It’s the time of year again. Today I’ll give an overview of sorts for games that will be released in Japan in a matter of hours at the Fall Tokyo Game Market (TGM). I’ll talk about games I’m looking forward to, games I wish I could play, games that stun me with their production, and games that delight me in their quirkiness. (The images used below are promotional images from the designer/publisher’s Twitter page, website, Game Market website, etc., unless otherwise noted.)
As usual, it won’t be the same post that I had planned months ago: I had hoped to be there! “Tickets” to TGM are traditionally offered as part of a catalog for the show, and entry to the fair is a stream of folks holding a copy aloft for the staff to observe as they enter the fair. These catalogs are usually available on discount afterwards -as the show is over and the information dated- so I grabbed one for cheap in the Spring, as I wanted to know what the insides were like. There’s only about 1 page that’s in English, which is about what I expected, but as Japan’s tourism policies forbid entrance right now, I haven’t dug into it with any seriousness. My plans to attend are on hold until April now, but for that anticipation post, you may get something a little different from me, as with any luck it’ll be a bit of a travelog. (And an overview of what the catalog is like.)
But that’s next year. Let’s talk about some of the titles releasing this weekend that excite me.
Gone with the Beans (サ01)
Designer: Kentaro Yazawa
Publisher: HOY GAMES
I want to start out as I usually like to, with the title at the top of my spreadsheet. Normally, that sheet stays in mostly chronological order of when I heard about a game, but this year’s has undergone some transformations for the people who’ll be picking up some titles for me, and those titles that I’ve reserved a copy of have slid to the top -and this is the first one I reserved.
It’s a 1-99+ player roll-and-write…about beans, and closer to the Hadrian’s Wall end of the genre than the Qwixx end. The game comes with 50 copies of 4 different game boards. Players start at different provinces, and in each of 15 turns, a provost sort of character wanders the board. Each turn players will gain some income and then have a number of actions to choose from, such as building facilities or achieving milestones.
Designer: Asami Yamanaka
One of my favorite up-and-coming publishers is a bookstore, that while new-ish to the board game scene, has been publishing other things longer, Twin Lions Do. They published the first (and second) editions of American Book Shop Card Game, and are releasing Pastiche tomorrow, a reprint of Laminate Rummy from rikatti -with another stunning production. (They do things under a few different imprints, such as this one.)
But what I wanted to talk about was something I found in the reservation form for Pastiche that I hadn’t been aware of. It is a sort of “choose-your-own-adventure” self-guided tour of Vienna! (With one for Bremen announced for the Osaka Game Market in the Spring.) How cool is that! I’m including a cover shot below, and a shot from inside.
Publisher: Manifest Destiny
“Touchdown Heroes” is a 2v2 trick-taking game themed around American football. This is the first trick-taking game we’re going to talk about, and is one of around 22 being released. Interestingly, it is both a must and may follow game — running plays are must follow tricks and passing plays are may follow which use special card effects. The designer had mentioned this one in the Spring, but what I wasn’t prepared for when they announced their full Fall line up is that 3 of their releases this TGM are trick-takers! (Interestingly, Manifest Destiny does something a little different with their reservation process than most, as you can see the quantity remaining to be reserved, and while most of their titles listed 150 copies available, one lists 300 (ジャストヒーローズ), and I’m curious what this means –is the designer more confident that it’s a great one? Is it related to the game being a co-design with Seiji Kanai?)
I also want to talk for a bit about things that I’ve seen different this TGM from previous ones: reservations, pre-releases, and, well Bob Jiten.
Regarding reservations, at TGM, very few reservations are paid pre-orders, but as more publishers and designers use booth.pm, some have begun taking both paid pre-orders for TGM pickup as well as for shipping afterwards. For one title I reserved through booth.pm, I received special notification – not because I reserved it, but because I had bought a previous game from the publisher. It included advanced information on the new release, which while it had been announced, the details on it were slim. The notification included a request to not share what had been provided, but it also stated that for folks that reserved the new title, they would receive a postcard in the mail to bring in as your reservation receipt of sorts. How fun!
