Posted by: gschloesser | December 5, 2013


Designed by:  Wolf Plancke and Thomas Vande Ginste
Published by:  Eggertspiele & Pegasus Spiele
2 – 5 Players, 2 ½ – 3 hours
Reviewed by:  Greg J. Schloesser 


NOTE:  This review first appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Few games in recent years have captivated me as much as Yedo by first-time designers Wolf Plancke and Thomas Vande Ginste.  This talented design team has managed to combine the best of European game mechanisms with the rich theme and atmosphere of American style games, creating a game that is thoroughly engaging and dripping with theme.  In spite of its relatively long playing time of three hours or more, it is a game that I am still eager to play again and again.

The game is set in early 17th century Japan.  Players represent clan leaders attempting to appease and impress s the new Shogun.  There are numerous ways to accomplish this task, the main one being the completion of various missions and tasks, most of which require deeds of a questionable and often downright evil nature.  Theft, kidnapping, intrigue and even assassinations are all fair game in the quest for fame, power and prestige.

At first glance, the large board appears to be quite confusing.  After a bit of examination, however, it is actually easy to decipher.  The center of the board depicts seven districts of Yedo (modern day Tokyo) arranged in a Trivial Pursuit pie pattern.  Each district has a unique color and symbol which is replicated on appropriate cards for easy identification.  Players will place their disciples into these districts in order to execute the special powers they convey and to successfully complete missions.  Located along the top and right side of the board are the various items that are available for acquisition during the bidding round during each turn.  Aside from a few special ability icons in the districts that are oddly placed, everything is actually laid-out quite well and the icons are easy to understand.

Players begin the game with two disciples, an action card, four mission cards and a handful of “Mon”, which is the game’s currency.  Additional starting items are gained from a selected “Favor of the Emperor” card.  These items are placed on or beside the player’s Clan House board, which also contains space for annexes and geishas acquired during the game.  It is important to note that there are strict limits to the number of items a player can possess in each category.  This requires the player to carefully manage all of these items and also prevents the hoarding of items, which would make the completion of missions significantly easier.  The board also depicts one of the best sequence-of-play charts I have ever seen in a game.

Each turn, players bid to acquire various assets that will help them in their quest to acquire prestige.  Available items include weapons, new disciples, Yedo clan housebonus cards (which grant prestige at game’s end if the conditions are met), action cards, annexes, mission cards and even geishas.  Many of these items are required to complete missions, which are at the heart of the game.  Bidding is conducted in a quick, once-around-the-table method, with the player opening the auction having the last opportunity to trump the highest bidder.  A player may only win one auction, so each player has the opportunity to acquire one item.  All is not lost for a the player who does not get what he desires, as the districts do provide the opportunity to acquire needed items if the player plans wisely.  A player may opt out of the auction in order to receive three Mon, which is sometime necessary as money can be extremely tight.

What is most likely the most controversial aspect of the game—events—follows the bidding phase.  Before the dreaded event card is revealed, however, the weapons available at the market are adjusted.  Depending upon the weapons purchased the previous round, some of the weapons may be removed and others slid over to the less expensive slots.  This allows players to see which weapons are available during the rest of the turn.  Note, however, that this does not happen until after the bidding phase is completed, so players must exercise their bidding choices without perfect knowledge of the weapons market.

After this is accomplished, the top event card is revealed.  Events can be nasty…very nasty.  Earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis…Japan is not a safe place!  These events can cost the player money, disciples and even a previously acquired annex.  Some of the most irritating events, however, are those that close districts for the duration of the turn.  This forces players to readjust their plans as they may not be able to acquire the items they desire or complete a mission.  Some folks have complained vehemently about this, claiming that these events are too burdensome.  I disagree.  While they most certainly can upset one’s plans and be quite annoying, there usually are ways to mitigate their effects.   By properly placing a disciple, a player can exercise “foresight” and look at the top three event cards.  Thus, he will know what is coming and can plan accordingly.  Another effective method is to be actively working on several missions at one time.  So, if the completion of one is delayed by an event, the player can work on the other one.  So, while the events can be quite powerful and delay one’s plans, I truly believe they add nice flavor and force players to adjust their plans and actions.

