James Nathan: Curling Dice!: Panic Bridge and ordering titles from abroad.

Much of what I see in my Twitter feed I don’t understand. Sometimes because of language, sometimes conceptually, and sometimes both.

But I love this account of conceptual hot dogs. I didn’t search this out -nor would I know how to- but it arrived in my feed one day through some algorithm. Some accounts I follow are those of game designers, publishers, artists, and players from cultures that typically I would otherwise have negligible exposure to.

One thing begats another and my feed has this:

This story has been months in the making and I’m going to get some details wrong, but over a series of posts, I believed that DIY卓屋 had made 15 of these, and you could only order them through Twitter DM.

I messaged him with what I felt were the two deal breaker questions – a “no” to either and I should work on wiping it from my mind. Do you ship to the US? Do you accept PayPal?

I imagine I’ve put the gun on the nightstand and you’ve foretold that his response was no and no.

So I talked myself out of it. It couldn’t be as fun as it looked. Surely it’s not sufficiently different from or better than Tumblin’ Dice to lend it too much creed.

But it would be a good exercise to wet my feet in case there was something I wanted to be ready for later.

Then he posted this:

OK, now it was go time.

This is going to be part review, part a tale of how I obtained these titles, and part some general strategies I use to acquire small print run titles from abroad. 

I want to focus on strategies that would be available to the average reader and not spend time on the more obvious routes, so there are some things I’m not going to cover, for instance: having a local friend pickup and ship titles; subscribing to an item on BGG and looking for marketplace listings; amazon.jp, etc. There are also a growing number of English-language OLGSes which are carrying an increasing amount of these titles, such as the BGG store, Nice Game Shop, and the reborn Funagain.

I’m also not going to talk about Mandy’s magical subscription program. Once upon a time, a woman offered a subscription program where for a monthly/quarterly rate, she would mail you a box of surprise titles. The box would arrive with candy, and a card, and you could also request certain or extra titles. While she no longer does it, a few of my friends had participated and I have fond memories of some of the titles (and candy!)

One place to start is shipping, but to get to shipping, I have to start with 7 Symbols, and 7 Nations.

We’ve discussed it a few times previously, and for me it’s close to a perfect game. At the time of this writing it has recently completed a crowdfunding campaign and should be available soon (as Yokai Septet), but that wasn’t the case when I first played it and desired a copy.

Unfortunately, I came to this title late, and new copies of the original, or the first reprint (セブン, Seven), were long unavailable.

The theme of most of the tactics I discuss will be “ask nicely”, and the first I tried was to look for users who rate the game poorly or neutral on BGG and geekmail them, asking nicely, if they’d have any interest in selling.

The responses I received were all folks who wanted to hang onto their copies, but wished me luck, and said it was a great game. A friend uses the method routinely with some success.

The next thing I tried was googling the name of the game -the twist here being that it’s important to do it in the original language. One of the results was a listing for the game, as part of the Trick Taking Box from a few years back, on https://www.suruga-ya.jp/. Surugaya is an odd online Japanese store of used items with a fluctuating inventory. The strategy here was: think local. A used copy is more likely to appear in a Japanese site’s inventory than it is on ebay, and if it is there, you’re more likely to find it by searching the original language name (7つの紋章、7つの部族), than the English language name.

Then there was shipping. Luckily, Surugaya has a built in transship service.  In a broad sense, a transship service gives you a virtual PO box of sorts at a warehouse in-country, such that you can give that address to any sources that may only ship local, and when the package arrives, the transship service will notify you and you can provide further directions- ship to me right away, await another package, combine with another package, etc. Surugaya transparently used BuySmartJapan to allow me to put in my US address, and I never needed to enter the virtual warehouse address.

For Curling Dice, I was going to need a transship service, and I used Tenso. Transship services aren’t cheap, and you are paying for shipping twice – once to the service, and once to you.  Tenso has been a breeze to use as it provides handy dual-language guides which make it clear what block of text constitutes your address in Japanese. It also breaks it down by common field names you may be asked for, and has specific walkthroughs for major sites, like amazon.jp.

I’m currently drinking my coffee out of this mug at work, and I heavily relied on Tenso’s address field breakdowns to be able to order it.

So when DIY卓屋 posted the catapult and the bridges, I messaged him to say I was interested again. Again, there would only be a handful of copies, and Twitter DM was the only way to order. I sent the address Tenso provided, and he said no problem. I asked about the money, and he sent wire transfer details.

I was definitely in over my head (again). I ran into a few hiccups here, and most wire transfers -or at least the advertised usage- is for large amounts: buying art or a property or a yacht. Not boardgames. This meant two things. Banks were out as an option because the wire transfer fee was typically a flat amount (not a percentage), and would be more than the cost of the game. Some companies specializing in wire transfers were also out, as the first one I tried, for example, had a minimum transfer of $10,000.

I found one which would do it for a $10 fee, and went for it. The information required was extensive and specific: his bank name, branch number, account number, name…but I also ran into issues with language restrictions. He had given me his name, and the bank said it didn’t match. In further discussion, he gave me a second name, but the transfer company required the name to be in a specific Japanese alphabet, and the name he gave me was a mix of two.  

