Review: Yokohama

The many beautiful bits of a blue board. Your warehouse is key to success.

Length 90-120 Minutes

Release Date 2016 (OKAZU Brand Edition) 2017 (Tasty Minstrel Edition)
Designer: Hisashi Hayashi
Artists: Adam P. McIver, Ryo Nyamo

Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
Category: Economic
Players: 2-4
Price: $49.99 Amazon
Yokohama is a 2-4 player worker movement and set collection game. Originally published in 2016 by OKAZU Brand, Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG) launched a Kickstarter for a deluxe edition/reprint in 2016, successfully funding on July 16 to the tune of $431,143. This was Tasty Minstrel’s 27th Kickstarter project, and is also the highest funded by TMG to this point.
Tasty Minstrel Games was established by owner Michael Mendes in 2009, where Michael worked with his close friend Seth Jaffee to immediately begin publishing games, starting with Terra Prime. TMG has reprinted a few old favorites, like Colosseum, Amun-Re, At the Gates of Loyang, Belfort, and others. Other popular titles from TMG include Orleans, Scoville, Village, Aquasphere, Cthulhu Realms, Eminent Domain, and more.

A lithograph of American Commodore Perry, landing at Yokohama. (By Lithograph by Sarony & Co., 1855, after W. Heine – Library of Congress, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=131084)

The city of Yokohama, Japan is certainly a storied one. Pre-1860s in the feudal Edo period, Japan lived under a national seclusion policy, but due to American warships, signed a peace treaty and opened borders. If you’ve read our Tokaido review you will be familiar with the strategic importance of the historical Tokaido road. Kanagawa, Japan was located on the Tokaido, and was considered for the first open port for trade in and out of Japan, but the ruling shogunate decided on Yokohama instead.
This tiny fishing village was soon to become the center of cultural influence and growth for Japan. You can imagine the cultural explosion as many countries began investing in the goods from Japan through Yokohama. Simultaneously, Yokohama quickly became an influx of jobs for Japanese people, as well as a hub for new technology and many foreigners.
In later years, Yokohama would also become a source of conflict between foreigners and the Japanese people. Samurai were involved in various incidents, and later on, Yokohama was a target for bombing during World War II. Today, Yokohama is a brilliant and bustling home to over 3.7 million people. It is the largest city in Japan and is a major port of trade to this day.

Foreign ships in the Yokohama port. (By Sadahide – Sadahide painting, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2183490)

Content Guide

Yokohama is a game of trading and pacing yourself to outwitting your foes. Players will gain points through different venues, but one of particular interest, at least from our background in the church.

Forgive the watermark, but this is a Baptist chapel from an unknown year in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo located at http://www.meijishowa.com/images/2266.jpg)

Players can send assistants to the church to gain faith points. These points end up as victory points, but also send a new assistant from your hand out into the city of Yokohama. It’s a missionary trip of sorts, as one assistant is converted, and another is sent out to convert more people. Additionally, players can donate goods to the church to boost their faith points and secure a higher place on the track.
Yokohama doesn’t take any space in the rulebook to explain what’s happening, and why this is thematically included in the game, so I thought I’d do a little digging.
Early Japanese Christians and other missionaries were killed in the thousands by the warlord Hideyoshi in the mid-1500s. There were 150,000 Christians remaining in secret in Japan, and new Christians entering the country wasn’t a thing until Japan opened its borders again through Yokohama.
The first two missionaries to Yokohama were Protestant, followed Presbyterian and Reformed Church ministers. Old Edo edicts still prohibited Christianity, but still conversions began, and eventually establishing the first Japanese church in Yokohama in 1872. In 1873, the old edicts against Christians were removed, and the growth of Eastern Orthodox and Catholicism began.

Foreign agents you’ll soon meet.

If the theme of Yokohama is about growing both Yokohama and your own merchant status in the city, then growing your network within the church makes sense. Christianity, along with Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox faith, became a sizable part of the population in and around Yokohama. As one establishes shops and trading houses all around the city, increasing your influence over the people of the church is another step to securing majority control of the city.
Sure, when you look at it that way, it’s a bit slimy, but the pretty colors and wonderful presentation of Yokohama are covering up a realistically, sort of grimy underside: you are a merchant, trying to cash in on the explosive growth of Yokohama while making connections with foreign agents who will pull some strings for you, and while exerting as much control over the city as possible. You’ll see it when you play. You are trying so cunningly to position yourself on key city tiles before other players can in order to make them pay up to visit your tile, or to take the goods and construct buildings before your enemies, reaping the rewards in advance, and moving onto the next place to control.
I don’t mean to beat the theme up, or consider all merchants as slimy folk, because I’m sure some of them wanted to grow Japan and be a part of helping the people. Diving into the church mechanism brings up questions that get us into the meat of the game and what’s hiding underneath the vibrant colors.
Now let’s get into the review and talk more about Yokohama.

