First Impressions – More on Japan’s Mini-games

With the enormous popularity of Love Letter, I think it’s a fine time to explore what I’ll call the Minimalist Movement from Japan. Apparently the tradition at the Japanese Game Market is to try and design a small game with simple rules and minimal components. It has produced some really interesting and diverse games. I have been impressed with the fresh twists in games from many of the Japanese designers. Of course the biggest reason I like these small games is because I don’t have very much room let for new games! First I’ll mention a few older games of interest, then on to cult of the new! I am hoping that interest generated in the new games will result in some reprints of these games.

R from 2012 is similar to Love Letter, it’s by the same designer, Seiji Kanai but it’s only for 2 players. 001The game consists of 8 cards. Each player has identical hands and they play cards simultaneously. Like Love Letter, each card has a strength and a special power. These determine the winner of that round. The first to win 4 rounds is the game victor.
From 2010 RR and RRR (which came as relative “big” laugh box game) on the other hand have no bluffing elements.002 RR and RRR hold relatively few components and a simple premise but pack a fairly interesting game for two. RR and RRR have open information and no luck involved in the game play. I first visited this here, RRR and R for Review.

RR consists of only 15 cards played on a 3×3 grid. Players have identical hands of 7 cards and take turns playing cards. The cards have special abilities affecting the cards around them. the goal is to end the game with the most cards facing your direction.

RRR turned the cards into nice tiles and added 17 neutral elements to the basic 7.

I recently had the opportunity to play Hattari, which came highly recommended from a geekbuddy. Designer Jun Sasaki reports he enjoys designing games with few components and that he loves simple games. Hattari is a cool little bluffing and deduction game from 2011 that I missed until now.
Inside the small box are 8 body shaped cards, player tokens and 2 special tokens and a start player marker.Hattari 009  At the beginning of the round each player is dealt a card, a card is placed in the middle of the table as a victim (or db=dead body) with 3 suspects placed next to the db.

One of the 3 suspects is the murderer.
Each player looks at their card and passes it to the right, and looks at their new card.
The start player then picks 2 suspects to look at and marks the one that is not seen. The start player then may switch one of the two cards looked at with the db without looking at it.
The first player places one of her eye markers under the suspects. The next player then looks at the two suspects that do not have the previous player’s marker and does the same. Once all players have chosen a suspect they suspects are revealed. The highest valued suspect is guilty.

The blank or white suspect is always innocent. If the 5 suspect is among the three by the db then it is the lowest valued card that is guilty!
If a player is correct, they receive their token back eye side up. If incorrect it is “cookie” side up and can’t be used to make future guesses. In the situation where 2 or more places made the same guess the tokens are placed on top of each other in order the guess was made. If this guess was incorrect, the last player or topmost tokens takes all the tokens cookie side up. When a player has 8 tokens the games is over. The winner has the most eyes left over.
It’s a fun and fast bluffing and deduction game. I’m not very good at playing and normally I hate bluffing games but this one is short enough I don’t mind. I haven’t figured out when it’s best to use the switch but I like trying. Plays best with 4.

This year we have Sail to India from Hisashi Hayashi and OKAZU Brand. For a game with 24 cards, 8 of which are more or less small player boards and a handful of wooden cubes, Sail to India packs a punch equal to much, much bigger games.

Each player has 7 workers set aside. A player also has 2 cards, one which tracks VP with historians and one which has bankers who track money, a ship builder who tracks the speed of your ship and 3 scientists who can advance your technology. tokyo game market games 010 It is important to realize that bankers and historians come from your worker pool.
There are 3 tech cards.

The rest of the cards compose the map and are land cards. The map starts at Lisbon.

Players start with one worker on Lisbon. The additional 7 workers may be hired to Lisbon later. The other land cards are placed 3 face up and the rest face down for exploration (9 total cards for 3 players, 12 for 4). Land cards have buildings and goods on them.
On a player’s turn they get 2 action points (AP). For 1 AP they may do one of the following:
1. Hire 1 worker for 1 gold aka employing a marker. A cube is placed on Lisbon.
2. Move ships. You may turn a worker in Lisbon into a ship by placing under the card meaning it’s in the water. You may move all or one ship the number of cards equal to your speed. You may explore one undiscovered coast by flipping the card over. This earns 1 VP. You may convert a ship into a good by removing it from the sea and placing it on a goods spot on a card.
3. Sell Goods for money and if enough are sold VP.
4. Build a building for 2 gold. This earns VP at the end of the game and Base buildings give another port of access to the map. Commerce buildings act as a permanent good. Churches give 2 VP at the end of the game.
5. Learn a technology. Each scientist may learn 1 tech if it is not taken by another player if the gold cost is paid.
6. Increase ship game market games 017
The game ends when a player reaches the last unexplored card (India) and finishes their turn Each other player gets one turn. The player with the most VP wins.
So I could easily imagine this game in a much bigger box with actual ships and other markers and a large board with a variable coastline. In fact the game reminds me somewhat of Oltremare. The fact that it fits in a small baggie and still has some tough decisions makes this an intriguing game for me. To me the most interesting part of the game is the fact that you must have a banker or worker to hold your money. Each worker can hold 5 gold. If you earn more than 5 gold, you must have another worker available in Lisbon to hold the additional gold or it is lost. Similarly, you must have a historian to mark your VP. Each historian can hold 5 VP. You must balance your resource of workers between ships, goods and earning gold and VP and have workers to hold your gold and VP! I’m very interested in more plays to see some different strategies emerge.

