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The Strengths and Cons of Toyo Tama: Yamatai Exploration

Yamatai is a fantastic game. Designed by board game designer Bruno Cathala, with Marc Paquien, Yamatai is a game worthy of a lot of praise. Set around the archipelago of Yamatai, players aim to craft the greatest colonies they can, gaining prestige from the queen, and walking away as one the most glorious merchants to have ever lived.

Throughout Yamatai players can hire the help of Specialists who will help them make the most out of their time around the islands. We’ve explored a few synergies between those Specialists in the past, however, today we are going to look a lot more granular. Today we are going to look at the specialist Toyo Tama in particular.

In this article we are not going to go through the rules of Yamatai, but rather we will jump straight in looking at that one specialist in particular. If you would like to read the rules then you can do so by either reading the official PDF of the rules here, or alternatively, if you would rather, you can read our review. There’s a run down there.

What Can Toyo Tama do?

Yamatai, as a whole, has simple rules – however, each one has been well thought through to craft the gameplay that we, here at Start Your Meeples, love so much. One of those rules is that when you place boats on the board you must either place them leading from one of four starting locations on the left hand side of the board, or you have to match up the first boat you place with a neighbouring boat on the board. For instance, if you want to place Stone/Clay/Clay, then you need to find either a Stone or a Clay boat to place next to. You can then lead your other boats in whatever order you want, so long as they link to the last.

What Toyo Tama does is break that rule – or to be more accurate she adds an extension to it.

Any empty spot on the boarder of the board is an entry spot for your boats.

Yep – what Toyo Tama does is treat every space around the outside of the board as an entry space, meaning you can come in wherever.

Yamatai Toyo Tama

Toyo Tama

What does Toyo Tama’s ability mean?

I really like Toyo Tama for a few good reasons, and it is those reasons we will be exploring throughout this article.

The first thing to acknowledge, before we continue however, is that Toyo Tama is a much better early game specialist than she is a late game one. How she is used, and how good her ability is, also depends on how players expand through the board and, to some extent, the player count. Personally, I think the best way to use her is early in a four player game (assuming she comes out), but she is useful no matter what.

So, what can Toyo Tama be used for?

Getting a Specific Culture Token

Gaining Specialists is an integral part to Yamatai, and in order to get Specialists you need to get Culture Tokens. Gaining Specialists can either be done by trading in three unique culture tokens (which is frankly inefficient) or it can be done by trading in two Culture Tokens of the same type. If you have Toyo Tama and you see a culture token you want around the edge of the board, you can easily go for it.

Getting Around The Crush

In a three or four player game the board can become a bit of a crush fairly quickly. With Toyo Tama that crush can be avoided – meaning you can pop in at a different point of the board, ignoring your competitors entirely.

What this can do is avoid the specialist Ananda, who can be an absolute pain if your opponent has him in a four player game, especially early on. It means you have to pay him to be able to build next to him. If you cannot pay you cannot build. Toyo Tama allows for you to move away from Ananda and have a clearer space to work with higher up the board.

Of course, there is a downside (and this is the only downside I can think of with Toyo Tama) that does need to be mentioned. When you place your boats elsewhere on the board, you then give your opponents the opportunity to branch out off the back of your boats. The best way around this is to start with the closer parts of the board and work out. This will always give you first choice, but it will also mean you have plenty of space to expand into that your opponents can’t reach unless they just out place you in the traditional sense.

This means Toyo Tama can always flit around the board, avoiding crushes, and always taking advantage of the new area.

Teaming Up With Ebisu

Now, regular Yamatai players reading this may have noticed a fairly big flaw with my statements. If you jump elsewhere as Toyo Tama, you can pick up culture tokens, and then surely your opponent can grow off your placement and build where you wanted to. It’s a broken system, right?

Well, yes and no. There isn’t a huge benefit to just starting out elsewhere for other players once you’ve already had first dibs on the Culture Tokens, as they don’t get building bonuses. That is unless they just want to get out the crush. What you can do though is make sure you have a super advantage by getting the specialists Ebisu as well.

Ebisu has the ability to, whenever you pick up Culture Tokens, you can pick up another Culture Token from anywhere on the board. This means that, with Ebisu, you can clear out certain areas before moving there using Toyo Tama’s ability. It’s a really strong strategy as you can keep building and keep gaining points, whilst also gaining specialists.

The Toyo Tama/Ebisu team up is one of the strongest in the game, and it can be an unstoppable engine.

Conclusion: Toyo Tama, Ebisu, and Winning Yamatai

The whole idea for this article actually came to be when we were playing Yamatai with a friend, and he said that he didn’t like Toyo Tama because she didn’t seem useful. I would argue that not only is she useful, but she is also one of the most powerful Specialists in Yamatai and is definitely worth considering, especially if you want to go for a Toyo Tama/Ebisu combo. It is an building machine.

So, there we have it, a brief exploration of Toyo Tama in Yamatai. What do you think of Yamatai? What are your favourite strategies? Let me know in the comments below.

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