Review

Here a few assistants sit, waiting to take copper.

In Yokohama, players are merchants, sending assistants into the city to ease up the shopkeepers and markets, only to send their president who will make the actual business deals. If a player amasses enough power when taking an action, that player also has the option to construct a shop or a trading house. These grant extra points, resources, and abilities, and potentially extra gold. If the player amasses five power on their action, they get an extra bonus, depending on the tile they chose.
Yokohama is made up of many city tiles, with the number and type decided by how many players are at the table. Players can visit the plantation to get tea resources, or the bank to get extra yen. Players can also exchange imports at customs for points and resources, Chinatown to trade and buy resources, or even the laboratory to learn new technologies from foreign countries.
The name of the game is victory points, and there are a number of ways to get them.
Players will complete orders using the goods they receive from the city. Each order is worth points and potentially other bonuses. In addition, by completing orders, that player gains rapport with the country who requested the order, which will grant extra points at the end of the game if that player can diversify and work with many different countries. If a player completes two orders from the same country (including technology) that player also receives a foreign agent. This agent essentially grants a free action to the player and should be used wisely. Thematically, the country is pleased by working with you and wants to extend thanks by lending you a favor.

Here’s what my messy player area looked like at the end of my third game. Lots of completed orders and technologies.

Players are also working towards completing achievements, randomly decided upon each game. These might require a number of copper for eight points, or building shops into 5 specific types of buildings. Players must also pay attention to customs, technology, and the church. The player with the most assistants in the church and customs, respectively, at the end of the game will receive extra points. In addition, the player with the highest number of gears received from technology cards will receive extra points.
The player who wins will be the most wisely diversified, will have paced themselves and their board movement well, and will have established enough buildings strategically and before their opponents.
We’ve spent enough time summarizing and talking about theme and history, so let’s get this out there: I really, really, really like Yokohama.
Yokohama is beautiful on the table. It’s wonderfully vibrant, and despite the pretty colors and cute cat on the box cover, it’s full of tactical play. It offers distinct gameplay differences depending on how the board is setup, how many people are playing, which achievements come out, and which strategies you try to implement.
Yokohama offers new challenges at each player count. In a two-player game, you play on far fewer tiles, but you won’t battle too much over positioning. Instead, you will learn the timing of what your opponent is going for, and either passively ignore each other, or take one or two deliberate steps to block them. Luckily, you can try to get resources from bonuses instead of relying on the tile actions themselves, so you won’t find too much trouble when blocked.

Yellow has four power on this lab space. If their president moves in, that makes five power.

At higher player counts, the city expands and you’ll find yourself needing to make a gigantic move across the board to reach the space you need. Of course, there are duplicate tiles to help mitigate this, but with four people at the table, you’ll often find your opponents sitting in your way.
This brings up an indirect interaction mechanic. A player’s president not only acts as the method to activate actions on tiles, but if another player places an assistant or moves their president onto your space, they must pay a yen per piece moved. Yen isn’t the easiest resource to gather, and it’s very important to use it wisely.
Yen will be used to pay off presidents in your way, but most likely, you’ll spend it in your warehouse. One of the most integral points of understanding in Yokohama is your hand and your warehouse. Your hand includes things like resources, yen, assistants, the president, shops, etc. Anything in your hand is free to place onto the board when prompted. However, you must find specific actions either through placing shops on bonus actions/resources, or visiting the employment agency in order to take things from your warehouse. The warehouse includes more assistants, shops, and trading posts. Shops cost two and trading posts start at four, and increase in cost the more you buy. Trading posts offer more points when constructed, and shops give varying amounts of points, actions, and resources as you place them.

The many beautiful bits of a blue board. Your warehouse is key to success.

