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Yamatai Buildings – Analysis and Strategy

Yamatai, designed by Bruno Cathala and Marc Paquien, is a fantastic game. Set in the Japanese archipelago of Yamatai, it is a game of short term strategy and optimising turns. The goal is to gain as many Prestige Points as possible, and this is done through one of three means. Firstly you can collect money, secondly you can build buildings, and thirdly you can hire specialists. All of these are done to impress Queen Himiko of Yamatai as you build your empire.

The specialists in Yamatai are a beast unto their own right, each one being different and bringing something different to the game. For today we are going to be looking at the second of those means of gaining Prestige Points – today we are going to be looking at buildings.

Yamatai Buildings

So, buildings are one of the primary sources of points in Yamatai and it is that which makes them interesting. Depending on the value of boats (or ships) around an island, depends on what you are able to build. Naturally enough, this means they are in high demand.

For this article I am going to make the assumption that you have played Yamatai, so we can jump straight in with the analysis. If you haven’t played Yamatai and you are interested then you can check out the Yamatai review we wrote here. If you haven’t played it, then you should definitely check it out. We managed to get it super cheap at the UK Games Expo in 2019, and since then it has become one of our favourite games.

Back to the buildings, there are essentially two different buildings in the game. There are standard buildings and then there are Prestige Buildings. Prestige Buildings don’t technically belong to you as the player, and they include the likes of Torii and Palaces. Normal buildings get bonuses when placed on the board, Prestige Buildings don’t unless you have the specialist who allows for you to do so. Her name is Awashima.

Here’s the thing. As you may or may not know, here on Start Your Meeples we have a habit of looking at the maths behind games, and we tend to analyse them to understand just what is going on beneath the covers. The question I asked, the one that led down this particular rabbit hold tonight, was whether the boats are distributed the way you would imagine them to be based on their value within the game. Namely, Bamboo (Green) being the least valuable, and Gold (Yellow) being the most valuable. To understand that, we need to understand the worth of each resource to each building, and that is where the mathematics in this article come in.

Yamatai Buildings – The Math

So, to answer that question, to fully understand the distribution, we need to take a look at the buildings. To do this we need to put them in a spreadsheet, along with the resources they give. Next we need to understand the value of each resource for each building. Now this is where things get neat. If there is a building that requires all five resources (like the Torii) in equal proportions, then it is possible to say that there is an equal split of resources between them. For a five Prestige Point Torii, each boat is worth 1 point. It doesn’t matter what the resource is.

After we have that, we can add up all the values of each resource, and divide that by the total number of buildings that use that resource. This gives us an average points value for each resource.

Now, that is pretty neat, however, we can take things further. If we look at the number of buildings that then use each resource, we get a total value for each resource for the game. Where that has no practical use, it is pretty interesting.

Sound complicated? Well, actually, of all the analyses we have done on this blog over the years, this is actually one of the simplest. This has actually been remarkably simple to put together. Let’s walk through it.

Understanding the Buildings

Step number one, and this is the step with any board game analysis, is data entry. So, with that in mind, there are 28 buildings in the game – 21 standard, and 7 prestige. The prestige are split into 3 Torii and 4 Palaces. Each one of those uses 3 to 5 boats to be built, and so we can actually put those into a table like the below.

The difficulty is that there are no names for the building titles, and where this means I didn’t have to type them out, for which I am thankful, it also means that the buildings can only be referred to by their number…so…sorry about that…

All the same, the data looks like the below (apologies if you are reading this on a mobile phone – you may need to scroll sideways a bit…):

Points Coins Bamboo Wood Stone Clay Gold
4 1 2
2 1 2
2 2 1
5 1 1 1 1 1
5 2 2
6 2 2
1 2 2 1
1 2 3
1 2 2 1
5 2 2
4 1 2
3 1 2
3 3
3 1 2
3 3
5 1 1 1 1 1
3 1 2
3 1 2
3 1 2
1 2 3
2 1 2
6 2 2
5 1 1 1 1 1
3 3
3 1 2
2 2 1
2 2 1
1 2 3

Now, as you can see, there is a sixth column, added in near the start, that shows the number of coins gained per Yamatai building as well. This is because every one point building also gets coins. Seeing that table, I’m sure you can probably see why I screen shot data more often that paste it in. That did not turn out particularly well.

Don’t worry – from here on out, we will be using graphs.

Okay, so now we have the resources, we can actually see which ones are used most often. To do this we simply need to count the number of buildings that uses each type of resource.

Yamatai Analysis and Strategy - Building Distribution

As you can see, although the cheapest, there aren’t actually that many buildings that use Bamboo, and instead we see Wood be the most used resource. Stone and Clay get used roughly the same amount, and then we have gold being used least. The majority of the gold usage is also on Prestige Buildings.

Now, if you are concerned about Yamatai strategy, that is all you need to know to craft an awesome strategy; however, there is nothing to stop us going above and beyond to really understand what is going on with each resource.

So, what we are going to do is work out the total points value of each type of boat.

A little bit of behind the scenes here, and I’ll tell you how this one was worked out. Namely, the above table was copied into two sheets (starting at A1, so the first actual piece of data was in A2 – the first sheet was named “Base Buildings” as well, to make things easier), and using that data it was possible to create a formula that would work out the value of each resource in accordance with the points in each building. What this means is that we can work out, for instance, the value of two Bamboo and one Wood ship, for a 2 point building. That formula, for those wanting to try this at home, was:

=’Base Buildings’!C2*($A2/(SUM(‘Base Buildings’!$C2:$G2)))

That formula was dragged through each cell. It works out the average value of each ship in the game per building. We were then able to use the following formula to get the average of those –

=SUM(B2:B29)/SUM(‘Base Buildings’!C2:C29)

Yes, I could have used an Average function, but hey, I’m old school.

That tells us the average value of each boat in Yamatai, and in doing that we get the following graph:

Yamatai Analysis and Strategy - Average Value

Now this is the distribution we expected to see. We expect Gold to be worth more, and that is reassuring to see. We expect Bamboo to be worth the least. Interestingly, due to the points difference, we can actually work out a value for the gold using the trade mechanic, which is super interesting, but that is beside the points. That is for another time.

Instead, this is kind of cool in and of itself for the time being.

The final piece of analysis we can look at then is the total value of points per resource type in Yamatai as a game. This is done by taking the average points value and multiplying by the number of buildings each boat is used for. This draws together a completely different graph, and we can see the most valuable resource in the game over all. This isn’t hugely useful, but more just interesting to see.

Yamatai Analysis and Strategy - Total Value of Boats

Interesting, eh? Yeah, the most valuable boat over all, in the entirety of Yamatai is not the Gold boats, but rather the Clay boats. Intriguing to know.

Using this Analysis to Develop a Yamatai Strategy

To be completely honest, Yamatai is a short term strategy game. It is very difficult to plan turns and turns ahead as players can block you out of actions. That being said, the information explored in this article can lead to a couple of ideas. Those ideas are these –

  1. If you are stuck on what to choose, Wood will give you the most options as it is used in the most buildings.
  2. If you want to specialise in buildings, don’t underestimate the power of Clay. The majority of points in the game are in Clay.

And on that note, let’s draw this analysis to a close. This has been a board game analysis of Yamatai and looking at the value of the boats. We’ll look closer at Yamatai in due course, but for now, answer me one thing.

What do you think of Yamatai? Do you think there is a specific strategy you can employ? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

More Yamatai Articles:
Yamatai Review – Beauty and the Boats

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