Posted by: gschloesser | September 17, 2011

Yin Yang – Review

Design by:  Reiner Knizia
Published by:  Gryphon Games
2 – 5 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

NOTE:  Portions of this review have been adapted from my previous review of Drahtseilakt.

The “Mr. Retread” of designers has struck again.  Reiner Knizia is a master of having his designs republished with different names over and over again.  Often, other than the name, the games remain unchanged with each additional version.  Sometimes, however, very minor changes are made, but the pedigree of the new game remains unmistakable.

Yin Yang is the latest in this long line of reinvented games.  Its grandfather is Drahtseilakt, which was published by ASS back in 1999.  This was followed by the re-themed Relationship Tightrope from UberPlay.  Now, the game has once again been republished by Gryphon Games as Yin Yang (Fifty Fifty in certain countries), albeit in a more basic and watered-down version.  I’m not sure why the game had to be simplified, as the original version was easy enough to learn and play.

The game consists of sixty cards and an assortment of Yin and Yang tokens, all packed in a nice, compact tin.  Fifty cards – numbered 1 – 50 – comprise the deck, while the remaining ten are the score cards.  Score cards depict both Yin (white) and Yang (black) numbers, ranging from 1 – 7.

Players are each dealt nine cards, and the top card of the scoring deck is revealed.

In clockwise order, each player plays one card face-up to the trick.  The player playing the highest card to the “trick” receives the indicated number of Yang tokens, while the player playing the lowest valued card receives the indicated number of Yin tokens.  The idea, however, is not to collect tokens.  Rather, the goal is to finish the hand without any tokens, thereby achieving perfect balance.

When a player takes tokens of one type, he can collect opposite tokens to cancel those previously taken.  The player has struck a balance. For example, if Rhonda takes six Yin tokens in one trick and subsequently takes four Yang tokens, she returns four each, leaving her with two Yin tokens.  The idea is to either avoid collecting tokens throughout the entire hand – something very difficult – or collect tokens in the precise combination to completely cancel each other (achieve perfect balance) – or at least as close as possible.  The advice that applies is the fewer the tokens in one’s possession at game’s end, the better.

At the conclusion of a hand, players total the number of tokens they have in their possession, with the lowest score being best.  If a player manages to collect zero tokens, all other players must add two points to their score.  A number of hands equal to the number of players are held, and the player with the lowest cumulative score being victorious.

The game forces players to cleverly manage their cards so as to avoid taking tokens. Sometimes, however, a player will want to take tokens, especially if he had previously collected some of the opposite color. There are only a few combination of Yin / Yang numbers in the score deck, it is difficult to cancel all previously collected tokens by winning just one trick.  Usually, you have to win two or more tricks to cancel or minimize your collected tokens.  Plus, one of the ten scoring cards will not surface during a hand, so there is no guaranty that you can hold out for that one perfect scoring card.  So while it is important to remember which cards have already been revealed in a round, there is no guaranty the card you are seeking will surface.

The game can be insidious as you attempt to avoid collecting tokens and force your opponents to take them. Or, as mentioned, many times you find yourself trying to collect tokens to offset previously collected ones. This is sometimes easy, but only IF no one else is attempting to collect those same tokens. Further, as each hand is played, you have fewer and fewer cards in your hand, so your choices become increasingly limited. Hand management is critical.

The player playing the highest card in a trick leads the next trick. Playing first and second is the least desirable positions to be in, as it allows everyone else to attempt to play between these two values if they wish to avoid taking any of the tokens that round, or go over or under if they are attempting to grab them. So, although you might need to grab those Yang tokens to offset a previous acquisition, you also must consider the dangers of being forced to lead the following trick. Careful hand management is essential to play well and score low!

Throughout the game, you have those tough little decisions that have to be made. The natural inclination is to attempt to avoid taking any rods for as long as possible. However, this may not always be the best strategy, especially if you have a hand with an abundance of high and/or low cards. You really have to adapt your strategies to the cards you are dealt.

The main change in Yin Yang versus its predecessors is the scoring cards.  The combination is different, and the cards that cancel one side of a scoring card have been eliminated.  I honestly prefer the original, as it requires more planning and seems to have more unexpected occurrences that force players to adapt their plans and scramble to achieve balance.  Nothing present in the original would make it too difficult for casual gamers or family members to learn and play competently.  I’m surprised the game was simplified even further in this new version.

There are two variants included in the rules.  One deals each player ten cards, but nine tricks are still conducted.  This gives players a bit more flexibility in planning their strategy for the hand.  The second variant adds a rule back from the original game.  If a player manages to take zero tokens in a hand, he can cancel a score from a previous round.  This gives players the ability to eliminate a hefty score from a previous round, perhaps bringing them back into contention.  I especially enjoy this last variant and would recommend it be included in future plays.

I have always enjoyed Drahtseilakt, and was happy to see it be published again when the Relationship Tightrope version was released.  While I’m disappointed that the decision was made to simplify the system in this latest version, I am happy that it is once again available.  The game isn’t difficult to learn or play, but it does present the players with some interesting hand management decisions.  It works wonderfully as a filler for experienced gamers, and is a great choice to play with families and friends.

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