06/10/2022

Yin Yang, an oriental euro game in ancient China [Review]

There are a few board and card games registered under the same name in the Board Game Geek entry, and with that in mind, I’d like to point it out that we’re talking about this Yin Yang. With potential miscommunication already sorted out, let’s look deeper into what this game offers.

Yin Yang is a fruit of Chinese philosophical concept — two opposite yet interconnected forces shape the universe altogether. Taking back to the ancient China, the seven kingdoms were all at war. The suffering people were longing for peace, and this philosophy flourished through fortune-telling using coins and tortoise shells. That latter part becomes an integral component inside this game.

Released and premiered at the same time during SPIEL Essen 2019, BGNations from Taiwan has successfully secured a partnership with SpieleFaible afterwards. DuGuWei’s Yin Yang is then available in German market, which I bought a year later because it was sold out in 2019 (and SPIEL Essen 2020 was cancelled due to pandemic). 

Disclaimer: I am an avid euro gamer and a hardcore Legend of the Five Rings LCG player. I am not a fan of solo game/variant. This statement will give you an overview of what kind of bias I might have while writing.

Remarks on Yin Yang

Yin Yang lies in quite a complicated category — it surely creates the complex and meaty feel within the decision-making throughout the game. I know that the big box and the busy board give an illusion of something heavier, but not in this case.  The game itself is rather simple in comparison to other medium euro board games out there. Telling myself that it should fall to somewhere around light-medium is totally unfair for the game, either. 

The rulebook is flowing, and I didn’t have a hard time to find information I need during the gameplay. Practically, players need to move their monk around the seven kingdoms.

The actions consist of travelling by road or by ship, building a temple in a city your monk is currently locating, and picking up whatever goods found in that spot. The coins and tortoise shell provided within the game act as a sort of randomizer. What’s interesting is, the first coin ‘rolling’ doesn’t dictate which action you can go through. In contrast, the revealed coins block the access to certain actions during that round. The second cast can be then rearranged to do the actions a player decides to execute during the turn.

By rearranging and combining those six coins into three sets, each consists of two coins, players can execute whatever actions available from the High and Low Oracle. Some chits gained through the game are also available to extend the number of actions to more than the three available through the coin arrangements. Planning the action for the future turn is rather impossible due to the random coins revealed from the tortoise shell. Despite an intriguing mechanic to deliver a limited option of actions by rearranging the coins, Yin Yang is a bit too luck-based for my taste. 

Substituting the common randomizer, such as dice-rolling, with the ancient divination medium is a smart way to attract players. Of course, this component is rather small and irrelevant for the table-presence, Yin Yang’s dev team really went extra miles to create an immersive experience through the coins and tortoise shell.

Some may think that it’s just a gimmick, which may be true, since using the common D6 and calling even-odd can still work the same. That would, naturally, never deliver the same impact as using this component, no? Plus, it’s easier to just read the head and tails of some coins, and it saves more space.

As you can see, besides the dice-rolling substitute, a mixture of several mechanics is utilized to create Yin Yang. The most notable ones for scoring are area control majority and the common set collection. Regardless, it is noteworthy to point out that the latter part plays a bigger role to bring more points to your plate.

Besides arranging the coins every turn, players must arrange the goods they pick during their travel on the map in their board. While the chits on the border are randomized in the setup, players can decide where to place the goods they obtain on this board. The constellation needs to adhere with which special effects and scoring bonuses they try to reach. It becomes an extra puzzle or mini-game within Yin Yang.

At first, I thought this would mean that all goods don’t weigh the same for each individual. However, with limited numbers of goods, I tend to take whatever goods the board give me. It does make this part a bit tense to compete, although it does not escalate Yin Yang so much.

The area control is more straightforward, and much simpler to achieve. During the travel, the monk we control may build a temple in the visited city — provided the coins are in our favour. Each region/kingdom is weighed with point rewards differently.

With only one temple available to build per city, it is favourable to make our presence whenever possible. This intertwines with the possibility to re-cast the coins, if the cast result is not favourable. The cost to do so is to destroy a temple we have built. For me, it’s an exorbitant cost to pay, since building those temples require a lot of effort and resources (read: the action). Meanwhile, re-casting the coins does not really assure a better result anyway. 

In the early game, Yin Yang will feel like a solitary game despite the shared main board. Regardless, after reaching the mid-game, the tension starts to peak mostly with the monks competing for influence through the temples, and some occasions to gather the desired goods at some spots. 

Verdict

Yin Yang delivers a nice little-below-medium euro game to the market. It comes with a set of immersive components, especially the tortoise shell and those divination coins. The game provides good replay value with low-to-mid variability, since we’re doing the same thing but just under different circumstances (thanks to the randomized chits for every game and the coin results every turn). It can be a good investment for those who seek for an exotic game with oriental touch. If you can embrace the luck-based coin casting game that limits your action throughout the game, Yin Yang can be an interesting choice for you. 

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