Full disclosure: A review copy of Yosemite was provided by Wizkids.
I’ll be honest; I used to be at least begrudgingly outdoorsy. Did the whole Boy Scout / Eagle Scout thing. Went backpacking; the whole shebang. I think it’s kind of like how kids are forced to read Classic Literature when they’re too young to appreciate it so they grow up with no taste for it? That’s kind of where I’m at now. I know where to find the outdoors if I need it. It’s probably some part of that that draws me to outdoorsy-themed board games like PARKS and such. All the joy of the outdoors, but none of the mosquitoes. So, Yosemite! It’s a place that’s near where I live that I’ve never been to, and people tell me all the time that I have to. This is a compromise. So let’s get into it!
In Yosemite, players are participating in the Annual Yosemite National Park photography contest. You want to be Photographer of the Year, don’tcha? I wouldn’t mind it, though animal photography is not my forte. It looks to be a pretty exciting competition as players fight over campsites, landmarks, and shot locations to make sure they snap something perfect for the competition. You’ll have to move quickly on your feet if you want to win! Will you be able to hold your own in this in-tents competition?
First up, set the board between players:
Shuffle the Animal Tiles, dealing five to each player:
Take another 25 tiles and make a 5×5 grid below the game board. Then, shuffle the Landmark tiles into the remaining tile stack:
Place the white Camping Token on the board, but not on the Camping Track. Place the Tent Tokens nearby, as well:
Shuffle the Photo Cards, remove ten, and then reveal two, placing them on the top-left of the board:
Shuffle the Judge Cards, reveal two, placing them on the top-right of the board:
Place the Landmark Tokens on the matching spaces on the board (they’re just pictured with the tiles, here, for consistency):
Each player then gets given a pawn, and they also get a Fish token, placing it on 2:
The start player places their pawn on an Animal tile of their choice, and the other player places their pawn on any other Animal tile. You should be ready to start!
The core game of Yosemite is pretty simple! Every turn, you have three major phases to go through as you work to take photos around the national park! Let’s walk through each.
Eat Fish (Optional)
To start your turn, you can spend as many fish as you want to move one space per fish spent. You don’t have to spend any fish if you don’t want to or can’t.
As you move, you must move up, down, left, or right, and you cannot move into your opponent’s tile or move through it.
Next, you can take one of three options, depending on the tile you’re on (and some other factors):
Move one space
You can always do this one! You just move one space in any direction and then collect one fish. Note that, as usual, you can’t stop on the same space as your opponent.
If you started your turn on an Animal Tile, you can use that animal’s movement and tile type as an action. First, move based on the animal:
- Red Fox: Move one / two / three spaces. You can change direction during your move, but cannot move through an opponent or land on their space.
- Bighorn Sheep: Move as many spaces as you want in one orthogonal direction. You cannot move through an opponent or land on their space.
- Black Bear: Move two spaces in any one direction (you cannot change direction). Again, you can’t move through an opponent / land on their space. But you do get to move your opponent one space in any direction.
- Rattlesnake: Move one or two spaces. If you would land on the same space as your opponent, move them one space in any direction.
- Cougar: Pounce, moving as far as you can in any one orthogonal direction. If you would move through your opponent’s space, move them up to two spaces.
Then, take the tile into your hand. Finally, activate the bonus ability of the tile:
- Fish: Gain a fish. If you already have 5 fish, nothing happens.
- Camera: Take a Photo Card if you have Animal Tiles in your hand matching the required animals on one of the Photo Cards face-up in play. Note that you may spend any two matching Animal tiles as any one tile. Discard the tiles spent.
- Tent: Advance the Camping Token one space towards you on the Camping Track. If the Camping Token isn’t on the Camping Track, place it on the space with the 1 facing you. If the Camping Token is on the 5, take a Tent Token as a bonus point. The Camping Token stays where it is.
Take Landmark Token
For this one, you must be on a Landmark tile. Then, you can take the token from that tile, adding it to your supply. If the token has already been claimed, you can’t take it. Note that you don’t move this turn, and the tile remains where it is.