During the assignment phase, players will place their disciples into the districts or onto annexes they have previously acquired.  Each of the seven districts offers players the opportunity to acquire certain items or take certain actions.

Harbor District:  The player three choices:  convert to Christianity and receive charity from the church (usually three Mon), buy luxury goods and earn victory points (1 or 3 points), or exercise foresight by examining the top three cards in the bonus deck, arranging them as desired.

Temple District:  The player can receive a blessing (taking one of the blessing tokens), examine and rearrange the top three cards of any of the four mission decks, or examine the top three cards of the event deck.  Blessings are needed to fulfill particular missions, but can also be used to mitigate the effects of certain events.

Market District:  The player may purchase a weapon from the five available or sell a bonus or action card for two Mon.  There are eight different types of weapons and many missions will require the ownership of specific types.

Red Light District:  The player may recruit (purchase) a Geisha or purchase an action card.  Geishas are needed in order to fulfill certain missions.

Tavern District:  The player may construct an annex (four different types are available) or examine and rearrange the top three weapons tiles.  There are four different types of annexes, each of which grants the player a specific ability or benefit.  Further, many missions require the ownership of specific annexes in order to be fulfilled.

Gates District:  The player may recruit (purchase) a new disciple, surrender victory points for money, or examine and rearrange the top three cards in the action deck.  Acquiring more disciples gives the player more actions and more flexibility.

Castle District:  The player may visit the Shogun (earning a prestige point), visit the Bakufu and gain a new mission card, or relax at the Bower and rearrange the turn order.

Each district has limited space for disciples—usually two or three slots—so there is often considerable tension in deciding where and when to place a disciple.  It is quite possible to get shut-out of a desired district if all spaces are filled.  This increases in likelihood as players recruit more disciples.  This is why manipulating the turn order is important; it also highlights the importance of working on multiple objectives at once.

Note that player do not execute the actions of the districts or annexes when placing their disciples; this comes later.  Prior to taking the actions, the watch executes its patrol.  The watch patrol moves one space clockwise or counter-clockwise, depending upon the color of the patrol, which usually changes frequently during the course of the game.  In turn order, players have the opportunity to influence the movement of the patrol by playing specific action cards.  After all cards have been played and the patrol moved, any disciples located in the district where the patrol stops are arrested and returned to the reserve.  Players must once again recruit them in order to gain their services.  Each player begins the game with one blackmail card, which can be used to avoid an arrest.  Certain action cards can also be used to prevent an arrest, so searching for these in the action card deck is usually worthwhile.

Players must exercise constant vigilance in regards to the patrol’s possible movement.  Losing a disciple, as well as the actions they were going to perform, can be quite harmful.  It is easy to forget about the patrol and place a disciple into a district where the patrol will likely move.  Thus, great care should be exercised when placing one’s disciples.

Following the watch patrol movement, any players with disciples in the market and/or tavern may trade certain items.  While this potentially gives players added flexibility, in reality very few trades are actually conducted.  Most players need the items they possess, so trades occur only occasionally.

Each turn ends with the action phase, wherein players take turns removing a disciple from a district and performing an action associated with that district or completing a mission.  I have already described the districts’ actions, so I’ll concentrate on completing missions.

