Game Preview: Miyabi, or Refined Tile-Laying Jerkery in the Garden

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by W. Eric Martin

At Gen Con 2019, the BoardGameGeek team was larger than it’s ever been, which gave me the opportunity to meet with publishers and survey their titles coming out in the second half of the year, with a focus on SPIEL ’19 releases.

One of those publishers was HABA, which has branches in Germany, the U.S., and other countries. The German side of HABA leads the way, setting the release agenda in the first and second half of the year, then the other branches decide which games from this line they want to release in their own countries, with the titles and packaging sometimes changing in order to localize the boxes.

While the U.S. side of HABA has historically released titles 6-12 months after they debut in Germany, HABA U.S. channel manager T. Caires says that with the success of Honga on the U.S. market — a success that’s translating into increased sales for Honga in multiple countries — HABA U.S. is changing its relationship with the German side of the company and will work to release some games on a near simultaneous basis, with one of those games being Michael Kiesling‘s Miyabi, which hits the German market on August 21, 2019.

Danny Quatch, bush-blocked

Miyabi falls into the genre of stacking tile-laying games such as Taluva and Heartland. Each player has their own 6×6 garden grid, and at the start of each of the 4-6 rounds, players reveal 1×1 tiles, 1×2 tiles, and 1×3 tiles (both straight and right-angled) equal to six times the number of players.

On a turn, you either draft a tile from this pool and add it to your grid or pass, with you skipping the rest of the round should you pass. When you place the tile, the object on that tile must be placed in the row of your grid where that object appears; after placing the tile, you place a lantern in the column where that object appears, and for the rest of the round you can’t place another tile so that the object on that tile lands in that column. Thus, you will place at most six tiles in a round.

When you place a tile, you score points equal to the number of objects on that tile (1-3 = the size of the tile) multiplied by its level in your grid. You want to place larger tiles since they have more objects on them, but as the game progresses, you’ll have more difficulty placing those tiles since they must lie flat in your grid. You need a solid foundation with no holes in it on which to build, but the building restrictions — object in the matching row and in a column not previously occupied this round — make it increasingly difficult to place tiles in a way that nets you lots of points.

End of the game grid, using the “zen tiles” expansion (graphics not necessarily final)

Aside from these building restrictions, other players might take tiles that you want, sometimes only because a tile fits perfectly in their grid and sometimes because they’re jerks. Tiles are worth more points the higher that you place them, so you might want to hijack a tile that gives you a decent number of points while also robbing an opponent of an ideal placement. What’s more, the first time that a particular object is placed on the fifth level of anyone’s grid, that player receives a one-time 5-10 point bonus (depending on the object).

Once everyone has passed or all players have placed six tiles in their grid, the round ends, and the first player marker passes to the right. Most points are scored during play, but at game’s end for each row in the grid, whoever has the most and secondmost objects of that type scores a bonus, and these bonus points can have a big impact on your final score, especially in a game with more players since (1) you’ll place fewer overall tiles with four players than with two and (2) in a two-player game you’re always scoring at least one of the majority bonuses, which is not the case in a game with more players.

Increasing my win record against players named “_anny”,with Manny being my victim this time

Miyabi contains three scoring variations and two expansions, with one of those giving each player a frog that they’re trying to hop to higher levels over the course of the game, the frog both delivering points and serving as an obstacle that players must build around.

The “zen tiles” expansion consists of sixteen 1×1 tiles in the six object types. You reveal five at random, and on a turn you can draft and place one of these tiles (following the normal rules) instead of one of the regular tiles. This tile can’t be covered, and once it’s surrounded by tiles or the edge of the game board, it scores again, with you receiving 1 point for itself and each surrounding object. Once you score it, you can then draft another zen tile on a later turn.

I’ve played Miyabi three times on an advance copy from HABA, one with four players and twice with two. The game plays like a classic German-style game, despite players each having their own grid in which to place tiles since you’re racing for bonus points during play in addition to competing for majorities at game’s end. Everyone’s drafting from a shared pool, so as in Kiesling’s Azul, you need to draft a rough plan for which tiles you’d want to place where in order to make the best use of what’s available, to anticipate the tiles that others will yoink, and to leave yourself options as to which tiles you can sweep up at the end of the round, typically the 1×1 tiles, which can either fill in gaps or exacerbate the gaps you already have, making it even tougher to play tiles in future rounds.

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