Yspahan is a game of camels and trading from Ystari Games. The initial buzz over this one wasn’t that big, and I would’ve missed the game altogether based on that. However, Westpark Gamers did a brilliant Windows version of the game (see Yspahan for Windows website), which caused a lot more buzz on the Finnish Board Game Society forums.
I resisted for a while, then downloaded it, tried the game and wham, I’ve played over 50 games already. It could only lead to one conclusion: I went and bought the board game few days ago. It’s that good.
Camel traders and dice
Yspahan is about collecting points. There are two main ways of getting points: filling souks with your cubes and getting your cubes on the caravan. In addition there are buildings, which grant points and useful benefits. To get all these, you need resources, and here lies the neat part of Yspahan.
Resource production is based on dice. On each turn (there are seven turns in a week, three weeks in a game; board is reset between weeks) nine dice are rolled. The lowest number visible produces camels, the highest money. The rest produce goods: the second lowest number produces grain, the third lowest barrels, then chests, then vases. To get vases, you need to roll all six different numbers, so you’re not going to get them each turn.
Players get to pick a set of dice. Three grain dice produce three goods, two camel dice gets you two camels and so on. The goods you produce are placed on board in souks. To get points, you need to fill the souk by the end of the week. If even a single cube is missing from a souk, it’s worth zero points. To get points from caravan, you need to use the supervisor to move your cubes from the board to the caravan (you can also move someone else’s cubes, which can get nasty).
Clever and fresh
This is a very clever system. The different goods have different rarities and values (three-cube souk of grain is three points, three-cube souk of vases is 12 points), while the value of money and camels changes from one situation to other. Each player gets to pick one set of dice with the same number on them, and while sometimes the choice is obvious, often it’s a pretty tough decision to make.
Fortunately the luck of the dice doesn’t rule the game. If none of the sets does it for you (or if you don’t get a set!), you can always draw a card instead of taking goods (moving the supervisor to use the caravan is the third option). Cards are useful in itself, but you can also throw cards away to get an extra die. When it’s your turn to roll, money can provide you with extra dice only you can use.
Balance of power
Yspahan is pretty balanced game. The two main strategies, building and caravans, seem pretty balanced. Building is probably easier. An experienced player can crush newbies with the caravan strategy, but once everybody knows this, the power of caravan is somewhat smaller. To some extent is a groupthink thing, as some people complain the caravan is not strong enough, while the majority, I think, considers it a bit too strong.
The game works best with four players, I’d say, and three-player game is good too. I haven’t tried with two; while I believe it does work (with some small changes in the rules), Yspahan isn’t probably worth it solely as a two-player game.
As I’ve only played the game with the Windows version for now, I can’t say much about the length of the game, but I’ve heard it takes 45 minutes and that sounds feasible. If you’re looking for something a bit lighter than your average gamer’s game but still quite meaty, Yspahan fits the bill perfectly.