I love games that require me to do somewhat of a paradigm shift when I play them. What I mean by that is that I like games that use tried and true familiar mechanics, like worker placement and set collection, but then require you to use them differently than you would in other designs. Yokohama is such a game and I will share with you why I think that.
Designed by relative newcomer Hisashi Hayashi, Yokohama was released in Japan a year ago and has finally been imported into the States by Tasty Minstrel Games for us English speaking audiences. There are two versions of the game that are out there. One being the standard fare version, which I own and am reviewing, while the other is an uber deluxified edition, which includes all wooden components, metal coins and really cool wooden goods in the shape of fish, copper ingots, tea leaves and bundles of silk. Remember, my version didn’t include these components but I wanted to show them to you as they are drool worthy! I really enjoy a game that both plays well and looks great, and even without the upgraded wooden bits, Yokohama is a fox! The other components, including the location tiles, various player boards and score track are printed on really thick cardboard stock and the colors in this game are just fantastic. Talk about eye candy! This is one game that I believe is safe to judge by its cover and the components, as when it’s looks are coupled with the great game play and unique use of familiar mechanics, this game is a keeper!
What is Yokohama About?
The game play in Yokohama is very easy to pickup but is not simple! There are many elements that you must be focused on in order to do well in the game, including set collection of the various technologies that offer benefits but also are worth points, efficient route building so you don’t waste your precious turns and can maximize the utility and benefit you gain from each movement and planning for end game scoring. Players will start their turns by first placing little colored wooden cubes, which represent your hired assistants, in various Area Boards on the modular board. The rules governing placement are pretty simple and will determine what you can do that turn. You can either place three cubes on different Area Boards, or you can place two on the same Board. The players then follow that up with a second placement, where they will place their President and move him through any number of Area Boards that have at least one of your assistants on them, stopping on a Board of your choosing. There, the President gets to perform the action printed on that Board. These actions usually revolve around the player taking money or goods from the location (fish at the Fishing Ground, silk at the Silk Mill and copper ingots at the Copper Mine), adding additional assistants to your workforce or selecting cards. These actions will be improved based on the number of assistants that are present at the Board that the President is taking the action from as well as whether there is a Shop or a Trading House of your color there. After the action is taken and goods are accounted for, players will simply take the poor tired workers back to their supply where they will await future placement and activation by the President. That’s it! You turn is now over and it moves to your opponents turn to place and activate his assistants. This is the element that caused my paradigm shift. Usually, when you place out cubes in a worker placement game, those are the areas where you will be taking your actions from. But, not in Yokohama. Think of your assistants as your infrastructure that simply connect your trade network to the various goods and resources that you need access too. These workers don’t allow you to take the actions, but they provide you the means to get to those actions and also improve the level of benefit gained when those actions are taken. This will take a little thought to get used to but is a really refreshing take on a very used mechanic.
Another really great aspect of the design is the use of a modular board. The board is not static and is created each game using various tiles that represent Area Boards that merchants will need to visit to obtain goods, money and technologies. The Area Boards are laid out randomly at the start of each game, and the Boards used scale based on the number of players in the game. For example, when playing with 3 players, you will add a few Area Boards to the mix including a second Fishing Grounds, the Docks, Chinatown and the Canal (which was actually a really neat tile that changed how you move). This use of a modular board gives variety to each play as the locations of the various Area Boards will change and player’s strategy must also change in the way they build their routes.
I have talked about how you move and set up your President to take actions to gain goods, cards and money but also wanted to quickly cover some of the other major elements of the game including fulfilling orders, meeting objectives and the use of foreign agents. Before and after your turn you have the opportunity to complete any objectives that you have met all the requirements for, ship orders for which you have gathered the required goods for, and use foreign agents, which typically give you an extra turn and allow you to collect resources from an Area Board where you have assistants. Each of these items have country icons on the cards and once you have finished or obtained a matching set of the same country, you will gain a foreign agent token for that country. These tokens can be used at any time during the game to take an additional placement, movement of your President and collection action and can be extremely powerful when used properly. The tokens also provide end game points for each different icon that you have collected. For example, 5 different icons will score you 12 points while having only 3 will only score 4 points. This scoring is not overly important and doesn’t require you to necessarily score the 12 points but every last point counts and this is simply one additional way to score.
I also was really taken by the different Management Boards as they provide players with the opportunity to score additional points based on various elements. These Management Boards include the Church, which gives points for different goods that are donated generating a faith value, the Customs, where you trade in a number of Imports to score points and gain benefits, and the slightly different areas of the Laboratory Management Board and the Docks Management Board where you will collect new technologies and pick up new contract order cards based on a priority system of how many points you scored from the Area Boards linked with them. These different boards must be at watched so that one player doesn’t run away with them. In my opinion, each players need to score at least something from each of these areas in order to be in the game at the end for as you can see, the Church Management Board alone can be the source of up to 58 points, not to mention, the player with the most assistants appearing on this board at the end of the game will get an additional 6 points while 2nd place wills score 3 points.
We really enjoyed our plays of Yokohama (I have played both 2 player and 3 player games but have yet to play a four player game). The beauty of the game is that it is fairly simple and straightforward. Prior to playing, knowing that it is a game from Japan, I was a little worried that the rules would not be translated well and it would cause confusion and difficulty but it wasn’t too bad. I will share that in our first play, we totally misunderstood the game end condition which is tied to the number of spaces covered up on the various Management Boards. We misinterpreted this as the number of assistants and consequently our first game ended very prematurely, which we thought was a pretty significant design flaw. But after consulting the BGG forums and rereading the rules and looking closer at the Board, we figured it out and corrected the problem. The game can be taught very quickly yet there is a lot of depth to it. The various actions and areas that players can use and visit are numerous and offer many different paths to victory. My personal favorite part is the building of your networks or paths of assistants to allow for freedom of movement around the board. If you don’t plan well, you will find your President stuck in the middle of nowhere with few options. But, with some careful planning, and purposeful placement of your scarce assistants, you will find that the true point of the game is to be efficient. This is a wonderful thematic element of the game as the Japanese are famous for their efficiency. Every heard of Kaizen?!? You must plan ahead in this game, not just for your current turn, but for 2-3 turns in the future in order to succeed. Once we figured this aspect out, our scores quickly reached the middle 100’s whereas during our first few plays we were just barely cracking 100 points. We also discovered the power in the Technology Cards later in our plays as these cards simply allow you to break the rules of the game and take actions, or more precisely, improve your actions.
Summary and Final Thoughts
My group really enjoys deeper involved games and when we first looked at Yokohama, some had their doubts that it would offer much depth. But, after several plays, and a chance to explore the various strategies and scoring opportunities, I think that the opinion has changed and I for one think this game will have a place in my collection. The game has some really strong aspects in its design, and causes you to look at familiar mechanics differently. I like this and really enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction that I got from the game as there are many ways to score, many paths to victory and a variety of ways to get there. We also loved the modular board and love that strategies will change each game, based on where certain Area Boards are located. For example, if the Church Management Board, which is one of my more favorite boards to manipulate and take advantage of, is located in the very corner of the board, it gives me pause to consider a different strategy and path to victory as I simply cannot build a truly reliable and efficient network to get me there over and over. While the deluxe version looks really awesome, you don’t need it to realize the greatness in this game. It looks great and it plays great, so take that to the bank.
If you want a closer look at the components from my version of the game, check out our unboxing video here.