Alexander Pfister

PublicSolution 2008

No. of Players:
1 - 4



Introduced at the SPIEL 08 convention at Essen, the electronic “boardgame console” Yvio has set out to revolutionize the field of boardgames by uniting the best aspects of classic boardgames and modern technology. However, especially games collectors will know that this idea of the publisher PublicSolution was not new, but in fact over the last 30 years there have been several more or less successful attempts to bring technology and boardgames together. Recent titles like Space Alert, Die Insel, King Arthur, Monopoly – Die Börse, Game of Life – Generation Now or Wer war’s? spring to my mind right away, but if you go back a bit deeper more obsure games like the Video boardgame Atmosfear or the mystic MB fantasy games classic Dark Tower also can be remembered.

The first batch of four games which was released for the Yvio featured Octago, an abstract scoring game by Reiner Knizia, the children’s game Elefant, Tiger & Co, the mind-challenging combination game Thinx and the strategic simulation Freibeuter der Karibik. With its colourful gameboard and the promise of Pirate adventures and a good trading mechanism, the latter of these four games sounded rather interesting to have a look upon, especially due to the fact that the game seems to try to emulate elements of a strategic boardgame by giving the players the task to sail the Caribbean in search of wealth and fame. Thus, I decided to order my first mate to set sails, and straight off we sailed to the busy colonial harbour of San Juan…


As indicated, Freibeuter der Karibik comes with a colourful gameboard which displays a total of eight different harbours. The Yvio game pad is placed at the center of the gameboard, and all the harbours are connected to the Yvio by hidden induction-circuits which run under the surface of the board. Furthermore, there are different spaces for four kinds of trading goods at the outer border of the gameboard, and these also are interconnected with the Yvio. During the course of the game all actions by the players on the board will be detected by the Yvio through the use of electronically identifiable playing pieces (“Yvies”), and for reasons of atmosphere playing figures of ships have been included so that each player can put his Yvie into a ship of the fitting colour. Before the Yvio is turned on a SD memory card containing the game files is inserted into the fitting slot, and in addition a transparent overlay is placed on top of the Yvio so that the buttons and LEDs displayed there will have a certain meaning especially for the game which is chosen.

That is all initial preparation which is needed before the Yvio is turned on, and the next thing which will happen is that the players will be greeted with the Caribbean music and a voice which introduces them how the rest of the playing materials is set up. In case of Freibeuter der Karibik this setting up is mostly concerned with the placement of a few ship enhancement tiles, and so a Cannon tile, a Sails tile, a Crewman tile, a Cargo Box tile and a Residence tile are placed at different harbours of the Caribbean. Then each participating player places his ship onto one of the trading goods spaces so that the Yvio can recognize how many players will be participating, and then all players’ ships are placed at the Harbour of San Juan.

The basic trade mechanism on which the game functions is that all Caribbean harbours allow the players to load one of two available kinds of trading goods. The player then chooses a harbour where the same kind of goods cannot be bought, and sets out to sail to the harbour to sell these goods by placing his ship there. The players are not required to pay a purchase price, but instead their profits are calculated on the distance between both harbours and the time which has passed since the last player sold goods at the same harbour. Thus, as a general rule a long voyage is more profitable than a short voyage, and a harbour which has not seen a ship for some time pays higher profits than an often visited harbour. However, a longer voyage is not just a matter of moving a player’s ship on the board. All distances between the harbours are measured by the Yvio, and so a longer distance means that it takes a longer time before the player will get his next turn. In a way such a time measurement mechanism has been simulated in the boardgame Jenseits von Theben, but the Yvio actually offers a much more precise and easier way of keeping track of the days and months which have passed. The third factor which the profits are based on is the kind of goods a player has loaded, and here it usually is the case that Rum and Tobacco value higher than Wood or Grain. However, high priced goods are attracting scoundrel, and so a player with Rum or Tobacco usually is deemed to face a pirate attack.

Pirate attacks will be announced by the Yvio resounding with the voice of a player’s first mate, and the player then will have to check the display of the Yvio to gain some insights on the strengths and weaknesses of the pirate ship. Generally, each ship has values for Cannons, Crewmen and Sails, but whereas the players start with the score of zero for each of these characteristics pirate ships have a basic characteristics rating of two points each. However, depending on the strength of a pirate, additional points may have been assigned by the Yvio to the pirate, and the value of the characteristics may be seen on the LED display on top of the Yvio.

Making a risk calculation based on the player’s own values in the three characteristics, the player then has to decide whether he wants to flee (sails), fire a broadside (cannons) or board the enemy (crew). Once a course of a ction is chosen, the Yvio generates a random success or loss result on base of the player and pirate characteristics, so that it is possible to beat stronger pirates as well. However, the higher the difference in the characteristics values, the more unlikely becomes a success for the player.

If the pirate is successful the player will loose most of his goods, leaving him with a lousy profit when he reaches his destination. However, a successful escape on the other hand means that the player faces a small delay but progresses with his cargo unharmed, and a successful broadside or boarding manoeuvre even may bring fame and a reward for defeating the pirate.

Fame is accrued by the players for defeating pirates, delivering goods to harbours which have not been visited for some while and by fulfilling special quests. The Yvio sounds a trumpet whenever a player gains fame, and whenever a player has collected a certain amount of fame points he will be promoted a rank, meaning in game terms that he will receive a new title of nobility which effectively brings an increasing one-time financial bonus with each promotion.

As indicated, fame may also be found on completing a special quest, and these quests are random events which can be found by the players in the different harbours or by meeting a ship. Thus, players may be asked to transport a passenger or a letter, or they may be offered a treasure map leading them to great riches. If a player decides to accept a quest, he will have to take care that he arrives at the indicated harbour within a couple of months to collect his reward, otherwise his quest will be lost because it is not completed in time. The Yvio also may set out general quests for all the players, giving them hints at the current position of the famous Spanish Treasure Fleet or indicating a harbour where a famine has caused a great need of goods.