As mentioned earlier, completing missions is at the heart of the game and is vital to achieving victory.  There are four difficulty levels of missions and numerous categories (theft, assassination, warfare, espionage, etc.)  In addition to some very entertaining flavor text, each oversized mission card is divided into two sections:  basic and bonus.  Each section graphically depicts the items necessary to complete that section of the mission, as well as the districts in which a player must position disciples.   A player must possess all of the indicated items, have disciples present in the indicated districts and, in some cases, pay the specified amount of money.  In the vast majority of cases, the items are maintained and not discarded.  If all of these conditions are satisfied, the player removes a disciple from one of the indicated districts and collects the rewards listed.  If he also meets the requirements listed under the bonus section, he earns those rewards as well.  Rewards typically include money, prestige points, items and/or cards.  While the less difficult mission cards are easier to complete, they usually primarily provide money, a much-needed asset.  The more difficult cards provide greater rewards, but as one would expect, have considerably more stringent requirements.  It often takes multiple turns to properly plan for their fulfillment.  Players begin the game with four mission cards of mixed difficulty and are able to acquire new cards during the game by various methods.  Lower difficulty cards are very beneficial in supplying a steady supply of cash, while the more difficult cards are vital for earning prestige points.  Players should keep a steady flow of mission cards of all categories flowing into their hands.  However, there is a strict limit of four incomplete mission cards in a player’s hand, so players must constantly be striving to complete the ones they possess.  You don’t want to offend your clan leader!

Another consideration is the mission’s category, as various bonus cards will earn the player victory points for completing—or avoiding—certain types of missions.  It is important to acquire bonus cards early so one can plan accordingly.

The game is played over the course of eleven rounds, although it can end early if someone completes the extremely difficult “Kill the Shogun” mission.  Players earn final points for their fulfilled bonus cards and two points if they did not use their blackmail card.  The player with the most prestige points earns the favor of the Shogun and wins the game.

Yedo is one of the most exciting and atmospheric games I have played in a long time.  It expertly combines numerous mechanisms that are staples within the European-gaming genre with strong theme and atmosphere that we expect in American-style games.  The decisions players are forced to make are constant, all given a sense of urgency due to the game’s eleven-turn duration and factors that conspire to thwart those plans.  If you are looking for a game wherein you can plan your strategy and execute it without interference, avoid Yedo.  There are factors in the game that are designed to force players to adjust their plans and/or pursue other goals.  Single-mindedly pursuing one particular mission without having back-up plans is a recipe for frustration.

The artwork and graphics are, for the most part, stunning.  This should not be surprising, as the graphic artist is Imelda Vohwinkel, part of the incredibly talented Vohwinkel artist team whose names are well known by European gaming fans.  The art successfully enhances the feudal Japan atmosphere and assists game play.  My only quibble is that the icons on the mission cards—particularly the weapon types—are very small and sometimes difficult to decipher, especially with my aging eyes.

The loudest complaints against the game are aimed against the events, which can be powerful and detrimental to one’s plans, and the watch patrol.  There is no doubt the events add an element of randomness to the game, but I don’t feel they are that devastating.  The ability to exercise foresight and glimpse at the top three events can help with one’s planning, but the safest method is to be actively pursuing several objectives at once.  If one is delayed by an event or the play of an action card, the player can continue to pursue another of his missions.  Further, the game allows two levels of play, and in the easier version certain event cards are removed from play.  Avoiding the watch patrol is more one of vigilance, but sometimes chances must be taken and consequences suffered if they move further than anticipated due to the play of action cards.  Use your blackmail card when needed, and try to obtain more by regularly visiting the action card deck.

It is important to immerse yourself in the atmosphere.  In many games, the flavor text is silly or unimportant.  Not so here.  Read aloud the stories on the mission cards.  You will likely be appalled, yet somehow take glee in the brutal nastiness of the clans as they pursue their quest for prestige and power.  Yes, reading this text does add time to an already long game, but it truly enhances the atmosphere and experience.

Yedo quickly assumed the mantle of my favorite game from the Essen 2012 crop.  As with most games I adore, there is far more players desire to accomplish than a turn allows.  This requires players to prioritize and make tough decisions.  There are also timing pressures, as key locations in the districts may be scooped by opponents if you delay.  You can be bested at the auctions, but can take solace in the knowledge that those items can be obtained in the districts, albeit at considerably higher prices.  Players must also balance the need for acquiring items and victory points with the constant need for cash.  Further, players must always be ready to alter their plans due to the vagaries of the game and the actions of their opponents.  This makes for a highly exciting and tense game, one that I eagerly look forward to playing far into the future.

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