Curry favor with the Shōgun–or maybe assassinate him!
Bits & Blips: Manga Bookshelf Edition
Every October from several thousand kilometers away I try to live vicariously through others’ accounts of Internationale Spieltage SPIEL, the largest board gaming convention in the world, also known simply as Essen after the German city in which it is held. Hundreds of games are unveiled publicly for the first time here, some of which will eventually be released worldwide within weeks or months. But some of the games released might never make their way to United States except through importers, and since getting heavy games across the ocean is an expensive endeavor, the cost to obtain these games can be significant. That means limiting myself to one or two of them and that means research. There were a lot of new games with significant buzz coming out of Essen ‘12, but most of them were slowly getting released here. One that particularly caught my eye was a game from a pair of designers from Belgium called Yedo published by eggertspiele / Pegasus Spiele. It didn’t have a lot of buzz, had no US release planned, and it was the designers’ first effort, but the people who played it really seemed to like it and it looked stunning. I decided to take a chance on it.
Best. Decision. Ever.
In Yedo, a worker placement/auction style game, each player is a Clan Elder trying to curry favor with the new Shōgun who rules Japan from the city of Yedo (also known Edo–see this designer diary for information on the name–which is modern day Tokyo). This is primarily accomplished by completing missions to earn money and prestige points (PP). The player with the most prestige points at the end of the game is the winner.
Yedo lasts for 11 rounds (unless someone assassinates the Shōgun). There are two versions of the game: Geisha and Samurai. For this review, I will cover the more challenging Samurai version. I’ll discuss the differences at the end.
At the beginning of the game, players will each receive some money, two disciples, an action card, four missions, and a favor. Players will use the disciples to gather the various items needed to complete missions and can acquire more disciples during the course of the game in order to accomplish more in a single turn. The action cards grant the owners special, usually powerful single-use abilities that can be used at various points throughout the game. The favor grants the owner a special starting bonus which could include money, cards, or even a blessing. Each favor’s bonus is unique, however after collecting the bonus players flip the card over and may use it once during the game as a blackmail card or keep it for 2 PP at the end of the game.
The missions are the crux of the game. They come in four colors which are indicative of their difficulty to complete. Green missions are the easiest, followed by yellow, red, and the high scoring but extremely hard black missions. Early on players will need to complete some of the easier missions in order to be able to collect the items needed for the harder missions. There are also five mission types: Warfare, Kidnapping, Theft, Espionage, and Assassination.
Once the game begins, players may bid in an auction on various assets: Action cards, Bonus Cards, Weapons, Annexes, Geisha, Disciples, and Mission cards. The assets are divided up into three color groups; in two and three player games, players bid on one of these color groups and in a four or five player game players bid on a specific asset. The starting bidder will make an opening bid on one group or asset equal to the minimum bid printed on the board. In player order, everyone participating in the auction will have a chance to increase the bid or pass. Finally, the person who started the auction has one more chance to increase the bid or pass and then the auction ends. The winning bidder places her bid token there, collects her asset (and in some instances 2 PP), and that color group or asset is now blocked for the remainder of the bidding round. This continues until everyone has had an opportunity to acquire an asset or drop out.
Next comes the event phase which starts with upkeep of the weapons market and ends with an event. The events can be good, relatively benign, inconvenient, or downright disastrous. The most devastating ones can really wreck players’ plans, possibly causing them to lose an entire annex, a disciple, a geisha, money, or a weapon–or more than one of these! Sometimes the really bad events can be somewhat mitigated by returning your blessing. There is a full deck of 27 events and since only one is used per round, not all events will be encountered offering variety from game to game.
After the event phase, the assigning phase begins. I’m not going to go over everything here as there is a lot that can be done, but this is where players will send their disciples to the various districts or their personal annexes. The districts include the Gates, Tavern, Harbor, Red Light District, Market, Temple, and Castle. Each district has a number of available spaces (depending on the number of players) where players may place their disciples to perform actions or to complete missions. Each district has multiple actions which can be performed ranging from acquiring new annexes, geishas, weapons, blessings, or missions to buying or selling PP, changing the turn order, or performing foresight (looking at the top three cards of one of the decks and with the exception of events replacing them in any order), among other things.
Completing missions will require players to have one or more disciples in specified districts and may include other requirements such as specific weapons, geishas, annexes, blessings, or even a competing clan member to assassinate. The green cards are easier with fewer requirements, but the black cards will require a lot of planning to have everything needed and disciples in the right places. This phase is only for placement of disciples; performing the actions occurs later.