I switched to Xoom, a PayPal affiliated wire transfer service. The language restriction on the name was different, and I was able to proceed, but now I needed a telephone number. Then an e-mail. Back and forth, and I fear I’m trying his patience and am getting far from “ask nicely”.

But it goes through!

This is the most basic thing I ordered. It’s Curling Dice: Little Garden, but the only difference from Curling Dice is the decorative patterns. DIY卓屋’s Twitter feed also includes hand-colored boards which are stunning.

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The game play is somewhat as you’d expect. Each player chooses a color and players take turns flicking the dice from one of the two start spaces. While you only begin with 2 dice, once each player is out, a mini-round begins where each player can choose a dice to “redo” – flick again.

There’s also one additional mini-round before scoring: the board has some special actions spaces – which may grant you another redo, allow you to flip a dice, allow you to flick a dice from where it lays, etc.

In the picture below, I’ve labeled the 5 action spaces with the 1-5 dice.

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Each player can choose at most one of any special actions that their dice have landed on.

Afterwards, that round is scored (dice face multiplied by any x4, x10, x20, etc. spot that the dice has landed on), and additional rounds are played such that each player has a chance to be the start player.  Add up the scores, and highest wins.

In the past, I’ve also had success with OLGSes in local countries. There may not be a shipping option for the US online, but ask nicely. I find an e-mail for the store, and draft a message with what I’d like to order (copied and pasted from a cart I’ve made on their site, so that it has local language game names, etc), a friendly request, and some pleasantries in the local language. こんにちは and ありがとうございました can grease the process.

How to find those stores? Overtime, I’ve built a list that I check, but when I need a new one, one thing I’ve done is find a larger in-country publisher and check their website for a list of retail outlets -some of which include fields for if the store has an online presence and offers online ordering. Here is one from New Games Order, a publisher and distributor (http://www.newgamesorder.jp/retailer), and one from Nicobodo, a Japanese game blog (http://nicobodo.com/archives/bg_shops.html).

Another site worth mentioning is BOOTH (https://booth.pm/en).  A friend describes it as an Etsy-type site which provides a marketplace for small creators, with board games being one of its featured categories.

Last week there was also a crowd-sourcing effort to find someone a copy of a 90’s Japanese Twin Peaks board game, and a copy was found on the Japanese Mercari site (https://www.mercari.com/jp/), an ebay-ish source.

Ultimately, the OLGS process is a reasonable archetype of the global method I use, but instead of stores, I also ask nicely the designer or the publisher. They may be able to accept payment and ship directly, or provide direction on a store that does carry.

When I ordered Curling Dice!: Panic Bridge, I opted for a couple other things he offered me. The first was extra dice. The game play is going to be similar to Little Garden, but with the extra dice, each player will go 4 times before the redo-round. The second is an expansion for Panic Bridge which added 2 additional bridges, and taller towers to accommodate the use of more bridges in the setup.

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The basic game play is the same as Little Garden, but now with precarious bridges which are flexible thanks to the laser-scoring.  Below is the basic setup.

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Panic Bridge adds a second option to the redo-round: you can catapult one dice instead; the base of the catapult must be in either of the depicted areas.  Below you can see that Panic Bridge has 3 special action spaces – and one of them is the catapult space, so you may have a second chance to catapult each round.

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The expansion, shown below, doesn’t have explicit setup instructions, and this is the type of game where the rules end with a disclaimer of “or just play in any way you enjoy!”.  Which bridges, how many bridges, and which slots they occupy is sort of up to you, but the rule structure remains the same.

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I mean, don’t expect a grand strategic experience. DIY卓屋 seems to specialize in game inserts, and these seem like a “What if…” sort of lark.  It is difficult to score, and rarely do the action spaces come into play. However, as an end-of-the-night cool down, or late night loopy con game, they’re great.

Cost aside, I think there are four main obstacles to obtaining niche titles of interest from abroad: knowing the title exists; locating an available copy; getting it shipped to your location; and payment method.

For the first, I follow Hilko Drude’s Latin American game coverage; Japanese game fair coverage from Nice Game Shop; various local artists, designers, and publishers on social media platforms; and, of course, what Lorna, Joe, and my friend Rand have been playing.  For the second, ask nicely, and try to craft some or all of your message in the local language. Ask the designer, publisher, or retail stores. Try second hand. Ask nicely. If an OLGS doesn’t have a shipping option for your country, try e-mailing the store. For the third, transship services are an option, and while they can be expensive, they get the job done.  For the fourth, I didn’t mention it, but I’d even considered physically mailing DIY卓屋 the appropriate amount of yen; as with the other options, persistence pays off. (I also keep a no-annual-fee credit card that doesn’t charge foreign currency fees for making these types of purchases, and I have PayPal let my card do the currency conversion.)

If you want it, you can find a way. I believe in you!

Regards,
James Nathan

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2 Responses to James Nathan: Curling Dice!: Panic Bridge and ordering titles from abroad.

  1. Amy T says:

    Hi James,

    I really enjoyed your great piece of writing on one of the Japanese indie board games! Well, one thing that bugged me was that there is no mention on the actual designer who did at least the artwork part of Curling Dice board. Go check Northgame (Twitter: @northgame_p / website: http://northgame.web.fc2.com/), they are a cute couple of wood-burning artist. You find their other beautiful works there as well!

    Cheers,
    Amy

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