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Yokai Septet

Capture the yokai running amok in the village, and ensure the glory goes to you and not your opponents in this trick-taking game where which tricks you earn is more important than how many.

Published by Ninja Star Games, Yokai Septet is designed for 3-4 players and plays in roughly 30 minutes.

Gameplay

In a four-player game, you split into teams of two, with teammates sitting across from each other. Each player is dealt 12 cards and one card is placed face-up in the center of the table. This is the trump suit for the round.

There are seven suits in the game, and each suit has seven cards. However, the numbers on those cards are different for each suit. For example, in the green suit the numbers range from ace to 7, while in the blue suit the numbers range from 7 to 13.

At the start of a round, each player will pass three cards to his teammate. Then, whichever player has the green ace announces it and becomes the lead player. If the green ace was the card that set the trump suit at the start of the round, then it is whichever player has the blue 13.

The lead player plays a card from his hand face-up on the table. All other players then take turns playing a card. If you have a card in the same suit as the one played by the lead player, you must play it. If you do not, you can play any suit.

If the green ace is played, it automatically wins the trick. Otherwise, whoever played the highest trump wins. If no one played a trump, then whoever played the highest card in the suit matching the card played by the lead player wins the trick. The player who won the trick becomes the new lead player, will collect the trick he has won, and then play a new card from his hand.

When you win a trick, take the cards, remove any sevens won in that trick, and place them in a neat stack in front of you. Keep each trick you win separate from the others so that it is clear to see how many you have won. Any seven you win should be placed face-up in front of you. Seven's are the boss yokai cards and you need to win these to win the game.

The round can end in several ways.  If a team has won four or more boss yokai cards, they win the round. If a team has won seven tricks but has three or fewer boss yokai cards, then the other team takes any boss yokai cards remaining in all players' hands and wins the round. Finally, if all cards have been played, whichever team currently has the lead player on it, wins the round.

When your team wins the round, you score one point token for each star symbol shown on the boss yokai cards you have won. You then set up for a new round. When a team reaches seven or more point tokens, they win the game.

A three-player game is very similar, only you do not have a teammate, you have a hand of 16 cards, and at the start of the round you pass three cards to the player on your left. You win the round if you have won three or more boss yokai cards. If you have won seven tricks but have two or fewer yokai cards then both of the other players win the round and take three scoring tokens each.

Yokai Septet Components

Review

Yokai Septet is an intriguing trick-taking game with some clever ideas that put a different twist on the genre. Needing to win boss cards, but trying not to win too many tricks without them, requires a careful balance and consideration of how you're going to use each card. Sometimes you want to win a trick to take control of what cards are played next, but you need to do so sparingly.

The four-player mode is particularly enjoyable, as the mechanism of passing cards to your teammate is quite interesting. This gives your teammate information and can indicate some idea of how you want some hands to go, but also allows you to strategize how to best use your own hand. The three-player game does have you passing cards to the player on your left, but this isn't as interesting since you're simply trying to keep them weak rather than communicating with a teammate.

There are helpful player aid cards that list the card distribution for each suit, and its strength in the suit is also helpfully marked on each card. This means that even though the numbers included in each suit are not at all standard, this is not an impediment for learning the game. There is, however, one section in the rulebook that is worded a little strangely, that can cause some confusion over who wins the trick..

For players who haven't tried many trick-takers, there will be a bit of a learning curve as they wrap their heads around the unique scoring requirements. But Yokai Septet is a nicely-designed, clever little game that really poses some interesting choices, plays quickly, and is easy to have another go at once you've played through it once and understand a little better how it works.

Pros: Scoring and end of round system leads to interesting choices, interesting teammate interactions, helpful player aid cards

Cons: Theme is a little bit stretched, three-player mode necessarily lacks some of the interesting passing mechanics, minor confusion in the rulebook

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.