Another game I reserved had enough demand for its limited production run that your reservation was an entry into a lottery for an actual reservation.
There are a few things worth touching on around Arukuma, I think. It is a new publisher that is bringing two games to TGM. One is a licensed Turkish design about breeding cats that is getting its first commercial release. The other is this cooperative game about escaping from a bear with stunning art (at least to me.) But this post is still about the reservation process, as this is the first game I went to reserve where you reserve the title through the Game Market site itself, rather than a linked Google Form.
There are typically a few open playtest weekends or events in the time leading up to TGM, such as Vorspiel, and this year some of those went on-line again (“VR Spiel”). One of the games I was most looking forward to unfortunately seems to have run across a fatal flaw in their game -that was already produced!- during one such event. My heart breaks for the designer, and I hope they were able to adjust the rules to their liking. It looked like a lot of fun.
Designer: Kenichi Kabuki
But one game tried things a little differently with these pre-release events: they sold a limited run of the game – in its current state at the time, BINGO13. BINGO13 is “another” roll-and-write wrapped around a Bingo mechanic. We talked about Lum Lum Party (a game I love – it has been picked up by Sugorokuya for a new edition) in the Spring TGM preview, and this fall we have BINGO13. The designer is typically prolific for the doujin scene in Japan, releasing around 4 games each year.
I was able to pick up BINGO13 after Banesto picked up a few copies from an event the designer was promoting it at recently. (My copy is a pre-release copy and the rules and board have changed.)
The players will seed the board with the numbers 1 to 24 at the start, omitting 25 and leaving the middle space blank. On your turn roll the 4 dice. At this point, the turn can go in one of two directions. If no sub-set of the dice sum to 13, you choose 2 to 4 of the dice to sum, circle the number, and so do the other players. (Later, the other players will be able to use “items” to adjust the number in certain limited ways.) If there is a subset that sums to 13, it works as a sort of wild! You can circle any number on your board (with a few exceptions), and the other players choose from 1 to 4 of the dice and circle the sum.
I’ve had fun playing my copy and am looking forward to the point system and other tweaks the designer has added for the proper release.
Imagine if CGE said “We know people love Codenames, and would love to see what other designers and publishers would do with the system -and we don’t need any royalties or control.” That is essentially what has happened with the popular word game in Japan known as ボブジテン, “Bob Jiten”, which came out in 2017. As background, the original game (roughly…) involves describing words foreign to the Japanese language without using other words foreign to Japanese (katakana words without using other katakana).
In April the team announced a project to sort of open-source spin-offs to the game. So if you want to make a trick-taking game that uses a set of Bob Jiten, go for it! A worker placement game? Sure! The only prohibition was to not make a straight clone. This isn’t a design contest – folks are manufacturing and selling their spin-offs.
The video I’ve linked below includes around 34 (….wait, thirty-four!?) games created as part of the project.
I also want to share this special map of the convention floor highlighting where the various Bob Jiten spin-offs will be available:
The one that most caught my eye was “Bobcabulary”. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the publisher’s upcoming taxi themed game, “txdr”, and was at first excited about their new flip-and-write game that takes places over a city map…wait…and seems to involve spelling things in katakana. Is this another of the Bob Jiten spin-offs? Indeed.
As quite an aside, a shout out to doing things fully offline – here’s a shot of a page of what I think are baseball scores and stats from Sports Nippon, a daily sports newspaper in Japan – where Stromasoft has taken out a newspaper ad for their upcoming TGM release, “百合×ボドゲ”
Breakup! is an interesting one. Described as a light worker placement game about helping your people see the aurora borealis, it was announced just 2 days or so before Game Market – far after most booths have already closed pre-orders for reservations, etc., this game is just starting with them.
The Game Market page description sort of describes the game as if the players are different gods helping some people see the lights – so you can do things like awaken your travelers, cause a magnetic storm, or “breakup” a cloud formation for a clearer view.
I wish I hadn’t discovered this one so late, or I probably would have picked it up. As it is, I’ll keep an eye out for it at various online stores (booth.pm, bodoge.hoobby, Korokorodou, etc.).
