While gamers have been paying close attention to Spiel in Essen every Fall for many years, it’s only more recently they’ve started paying attention to the Tokyo Game Market (TGM), a biannual event featuring Japanese design work. It’s still very difficult _to_ pay attention, for those such as myself who don’t speak Japanese; Eric Martin has helped greatly by creating TGM previews on BoardGameGeek, but those still only cover a small portion of an event that is growing to see a respectable percentage of the number of new releases seen at Spiel the month before.
I have been fortunate enough to try a few of the new releases; I thought it might be interesting to provide some initial impression such as seen after the event in Essen. I did not attend the TGM, which limits the number of games I’ve had the chance to try – if also the number of games I’m patiently waiting on English translations for. Finally, as most of the designers are their own publishers, I’ve not bothered to list the names of the publishers.
Dark Assembly (designed by Muneyuki Yokouchi) – Yokouchi has quickly become one of the Japanese designers I pay close attention to, due to the strength of Pecunia and 7 Symbols, and 7 Nations, along with other designs. I was a bit worried when I heard that the game was designed in more of a Euro-style, and unfortunately my worries came to pass; it’s a fine game, but shares a lot of characteristics with some of the more complex European designs. This is probably a very good thing for many, but makes the game a less ideal fit for me.
Balloon Challenge (designed by Kenichi Tanabe) – Tanabe has been a designer of interest for many years now, and after some travels appears to be back to more design work. This is one of his lighter game designs, and likely won’t be of as much interest to many gamers as a result, but so far I’m finding the game delightful. It’s a fine example of a family game – one that children and adults can play together and both have fun.
Portão para o mundo, Lisboa (designed by Kenichi Tanabe) – This game will remind fans of Tanabe’s much more of his hits such as Inotaizu and Guild; it’s a deeper game, if still with simple rules. The focus on Portuguese exploration is interesting, and the game does a nice job of providing the feel of exploration. I have high hopes that this will rank among my favorite games from Tanabe.
Matcha (designed by David Harding) – As you might guess, this game isn’t Japanese, though it was released at the TGM, and the theme definitely fits. It’s from an Australian publisher, but is very evocative of Japan, and has some of the nicer wooden pieces I’ve seen from a small publisher. It’s a two player bluffing game, so not for me, but still a nice game.
Let’s Make Bread!! (designed by How Ya) – I can’t offer a first impression of the game, as like most everyone I missed out on it. But I wanted to mention it, as it looks fantastic, and the theme of baking bread greatly interests, and I sincerely hope the game is reprinted in larger quantities.
Cinema Frontier (designed by Kuro) – Japanese games have been a presence at Essen for many years now, but occasionally games will show up at Essen for the German and larger international audience, and then make their Japanese debut at the TGM. This game is an example of this; it’s an interesting design, with a strong Coloretto flavor and a good theme, but in the end it fell just a bit short for me.
Scratch House (designed by Kuro) – Kuro is one of the Japanese designers I’ve kept my eye on for some time – but for one reason or another, none of his games has been a long-term hit with me. Scratch House shows some good signs of being the exception; the theme of the Winchester Mystery House is both of great interest (I tried my hand at a Winchester Mystery House themed design myself) and is _very_ well brought forward by the mechanisms.
Hedgehog’s Dilemma (designed by Pesu Nabeno) – The game looked incredibly cute when I saw it in the preview, enough so as to try to get a copy; with a lot of help, I did. The game is incredibly light, and involves blind choices, the latter of which will usually put me off a game but here it works. And the game has one of the greatest rules I’ve ever seen – “Don’t throw sea urchins.”
Curio Collectors (designed by Hisashi Hayashi) – Hayashi has been a designer I’ve watched for some time now, but I’m beginning to discover that his less complex designs are hit-and-miss with me, to a much greater extent than his heavier designs. This was a miss – albeit an interesting miss, and one I’d still be happy to play.
Village of Familiar (designed by Hiroki Kasawa) – I suspect we got the rules wrong, so I can’t really judge the game fairly. But drafting is one of those mechanisms that never seems to work for me, so I doubt I’ll double back to try this again.
Tezuma Master (designed by Hinata Origuchi) – I really like the cube boxes Origuchi uses for his games – but none of the games had really struck home with me, Colors of Kasane being the biggest hit so far. But Tezuma Master, a trick taking card game, is already my new favorite from Origuchi. The twist here is that players draft their scoring, their special abilities, and their poison suit – leading to lots of interesting decisions before ever playing a card.
