were playing for the first time.  I went last in the turn order and felt that I was continually one step behind (as if I were last in Settlers but had to take last pick both times.)  I would work towards a goal, only to have the first player pick it up the turn before I could complete it.  Despite all this, I did manage to try to pick up bigger points and could have won the game if I could have ended it on my turn.  However, since everyone got one more round I lost by 20 points or so (still 2nd place) when player 1 cashed in all the points from his point engines.  In a clear case of sour grapes, I appreciate some of what the game is to do, but am still slightly in the dark on how I should have been approaching things differently going last (perhaps our board had a very constrained layout??)  With convincing, I could probably play this again, and I’m sure my opinion would improve.  However, I need to study it to better understand the turn order balancing mechanisms.

 

Greg S.  For me, Yokohama has just about everything I seek in a deeper strategy game:  abundant choices, clever and original mechanisms, opportunity for creative moves, numerous strategic paths  to pursue and explore, and a theme that fits reasonably well.  I also appreciate that the game is not rules-heavy and doesn’t feel like work.  Having all of these features present in a game is a rarity, and Yokohama is one of those rare gems.  For me, it is the best game of the year so far.

 

Joe Huber (now up to 11 plays): I’m continuing to enjoy the game, quite a bit, but I’m now confident that it won’t be an all-time favorite for me – just a game I really enjoy and will continue to play for years.  But – the original Japanese edition.  I’ve not played the new edition, but I’ve watched it played.  Not only is the box more than twice of the size of the original, but I prefer the original artwork and components – other than the technology cards, where the English text is rather small in the original.  Having said that, I’m glad to see the game more readily available to a wide audience, and most folks I know prefer the new edition.

 

Larry (2 plays):  I’ve enjoyed my plays of Yokohama, but my performance in them have led me to question its depth.  I’ve done quite well with what I consider to be fairly simple-minded strategies, which haven’t required much lookahead.  So many people love it that I want to give it additional chances and even if my opinion doesn’t improve, I’ll still consider it a solid game.  But I’m hoping I can find the greatness in the design that other folks have.

 

Dan Blum: My basic opinion hasn’t changed. I agree with Joe that the new edition’s only really improved feature is the all-English set of technology cards; the deluxe components don’t add anything and the new box is too large (the non-deluxe box is smaller than the deluxe one, but still kind of large).

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Lorna, Dan Blum, Joe H., Doug G., Jay B., Greg S.
  • I like it. Craig M., Dale Y, Craig V, Larry
  • Neutral. Mark J, Matt C.
  • Not for me…

 

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dale Yu: Yokohama Review (TMG edition)

  1. I just started playing Yokohama recently, and on the deluxe TMG edition. I acknowledge the box is big, but that isn’t a consideration for me. The deluxe components are very nice. While I see the potential for slow games, I recently played a brisk 2p game, clocking in at under 1 hour. 4p games will definitely be longer, and I might avoid suggesting it to some AP-prone players I know. I am really happy with Yokohama, and appreciate the replayability features designed into the game.

  2. Pingback: Dale Yu: Yokohama Review (TMG edition) – JapanBiZZ

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