#210 – Yokai Septet [Preview]

Base price: $19. $15 on Kickstarter.
3 – 4 players.
Play time: ~30 minutes.
BGG Link
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 7

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Yokai Septet was provided by Ninja Star Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.   

Yeah, so, uh, pretty much this entire month is going to be Kickstarter games, so hope you like reviews of currently unreleased games. We had The Neverland Rescue a few weeks ago, Streets of Steel and Sprawlopolis last week, and three this week, with Yokai Septet included. How does this one measure up?

In Yokai Septet, you play as rival village elders plagued by the Yokai. They’re ravaging farms, flooding rivers, spreading disease; you know, the normal set of things that bad monsters do. You have all arrived at similar conclusions: if you can catch the Yokai, there will be fewer Yokai getting all up in your village’s business. Mathematically, there’s something to this, so you set out to do exactly that. You gotta catch ’em all, you say, but will you be able to?

Contents

Setup

There are slight differences between the three- and four-player game. I’ll note those as needed.

So the game will come with scoring tokens:

Scoring Tokens

Set those aside, for now; you’ll need them later. Now, shuffle the cards:

Yokai Cards

  • Three players: Deal each player 16 cards.
  • Four players: Deal each player 12 cards.

The remaining card is the Trump Suit; I’ll speak more to that in a bit, as well. Once you’ve done that, though, you’re basically ready to start the game!

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

So, Yokai Septet is an example of a trick-taking game, similar to The Fox in the Forest. For those of you who don’t know what a trick-taking game is, I’ll explain, below. If you already do know, well, you can skim this section until the “Actual Gameplay” header. You’re welcome.

Generally, a trick-taking game is played over a series of rounds, called “tricks”. One player is the lead, designated by the “Lead Player” card in Yokai Septet:

Lead Player Card

On their turn, they can play any card from their hand. The suit of this card (the color, not the value) is what’s known as the led suit. On your turn, if you have a card of that suit, you must play it. If you have more than one, you may choose which of those cards you would like to play. If you do not have a card of the led suit, you may play any other card in your hand that you’d like. Generally speaking (and this is true in Yokai Septet), the highest card of the led suit will win the trick, and the player who won the trick takes the cards.

In many trick-taking games (again, no exception here) there is also what’s known as a Trump Suit; a suit that, when played, beats any other suit. In this case, it’s any card with the same suit as the leftover card from when you dealt out cards. Normally, when you play a card that isn’t the led suit, you cannot win; however, if the card you play is the Trump Suit, you will win unless another player plays a Trump Suit card of a higher value.

That’s basic trick-taking. So, let’s talk about the rest in Actual Gameplay.

Actual Gameplay

So, as mentioned previously, Yokai Septet is a spin on a trick-taking game. Naturally, this means that it isn’t quite your standard trick-taking game. One thing that Yokai Septet does differently is that it also has a Super Trump Card, namely, the Green A:

Super Trump Card

This card, when played, beats everything. No card is better than it, no matter what. That’s pretty good! Additionally, the Yokai Septet cards are staggered. Normal decks of playing cards tend to have four suits of all the same value cards, whereas Yokai Septet has seven suits, each with a different spread of card values:

  • Green: A – 7
  • Black: 2 – 8
  • Brown: 3 – 9
  • Red: 4 – 10
  • Blue: 5 – 11
  • Yellow: 6 – 12
  • Pink: 7 – 13

Each suit has a card with a value of 7. This card is known as the Boss Yokai:

Boss Yokai

You’ll want to collect these, as they’re worth points if you win the round. Now, knowing all that, we can talk about how the game is played.

So, the game is played either individually (three players) or on teams of two (four players). If you’re playing on teams, you should be sitting across from your teammate (so that the players to your left and right are the other team). Once you have your hand and you’ve had a chance to look at your cards, you’re going to pass some cards to another player:

  • 3 players: Pass 3 cards to the player on your left.
  • 4 players: Pass 3 cards to your teammate.