Designer: Peanut Design
Publisher: Peanut Design
I am a sucker for beautiful abstract games – even if I have little occasion to play them typically. There are two being released this fall that have really caught my eye. The first is Vicke, from a new publisher, and the pieces appear to be ceramic. Their twitter feed includes several shots of the component development and creation. More information on the game play has become available since I added this to my wishlist and to this post, but the time to dig into the details has eluded me. However, while I was at Age of Steam Con recently, I set an alarm at 5 AM in order to hit the local reservation window, and I was able to successfully reserve one, so when it arrives I’ll get further into it.
Credit to Rand for the discovery of this publisher/designer when he sent me a link to their Spring release, “RAIN”. It’s a solo game on a single sheet of paper, in A3, and the play time is listed as 1 minute to …..63,072,000 minutes! So… 120 years. But this is not about that game, it’s about a newer release, “Nightmare II”.
The creator, nupkirlidzo, is one of those that’s hard to learn about. While they share information about their works on Twitter, they don’t use any of the TGM hashtags that other designers use; the products in their booth store aren’t tagged as affiliated with any of the TGMs; and they don’t seem to submit product updates to the TGM website the way most circles do. How many other designers and publishers operate sort of off-grid this way?
Anyway, I ordered a copy of Nightmare II from the publisher’s booth.pm store -and it comes with a note that for some versions they will use the board as packing material, so order the more expensive one if you want it unwrinkled. The bits are those shown in the photo below, and many things are not what they appear -so much so that when it arrived at my forwarder, they thought it was 7 different things instead of 1 game.
Anyway, the board….is actually a grid (and very thin paper -with the rules printed on the back). This is a 2p abstract game where one player is a nightmare trying to affect the person’s sleep, and the other player is the person, trying to awake.
I think this one is worth a few more photos to help understand things, so I’m going to toss in a themeless explanatory image from the designer/publisher, and then a quasi-in-game shot. That board is deceptively a simple grid. Mechanically, it’s a bit Snake meets Space Invaders.
Designer: Aiko Oyama, Toru Oyama
I am very drawn to the visual aesthetic of Nanawari’s games. They also have a fairly unique mechanical design aesthetic – that emphasizes something other than the usual strategy and tactics that are stressed in Western games. And while I find them fun, that also isn’t what seems to be the focal point.
In Madrino, you can feel that the designers’ hearts are in the conversation about what you’ve drawn -not who wins. In Rise of the Metro, it’s apparent that the conversation you have post game about what it would be like to live in a town with this metro system and which station you’d live by, work by, and whatnot -that’s where the experience is.
It’s the same with this Fall’s game. That’s it in the photo below: the stack of cards on the wooden stand (also available in metal). Many of the cards aren’t public, for what I imagine are spoiler reasons, but they say things such as “You win if you eat some good food”; “You win if you see someone else smile”. There are around 60 cards total – and while my Japanese is not good enough to read the cards (…yet), I’m thinking about picking it up for the practice with both the language and the mini-affirmations.
HAMELN CAVE (エリアA29)
Publisher: I AM YAW
Publisher I AM YAW was new on the Japanese scene last year, and were quite successful by some measure, as their two releases, Two Rooms and Carta Marina, both were shortlisted for the TGM award and Two Rooms has been licensed by at least two publishers for reprints.
Both of their previous games are 2P cooperative card games, and this time that has not changed, and neither has their telling art style. What is new is that it’s a trick-taking game. I haven’t been able to get into the mechanics, but the narrative appears to be an extension of Carta Marina, and the result of your card plays have you exploring a map.
I’m going to talk about 2 auction games next. The first is Stampede, from designer mor!; it uses a Vickrey type auction where there is a simultaneous bid, and the highest bidder wins – but pays the second highest price. However, in the game, what you can choose on your bid is how many dice you roll. Your actual bid is the result of the roll!
I think? Many friends who I trust admire other works by the designer, and the provided description notes it as a set collection and area majority game that may seem ridiculous, but is actually somewhat serious.
The designer also notes that due to the cost of the (checks notes…) 88 dice included(!), they had to produce a large enough print run that reservations will not be necessary.
