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YAMATAI is a 2-4 player board game for 13 year olds upwards. It is published by DAYS of WONDER from the designers Bruno Cathala & Marc Paquien. It's enjoyable artwork is from the imagination and craft of artist Jérémie Fleury. Games last between an hour and two hours once you know the rules and have more than a passing knowledge of the card effects. You should be able to find YAMATAI in Your Local Game Store at a price of around £40.00


The theme behind YAMATAI is as old as the hills (in loose boardgame terms). In this game it is Queen Himiko who has tasked the builders in her Kingdom to create the prestigious City of Yamatai, making it the Jewel of the Archipelago. Seeing as this is a competition for all the builders in her Kingdom and she is tasking them all to build the city, this means she is going to end up with a heck of a lot of cities called Yamatai. If they were tasked to prove they could build the best city before actually being named the top builder and given the job of creating Yamatai it would make more sense, but then, as I often say, who really plays the game according to the theme ? Most of us just read the rules, set the game up according to them and set to playing. In YAMATAI there are several ways for the game to be won and similarly several ways in which it can be brought to its end. 


The Board is made up of over 30 small islands, some of which are (randomly) determined to be Mountains, others are plain and the majority with randomly distributed Culture Tokens, of which there are seven different types (colour coded) including the Mountain Culture Tokens. The components, of which there are many, are of durable card tiles in various shapes that are all beautifully artistic or with colour identification designs, shaped wood; Meeples, Boats, Buildings (houses), and special Prestige buildings Arches (Torii),and Palaces. The back page (inner) and back page of the Rules contain two appendices that it would have been nice to have more than one copy of as they explain the various Fleets (by number 1-10) and the 18 possible Specialists.Otherwise the Rules are well laid out and easy to understand and follow, making it playable quite soon after unboxing.

To Win you need to get the most Prestige points and you can gain these by hiring specialists to aid you, constructing "standard" (player's own) buildings - linking them orthogonally on adjacent islands; linked across the board being better than dotting them all over the place - and spending your money wisely, knowing that certain amounts of it left when the game ends will bring you Bonus Prestige points. The game ends on the Round when at least one player places their last Standard Building; at least one colour of Boat has been exhausted from supply, the Specialist Track cannot be refilled at the start of a new Round or the Building Row cannot be replenished in preparation for the next Round.


Each Round is played in turns with the players completing their turn before it passing on to the next player. The order of play is according to the position of the player's meeples on the Fleet Track; this play being decided randomly for the first Round and afterwards determined by the number on the Fleet Tiles chosen. There are FIVE Actions available to each player on their turn. The first; Choose a Fleet Tile, is mandatory. The player takes a Fleet tile, receives the Ships shown on it from the game reserve, and can use the Bonus Action of the tile any time during their current turn; Fleet tiles are returned to supply at the end of each Round. The second Action is Trade and this is optional - players can buy or sell a boat. The colour of each boat shows what resource it carries and the players personal boards shows the value of each by colour; buying and selling being the same price, Green Boats are bought or sold for 1 coin, Red Boats are bought and sold for 4 coins, Gold Boats cannot be bought or sold unless the player owns a Specialist who has this ability.

Part three of a player's turn is split into two parts A and B, though I'm not sure why because Part A is optional - placing boats on the sea-spaces marked on the board (according to the rules of placing) - whilst Part B is Mandatory if Possible (building Standard or Prestige buildings or collecting Culture Tokens), not too sure why 3A isn't just 3 and 3B isn't 4. Action 4 is mandatory and requires you place the boats you hold onto your personal board or discard them from the game if you are over your harbour limit.  Last is Part 5 which again is optional; players can gain a Specialist from the display if they can pay either two of the same Culture Tokens or three all-different Culture Tokens.


