One of the most intriguing things about how gaming continues to expand and grow is the way designers take inspiration from all kinds of unexpected (and sometimes “mundane”) sources to create original and engaging games. One example of such is Yakitori, a laser cut wooden game based around trying to maximize profit while grilling and selling the titular street food.
The gameplay is both a well simplified play on the chosen theme and a deep enough game in itself. Each round players roll three dice and then use them to choose (in turn) which available actions they want to perform. The die values will determine action order within each action category.
- At Market players will buy raw ingredients or sell their cooked dishes. There are three different types of meat tiles and three different vegetable tiles available in the game.
- The Influence category allows manipulation of demand for ingredients, moving their individual buy and sell prices up or down.
- Finally Grilling allows players to cook the food on their skewers or accelerate/slow the speed with which it reaches doneness.
The skewers are both a fun thematic component and a clever mechanic. Raw food starts on the lowest section of the skewer, and moves upward as time passes. Which section it is in when a player sells it will determine whether they get a monetary bonus (for perfect doneness) or a penalty (for overcooking vegetables or undercooking meat).
At the end of the game players also receive bonuses for cooking the most of a particular type of food and for groups of diverse types sold (although each food item sold during the game may only be counted once for bonuses).
There are meaningful choices each round, although in the 2 player game certain limitations almost felt too restrictive. It adds strategy but can be a little frustrating and makes the learning curve for playing well steeper than first apparent.
This is definitely a game enhanced by the production value and design choices. There’s a wonderful classic quality to a well made wooden game that fits nicely with the theme, and again the way the food tiles interact with the skewers is a unique hook to build gameplay around. The center slots on a couple of the tiles were a bit too tight to properly move along the skewers, but that should fix itself as we play more and seems better than having them too loose.
While the game seemed quite accessible, as I mentioned earlier I feel like there’s aspects of the strategy I wasn’t quite getting. This isn’t necessarily bad early on, as it encourages more play to begin to understand certain subtleties beneath the seemingly straightforward base mechanics. The 2 player game definitely felt a bit cutthroat, where one mistake might put the game out of reach. It seems like this will play much differently with more players, something I look forward to trying in the future.
There’s more to Yakitori that initially meets the eye, and all around it strikes me as a nice package. It’s a game with a unique (yet accessible) theme, good production quality, and interesting gameplay.