Theme and What is it?
Yellow & Yangtze by Grail Games places players in China around 300 BC. Each player is the head of a dynastic family struggling to take control of warring factions within China and unite them all for the good of the land (and perhaps their own wealth and prestige?). Grow your civilization and conquer the Yellow & Yangtze rivers!
The basic mechanics of the game have you building your civilization using various tiles and tokens. You can place Governors (black), Soldiers (red), Farmers (blue), Traders (green), and Artisans (yellow).
There are the usual rules and restrictions regarding placement, but the part that I found to create the most interest in the game was that each Leader token for the five colors (every player has their own set of 5 Leader tokens, marked by a dynastic symbol) can be picked up, repositioned, or removed from the board to bolster your strength, or to take down someone else’s.
The other mechanic that caught my interest was the scoring system. You keep score by gathering the correct color cube relating to the tile or token you’ve placed. At the end of the game, you count up how many points in each color you have, and your WEAKEST link is your final score.
This really encourages players to build well-rounded civilizations and not focus all their strength on their military, for example. It makes the game so much more enjoyable knowing that your opponent will lose the game if he only bothers with his military and ignores trade, farming, craftsmanship, and governance.
The historical aspect of the game interested me immediately. There were seven factions in China circa 300 BC that were fighting to control the entire territory. The Qin dynasty won the war in 221 BC and set the foundations for what’s known as modern-day China. I’ve never been much of a history buff (worst subject in high school) but when games bring in history, for some reason, I get psyched. At any rate, I was really looking forward to playing this game.
Game Build Quality
Opening this box was a thing of beauty. The instruction manual is printed on glossy paper with full-color illustrations and print large enough to easily read at a glance. The board is quality, but the playing pieces. The playing pieces. There’s a cloth drawstring bag that holds the heavy cardboard tiles. There are thick wooden leader tokens with perfectly printed colorful icons. There are two sizes of wooden victory point cubes and these perfectly cut and painted pagodas. The game designers obviously had quality in mind when it came to components.
The artists drew elements from classical Chinese artwork and blended them seamlessly into this game. There’s a beautifully rendered sword handle on the game board that I just love to look at. The map drawn on the game board is done in hexes, but doesn’t look blocky or awkward at all. It feels like the land and the rivers flow very naturally.
I have a tendency to get frustrated easily when I’m in a competitive game. You know, like when I’m losing. (Sorry Cute Husband!) but I was just so taken with the art, the components, and the mechanics that I just enjoyed everything about it. (Even the losing!)
Age Range & Weight
The box suggests ages 14+. For the most part, I’d say that’s fair. A younger child could easily learn the game and play, but they might miss some of the nuances of strategy that would lose them the game, causing frustration.
I’ll probably teach my ten-year-old soon, just to see what he thinks, but that’s not something I want to get into on a school night, let’s say.
Final thoughts? Go buy the game. Play it with your friends. Play it with your family. Play it with your worst enemy, just so you can beat the snot out of them and not end up in jail. At any rate, this game is so well thought out and well designed that I’m confident you’ll love it just as much as I did.