Designer: Taiki Shinzawa
I don’t think it will come as any surprise to those folks that know me that Taiki Shinzawa’s new game is on the list. It is not a trick-taking game this time, but an auction game, and probably the title I’m most excited for. The designer isn’t new to auction games, having previously designed and published both Time Capsule and Poor Potter – an audacious game where players bid by tearing chunks of clay from an initial allotment.
This time around, you’re winning cards that have the potential to be worth a certain amount of points, say 30. That card will have some spaces on it, each labeled with a number, e.g. 10, 20, and 30. In order to earn those 30 points, you’ll need to bid each of 10, 20, and 30, at least once over the course of the game (marking with a disc when you do.)
It sounds brilliant to me, and I can’t wait to check it out. Initial impressions from friends who have tried it this week are…quite good.
Two of the most common genres in Japanese game design, that I talk about even less than word games, are the social deduction/werewolf type and the murder mysteries – with the latter seeming like it has really taken off in the last few Game Markets.
This one comes with two styles of play, one that is solely the deduction/mystery bit, and one that involves storytelling. I’m passing on purchasing this one due to the language involved, and my distaste for social deduction games, but I just love the look of this game and the way it maps out what happened, or may have happened, or you’re claiming happened.
Casino Seventh Heaven (キ01)
Designer: Susumu Kawasaki
Publisher: Kawasaki Factory
In my role with boardgametables.com, helping to choose what games they/we license out of Japan, I look at not just the next hot thing that comes out, but also what was left behind 5 or 6 years ago, as in the case of Birth (now, Dandelions). Towards that end, one of the avenues I’ve been exploring is the games of Susumu Kawasaki, who you may know from titles such as R-Eco and Traders of Carthage or the deeper cuts Master of Rules and Towers of Conspiracy.
This weekend’s release from Susumu Kawasaki is a new edition of a previous work (賭博英雄伝セブン), now known as Casino Seventh Heaven – and one that I hadn’t given much a look in my research of their older games. The details for both editions are somewhat slim, but the players compete in various mini-games, and can do so as a one-off, or over a series of games where the money carries over.
Skimming the back of the box, the mini-games have names like “Batting Poker”, “Rotary Lottery”, “Mind Roulette”, and “Three Seven”. (As an aside, “batting” is the term for a mechanic like that used in Raj or Hol’s der Geier where if there is a tie among winners for something, all tied players are eliminated and the next highest wins.)
Reading those names reminds me of the mastery demonstrated in the designer’s Master of Rules, which to me is essentially a 5P only card game, that for the sake of discussion, we can call trick-taking. You have a hand of rule cards and a hand of rank/suit cards, and you’ll play one of each to every trick, in either order, as the trick goes around the table twice. The rule cards specify how you might be able to win, with criteria such as TRIO (if there are 3 of a kind in either suit or rank played this trick), LIMIT 23 (if the sum of the cards played do not exceed 23), or SUPPORT RIGHT (you satisfy this criteria if the player to your right satisfies theirs). It’s a tour de force of card game design and balance as you’re perfectly drawn and quinted by the game’s buttons.
Anyway, this seems like it has some of that essence to it and the designer’s pedigree has me on board. I will use this as an occasion to say that prices seem….high this year. Often when I reserve a game I’m surprised at the price. I look at the cost in Yen, I do a rough conversion in my head -”How can this game be only $8!” or $18. This year, that thought is “Wow…another $35 game, maybe I need to cut back somewhere” – and I am. I’ve drawn the line on a few games I might have normally taken a flyer on. (I don’t begrudge any of the designers or publishers this, as I know the exhibiting fees have gone up quite a bit, as I’m sure have their cost of goods.)
ホシゾラトリテ (Starry Sky Trick Taking) (タ04)
Designer: Ryohei Kurahashi
Publisher: Bucco Games
From one of my favorite deduction game designers (Tagiron, Tagiron Crossing, etc.), a trick-taking game. Yes – the image below with the blue and red lines. The designer’s games are often a single player count, and this is no exception, being exclusively for 3 players.