All cards should be passed simultaneously, meaning that no player should be able to see the cards that they were passed before passing cards. After doing this, it’s time to start the round! Determine the first player as follows:

  • If any player is holding the Lead Player card, they start the round.
  • If no player is holding the Lead Player card, the player with the Green A reveals it (but does not play it). They begin the round. They should also take the Lead Player card.

The latter case really only applies in the first round of the game. In all subsequent rounds, a player will be holding the Lead Player card.

The Lead Player will play a card, and then all other players will follow. You then resolve:

  • Was the A played?
    • Yes: The player who played the A wins the trick.
    • No: Were one or more Trump Suit cards played?
      • Yes: The player who played the Trump Suit card with the highest value wins the trick.
      • No: The player who played the Led Suit card with the highest value wins the trick.

The player who won the trick takes any Boss Yokai won in the trick and keeps them face-up. Place the remaining cards won in the trick face-down and keep them in a separate pile, so that all players can see how many tricks you’ve won. This is important. The player who won the trick also takes the Lead Player card, and they will lead the next trick.

Gameplay 2

Play continues until one of these three conditions is met:

  • One player / team has collected enough Boss Yokai. 3 in a 3-player game, 4 in a 4-player game (between both players; not individually). That player / team wins the round!
  • One player / team has won 7 tricks. Again, in 4-player games, that’s between both players, not individually. That player or team loses the round!
  • All players are out of cards in hand. The player who won the last trick wins the round! If it’s a 4-player game, their team wins.

Once that happens, move on to scoring. Only the winning player / team scores. In a three-player game, it’s possible for more than one player to win.

If you’re playing with the Basic Scoring rules, ignore everything below and just give the winning player or team 1 point. They need 2 points to win.

If a player or team won by collecting enough Boss Yokai, they may earn points from the Yokai. That said, regardless of its normal point value, the Boss Yokai of the Trump Suit is always worth 0 points.

  • 3 players: Count the number of white and black stars on the Boss Yokai Cards:
    • Green: 0 points
    • Black: 1 point
    • Brown: 1 point
    • Red: 2 points
    • Blue: 2 points
    • Yellow: 3 points
    • Pink: 3 points
  • 4 players: Count the number of white stars on the Boss Yokai Cards:
    • Green: 0 points
    • Black: 0 points
    • Brown: 1 point
    • Red: 1 point
    • Blue: 1 point
    • Yellow: 2 points
    • Pink: 2 points

If a player or team won because another player or team won 7 tricks, score as follows:

  • 3 players: Each of the two winning players scores 3 points.
  • 4 players: Take all of the Boss Yokai remaining in all players’ hands and add them to the team’s Boss Yokai pile, and then score them as above.

If all players ran out of cards, just have the winning player score their Boss Yokai as above.

If no player or team has hit 7 points, start a new round! Play continues until one player or team reaches 7 points! That player or team wins, immediately.

Player Count Differences

I mean, the differences between 3 and 4 players are that it’s an entirely different game, as 4 players is a 2-on-2 team battle whereas 3 players is a free-for-all. That said, they’re both pretty great in their own respects. There will be some strategic shifts at different player counts, since you’re really passing cards to mess your opponents up in a 3-player game and you’re passing cards to bolster your teammate’s hand in a 4-player game, but there are core similarities as well. Honestly, they’re kind of difficult to compare.

The major thing to look out for between the two is that you only need three Boss Yokai to win the round in a 3-player game and you score the black stars as well as the white stars. Furthermore, when you lose a round by winning seven tricks, the other players only score three points, rather than anything to do with the Yokai. Keep those things in mind and you’ll be set.

I’d happily play this at either three or four players.

