Designers: Thomas Vande Ginste, Wolf Plancke
Publisher: Pandasaurus Games (2012)
Can you recall the first time you dug your teeth into a hearty steak? Succulent meat in all its glory, flavorful juices running down your chin, and sensations on your tongue you could only dream of. Yedo is that filet in all its perfect, unfettered glory prepared by two top-notch chefs and shoved down your gullet in transcendent fashion.
This is an absolutely astounding worker placement experience that is overflowing with theme integrated into an abundance of clever mechanics. The core of the game is acquiring hidden Mission cards that possess resource requirements you must acquire by placing Disciples (workers), winning auctions, and playing well-timed cards. From Tom Vasel to Bob the BGG reviewer, everyone compares this game to a souped up Lords of Waterdeep, which I cannot argue with. The primary mechanic of hidden Mission cards is very similar to LoW’s Quests, however, several layers of additional interactions and mechanisms make for a very different experience.
One of the initial differences is the auction phase, which occurs early in the turn before Disciples are placed. Yedo auctions are similar to those found in Power Grid, where the current player starts a bid and then players may proceed to outbid each other in player order. There is one key difference in that bidding does not keep going around until everyone bows out, rather each player only gets one chance to up the ante with the person who initiated the auction getting final say. Once a category has been bid on, it is no longer eligible until the next auction and each player may only win a single auction.
The items you can bid for include:
–Action Cards, which are used to perform special interrupts and break the rules in interesting ways
-Bonus Cards, which are hidden and worth points at the end of the game if you meet their conditions
-Weapons, which are used to accomplish Missions
–Annexes, which are special tiles you can acquire that are required for Missions but they also offer an additional space to place a Disciple on and can offer powerful benefits
–Geisha, which are used only for Mission and Bonus cards
–Disciples, which allow you to acquire additional workers (you start with 2 and can get up to 4)
–Mission Cards, which allow you to gain Money, other cards, and the primary way to gain Victory Points
What’s very interesting about the auction phase is that some very difficult decisions are packed into a tight space and elegantly integrated into a worker placement whole. I’ve seen players attempt to up-bid a player to drive up the cost, only to have the original bidder let them take it – which means the winning bidder cannot bid on another auction this round. I have seen people purposely maneuver the turn order so they are last, which allows them final choice on an auction category without any opponents, although their choices are reduced. I’ve also seen players offer fistfuls of coins for seemingly small benefit due to their desperation. Certain resources are also limited (Annexes, Geisha) which makes passing them up early possibly burdensome. All of these decisions are not terribly easy to make and this tense phase is ultimately very interesting because of this.
The second half of the game is the Assign Workers phase, where you place your Disciples on the board, one at a time. The board offers many thought provoking effects which results in players sometimes colliding and jockeying for certain spaces early. The areas you can place Disciples in are organized into five unique Districts. Actions performed in each District are very different, but more importantly, Mission Cards require you to expend actions in specific areas of the board. Some Missions require you to possess workers in two different areas as well as possessing certain weapons, annexes, geisha, etc. You can see how things quickly get dicey with the more complicated requirements and juggling these priorities of resource acquisition is the heart of Yedo.
The majority of District options offer resource acquisition at a cost that is typically greater than what is paid in the auction phase. This makes for juggling your limited actions and money with resource needs a difficult task. Other spaces on the board allow you to look at and arrange the top 3 cards of different decks, change the player order, gain a single VP by visiting the Shogun, and many more interesting options.
There is also this really cool mechanism which has a guard token in the middle of the board, moving each turn in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction. If the guard is in a District where you have placed Disciples, the workers are arrested and returned to your board (if you have 2 workers or less) or to the supply (if they are your third or fourth worker). This effectively shuts off certain Districts in a dynamic fashion, which is further enhanced by players using Action Cards that can move the guard additional spaces or change its direction. It can be absolutely brutal to unexpectedly have the guard move into a District where several players have Disciples, which enforces a sense of caution and respect when placing workers on the board.
The guard can be a cruel bastard.
I am a huge fan of this game because of how solid and streamlined the different mechanics are in combination with how well they play off each other. You have dynamic auctions, sometimes game changing events, stalking guards, tight worker placement, and hidden objectives that make for this absolutely phenomenal game that is astoundingly rich and meaty. This game repeatedly delivers small moments of triumph and story that keeps a smile firmly plastered to your pale geek face and you can’t help but enjoy it. It decidedly is a Euro, but it’s the best kind – one that not only espouses a great theme, but one that lives and breathes it with each passing second.
The game is beautifully designed and illustrated. This is one of the player boards which boasts colorful background and does a great job of organizing all of your different resources and cards.
Yedo is a somewhat complicated game mechanically that I would compare to something like Troyes or Power Grid. It’s firmly in that middleweight category between heavier titles like Mage Knight The Boardgame and lighter fare like Stone Age. It also can take quite a long time to play, clocking in at 2 to 3 hours with four players (which is the optimal amount). Five players can take 3-4 hours which is why I would hesitate to recommend it at that count. The play is deep and pace pretty steady so I would not hesitate if you don’t mind spending a couple hours engaged with a few of your good buddies. When Matt flips the “Assassinate the Shogun” card midway through the game and does a fist-pump and an air-katana slice, you know you’ve hit on a great experience that produces memorable stories and a strong thematic narrative.