Dale Yu: Review of Yak


  • Designer: Michael Luu
  • Publisher: Pretzel Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Pretzel Games

In Yak, the village elder has given you (and others) the task of constructing a great stone tower to guide the merchants and their yaks in the Himalayas. Each turn, a yak pulls its cart into your village. Will you find stones for your tower, or food for your reserves? Or will you need to visit the market to find what you need?

Over the course of the game, each player builds their own stone tower by acquiring stones from visiting merchants. You start the game with one good of each type (meat, milk, bread) and three cards in hand: build, restock, and market. Each of these cards corresponds to a different game action.

Three or four carts being pulled by yaks start on the game board, with each player having one cart in front of them and each cart containing three stones and some food. Each cart has a restriction on it, e.g., “no bread” but one which can carry all of the types.  The yaks should all be pointing the same way (facing left to start the game).

At the start of each round, players secretly and simultaneously choose one of their 3 cards and place it face-down. Starting with whoever holds the baby yak token, players then take their turns in order by revealing their card. If you played:

  • Build: Spend 1-5 food tokens, placing them in the cart in front of you, to buy 1-3 stones from that cart. You must follow the restriction on that cart. If you acquire crystal stones, you must pay one extra food for each such stone. Place the stones in your tower, with all stones after your first needing to touch a previously played stone. Your tower is at most five stones wide, and maxing out with one fewer stone than the layer beneath it.
  • Restock: Take all the food of one type from the cart in front of you and add it to your reserves up to your limit of eight items of food. Then draw a stone from the quarry bag and place it in the cart. (A cart can hold at most four stones.)
  • Market: Take two food items of your choice from the market, which starts with two foods of each type and which is refilled only when a cart exceeds its nine-food limit during a build action. Then draw three stones from the bag, place one in a cart of your choice, then return the other two to the bag.

Stones come in eight colors, and there are 8 per color in the bag. Eight crystal stones are also in the bag, along with five fog stones. Whenever fog stones are drawn, all players reverse the direction of all the carts, then the active player sets the fog aside and draws replacement stones, with carts reversing again should fog be drawn anew. Once the right number of non-fog stones have been drawn, place the fog stones on the mountain track. This track will be filled twice during the game, after which only a single fog will remain in the bag, and at that time, the yaks will reverse direction each time that last fog stone is drawn.

To end a round, return your chosen card to your hand, move the yak carts one space in the direction they face, then pass the baby yak clockwise. Continue playing rounds until someone completes the fourth level of their tower (14 stones). Complete that round, play one additional round, then score the towers. A crystal stone can be a color of your choice, but each crystal in your tower must be a different color.   If you continue to build, you finish by making a column of single stones as high as you can go.

You score points (1) for each group of two or more stones (e.g., a group of six is worth 16 points), (2) for the number of groups of at least two or more stones, (3) for individual stones (only 1 point each), (4) for triggering the end of the game, and (5) for having the most remaining food.  This is all easily summarized on the scoring sheet.  The player with the most points is the winner. Ties broken in favor of the player with the fewest stones in their tower.

My thoughts on the game

Yak is a light-ish game where players try to manage their resources to efficiently gather food and then in turn spend those food tokens wisely to get stones in the right colors.  Timing is important given the movement of the carts.  The movement is somewhat predictable, but I assure you that the fog cubes will disrupt your plans on a couple of occasions each game!

So, you try to plan your actions the best you can – feeling more certain about your options when you are last in turn order as you’ll go first next round, and there is the least chance of fog stones coming along and reversing the direction of the yaks.  The food tokens cycle through the carts to your player mat and then back into another cart.  Stones are added to the board with just about every non-stone buying action.  The carts could stand to be slightly bigger, mostly I wish there was enough space to hold 4 stones in the back area where they seem to want to be…

The rules for fog are a little fiddly – as you need 3 fogs to trigger the first reset, then 4 fogs, then 1 fog thereafter.  I’m guessing that this keeps the relative odds of drawing a fog tile appropriate for the phase of the game…  and, as the game moves to the end, that one remaining fog gets drawn more and more often as the number of stones in the bag gradually declines.  It ends up working fine, but it feels like a lot of rules for this mechanism.

The components include very solid blocks.  It is a nice visual to watch your tower build up from the group.  With ten different colors, the different shades mostly distinct from each other, though there are a couple of pairs of colors that unfortunately look alike until you get them right next to each other.  This is sometimes problematic as the scoring rewards adjacent blocks of the same area which are the same color; so it sucks if you end up drafting a block thinking it is one color but it turns out to be some similar hue. 

The other thing to keep an eye out for are the light blue crystal blocks.  The color is thematic, but my mind kept mixing up the light blue for a regular color.  For me, maybe it would have been easier for the wild to be white or black?  In any event, just train your brain to think of the light blue as wild.  Also, make sure that everyone gets the somewhat fiddly rules about the usage of the wild blocks.  You can’t have two wilds in a single area.

Despite those issues, the building of the towers is where the game is fun.  It is a definite challenge to get the right color stones as you are building.  As you have to build the stones as you collect them, you have to plan ahead.  And the limit of 8 food tokens at a time doesn’t allow you to stall that long waiting for the right color stone to come your way.  In any event, as the other players are likely furiously building their tower, you need to keep up or else the game will end before you have time to spend those food to get more blocks into your own tower.

In Yak, come for the interesting spatial puzzle involved in building your tower. Stay for the cute Yak figures.  This is a nice game, just above the family level (due to some of the complicated fog rules) that will work as a nice superfiller for my usual game group.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale, John P
  • Neutral. Steph
  • Not for me…

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.
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