If you removed an Animal Tile from the grid, replace it with a new one. Additionally, if you have more than 10 Animal Tiles in your hand, discard down to 10. If any Photo Cards were taken, replace them.
After the ninth Photo Card is taken, the game ends. Tally up your points:
- Photos: Tally the point values on the Photo Cards.
- Camping: Score points based on where the Camping Token is, adding any Tent Tokens you have.
- Judges: If you have the most of the pictured animal on your claimed Photo Cards and remaining in your hand, gain 4 points. Do this for both Judge Cards.
- Landmarks: Score Landmark Tokens based on the number of matching Photo Cards. You score 0 / 2 / 5 / 9 / 14 points for 0 / 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 matching Photo Cards.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not this time; Yosemite only plays with two.
- Try not to lose track of the Camping Track. This is one where your opponent gets a lot of points if you’re not paying attention, and they can just keep getting points with the Tent tokens. One point per turn adds up, especially if they’re getting Photo Cards on top of that. Keep an eye on it and try to move it back towards you when they’re wrapped up with other tasks.
- This one’s pretty easy to forget, but you do have to land on a camera space to take a photo. There’s some (fair) confusion, as many players assume that once they have the requisite tiles, they can just take the Photo Card that they want. You cannot; you have to start your turn on a camera space, use that Animal Movement, and take the tile. Then, you can take a photo. Note that this is somewhat helpful, since you add a tile to your hand, so you might be able to take a Photo Card a bit earlier than you anticipated, maybe? Either way, make sure you’re planning for that.
- Running out of fish can leave you stranded. Just like real life, probably, but honestly, fish are how you set up your movement for a good turn or get out of a bind, so try to always have one handy, if you can.
- Additionally, it can be fun to strand your opponent, should they run out of fish. If I see an opponent with zero fish, one of my favorite things to do is to try and push them onto a Landscape Tile. There’s nothing they can do there, so they just have to move one space and take a fish on their turn. Then, I push them back onto the Landscape Tile on my next turn, so they have to waste the fish they just wasted a turn getting to get out! It’s mean, but it’s also highly effective [at making my opponent a little mad].
- You need an exit strategy for taking landscape tokens. On your next turn, you’re just kind of stuck there without any particular movement option, so if you want to have a useful follow-up turn, you need to have a fish so you can move elsewhere. Make sure you’re planning for that next turn; a lot of this game is about consistently having useful turns.
- The Judge Cards are pretty lucrative if you can land them. Keep an eye on which tiles you’re taking and which Photo Cards you’re going after. Don’t spend the Judge Card animals if you can avoid it; keeping them in your hand or getting Photo Cards with them can be pretty useful.
- Keep in mind how the various animals change your movement. It’s a bit annoying since the only reference is some very small text on the back of the rulebook, but you should know how the various animal tiles work. The black bear, rattlesnake, and cougar are particularly useful because they allow you to mess with your opponent’s position as well as your own. You can use that to throw the occasional wrench in their gears. Do you know what they’re looking for? Try to disrupt it. Do they have a lot of tiles in their hand? Put them on a fish tile so that they can’t take a photo without wasting a fish. Things like that.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is very nice! In terms of the animals, box art, and photos and such. It’s nice what they did with some stock photography, but Beth Sobel’s work on the animals and the box really stands out and looks quite nice. I recognized it while I was holding the box for Kites, another game she did the art for, and I was amused that I just happened to be doing photography for two Beth Sobel art games at the same time. But it’s a good-looking game!
- The tiles are also a very nice thickness / weight. For cardboard, it’s quite nice. It’s much more pleasant and sturdy-feeling than the sometimes paper-thin cardboard you can get in some games. It doesn’t have much weight to it, granted, but it’s still nicely-made.
- Relatively small box, which is also a plus for portability. I think I took it with me a couple times on some ill-advised board game trips (we didn’t play any board games on my last work trip, sadly). It fits in a backpack or a roller suitcase pretty easily, which I appreciate. It’s not quite small enough that I’d call it portable on its face, though. It’s just about as close to a portable square-box game as you can get, I think.