As I hope is clear, Yokohama has a lot of different things going on. One might even liken it to a Feld point salad game. After all, I do enjoy it as much as I enjoy The Castles of Burgundy, plus you’ll earn points through a myriad of paths. Yokohama has a bit of engine building in the background through technologies, but what’s most satisfying is pulling off big combos, just like in the Feld title mentioned above.
In Burgundy, I might use a technology to adjust a die, which lets me take a building, then place it, which gives me another building, which fills the building location on my board, which pays out big in points. In Yokohama, one might activate 5-power on the copper mine, giving them three copper, then placing a shop which gives them two extra resources of their choice, then taking the bonus tile that granted three silk, which allows them to turn in a big order for 14 points, which activates a technology that grants another two extra points. This stuff can happen frequently if you time your movements correctly and get all the goods you need. It’s extremely exciting when it happens, and it’s these moments that make Yokohama awesome.

These are order tiles, and you’ll need to find the right ones to aim for.

For all the good of variability in setup, I really want an expansion. The achievement cards feel sort of stilted. The “C series” set of cards are always referring to tiles you’ve placed buildings in. The “A series” are referring to one set of resources you’ve gathered. Maybe we could see cards where you need five silk and three copper, or you need to build in five production tiles before someone else reaches 50 points. More city tiles that offer new resources or actions would also be interesting. Perhaps a tile that allows you to exchange things you’ve purchased from your warehouse with something in your warehouse. This makes up for mistakes made or mistiming your purchases. Maybe a wild resource, where you need four or five power to receive one or two wild resources. Perhaps trading away victory points in order to receive resources.
As I’ve mentioned, Yokohama looks great. The deluxe edition shipped with a slew of pretty wooden resources, meeples, and a ton of other paraphernalia, but the retail edition is honestly all you need. Illustrations are dreamy and eccentric. Pastels of fishing docks meet with the deep reds of Chinatown. Everything is eye-catching, and that’s not a bad problem to have.

Just a quick look at a few cards from the game might feel overwhelming.

Teaching Yokohama is a bit of a bear. You’ll likely feel overwhelmed by the infinite iconography all over the board. There are many mechanisms to discuss, and figuring out how they mesh is an initial challenge. Honestly, after a few rounds, everything should begin to sink in, and you should find yourself learning why certain actions are more valuable at different points of the game. I’ve taken to leaving almost all the cards face down while explaining the game, then revealing cards as I get to that part of the rules. This has made explanation much easier for new players, so I recommend trying this when you teach. That said, Yokohama isn’t at all for new gamers. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a healthy understanding of worker placement, set collection, and resource management titles. It’s not an extremely heavy game, as far as weight goes, but you’ll probably want more time in the hobby before pursuing this one.
Setup time is a bit of a bother. Instead of just being able to unfold a board, you create the playing space each time you play the game. Long customs and church tiles extend like wings from the score track. You’ll need to place a multitude of order and technology cards on these long tiles. Then you create the city of Yokohama, with each tile receiving a building card, alongside a 5-power tile. Players also need to align their own boards with shops and assistants and the like. It takes a bit to setup, so this might be to its own detriment.

5-Power/bonus tiles.

I’ve seen the first edition of Yokohama, and Tasty Minstrel has stepped up graphic design considerably. Numbers help to represent bonuses from resource city tiles. The church and customs tiles make far more sense than originally thought. Still, understanding some of the iconography can feel rough. The score track almost psyches me out like the track from Castles of Mad King Ludwig. You’ll eventually learn the left and right flow of scoring your moves, but it feels wonky at first.
I have some gripes, but Yokohama exceeds the issues. This is an excellent game with a fair bit of replayability and a lot of strategies to develop. I want more people to play Yokohama, not only because it’s great to look at, but because it’s so much fun to play, and so much fun to think about. You’d be remiss to avoid a game night with this one at the table.

 

A review copy of Yokohama was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games for a review of the game.

The Bottom Line

Yokohama is fun, yet overwhelming, but precisely engineered to provide lots of satisfaction for pulling off big combos and indirectly making things harder for your opponents. It takes a bit to setup and has an initial learning curve, but once understood, Yokohama is a pleasure to play during game nights.

 

8.5

Chris Hecox

Chris enjoys the simple things in life, like teaching his wife the newest review game, looking up Ketogenic recipes, and playing 10 hour long indie games on Steam. If he's not thinking about the oil drum components from Manhattan Project: Energy Empire, playing Player Unknown: Battlegrounds with his college buddies, or dwelling on the release of Daredevil Season Three, he's probably shooting or editing video, because that's what he does for a living.