From Origin of Failing Water to Chronicle to Trick of the Rails, Japanese designers have made interesting changes to trick taking. Patronize, also from Hisashi Hayashi follows suit as a nonstandard, twisty, trick taking game. The deck contains only 17 character cards.

Character cards have a rank from 1-17 and may have a suit symbol. They also have VP which are calculated at the end of game. In addition, each card has a special ability which may take place during the game or have end game effects such as bonus VP. Each card may also has a cube shown in the bottom L corner.
There are 7 fame cards to track the rounds and give VP and determine if there is trump during the round. The game also has Achievement cubes in 4 colors, 8 of each and each player gets one neutral cube.

The game is for 3-5 players and the hand size and rounds are determined by the number of people playing. I’ll use a 4 player game in my discussion. Each player starts with 4 cards and there are 6 rounds. 6 random fame cards are shuffled and form a stack face down. The character cards are shuffled and dealt 4 to each player, the rest of the cards are out of the game face down. Each player takes 1 neutral cube.
Start player flips the top fame card face up. The number on the card is worth from 5-8 VP and it will determine if there is trump or not by a symbol on the bottom of the card. If there is trump, the highest card played in that suit will win, if not the highest card played will win (the same as if there in no trump).
A player may either pass or play a card. Suit does not need to be followed.
When playing a card a player may use their one neutral cube to claim/protect the card as a protegee, meaning the will keep the card to the end of the game and benefit from it’s special ability.
Played cards are evaluated and the winner takes the fame card and a cube aka achievement of the color on the card they played if there is one from the stock. Other players in clockwise order who played a card now collect a cube of the color on their card and a cube of the color on the next clockwise card. If there are no cubes of that color in the stock they may take a cube from the next clockwise player with that color.
Any player who did not play a card that round may then, in clockwise order, take an unprotected card that was played that round as a protegee or choose a single achievement of their choice.
The winner of the fame card is start player for the next round. The game ends after the last round. If any player has cards left in their hand the get minus 10 VP. Achievements are scored 2 VP for the first cube of that color, 5 VP for 2 cubes, 10 VP for 3 cubes etc. VP on earned fame cards and protegee cards are added. Any bonus points from protegee special abilities are calculated. Winner is the one with the most VP.
Patronize has a really interesting mechanism. Trying to decide when to pass or play seems to be the heart of this game. There is also a lot of interaction in seeing who has passed and what card or cube you may potentially make available to them. The game plays quite quickly and so far I have been mostly focused on maximizing my tableau but I can see as I get more comfortable with that, the interaction will be much more important.

Kobayakawa this year’s entry from Jun Sasaki of Oink Games is even more basic than Hattari. You could call this the ultimate filler for gamblers. The components are fantastic.

The box is sturdy and it’s a good thing because this has to be one of the densest games ever for its size. The game contains 15 cards and 32 quarter-sized metal tokens!

Oink games has the best graphic design. Sorry but it just can’t be improved on in its elegant simplicity.
Game play is quite easy. Each player is dealt a card and one card is placed face up in the center, the Kobayakawa samurai card. Each player receives 4 coins and 8 are placed in the pool. You are trying to end up with the highest card at the end of the round.
On a turn, you may draw one card and may exchange it with the card in your hand, the other card not kept is discarded. Instead you may replace the card in the center with a new card from the deck. After each player has done their turn, they may then choose to bid 1 coin if they think they will win. The cards are revealed and the highest number wins, however the lowest played card gets to add the Kobayakawa card to theirs and if the sum is higher than the highest card that person wins. They collect coins bet plus one from the pool. In the 8th round, players must bid 2 coins to stay in and the highest card gets two coins from the pool in addition tot he losing bids. The winner is the one with the most coins.
Nifty little filler.

Lost Legacy is this year’s follow up to Love Letter. Seiji Kanai and Hayato Kisaragi somehow managed to take Love Letter’s simple system and make a different game.
The game comes with 32 cards, 2 sets of 16.

The sets may be played separately as the cards have different effects or you can mix and match the sets.
Same play as in Love Letter, draw one card and play one. By choosing which card to play, information is gained to help with the goal. The goal is is to find the Lost Legacy card

at the end of the game.
Each player takes turns until the draw deck is empty. Then in order of the card rank of the card in hand, lowest first, players may investigate or basically guess where the Lost Legacy resides. If correct they win! If no one is correct, it’s a draw or everyone loses.
I think Lost Legacy is a great follow up to Love Letter. It has a bit more deduction which I like. Having the extra set of cards is great, you can really get a variety of different plays this way. I am impressed by the way that Lost Legacy has quite a different “feel” to the play. If you are looking for another short filler, perhaps with a bit more game feel, I’d try this one.

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4 Responses to First Impressions – More on Japan’s Mini-games

  1. Thanks for the overview of these titles, Lorna! I agree that Oink Games is tops when it comes to graphic design. Each of the publisher’s games looks phenomenal, as much of an art object as game.

    Sail to India and Patronize also sound intriguing, especially the first title as I found it hard to believe that a game with only 24 cards could have an hour playing time. Hayashi has packed a lot onto those card!

  2. lornadune says:

    When I first looked at Sail to India, I thought, must be a short, little filler, pick up and deliver game, as we started to play I’m happy to say became much more intriguing!

  3. Raj says:

    Great article. I had the chance to play Lost Legacy recently, it fixed some of the repetition I felt with Love Letter, and it’s definitely one I’d want to add to my collection

  4. Great article Lorna! I think it is really a new frontier in game design to explore. I’m sure it will give use a lot of surprise in the following years. It is something opposed to the last years tendence to put card games in big box adding just some not so needed board and counters to make the decision accetable.
    good play

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