After all disciples have been placed, the watch patrol will move. Players know ahead of time where the watch is going to be based on the color and current location of the watch patrol marker on the board. Action cards can be used to influence the movement of the guard. If there are any disciples in the district where the watch patrol ends its movement, those disciples are arrested! Any disciples there are returned either to the reserve if the player owns more than two with the remaining going back to the player Clan House. This can be devastating! Luckily, Actions cards can be used to influence whether or not a player’s disciples are arrested. Also, the Blackmail card can be turned in to save one disciple one time, giving up the 2 PP the card would be worth at the end of the game.
After the watch patrol has been resolved, players in the Market District may freely trade weapons and/or money. Then, players in the Tavern District may freely trade weapons, money, bonus cards, action cards, geishas and/or uncompleted missions. Disciples, annexes, blessings, and completed missions may not be traded. Also, players cannot reveal what is on any card that they trade; they may only state that they believe the card would be useful to the other person. Honesty is not a requirement!
In the final phase, players will begin activating their disciples to perform the actions available in the district or to complete missions. Mission cards have two halves; the top half is the Standard reward which must be completed and the bottom half is a Bonus reward which is optional. For the Standard reward, a disciple in one of the required districts will be returned to the Clan House in order to complete the mission. Any other disciples required for the Standard reward or Bonus reward may remain on their locations meaning they will be able to complete other missions or perform actions. Thus, the order in which actions are resolved can be very important.
At the end of this phase, the next round will begin until 11 rounds have been played. That is, unless one player has completed the Kill the Shōgun black mission! If this happens, the game ends immediately at the end of the round.
At the end of the game, players will score any accumulated bonus cards (which I didn’t mention in the review but they score PP based on a variety of end game conditions) and their Blackmail card if they didn’t use it. The Clan with the most Prestige Points wins!
Theme and Artwork:
This game is dripping with theme and I love it! The mission cards all have wonderful flavor text and the requirements generally make thematic sense. Combined with with the absolutely stunning, colorful artwork this game really puts you in 16th century Japan.
The only extremely minor issue with the artwork is that the annexes are all similar looking and when trying to figure out which is which on the mission cards, you have to pay extra attention. But this is only barely a quibble worth mentioning. All of the art is lovely. It’s one of the most striking games I have in my collection and it always gets complimented when I introduce it to people.
Rulebook and English Translation:
I have a lot of board games and therefore a lot of rulebooks. The number of problematic rulebooks far outweighs the number of good ones. This is true whether or not the game was translated from English or was written by a native English speaker, but adding translation certainly can introduce more problems. I am happy to say that both the quality of the instructions and the quality of the translation are best in class. In fact, if I didn’t know that this wasn’t a game designed by native English speakers I would never have guessed it.
The rulebook is laid out in a very well organized manner. After reading through the rules, I had almost no questions about how to play. On the back page, there is a table that summarizes what things are, where to get them, what to do with them, and important notes. The player board lists all of the phases, all of the annex functions, and all card and weapon limits. The action cards clearly indicate in which phase they can be used.
That said, there were two misprints in the English edition of the game: The Tavern and Market districts on the back page were labeled incorrectly and a couple of the yellow Assassination mission cards were misprinted as Kidnapping. Mistakes like these are common in first printings of any game and neither causes a major problem, although some of the bonus cards do rely on the types of missions completed and players will have to make sure that if a mission is labeled Kidnapping but the flavor text says to Assassinate someone that they remember that it is an Assassination mission.
Still, those mistakes aside I consider the manual the gold standard of what game manuals should be like. The translation was perfect and the rules were complete, clear, and concise.
If you haven’t figured it out already, I absolutely love Yedo. It scales very well for two to five players and is a solid tactical game. This game is what Lords of Waterdeep wishes it could be. While I found that game enjoyable enough, it was an extremely dry extrapolation of Dungeons and Dragons. This is the opposite of that. The theme shines in this game. It’s really hard to explain without just experiencing it, but everything looks beautiful and the missions are highly thematic.
I mentioned earlier that there are two versions that you can play. The Samurai version includes all of the action cards and all of the events. The action cards can be very confrontational and the events can be extremely cruel. I will admit that this game has flared tempers between players and if you don’t like confrontation or having your plans utterly wrecked by the turn of a card, you will NOT want to play this version of the game. However to accommodate this there is the Geisha version of the game. In this version, the most evil event and action cards are removed from the game. Also, the watch patrol is removed completely for the 11th round of the game. These changes will not make Yedo that much easier but may make it more palatable for some, especially younger players.
I really hope that this game finds a US distributor because it deserves to be played by everyone. Yedo is easily the best game I acquired in 2012 and definitely one that will find its way to the table often. There may be a few retailers who still have leftover import copies such as Funagain Games, but otherwise you’ll have to order this directly from Germany.
If you get the chance to play, take it! You won’t regret it.
Length: 120-180 mins
# of players: 2 to 5