Yokohama: An Exceedingly Refined Eurogame With A Japanese Twist

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Yokohama used to be the center for trade for Japan with ships from foreign lands filling every dock searching for fish, silks, and other wares that can only found there. And here you are, the president of your corporation rushing around the city, filling out orders and flexing your business muscles with your assistants in tow. To be the best in the business of business, you’ll need to walk that thin line between being everywhere at once and showing your full strength when you need it. Yokohama, the game, pits players against each other as you dash around a city, collecting the resources you need, and finding the best deals for points.

Why are you just standing there?! We need fish and silk before the Spanish ships sail.

Designed by Hisashi Hiyashi ( Trains, Sail to India), Yokohama is a pristine efficiency game about trading goods and earning points. While it doesn’t tread new thematic ground, the game is mechanically quite exciting and provides the depth and interactivity that allows for great play. Firmly in the Eurogame style, this title nevertheless forces both long-term strategy and short-term tactics, while giving plenty of opportunities to interfere with your opponents.

Each player begins with a President and a few Assistants in hand. More Assistants and buildings are available at the warehouse but must be acquired during gameplay before they can be used. The board is an assortment of tiles representing various actions and randomly set out in a pyramid shape.

On their turn, a player begins by placing up to three Assistants on different tiles or two assistants on the same location. Then, they must move their President to a new tile. You can move as far as you want to a new tile so long as each tile on your chosen path contains an Assistant. In that way, Assistants provide you with mobility and you want to spread them out onto as many tiles as possible. Wherever your President ends up, you take that action. And, typically, that action is more powerful the more Assistants you have there – which makes you want to group Assistants onto preferred tiles.

But, once you take an action, you remove all Assistants from that tile, forcing you to build up again. The result is an intricate and extremely enjoyable push and pull between placing and using your Assistants. It’s also critical to plan out your actions. Unlike a typical worker placement game, you can’t just choose any action you want. You have to be able to move their legitimately, and that means ensuring you have a path of Assistants.

But it’s not just about planning for yourself in a sort of multi-player solitaire. Instead, there are ways to interfere with the other players. You can’t move to a space occupied by someone else’s President. So by taking the “Get Silk” space, for example, you are preventing everyone else from going there – at least until you move away next turn. Additionally, if a player’s path moves through another President, they have to pay a coin to that player. This can be a way to get funding between turns and make actions just a little too expensive for opponents.

The system is solid and also provides a wide variety of available strategies. The Dock allows you to collect orders. The orders specify certain amounts of goods and, if you pick them all up, you get points and other benefits. Meanwhile, the Laboratory has several cards representing various power ups and special abilities. With sufficient power at the Laboratory, you can acquire the best of them and use them to hold an advantage over your rivals. There is also the Church where you can donate time and goods for points or the Customs space where you can turn in Imported Goods – a kind of super currency – for huge points. Both the Church and the Customs, though, are first come, first served. So if you plan to gain points that way (and you should), you need to rush.

This means that despite its underlying euro-y focus, you’ll often feel compelled to discard efficiency and move quickly toward particular actions. And it’s not just the Church or Customs. Each space receives a randomized building card that provides bonuses for building a Shop or Trading Post. Only one Trading Post can be built on each card, and there are different rewards for the Shops. So getting there first can be a huge boon and deprive the other players of that opportunity.

While Yokohama has a number of randomized elements (cards, board spaces, building sites, etc.), the replay value doesn’t come from the randomization alone. Instead, it offers solid strategic gameplay and wide avenues for strategy. While you’ll likely do a little bit of everything, the game has a different feel depending on whether you focus on contracts or Customs points. Whether you are pursuing a building strategy or just trying to snipe some good spots from your opponents. That variety of strategy, more so than the variety of setup, makes it easy to return to Yokohama and try something new.

Despite bringing substantial depth, this title does not outstay its welcome. In fact, it’s easy for the game end to sneak up on you. It can be ended in a variety of ways that cater to a number of different strategies. If you aren’t careful, an opponent will trigger the ending before you are ready for it. As the game progresses, this tension starts to develop where you might want to engage in the same long-term plans for maximum points, but as the end nears you need to shift to more near-term goals.

For the Eurogamer who loves maximization, efficiency, and reasonable play time, Yokahama is a hard one to beat.  And one of the best of the year so far.

What are your favorite new games?  Tell us about it in the comments.

All Image Credits: GeekInsight

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