Piracy is one of the oldest, and most notorious, careers. Blackbeard, Calico Jack, my cousin Steve, all famous pirates across history and folklore, all known for their piracy and dodgy VHS tapes. But what’s not always understood is what drove them to piracy? Who did they turn on? Who’s to blame?! Who knows. Edward Teach turned pirate several times and gave it up an equal amount, too. The speed they flit between naughtiness and niceties was stunning. YOHO (You Only Hang Once) by Sabrewolf is a game of being a pirate and maintaining a crew. Dodge the blame, accuse pirates of underhanded dealings and cause a mutiny in this four player game of cards!
To begin a game of YOHO, all players are dealt a pirate to play as with the fifth being placed visible to all players. These roles are placed Loyal side up. If there aren’t four players; all the remaining cards are placed within reach of everyone loyal side. Then, players are dealt random roles, with one player being captain. ￼These roles are numbered from one to five and indicate the level of influence they may have. The captain is the five, whereas the pariah is the one. Players then organise the deck of cards and a discard pile known as the “Blame”. Finally, all players are dealt five cards as their initial hand.
Throughout the game players change their roles by demoting those above them. What’s more is that all characters have both an Loyal side and a Mutiny side. Both these changing variables result in players being able to manipulate how much “Blame” someone has. The more cards in the Blame pile with a number matching your role, the more Blame you have. As captain, you also take the Blame for any players who are also currently mutinying.
In example, if the First Mate is in Mutiny, the captain would take blame for all cards with a four and a five, respective of both role’s values. When an accusation is made by any player against the Captain, the accuser and Captain check the Blame deck. Whoever has the most cards matching their current role’s number becomes the Pariah, and the other the captain. All pirate roles also flip, changing from mutiny or ability to the reverse.
Action Constraints and Controlling the Ship
Players can play cards to utilise their abilities, given to them by their specific role. These allow players to gain cards and gain more options. It’s an important element of the game as it ensures you have options. There’s a key rule in the game preventing players from playing cards of the same effect or number to the Blame, so it ensures there is no back and forth of actions.
There’s also one very minimally used mechanic in the game which puts everyone on edge – burying a card. When Land Ho is played, a pirate in Mutiny and the Captain may bury one card, which means lay it face down. Other cards enable the Captain to uncover this card and bring it into play again. Ideally, players want to aim to bury the Treasure to help them win, however bluffing this action can be equally as beneficial.
The active player is indicated by whomever has the compass card. This dictates whether the ship is travelling to land or out to sea, with land being the Loyal focus and sea being the Mutiny’s. Flipping the compass changes players all to their reverse role. What’s more is that the land side reduces Loyal pirate’s blame, whereas the Mutiny side prevents pirates of that stance from using their role’s ability.
The main aim of YOHO is simply to have the least blame. It’s as simple as that. Have the most blame and you walk the plank! An instant loss, despite many other factors. Then the focus is to either have the only treasure card, or the highest rank. The game ends when the deck of cards is expired, at which point blame is identified through cards in hand.
How It Handles
If you’re like me – someone who struggles to justify pirate slang and terminology in general conversation – then you too know the struggle of a landlocked sea-dog. Luckily, YOHO is both a superb outlet for your salty expressions and is a great deal of fun!
A Learning Curve Like A Tidal Wave!
YOHO is a game where you’ll probably read the rules a fair few times before you get it. And that’s not down to the rules themselves, nor the game. This game is a great example of how abstract rules don’t always reflect practical play. You’ll understand what you can do, what it does, and how to do it. But you’ll only get why to do it through experience!
There’s the big question of why on Earth you’d Mutiny against a captain with most the crew on his side. Why would you want to be a higher rank? What’s the benefit of taking the blame? And why do Mutinying pirates suffer penalties in certain situations? Well, my little landlubber, it’s all contextual to the inner workings of the game. Blame is bad, but is effectively cards in hand. More cards, more options. What’s more is how the cards allow you to manipulate everyone else’s actions. Whether that’s changing their loyalty stance or rank, it’ll affect them. How you combine a series of plays will determine how likely you are to rise to the top of the crew, and how easily you’ll take charge of the ship. After all, a crew on side won’t Mutiny, but they also won’t stay quiet forever.
Steering To Victory!
The thing to focus on is winning in the game. Everything you do should be a small step towards the victory at the end of the path. Seems silly to say when talking about a board game – of course you want to win! Well, in the game you can easily get wrapped up in the clique of who’s in Mutiny, who’s Loyal, and what your standing is. It’s a slippery slope, and you’ll slip down it quickly if you don’t watch yourself. Play to win, not to exact revenge upon your enemies! (Make it a byproduct!)
Any good pirate’s main focus will be the Treasure and its acquisition and burial. Holding the Treasure is risky, but burying it will undoubtedly raise suspicion. Even the lowly Pariah can win with a Treasure card! They just need to manage the blame well with that, too. It’s a true balancing act, and quite often how you present your actions can be as important as what you play. Couple that in with shady alliances and clearly underhanded dealings and you’ll be singing shanties and throwing men overboard in no time!
Manage The Crew! Board The Enemy!
Player interaction is possibly the most important aspect of this game. It centralises on everyone’s ability to control everyone else. You want them with the rank most likely to take the blame at the game’s end. If lots of twos have been played, you’ll want someone to take the blame and be rank two to ensure they’re going to lose. It sounds a lot to juggle, but in practice it all comes together nicely. There’s a good range of cards to enable you to manipulate others’ ranks and loyalties, and it never feels circumstantially used.
I loved the number of choices YOHO gave you at all times, but more so when you took the Blame. Remembering the Blame is the cards in hand, having that early game will mean you’ve got tonnes of choice! Being in last place gives you the most choice in reality, and makes you a formidable force. Late game, however, it’s a panic! Getting rid of cards as quickly as possible is your only hope of escaping a watery grave. You don’t want the end game Blame, and you most certainly don’t want the most of it! It’s a balancing act, but it’s one we didn’t find unmanageable in game and it worked really well. Games can sometimes make players struggle under the weight of choices or the inescapability of so many cards. YOHO ignores this and flips it on its head in the most wonderful way beyond simple “trading hands”. Cards are power early game, and deadly later on.
Pirates Are Actually In This Year!
The game’s theme leaves no question in your mind as to what your role is. You’re a pirate, on a pirate ship, doing pirate things. Like piracy. The cards are aesthetically set on a pirate ship whilst being a pirate. Your role is that of an off brand famous pirate, and the Mutiny side of the role looks like you’d stab someone in the back. A small element, but the art is surprisingly captivating and quite lovely.
YOHO is a snappy card game which we thought hit hard and was excellently received at the table. The learning curve initially is steep, as the game does a lot of things out of the norm. Controlling others’ roles isn’t a normal feeling, and can be overwhelming, but in practice it works superbly and the benefits are clear in action. The theme, art and aesthetics of the game worked well and made for a really lovely looking game. We’d have liked to see the burying cards element utilised more, but can see why it’s used so sparingly – raise suspicions and to trick the captain. We think YOHO would be ideal for any group who enjoy a game with player interaction, take that, or unique feels. Just don’t get caught being a landlubber, or you’ll walk the plank and find yourself in Davy Jones’ Locker!