- I also just like the game thematically? Just going out and taking photos of locations and animals is very pleasant. Despite it being mildly cutthroat, it’s a very pleasant theme and I enjoy the mechanical element of you wandering around through the Animal Grid. It reminds me a bit of Habitats, another game I quite liked.
- The game has extremely mild take-that, to the point that you’re largely just annoying your opponent, which is fine. All you’re doing is mostly inconveniencing them and moving them to a space they may not want to be on. It’s pretty funny, if you’re playing with someone who will get annoyed and swear-y at that kind of behavior. Plus, even getting moved isn’t that big of a deal, usually; most players keep plenty of fish handy for these circumstances.
- I think the different movement styles for the animals are very fun! I do kind of wish the tiles indicated the movement types or something, but I like that they’re all pretty unique (and sometimes interactive). It makes choosing how you move important, and it makes the fish track feel meaningful, since you’ll likely be spending fish fairly regularly to move to spots you actually want to be on.
- I also like the different ways to score points, from getting Landscape Tokens to taking Photos to trying to edge the other player out on the Camping Track. You do kind of need to be a little bit good at everything if you want to win, but I appreciate how many different systems there are in the game! They’re a lot of fun.
- Also a pretty quick game! I’ve been blessed with a bunch of ~20-minute games in the last few weeks, partially because I was trying to write a ton of reviews before I went on the trip that I (probably, while you’re reading this) just got back from, so it’s been nice to be able to teach and play a game in a little under a half hour, especially on a work day. I don’t always want to sit down after a full day of office work and then try to take on a heavy, thinky game; sometimes my brain is just tired and I want to move on a grid for a bit.
- I think it’s nice that they have some extra information about Yosemite. That’s pleasant, and I learned something from reading it. Now I can pretend like my gaming is educational, and that’s also a boon.
- The tiles are a bit bland? Like, there’s the clear color type for each icon but not much else to it. This vexes me a bit, because it makes the tiles look a bit samey, which is confusing. I think what I find a bit odd about it is that the white and green tiles aren’t colors I typically associate with camping or photography, so they just seem like mild non sequiturs to me, gameplay-wise. I’m a bit confused by the direction on those. The animals look great, though!
- I’m a bit baffled by the lack of a player aid, given how animal movement works. In the games we played, some players struggled to remember what did what and often forgot that they could move one space and take a fish as their entire turn action. I assume they just didn’t want to also go through the trouble of printing a couple full-sized cards for a small two-player game, which I respect, to some degree, but it’s difficult to remember all possible actions on your turn without a reference. You can take a fish either because you moved one space or because you used a blue tile but sometimes the blue tile also lets you move one / two / three spaces, and having a way to distinguish between all of these things would be kind of ideal. Granted, it’s on the back of the rulebook, but having a visual aid would help a lot, especially because the font on the back of the rulebook is extremely small.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed Yosemite! I think the lack of a player aid is a bit baffling, but that’s mostly because I find the Animal Movement mechanic within the grid super interesting (albeit a bit hard to remember without a reference). It’s cool how the five different animals and three different tile types combine to give players a wealth of movement options, and how the different systems of the game encourage players to explore all of them at least a little bit. Yosemite’s got a lot going on, for a two-player game, and I enjoyed the time I got to spend amidst its many moving parts. Beth Sobel’s art helps elevate it a lot, as well; it’s just a very striking cover and the animals look great on the cards and tiles. I think that this is a remarkably approachable two-player game, great for those friends of yours that always talk about hiking but you’d like to try to convince to be indoor people instead. It could work. Plus, the take-that elements of the game aren’t so mean as to be distracting; they’re gentle, just mildly interfering in your opponent’s plans or occasionally stranding them if they plan poorly. It’s all in good fun, probably. If you’re interested in a quick two-player game with some strategic animal collection, you’re a big fan of Yosemite, or you just like a game with a great-looking cover, try playing Yosemite sometime! I thought it was solid.
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