There isn't a whole lot of random occurrences during play but there are enough to ensure that pre-planning is virtually impossible, mainly because if you are going last in a four player game particularly the options and choices available to you are less, often forcing you to take another direction from that which you were hoping to take. Funnily enough though, it is very rare that the player going last isn't able to do anything useful to themselves, plus because the slightly more advantageous Fleet cards have the higher Fleet numbers which mean they are placed further along the Fleet/Turn Track when chosen and used. After all players have had a full turn the game is reset, slightly differently from the original first-round setup, mainly this being money being added as an inducement to hire on the Specialist - this cash accumulates if the Specialist isn't chosen.


When the game ends, by whichever of the possibilities, Prestige Points are added up for each player. 1 for every 5 Coins (possibly for 3 coins if you have the correct Specialist), 1 for every Prestige Token you have collected (one way of collecting these is building on a Mountain or constructing Prestige Buildings). You also get Prestige Points for buildings you have built and Specialists you have bought. You lose Prestige Points for any building you reserved and didn't build and for having unused Boats on your personal board (aka Player Mat).

There are some serious decisions to make when playing Yamatai. You have to decide which Fleet tile to take knowing that it will decide what Boats are available to you and the order you will play in next turn as well as whether to use its special ability. Then there is the decision as to whether and where to place the Boats you obtain each turn, knowing that unless you have a Specialist that gives you extra Harbours you can only store one Boat on your Player Mat. If you place your Boats on the board there are the rules to follow. The first Boat placed by a player each Turn has to be on an empty sea-entrance space (these are limited) or next to another Boat of the same colour, Boats placed after the first Boat can be placed anywhere on the board as long as they continue a sea-line (ie no spaces between boats). So for example you select the Fleet tile that gives you 2 boats, a Green and a Brown, has the ability to let you swap two Culture Tokens from two islands and has a 6 as its Turn order number. You collect the boats from supply and place them on your mat. 


You can sell one of them if you wish (the Green will give you 1 coin, the Brown 2 coins) or you can spend some of your money to buy another boat (any colour except Gold unless you have a Specialist that allows Gold trading). You look at the board and see that if you place your Brown boat next to an already played Brown boat and your Green boat next to it you have formed a chain of boats around (not necessarily totally surrounding) an island that is empty of a Culture Token. However your just placed Boats are also touching two other islands each of which has a Culture Token on it. In the display of Buildings there is one that requires 2 Brown Boats and 1 Green boat as resources for building it and it is worth 2 PPs to you at the end of the game. You could build it and place one of your personal buildings on the island or you could take the 2 Culture tokens that your just placed boats are touching the islands they are on (knowing that you can take one Culture token per boat placed). Remembering that your special ability of the Fleet is to swap two Culture tokens over you could use it to ensure that both the Culture tokens you collect are the same colour and then on part 5 of your turn you could spend those two identical Culture tokens and buy one of the Specialists available from the display. Of course if you take the Culture tokens you cannot also build and if by not building you leave a sea space around the empty island it means that another player may be able to place a boat there and build on the island, because it only matters that you have visited the island (placed a boat adjacent to it) and that there are the required resources for building, they need not be resources you have placed. So by taking Culture tokens you are opening islands for other players to build on, but by not taking the Culture tokens you could be leaving them for other players to collect and use. 


The thing it took me a little while, during my first game, to get my head around was the leaving an island open for another player to claim - I hate helping other players unless it is a cooperative game, and then I'm not always the most helpful of players. Once I realised that other players were going to have to leave islands for me to build on, because they also needed to collect Culture tokens to gain Specialist assistance, then I was fine with it. Myself and indeed the two groups I have played YAMATAI with so far have all found it a thoroughly enjoyable game. Although the board remains the same the randomly positioned Culture Tokens and the displays of Building tiles and Specialists ensures that there is never any going-through-the-motions about the gameplay. Also the different possible endings and variety of scoring possibilities keep the players on their toes and thinking about the decisions they have to make.

Despite all of the above YAMATAI still plays in under 90 minutes, making it an ideal board game for players who like a challenge that is fun as well as thoughtful.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015