Working Through the Rules – Yspahan

I cracked the shrink and set up the board for some sample rounds of Yspahan tonight. After cracking the box there was nothing to “punch”. The only cardboard in the box was the main board, the smaller tower board, the smaller caravan board, and the four individual player boards. The game is chock full of dice, three yellow and nine white, lots of little brown camel-eeples, cubes, wooden discs (gold), a small deck of cards, a couple of white cubes for keeping track of the rounds, a white pawn to represent the supervisor, and a black pawn to represent the starting player.

Everything appears well made but I have to admit that my heart sank a bit when I pulled out the rules. The book uses the same dreadful font and layout as Amyitis and Caylus. I was 50/50 for slogging through the rules on previous Ystari games and I felt a catch in my throat as a wave of doom spread over me. However, my fears were assuaged after just one pass through the small rule booklet and I sat down to play a few sample rounds.

The theme of the game pits players against one another as they populate souks in the four neighborhoods of the city. Each souk is composed of one or more individual buildings of a single color and players attempt to place cubes on those buildings. The game progresses across three seven-day weeks and the neighborhoods are cleared at the end of each week. The more souks you complete the more points you get. However, to complicate matters, an intersection between two streets separate the neighborhoods and the supervisor moves up and down the street. Whenever he stops, cubes in neighboring shops are moved to the caravan board. Sometimes players want cubes on the caravan board and sometimes they don’t. When and which cubes to move is a decision the player would rather make rather than to have it foisted upon them by another player.

Each day of the week is played out by having the starting player roll a handful of dice and allotting them in like-numbered groups, lowest to highest, to the Tower board. Once allotted, players take turns selecting a level of the tower, taking the dice (leaving subsequent players with less to choose from) and taking the actions allowed for that level. Taking a set of dice is compulsory and actions range from taking gold, moving the supervisor, taking a card, taking camels, or placing cubes in the souks.

How the dice affect the cardinality of your move is somewhat confusing. When you place cubes you use the number of dice on the level. When you move the supervisor you move him the number of pips displayed on the dice. When you take a card, the dice don’t matter. A small cheat sheet would be helpful for beginners but I suspect it becomes old hat after a few plays.

After your compulsory action, players can optionally build one of the special buildings depicted on the individual players boards. Most of the buildings cost the player camels and gold and grant the player special abilities throughout the rest of the game: getting extra camels, extra gold, adjusting the movement of the supervisor, moving a cube to the caravan board, extra points when souks are scored at the end of the week, and placing extra cubes when populating souks.

The rules are pretty straight forward but the thin theme doesn’t allow for them to sink in. It will take a few plays to keep everything straight. The rules will need to stay close at hand.

After reading what I’ve written it sounds a little harsher than I intended although accurate. I’m confident I’ll enjoy the game and look forward to my first play. Anything that will let me use my dice tower can be all bad.

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