Air Alliance (designed by Akio Nomura) – Another Essen release being introduced to the Japanese market. I’m still trying to decide just what I think of the game – the alliances are quite interesting, but I’m not sure the game will hold up to more than about five plays for me. Still well worthwhile at that, but as compared to the other TGM releases I’ve tried that leaves it as merely average.
All of these game together represent well under ten percent of the games released – for that matter, barely more than ten percent of the games in Eric’s TGM preview. All of which makes me want to take the trip there some year – and very thankful to the publishers who are willing to ship internationally and to the folks who have provided me the opportunity to try these games.
Impressions from other Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Y – wow – usually I can comment on one or two of the games, but I haven’t played any of them yet! I have a copy of Air Alliance that should be returning to me soon (I picked it up at Essen, loaned it to a friend, and I should be getting it back around New Year’s Day)… There are a few on the list that I’ll want to try now, and maybe they’ll show up in my bimonthly care package from the land of the Rising Sun!
Jonathan F – I scratched less of the surface than Joe, but have a few hits of my own.
Come to Fishing Village (designed by Fujiwara Teacher) – A clever co-op with a nice theme. Sort of like a city builder, you start with a small town. Each turn it will shrink unless you provide economic activity to keep people there. If there are no people left in town, everyone loses. There is very nice personal play, which limits quarterbacking, and a fun theme. Can you grow corn, for example, before the land it take by land sharks (not SNL, but more like real estate speculators swooping in). Some abstractions, but players can play on the tableaus of the other players, which is nice.
Exultate Deo / The Fluffy Rite / Lord Teddy (designed by Kyo-do-ke) – There is a sumptuous picture on BGG with a wood box and fancy bits. My copy is a simple one in a cardboard Coloretto-sized box. This is a trick taking cube game with straightforward rules. As I understood the rules, one player makes a teddy bear out of his cubes. She takes two cubes. The top one is the head and the bottom one is the body. The other players try to match the bear that was made, with the last player breaking ties. This means the first few tricks are often won by the last player as they can all make perfect copies. As the personal stocks of cubes are depleted, it becomes harder to copy well. You cannot win the trick if you don’t follow suit (head of same color, I think – no rules in front of me). I am not sure how much skill there is unless it is intended more as a memory game, but I look forward to playing it more after confirming some of the rules.
Lorna – Unfortunately I haven’t had time to play the games as many times as I would have liked, and I am waiting on some rules translations, so I still have a pile of unplayed games. Here’s what I have so far-
Small Market from Twoplus Games: a micro card game where you try and manipulate your stock and the market by drafting cards from other players. This game is kind of twisty and it makes me want to try it again to see how much control you actually have when playing.
Vampire Radar from Japon Brand/Kaboheru: A micro version of Fury or Dracula or Scotland Yard, one player is the vampire and the others cooperate to try and catch the vampire. Didn’t quite work for me, but I’ve never been a huge fan of this genre.
Eight Epics from Kanai Factory: A cooperative dice game. You use heroes with abilities to manipulate the dice in different ways to overcome the disasters. More difficult than we thought it would be.
Joraku from Moaideas Game Design: Trick taking with area control on a board. Didn’t quite work for me.
Reidemeister from BakaFire Party: Interesting game where players use loops of string to match designs. I played this with a friend from Taiwan who had taken a Chinese Knotting class in school and she did way better than the rest of us! I’m not sure how much game is here but it’s fun to try.
Scratch House from Manifest Destiny: Love the idea behind this game, a crazy tile placement game based on the Winchester Mystery house only instead of ghosts we have fairies as the force behind it. Has a lot of good mechanisms including a time unit resource. This will definitely see more play.
Tarot Storia from Kocchyia: This game can be played solo or as a 2 player co-op. The cards are very cute with tarot names but fairy tale illustrations. Like most solitaire card games it’s all about maximizing your card placement from your draw. Enjoyable filler.
Nine Tiles the latest from Oink Games: This is a speed, memory, pattern recognition game. It’s either your thing or not. For me works as a filler.
Nerdy Inventions from Homosapiens Lab: A teeny dice game where you gain inventions to manipulate your rolls to win. It works fine but nothing really new.
Tezuma Master from Ouyuuan: Really interesting trick taking game. Kind of a cross between Sticheln and Was Sticht and Wizard. If you like trick taking games, this one is well worth searching out for a play or two.
Kagutomo from Pyx.is: This game wins for unusual theme for me. You try to befriend stray furniture spirits. It has cute Yokai art. Be the first to collect a set of three and win. Makes a good conversational filler. (I think this was actually from last year, but I just got a copy recently)