Strategy

  • At four players, try to clear your hand. You should be attempting to get rid of certain suits (especially since that gives you the option to throw off or throw a trump). Passing your teammate enough cards to keep you clear on that suit is generally a good idea. This isn’t a terrible idea at three players, either, since it gives you more flexibility.
  • At three players, try to mess with your opponent. Try to pass them low-value Yokai (pink and yellow, especially) so that they’re forced to play them when you play a higher-value card of that suit. I find that having Yokai in my hand is generally not ideal at three players, so I’ll often pass those to put the onus on my opponents to try and figure out when to play them. It’s not super easy to figure out, so better them than I.
  • While the green and trump Yokai don’t score, they’re still valuable. People undervalue them because they won’t score you any points, but do you know what else doesn’t score you points? Losing the round. Taking those worthless Yokai will give you a quicker route to winning the overall round, especially if you can exploit your opponents’ undervaluing of those cards. Honestly, take what you can get, with this game.
  • It’s probably worth counting cards, a bit. You know there are only 7 of each card. You should try to keep some track of what you’ve seen, lest you get surprised and take a big loss. Since each trick is three cards and you have to follow suit, you’ll generally see three cards each trick of a suit. Keep an eye out for the straggler. Or, you’ll only see two and you know another player is out and liable to use a trump (or the Super Trump) if they really want to win a given trick. That’s not great, but good to know.
  • It’s possible to win a three-player game in one round. Do not let a player get 8 points worth of Boss Yokai. Just, don’t let that happen. Take all the tricks if you have to.
  • Don’t trump your teammate. If they’re already winning the trick, let them take it unless you’re sure one of your opponents is gonna beat them unless you intervene. It’s considered poor etiquette in most trick-taking games, especially if you play last, anyways.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The flow chart in the rulebook is really good. It’s one of the simplest explanations of a trick-taking game I’ve ever seen. Really helped me explain the game to some new players.
  • The art is quite nice. It’s got a whimsical but kind of ethereal feel to it; I’m a fan. Would be nice to see if that gets any more intricate if they hit any Kickstarter stretch goals.
  • Pretty easy to learn. It’s just a trick-taking game with some minor tweaks, similar to Trickster (which I keep meaning to review, but I haven’t gotten to try the Advanced cards or expansion roles, yet).
  • Plays pretty quickly. Might be too fast, sometimes, but it’s definitely on the shorter side of games.
  • Easy to transport. It’s just 49 cards and some scoring tokens, so far, so it’s not a huge deal.
  • The staggered suits for a trick-taking game is super cool. Really changes up what you’re valuing at any given time and it makes certain 7s easier or harder to get. It’s a nice additional strategic layer to your sort-of-standard trick-taking game, which is nice. Trying to figure out how to optimize for when you can play a 7 or when you can snatch up a 7 is pretty super.

Mehs

  • It can be a bit tough to see what suit a card is, at times. Hopefully they’ll fix that before fulfillment.
  • It’s … not super easy to figure out where to put the Trump Suit card. Like, you want to have it within view of all players, but you can’t put it in the middle, lest you confuse it for a card that’s been played. It’s very minor, but it’s still occasionally an issue.

Cons

  • Can almost be a bit too fast. If you’ve gotten some bad luck in three-player mode, it can be possible to end the game in one round. That can leave a bad taste in some players’ mouths, even though, personally, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. If that happens, just take all the cards, shuffle, re-deal, and start a new game. Your mileage may vary.
  • A few slightly unintuitive rules. The idea of shooting the moon should be familiar to any fan of Hearts, but it definitely doesn’t immediately make sense to new players why they should be trying to let another player win 7 tricks. Additionally, players will almost certainly forget that the Boss Yokai of the Trump Suit isn’t worth any points. Be careful with that one.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

In Progress

Overall, Yokai Septet is super fun! It’s really portable, which I appreciate, and even though the art isn’t totally finished, yet, the art that is done is pretty great! What I’d love to see would be like, scoring cards (sort of like in Dingo’s Dreams) rather than scoring tokens so it would be essentially one deck of cards, making it even more portable. That said, you’re probably not going to see it getting played on, say, an airplane, unless your entire row is into it. In general, I’m a big fan of quick games, sure, but the opportunity for a big reversal or a super-good round or a huge play are all here in Yokai Septet, and I love that about it. We played it once with someone who didn’t know what trick-taking games were and they ended up winning. It’s approachable, it’s fast, and it’s fun, and if you’re looking for a neat spin on trick-taking (but you have too many players for The Fox in the Forest), you should check out Yokai Septet!

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