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Yashima: Legend of the Kami Masters in Review

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MB Updated May 23, 2019
 
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Yashima: Legend of the Kami Masters
There Will Be Games

In which Yie Ar Kung Fu is referenced.

Yashima: Legend of The Kami Masters is a pitched battle between two to four combatants wielding the powers of the martial arts, magic and nature spirits. Think of it something like a cross between the arcade classic Yie Ar Kung Fu, a Chinese Wuxia film and the summoning spells from a Final Fantasy game. It is a focused concept rich with background story and setting, but without many contextual frills. There are no scenarios, there are no resources and there are no objectives other than defeating your foes. It is essentially a card game not unlike Yomi or BattleCon, but it uses hex-based terrain tiles and miniatures to express distance, position and the scope of attacks. I really like what I’ve seen from the game so far, but it also leaves me with a feeling that this design- which has great potential- isn’t quite to where it needs to be just yet.

I was drawn to Yashima first by the tremendously underused Asian fantasy setting, second by the promise of a simple, direct battle game with minimal setup or investment required. On both counts, the design scores high. Designers Joshua Sprung and Tony Gullotti have provided a cool setting and the notion of the Kami Masters partnering up with a Kami spirit is a neat idea expressed in the game by modular decks. A Master’s cards make up half your deck, the other half are a Kami’s cards. So you might be the furious Samurai-like Kenta, with his strong attacks and his ability to inflict a damage-enhancing Rancor, matched up with the highly defense Tortose Kami. Or you might decide to pair up the terrifying flame attacks of the Dragon with the master Rosamu, who excels in creating devastating chain combinations. There are four each of Masters and Kami included in the initial release, and it isn’t hard to imagine that more are on the way.

Each of these Masters also comes equipped with a deck of Tome cards. These cards are double sided and you flip them over like the pages of an actual book, so that only the Tome abilities you can see are currently usable. This is a fun notion, but it also kind of doesn’t make sense in the setting. Did Hikaru not memorize all her spells before heading out to the fight? Regardless, each character has a host of Karma-activated abilities that serve to distinguish them even further than their mix of cards and attacking capabilities.

Despite the modularity and variety of cards in the mix, the important rules barely take up two front-and-back pages and it’s easy to get players fighting fit in minutes. Once everyone is set up- and I do recommend making sure that all four characters are in every game, even with only two or three players- this is a fast moving, very direct game that is going to take you no more than 45 minutes or so to decide a victor. A round kicks off with a set of Action tokens (Move or Attack) placed on the table, one for each player. Each player then gets to secretly choose a Move or Attack token to add to the pool. Later, you’ll use these to active your Master and you will be limited to what is available for selection. There’s a chance to discard and redraw cards, and then all players draw a card to place in their Karma pile, which is also how the initiative is determined.

Tome actions follow, and the player may choose to Delve, meaning that they flip a page forward or backward to access a different pair of abilities. Strategically, this may be a critical decision as these allow you to equip weapons or other gear, enhance attacks or defense, or perform other special functions. During the Tome phase, you can play one of your visible abilities by paying its cost out of your Karma pile.

Once you’ve had a chance to fiddle around with a book out on the battlefield (at least that’s what it seems like), you pick your action token. Characters move a Speed rating and are limited to some degree by terrain types or by being “locked in combat” with an adjacent enemy. Attacking is more complicated, primarily because of how the targeting works.

Each attack card shows a diagram of your figure’s facing, surrounding hexes, and shaded hexes indicating where an attack hits. Some may hit two or three hexes in front of you in a line, where others might have a wide, sweeping arc and another might hit everything in a three hex frontage. The kicker (literally) is that you hit everything in the attack profile- even if you are playing with teams. This is a neat mechanic, but it sometimes takes a second to parse what exactly you can and can’t hit with- especially if your figures are like mine and are unpainted, because it isn’t clear which way the are facing.

An attacked character can play a defense card to soak up some damage. There is no life tracker or hit point marker in the game. All damage comes from either your hand or your deck, and only through special abilities or rejuvenating terrain can you get cards from discard back into your deck. One interesting mechanic is that attack cards and others that you “Use” go back to the bottom of the deck instead of discard. Once your deck is depleted, you aren’t exactly out of the game- you go into a special mode called “Restoration”. Your character card is flipped over and shows some slightly different stats and you have a chance to continue playing with a refreshed draw deck. Effectively, you have lost but you aren’t truly down and out until you are beaten a second time. In a team game (which is by far the best way to play), the team that has both Masters in restoration is the losing team.

