When I saw the pictures for this game, I knew I had to have it. I didn't know how it played, but the colorful board, wooden pieces, and gems were just too yummy to resist.
In Ys, players compete for the most gold. You can win some gold directly during play, but the majority of it is won indirectly by accumulating gems which are worth different values at the end of the game. This alone might have made Ys a bit dry. The twist is that during play, players also compete to affect the prices of the gems. Each time it is your turn to play, your choices can be exquisitely painful. Do you go for the quick gold? Do you go for the rare black gem? Do you go for the neighborhood majority? Do you play in the market?
The board has a large circular city with 4 neighborhoods, and 3 areas per neighborhood (palace, commercial, port). On one end of the board is the gem price scale for each of the 4 gem colors (blue, green, yellow, red) and the market where brokers can compete to win gems and affect the future value of gems.
In Ys, each player has 11 wooden brokers numbered 0, 0, 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4. Before each turn, players secretly bid for the right to choose turn order by choosing 2 of their brokers. The player with the highest value chooses which place they will play in, etc. Each turn consists of 4 rounds where each player places 2 brokers on the board--one face up, one face down. After 4 rounds, there are 8 brokers per player on the board, and 1 remaining broker per player which joins the original 2 used to bid for turn order. These 3 unplayed brokers are used to break ties during the counting phase later on.
Placing a broker can be a complex decision. There are 12 areas win the city, and 12 market locations. Each city area can hold any number of brokers, but each market area can only hold 1.
Palace: The player with the highest total in each palace wins the current character card for that neighborhood. These cards represent various important people in the city (Queen, Prince, Magician, Bishop, Spy, etc). They each have a unique power that you can use once on a subsequent turn. These powers allow you to do things like peek at hidden brokers, move brokers, etc.
Commercial: The player with the highest total in each commercial area wins 3 gold.
Port: The player with the highest total in each port wins a black gem. The number of black gems you have collected during play translates directly to gold at the end of the game. More on this later.
At the beginning of each turn, 4 gems are chosen for each neighborhood using a special deck of cards. The player with the highest total in each neighborhood (all 3 areas) chooses 2 of these 4 gems. the second-place player chooses 1 of the remaining 2, and the third-place player gets the last one (4-player rules). Players keep gems in open view of all players.
At the beginning of each turn, 3 gems are also assigned to the market, one for each row. Placing a broker on any market location does 3 things:
Row: The player with the highest total in each market row wins the gem in that row.
Column: The columns affect the adjustment of the 4 gem color values. The colum with the highest total gets adjusted up by 2. The colum with the second-highest total gets adjusted up by 1. The colum with the third-highest total gets adjusted down by 1. The colum with the lowest total gets adjusted down by 2. So you could play a large-numbered broker on a market location to raise that gem's value, or a low-numbered broker to block other players from playing their high ones, making that gem lose value. All the while, of course, you need to be aware of what gems you are actually trying to win.
1 Gold: Placing a broker on any market location earns you 1 gold. This is also true if you move brokers there using a card that you have won.
White Gems: A white gem may appear in any neighborhood as one of the 4 gems there, and also in the market as one of the 3 gems. When a white gem is won, it must be immediately turned into a gem of the winning player's choice. (Note this is different from the treasures in E&T)
Game End: After all 4 turns have been executed, players calculate the values of their 4 colored gems and their black gems.
Gems: The gold awarded for the gems is based on the gem value. The gem with the highest value results in 24/18/12/6 gold (multiples of 6) for the players in order of most to least gems. The gem with the second higest value results in 20/15/10/5 gold (multiples of 5). The gem with the third higest value results in 16/12/8/4 gold (multiples of 4). The gem with the lowest value results in 12/9/6/3 gold (multiples of 3).
Black Gems: The number of black gems each player has won is translated into gold using a fixed chart: 1, 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24 (max).
Components: The box is big and empty. Reminds me of Mayfair's E&T box. You have to put everything away in reverse order, and everything slides around inside. The board is very nice quality with decent art. The scoring track is only numbered every 10, and the text is hard to read even up close. The wooden brokers are large and sturdy. The gems are made of ceramic with a smooth side and a "scratched" side. I would have preferred any other material as long as all the gems were 100% uniform (ie not glass beads). The colors of the games don't match the colors on the board, especially green. The cards are just a step below M:TG quality.
Rules: The rules are well-organized and fairly easy to understand. The rulebook itself is the size of the box, and is printed landscape, making it rather cumbersome.
Black Gem Issue: Before I bought the game, I read the rules online and pointed out that I believe the black gem aspect of the game is under-developed. If the commercial area and port area of a given neighborhood are both empty, then the choice of whether to go for the 3 gold or a black gem is almost meaningless, since a black gem gives you almost exactly 3 gold at the end of the game. To illustrate this point... I have played over 30 games so far, with 2, 3, and 4 players. In no case would the results of any game I played be different if instead of winning a black gem for the port you won 3 gold instead. In fact, the most extreme change at the end of one game was that 1 player would have gone down 1, and another up 2. To me this makes the 3 areas of each neighborhood look like: win a card, win 3 gold, win 3 gold. Going for the black gems needs to be more of a risk/reward mechanic than it is now, although I have not tried any other system. One possibility which I have mentioned is to make them score like nobles in St Petersburg (1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45, 55). This way, if you choose to go for black gems, you will lose gold (compared to just going for 3 gold) until you get 5 of them. After that, your reward will be high enough that other players will need to compete to keep you from getting the 6th, 7th, etc. Another possibility is that each player scores gold equal to 2 times (their own black gem count plus the black gem count of all players who have fewer than they do). For example, if the black gem counts are 6, 5, 3, and 2 then this would translate to 32, 20, 10, and 4 gold respectively. This makes it so just getting _another_ black gem is not worth 4 gold; its value it based on what the other players have.
Overall: A very nice first game from a new company, but a little pricey for what you get. $45-50 in the US.
The root of all evil... but you can call me cookie.
With 2nd Ed. out this game can be had in the $30 range in the US.
I need a rule clarification.
A rules question I'm not quite sure about: Does any one know if a player gets just one victory point for placing any number of brokers in the market or is it one victory point per the number of brokers in the market. This seemed vague in the rules. Thanks in advance for a clarification