This review is also spookily available on Zatu’s blog, here!
Culture shock comes in many different forms. From greetings to etiquette, it’s what makes different societal norms seem less normal to an outsider looking in. Where it gets even more shocking is in the folktales, beliefs and idioms within these. For me, the most interesting is the cultural difference in the belief of supernatural forces! And Japanese ideas surrounding the ethereal and haunting are pretty dang wild! Kasa-bake, as a common example, are otherworldly umbrellas with a single eye and a leg. Whereas Yuki-Onna are beautiful women who float around snowy mountains striking terror into passers by! It’s like the whole system is centred on ludicrous ghost stories that were taken as fact, resulting in an eclectic and imaginative selection of devils, demons and ghostly apparitions!
Night Parade of A Hundred Yokai is an area control, engine building game based on the Hyakki yagyō (the legendary event of the same name). It’s for 1-4 players and takes around an hour to play.
How To Play
Night Parade of A Hundred Yokai is highly competitive race to control islands. Once a player has placed enough of their own Yokai there, they remove them and place a Torii gate to claim ownership. Once any player has placed all five of their gates, the round finishes and scores are calculated according to players’ personal goals. Whomever accumulates the most victory points as a result of this, wins!
To begin, players take the 13 island tiles and place them in the centre of the table daytime face up. (For a two player game, these should be nighttime face up.) Then, all players choose a unique faction to play as and take the associated Yokai meeple, Torii gates, a private goal, starting Yokai cards and one of each scroll. Yokai cards have a variety of effects but come with one of three backgrounds, identifying which scroll they would sit next to. Players also get three spirit tokens. The remaining spirit tokens, mystery bonus and talisman tokens should be placed in an accessible pool within reach of all players. Finally, players shuffle the two, four and six spirit cost Yokai cards and deal two of each in a market.
The aim for players is to play as many of their Torii gates as they can by controlling islands, whilst also working towards their own personal goals. Goals always give points for played Torii gates as a first objective. However, the second and third objectives associate to Torii placement locations and Yokai in a parade (next to a scroll). This leads further into the asymmetry produced by playing a unique faction. Gamanoke (frogs) are better at getting spirit, Onikuma (bears) work best at controlling areas, Nekomata (cats) are excellent at manoeuvring and moving Yokai and Nogitsune (foxes) are more centred on gaining more Yokai. Of course, this asymmetry is only a starting point as players will add more Yokai to their parades as the game goes on.
A Player’s Turn
The game of Night Parace of a Hundred Yokai runs in rounds where players activate phases. Night Parade phase, recruit phase and release spiritual power phase. In the Night Parade phase, they will choose a scroll to activate and, from left to right, activate each of their Yokai. Every Yokai has an activation which allows the player to add a meeple to an associated island. Activating the blue scroll enables them to add water Yokai to water associated islands. Then, they activate the remaining abilities before moving onto the next Yokai in the run. This may enable them to fight (remove an opposing Yokai from any island you also occupy), move a Yokai to an adjacent island, gain a spirit or gain a talisman. Whichever scroll was activated is flipped to ensure it is not activated the next round.
During the recruit phase, players can spend spirit and one talisman (per purchase) to gain more Yokai cards. The more spirit power spent results in stronger Yokai. Some cards have multiple abilities that are activated in their order, making them more versatile in the built engine. The final phase is the release spiritual energy phase. This Is when players discard any remaining talismans, gaining one spirit for every two discarded.
If a player has the necessary number of meeple on an island required to build a Torii gate, they remove them and place the gate. Only so many gates can be placed on any island, as dictated by the card, and the first player to do so gains the specific benefit listed on the card as well. Islands requiring more meeple will generally provide more benefits for being the first player.
How It Feels to Play
Night Parade of a Hundred Yokai has very quickly become one of my favourite area control games. Theme, mechanics and art all flow beautifully together to produce an experience that’s delightfully competitive and rewarding! What’s more is that it’s ideal as a light introduction to both area control and engine building, without being overburdening.
Epic Battles! Frogs vs Bears!
