Board Game Review: Yedo (2012)

8/10 A thematic Euro with a unique combination of mechanisms.

I have played this at 2 and 3-player, even tried my hand at a solo variant (not very successfully).

Designed by Thomas Vande Ginste and Wolf Plancke, published by Eggertspiele and Pandasaurus Games. Yedo is set in 1605 Japan where you control a clan seeking influence as the new Shogun comes to power. It’s a worker-placement style game where your primary objective is to complete missions.

Overview

Each player controls a clan that begins with only 2 workers (agents), 12 Mon (the currency in the game), and 4 missions. At the start of a round, players have an auction for various resources; alternatively, a player can decline to participate in the auction and take 3 Mon. After resolving an event, players send their workers into the city in turn order. After sending them out, the watch patrol moves, arresting any agents in the district he lands in. Remaining agents can perform one action in the space they’re in, following turn order. Completing a mission is one of these actions. Once everyone has finished, the round ends, a new one begins, and play continues for a number of rounds depending on the length the players chose at the beginning. After the final round, points are totaled from bonus cards and your Blackmail action card if you’ve kept it, after which the highest point total wins. There’s not much endgame scoring, so beware of the points during the game as most of your points will (should) come from missions.

Theme

There have been many board games exploring Japan’s history and mythology, but few have explored the Tokugawa Shogunate of the Edo-era. Most historical games prefer the Sengoku period with its samurai and warring daimyos, or the later quiet periods of the Edo-era before the Meiji Restoration. The theme fits effortlessly around the mechanisms as you send your agents throughout Yedo (more commonly known as Edo, which later became Tokyo) gathering information, weapons, and preparing to go on missions that require coordination and timing. The missions themselves offer story with flavor text, adding context to the puzzle of resources and locations required to complete the mission—something rarely seen in Eurogames. Theme is everywhere.

Mechanisms

While Yedo mostly plays like many other worker-placement games, a few things help it stand out, even years after its release. For one, the auction at the beginning of each round where players bid on various resources: action cards, bonus cards (not to be neglected!), discounted weapons, annexes to expand your clan headquarters with, geisha, new agents, and the all-important missions. This opening auction is not the only place to obtain these items, but doing so here can be much cheaper than during the round, and it won’t cost you one of your workers. It plays a major role in how you shape your plans.

During the round, while sending out your agents around the city, you also have to keep in mind the watch patrol. Unlike most worker-placement games, one section of the board is unusable each round. There are tools at your disposal to evade arrest, and players always begin with a special action card that lets them avoid the patrol (but the same card is worth points if it goes unused). But it means planning around your opponents and the watch patrol, making timing critical when you need two or even three agents to be in the right place all at once.

Lastly, one concept that has fallen out of favor in more modern Euros is trading resources with opponents. It doesn’t play a large part in this game as compared to something like Catan, but it is possible to trade with an opponent if your agents both occupy certain places around the city. I’ve only had one successful trade I can recall in my games, and I’ve heard others say they’ve never traded. But I think the chances of a lucrative trade increase with the player count, as not only are there more resources available across the players, there will more likely be players in the specific locations needed to trade. Either way, I think it works well enough; if you don’t trade, there are plenty of ways to get what you need, but a successful trade feels rewarding.

If you play with the original rules, there is an element of luck as there are several decks of cards in the game, and the luck of the draw can impact your turn. The designers offered optional rules (in part to playtest options for the new edition) that help mitigate the luck of the draw. Strategy always played a part but now plays a bigger part thanks to these simple changes.

Components

The new deluxe edition has better components, which isn’t saying a lot. While the original components weren’t that bad, they were all functional, but the tokens were thin and nothing was linen finished. The best game piece, which the deluxe edition kept in all its glory, was the board. It’s a sprawling, colorful cityscape, and its details don’t become a hindrance to the information it has to convey. There’s not a lot of other artwork in the game, and what’s there serves its function. The only minor complaint that comes to mind is that two of the annexes don’t look distinct enough to tell apart at a glance, which becomes more of a problem when looking at missions where the annexes are small icons. Otherwise, the iconography does its job well, but the game isn’t as complicated as many other Euros anyway. Early copies had misprints on mission types, but these were cleared up (my copy has some minor aesthetic printing errors that don’t impact gameplay).

Rules Clarity and Balance

In all the times I’ve played Yedo, there weren’t any standout problems with the rules except for one. And it’s a big one. When completing a mission, there’s a top part that is mandatory, then an optional bottom part. Of the agents you send out on the board to the locations, only one needs to activate to complete the mission—the others can stay and perform other actions. However, you are not free to choose any of those agents to complete the mission; the agent must be in a mandatory location to complete the mission. This rule, as important as it is, could have been spelled more clearly (and it is explained better in the icon overview below the mission rules, but should have been clearer in the mission rules themselves). Other than that, the action cards and events all seem clear and never caused us any trouble.

While I can’t say much about overall balance, it’s important to note that the game is challenging. Not in the normal way you expect from modern Euros, with intricate puzzles and tight resource management. Yedo will throw everything at you with nasty events, a watch patrol who can take away your workers (though you can never go below 2), and action cards that can be played against you. Most of these elements are optional, as the decks label their mean cards as “Samurai” cards which you can remove from the deck. A game of Yedo still won’t be as friendly as other Euros, so be prepared for unfortunate events to still throw a monkey-wrench into your plans. This isn’t a relaxing puzzle.

Conclusion

Yedo was one of the earliest games I purchased after entering the hobby, but after playing it once with my brother, it never made it back to the table. He just wasn’t interested. Years later, I joined another local gamer, and the three of us (plus his wife on rare occasions) started playing regularly. I then introduced him to Yedo, as he was a Euro fan with an interest in Asian themes. He fell in love with it, as did I all over again. It’s a game that you can pick up and understand with relative ease, the ideas aren’t complicated, but it comes together in a way that stands out from many other worker-placement games. Yedo isn’t about collecting and spending resources the way most games approach the genre, it’s about lining things up for the big show. I’d say it has more in common with something like Colosseum than it does Agricola or Viticulture. The only real negative is that the second edition became a luxury, deluxe-only item released exclusively through Kickstarter. It has many improvements to the original with a great production. But instead of trying to make the game affordable and playable to a wide audience, they opted to make it expensive and appeal to KS backers’ fear of missing out. Guess I’ll have to make do with my old copy.

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