As might be guessed from the description of the sea battles, there is a possibility for the players to enhance the equipment of their ships. At certain harbours they will be offered additional Cannons, Crewmen, Sails and Cargo Boxes tiles, and the price of such tiles is determined by the time which has passed since the last player has purchased this kind of tile from the local merchant. In addition, the players may chose to barter by pushing a button on the Yvio, and there is a randomised chance that a merchant either lowers the current price by 100 Gold each time the bartering button is pushed, but there is also a possibility that the merchant gets fed up with haggling and closes down his shop for this visit (yes, it was the same way in MB’s Dark Tower).

Cannons, Crewmen and Sails are useful in sea battles, but sails also serve the player as a possibility to shorten his voyage times. The more Sails a ship possesses the faster it will go, and a high amount of Sails may prove rather valuable especially during the second half of the game. On the other hand, Cargo Boxes increase a player’s profits from each voyage by 50 percent, and so a good amount of Cargo Boxes may yield very high profits. At the beginning of the game all kinds of equipment are worth one Victory Point each, but when all smaller tiles are sold out higher priced equipment tiles become available, offering an increased benefit and valuing for two Victory Points. An exception are the Residence tiles, because they have no function during the course of the game, but instead the are worth either two or four Victory Points.

The game will be won by the first player to reach 10 Victory Points, but there also is a possibility that all players might lose. By the end of each month of playing time the Yvio broadcasts the general news, and this usually consists about notices about harbours being besieged by pirates. If four harbours are simultaneously besieged for over a month, all players will lose. Thus, players need to stay on the watch for such pirate attacks, and they will need to sail to such harbours and defeat a pirate there in order not to risk an early end of the game. However, there is not only the option of an early ending, but also the possibility of playing overtime. When the first player reaches 10 Victory Points, the Yvio will ask whether the players want to extend the game, and if they agree the game will be continued up to 15 Victory Points. However, players should agree on this question before the game starts, because it feels a bit strange to ask the winner for an honourable extension after reaching the required amount of Victory Points.

Finally, it should also be mentioned that there is a slight possibility of direct player interaction, and this happens if two player ships are scheduled to arrive at the same harbour at approximately the same time. In this case a meeting on Sea is announced to the player who was last to chose the particular harbour, and that player then gets a chance to decide whether he wants to attack the other player’s ship. Once again a result is reached on a random basis after the attacking player has chosen the particular type of his attack, and the winner of this sea battle receives most of the cargo of the looser.

Most remarkable about the Yvio-technology is the splendidly staged use of voices, music and sounds. Although a cut-sentence technique is used (e.g. tailoring harbour names into existing sentences etc.), the language comes rather fluently and makes up a good deal of atmosphere in the game. Here the Yvio is light-years ahead of RAVENSBURGER’S King Arthur, since a multitude of speakers brings the impression of dealing with different people. Likewise, the music is rather various, and different melodies are attributed to the different harbours.

Furthermore, the automatic recognition of the players’ ships functions astonishingly well, and due to the fact that the Yvio has multiple spots of making connection with the induction-circuits of all four quarters of the gameboard there is no fear of wear when the foldable gameboard is put away into the gamebox. During our playing rounds we never had the case that a ship was not recognised, and this is another factor I experienced to be quite different with other games using the induction technology. Personally, I would have wished for a few more spots in the Caribbean which I could have explored with my ship, and as the general advertisements of the Yvio tell about the possibility to recognise over 100 spots on a gameboard mere 8 harbours and 4 spots for trading goods in Freibeuter der Karibik seem a bit of an understatement and a lost possibility.

A slight feeling of sub-excellence also is left by the conventional game parts used for Freibeuter der Karibik. The colourful gameboard was not designed by any of the top-artists available in the boardgames-scene but instead by a graphics designer, and the result is that the board stands a bit apart from other modern age boardgames. Personally, I fail to see a reason for not choosing one of the well-known artists apart from the monetary factor, but this seems to be a strange argument because a lot of money must have been invested for the development of the Yvio. This sub-optimal design also is reflected on the player-mats (ships) and the equipment tiles, since once again the graphics are a bit uninspired and especially the tiles are a bit fiddly due to their small size.

Turing to the playing mechanisms and programming it should be mentioned that Freibeuter der Karibik offers some possibilities for player strategy which are outdistancing other kinds of electronic boardgames. Here primarily the focusing on certain kinds of ship enhancements and the risk assessment when deciding where to go and which goods to transport can be mentioned. However, there also is a slightly deeper level of strategy included because of the possibility of a “sudden death” when four harbours are besieged by pirates. Using good timing a player may try to manipulate others to face the pirates while using some precious days to gain a leading edge on Victory Points, and the playing rounds which brought up this situation in the second half of the game tended to be most interesting.

These strategic options stand a bit in contrast to the somewhat luck-dependent simulation of the sea battles, since here a player often has not much more of an option than to chose the possibility which seems to bear the highest probability rate. And unfortunately enough, the loss of three or more sea battles in a row can hardly be recovered if the other players should not face a similar fate. This component of luck turns the scales against the otherwise solid strategic value, and in the end it leads to the fact that Freibeuter der Karibik qualifies as a family game with a good entertainment value. However, if you keep in mind that the Yvio was designed especially to be used by families, it seems to match the interests of its target group rather well. So, those of you who should have gathered some interest in the new Yvio-concept should keep their fingers crossed for releases of English versions of the Yvio games!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany