Namiji – Setting Sail
This review was written by Jeremy Pike.
Sometimes you want to take a relaxing journey, but you can’t take the time.
Namiji is a set-collection game with a unique turn mechanism for for 2-5 players. It was designed by Antoine Bauza and published by Funforge Games. It is supposed to be for players 8+ and takes 30-45 minutes. Does it deliver a fun and relaxing experience? Let’s sail the waters off Japan and find out!
Unfold the central board to reveal the circular movement track of Namiji.
Then lay out the Panorama cards, Fish tokens, Net tokens, Dock cards, and Sacred Rock cards. Finally, set out Early Bird score tokens, equal to the number of players.
Give each player a sailing ship and matching player board. Place each player’s ship at the starting dock and their scoring token at zero. Then, have the players put their four Offering tokens on the marked spots on their player boards.
Namiji is the spiritual successor to Tokaido, so if you’ve played Tokaido, you’ve got a leg up on how to play. If this is your introduction to Antoine Bauza’s Japan-inspired series, that’s okay. It was mine, too. (I’ve since played Tokaido to compare the experience).
Each player moves their ship forward along the circular track, stopping at different Stations. There are six different Stations in Namiji:
The player takes a fish token (face up or face down) from the School and places it on their Rack (player board), then flips another fish token face up. Make a line on your Rack with identical types of fish or colors to score points.
Net Casting Station
The player takes the top Net token from the face down stack. These are fish tokens that cover two spaces on the Rack. They can be placed vertically or horizontally, or discarded face down to the bottom of the stack.
Crustacean Trap Station
Try a press-your-luck game of taking Crustacean tokens from the bag! Players may draw up to five tokens in one turn. Each Crustacean or Crab is worth one point, but grabbing a second Crab busts the game and the player gets no points.
Here, a player puts one of their Offering Tokens in the whirlpool on the central board. Players start with an end-game penalty of -15 points, but each offering given reduces that penalty. If a player makes four offerings, they receive no penalty. This is perhaps the most underrated, yet important, stop on a player’s journey.
There are three different Panoramas to collect: The Dolphin, the Squid, and the Whale. Each has its own separate station on the board. When stopping at a Panorama station, a player takes the next card in that Panorama. The first player to complete a specific Panorama immediately takes the corresponding Panorama Bonus card worth three points.
Sacred Rock Station
Here, the player takes the top two cards from the corresponding deck. They choose one and return the second to the bottom of the deck face down. These are secret objectives that help to gain more points.
Like Tokaido, players may move as far forward along the track as they like, but never backwards. This creates the core tension of Namiji: Securing an important spot to earn points may require skipping other spots that can also earn points.
Dock stations stop each player until all players have taken a spot at the Dock. As they arrive, players choose where to park along the dock. The player in the first spot draws cards equal to the number of players plus one. Then they select one and pass the rest to the next person at the dock for drafting. These cards offer bonuses for the rest of the game.
While the person in the last Dock spot only gets to choose between two cards, they are the first player to set sail. This maximizes their choice for the next section of the journey.
The Dock highlights the other major factor that amps up the tension in Namiji: it is always the turn of whoever is furthest behind on the movement track. So, jumping too far ahead (to get a vital spot) forces that player to wait as other players take their time along the track.
Competitive players (like myself) will feel the tension intensify as they identify how they want to maximize points. The pressure to jump ahead to complete a Panorama first can overwhelm a focus to take advantage of each stop.
The game ends when all players return to the starting Dock. Each receives an Early Bird token (of decreasing value) as they arrive. Once the last player reaches the Dock, players add their end-of-game and Sacred Rock scoring bonuses. The player with the most points wins!
Namiji is a beautiful game. The iconography is well done on the board, and the Panorama cards depict fantastic scenes of their respective animals. I appreciate that the sailing ships are wooden tokens, lending a sense of weight to the journey.
I also appreciate that there are multiple avenues to score points. It can be overwhelming at first, but cards you pick up at Sacred Rock stations early in the game can help shape your strategy.
Of course, which stations are available to you will also change your strategy. The unique turn system is one of the biggest parts of the game. And if someone else has jumped to a station you want, you can’t go there.
At four or five players, some of the stations do have a second spot available, but as the game progresses, the available stations still tighten up, amping up the tension.
What We Didn’t Love
One part of the game design we did not like was the scoring track. It’s a unique zig-zag style (Tokaido players will recognize it) with wooden tokens. The tokens slide easily, which means it’s also easy to bump them off the track and lose track of the scores. My wife would prefer all the scoring to be done at the end of the game to avoid this, but it’s not a major issue.
If you are playing the game with two players, there is a slightly different rule set adding a “neutral” ship. On the neutral ship’s turn, the player furthest ahead controls its next stop. The neutral ship does not score any points, and at the Dock, players will simply discard a card at random before moving to the next player. This ship can add a “take that” element which ran contrary to the laid-back theme of the game. We weren’t its biggest fans.
If you simply want a leisurely game where you can explore, Namiji is a fantastic choice. It’s hard to keep my competitive nature in check towards the end of the game which can make the tightness of the movement mechanic a bit frustrating. It’s still a fairly quick game that looks beautiful and is completely accessible to kids eight years old and up. The only reading required is on the Dock and Sacred Rock cards, so younger readers will still be able to play.
Embark on your own sailing adventure with Namiji on Amazon or from your friendly local game store!
The Family Gamers received a copy of Namiji from Funforge (via Flat River Games) for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Namiji - Setting Sail
Age Range: 8+
Number of Players: 2-5 (best at 3-5)
Playtime: 30-35 minutes (we say 45-60)