There is some great stuff going on in Yashima. In addition to the excellent combat mechanics, there are status effects such as Blind and Burn that are given to characters, impacting their performance. Akiko, the resident pyromanic, can put Burn markers out on empty spaces- and then use a Tome effect later to explode them, causing damage to anyone standing by them. Rosamu’s chain ability lets him draw cards after attacks and keep going, as long as he keeps drawing cards with over 6 Karma, the chain ability and no duplicates of previously played attacks. There are Ripostes and out-of-nowhere evasive moves. There are throwing axes, magic boots and cards that you put face-up at the bottom of a deck, activating them when they make it to the top.

I love how focused this game is, but by the same token it almost feels limited. Battles tend to play out with a little maneuvering at first, an engagement and then maybe a couple of surprises but not as much maneuvering as you might think- even taking into account the attack template mechanic. So there’s a little more of a “clumping” effect, not uncommon in miniatures games with a strong melee emphasis, than I’d like to see. Some elements of the game just don’t quite seem relevant due to the superiority of attack over movement, such as the terrain types and facing. Facing isn’t even really relevant since you can change it before you play any card. Sure, the action tokens may keep you from attacking when you need to, but the result is often that you wind up with no option other than a Move that you neither need nor want. And a turn that feels wasted because of the limited scope.

It seems, then, that Yashima might work as part of a larger, unrealized game. I get a sense that this is sort of an introduction to the combat mechanics of a system that could grow to include things like specific objectives, capturing territory, some kind of “common” units fighting alongside the Kami Masters and narrative scenario design. The rulebook advertises a couple of upcoming expansions but it appears that they only introduce material similar to what is in this release. Which is good, and I do want them because I’m excited to see what new ice and forest content brings to the battles, but I also feel like the game needs more than “beat those guys up” to be a really good fighting game.

Oddly, the game reminds me quite a lot of the recent WWE Superstar Showdown. The games play and feel differently, but there is a similar impetus on positioning in a relatively small area paired with cardplay and counter-cardplay. This is definitely the more intricate and challenging title and it also has more potential to grow into something more fully developed.


Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #211477 28 Sep 2015 11:52
My one game (so far) of Yashima left me fairly cold, but it took way longer than 45 minutes and was made frustrating for me by one thing that I thought would be one of the better things about it: the attack diagrams. The easy ones are easy, but when they involve ranges (especially ranges not including an adjacent hex) and they have "weird" shapes, it's hard for me to figure out whether my target's in the area of effect or not. Our firs/only game was a slugfest as well. Unfortunately, I don't think either of the two expansions in immediate development, both of which were offered through the Kickstarter, will do more than add more of the same. Still, it's a valiant effort and a good production and deserving of more than one try.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #211479 28 Sep 2015 12:07
Yeah, you know, that part of it kind of made me think of Tash-Kalar (or, "Vlaada game nobody likes")...it's a similar kind of cognitive speedbump. I got used to it, mainly because I was turning the cards and kind of holding them over the board like some kind of old dude or something trying to sort it out. I think that having painted miniatures with very clearly defined "front hexside" coloring would help a lot too, especially since these figures are all over the place, twisted around and such.

I think you're right about the first expansions it looks like each just adds environments and a couple of new fighters.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #211484 28 Sep 2015 12:34
Michael, how does this compare to something like Summoner Wars? It seems like that game gets rave reviews (including from me) and it's just a mano-a-mano battle with no other meat, but you seem to be lamenting that this is just a mano-a-mano battle. Is it that there's not as many options or something?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #211488 28 Sep 2015 12:44
No no, that's a very different kind of game...you've got units involved there. In this you have ONE unit. It's something like Yomi or BattleCON but with a hexmap. Or a Heroscape game with two extremely powerful characters with decks of ability cards. There are only four units in the game right now, typically you take one (or two) and that's it. So it CAN become more limited, especially in terms of movement.

WHen I mean mano-a-mano, I mean literally mano-a-mano.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #211490 28 Sep 2015 13:00
Yeah, I can see that getting stale.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #211515 28 Sep 2015 17:05
Well, it kind of does at first but when you sort of learn to move around and maximize your attacks it gets more compelling...it really HAS to be played either three on one or two on two to get the most out of the abilities and the attack patterning. One character versus one other one is really not very interesting at all.
OldHippy's Avatar
OldHippy replied the topic: #211517 28 Sep 2015 17:18
Yashima sounds like something I've always wanted to play. There is a really fun premise at the heart of that title that definitely appeals to me. It's too bad that it sounds like they don't really pull it off.