The thing about the supernatural is that it enables unexpected things to happen. Whether that’s a frog decking a bear or you becoming the next king of all Yokai, it’s not worth questioning and just worth engaging with. Logically, it’s questionable… Mechanically, it’s golden! Each faction starts in an asymmetrical styling with a specific focus being available to them. From there, they then need to focus on acquiring Yokai for each engine to best address their gaps and the developing forms of play.
Which begs the question… does one faction start on the back foot? Yes and no. It’s undeniable that having a plethora of spirit will bolster you and give you a really strong start. No one complains about extra cash, right? So frogs start strong. Foxes and bears have a nice balance to them too with area control and purchasing ease at the forefront enabling those players to manage their engines and territories easily. Then there’s the cats… I love playing as the cats! They’re so manoeuvrable and fantastic for sneaking in to snatch a Torii gate placement. But at the start, they’re super weak. With next to no ways to gain spirit or talismans, your first purchase needs to be chosen wisely. It’s possible to lock yourself out of a purchase for a while if you play it poorly.
You’re Not Always Going To Be Unique
The asymmetry in the early game dissipates and eventually dissolves based on purchased Yokai, with players specialising based on added parts to the constructed engines. It’s more of a stepping stone than anything. You’ll play to your faction’s strengths and make progress in a more linear way to start with, but it doesn’t last long. Alternatively, you can cash in on those strengths and specialise massively. At least that’s my play when I choose the cats! Sneaking around the islands, dominating the areas appearing out the blue!
A Smattering Of Small Islands
Call me off, but I love any amount of chaos and unpredictability. So Night Parade of a Hundred Yokai’s random tile set up is a big selling point for me. At first glance it doesn’t appear to have any impact on gameplay though. All tiles function the same way with minor differences… so how’s the layout affect anything? Well, with the ability to move meeple across islands it means placement is important for a multitude of reasons: personal goals, control, manipulating other people’s dominance and being able to snatch the central tile just as the tip of the iceberg. However, the chaos of the game starts and ends there though. Everything else has some element of player determined control.
Aesthetically, the game has a gorgeously illustrated and cute feel to it. It’s bold, eye catching and fits squarely somewhere in a classic anime styling bordering on chibi – emphasising that Japanese edge even more! (Although you don’t need to be overly versed in Japanese illustrations to appreciate how cute it all looks!) The meeples are stunningly printed and custom against one another, the cards are produced to a superb standard and island cards feel robust. The only downside to it all are the spirit and talisman tokens which feel pretty… standard. Not a poor quality, but just not to the standard of every other element of the game. A minor qualm in an otherwise excellently made game!
Soft Locked In A Board Game!?
Unlike in many other area control games, you can actually score a big fat zero for owning things in this game. But, hold your gasps, that’s why it’s so important to know your goals. These should be the forefront of every action you take and every move you make. It’s really easy to get lost in the competition for dominance. (I’m speaking from experience where!) We’ve had games where players – me – have ended the game by placing their final Torii gate but scored little to nothing due to their positions. Your goal directs what you want and you should focus on that.
Knowing your goal is important, but l knowing everyone else’s is where things get spicy. There’s a chance no one will have the same control goal. A slim chance… but it’s unlikely! So it’s important to keep an eye on where folk send their Yokai. Night Parade of a Hundred Yokai is as much about scoring points as it is preventing them. You don’t need to control an island to stop someone else… just sending volatile Yokai over there will remove some of their control and help you assert your dominance on the tabletop.
The other goals generally focus on gate positioning (based on other gates) so that’s less controllable, and the final is based on your runs for each scroll, earning a point for every two of a specific type. Less controllable but 100% worth focusing on. Points are always close in the end game so keeping it all streamlined and prioritised is paramount.
In A Nutshell
I absolutely love Night Parade of a Hundred Yokai. You can’t dress it up, the mechanics and theme match what I enjoy beautifully. It’s punchy, decisions matter and it speeds up as time goes on, with players being able to see how their engines are improving and will affect the board. But is it for everyone? Well… it’s mega competitive and laced with take that (as any area control game will be) so that’s worth keeping in mind. Also, the niche theme of Japanese folktales and the ghosts might not suit everyone. They’re far fetched for sure, but I’d argue that the art and stylings dominate more than the overarching theme.
I’d highly recommend this one for anyone who likes the feel of being in control of a map, or engine builders in general. It’s superb.