The stars are randomly distributed during setup and represent the ranks on the cards. The cards played to a suit will determine the lines drawn, with the color representing the suit and the stars representing the ranks played. Different colored lines cannot cross, but a bonus is awarded for like colors crossing.
The rules present it as a game where the board scores, not the players, so your bid at the end of the hand (shown on a card you did not play) will need to match the communal score the players’ have generated.
Continuing into the depths of TGM trick-taking releases that do something new, Fuerto Rite is a trick-taking game where the size of your hand increases as the round goes on. Playing a stronger card or a certain suit will allow you to draw cards, and it has the “Knizia scoring” where your score is only as good as the color you are the weakest in.
Curiously, cards you play are then passed to your neighbor, and they’ll remain in a face-up pool. You cannot lead these cards, but you can follow from either your hand or the cards in front of you. (Both groups will count towards your score.)
I’ll also note that the rules include a FAQ which questions if it is a trick-taking game. For me, it is firmly a climbing game and not trick-taking, but this one is going to be an edge case to most classifications.
This game, roughly “Tactile Matching”, is what the title says – using your finger only (no vision), feel for matching textures. Each of the tiles are hi-res scans of fruits and vegetables that the designer 3D printed. This publisher specializes in games that can be played with folks at any level of vision, and you can see some of their previous releases on their website and their booth store.
Designer: Yuto Fujikawa, Akihiro Itoh
Publisher: Kakugari Bookstore
Roughly translated as “Word Detector Tatango”, this is an interesting word game that sounds like Wavelength on two-axes at once. The players write category extremes on dry erase sheets and choose two to put on the axes of the board. While one player’s eyes are closed, the other players then reveal a word from a deck of cards that will need to be placed somewhere in the sonar/radar field as a “blip”. That word is mixed with several other cards from a central deck and placed face up. The players each have a token they can place out to indicate where they think the word that needs to be guessed would fall on the two axes and the player who closed their eyes will have access to a field of word cards that will contain the one they need to choose -but which one!
Jin-Kei Trick (サ01)
Jin-Kei Trick is not “premiering” at Tokyo Game Market this weekend, as it’s official debut was last weekend at an event on the outskirts of Tokyo called “Board Game Garage”, an event which saw the sort of soft release of a few titles. (Though copies will be available at TGM in the Hoy Games booth, サ01).
The designer’s games usually see EN rules shortly after release, so I haven’t dug too far into the rules yet, but it appears to be a 2P trick-taking game where you lay out your cards in a grid, with maybe a sense of programming or logistics? (I have a soft spot for these type of “trick-taking” games, if they are that, such as Länder Toppen!, or Romans go Home!) While I can’t give you too much of the details, the eponymous Taylor, of Taylor’s Trick-Taking Table, has had a chance to play it and provided the following overview, “Jin-Kei is a two player trick-taker where players first place their hand face down onto the table in certain formations. Then, they reveal their cards and battle them one by one, using trick-taking rules in this puzzley head to head.”
The designer is one whose pedigree (e.g. Familiar’s Trouble, Prime Number lv. 0, Idle Hands) has earned a sort of “auto-buy” status with me, so this was an easy choice to pick up.
Bird’s Nest (セ07)
In addition to my love of trick-taking games (and you can see my complete round-up of the trick taking games being released over in the BGG guild here), I’m generally drawn to games that are a deck of numbered cards.
Bird’s Nest is a drafting-ish game where the players are trying to get a hand where each card has the same color. Players simultaneously choose a card to play, and then reveal. Typically the highest card, but sometimes the lowest, will go first in drafting from the cards played. That card will return to the players’ hands, but sits out one turn first.
The game play sounds fun enough to me, but I really want to highlight beauty of the card art and the stunning design.
There’s so much I haven’t touched on: a game about who can eat the most bananas and still… make it to the bathroom on time; a game about making change at the convenience store – as you buy bananas; (…there are something like 4 other new games about bananas!); a new edition of a Japanese-language book about writing EN rules for indie JP games; a game about omurice depictions in stained glass; asobi-dept’s games in the small house shaped packages; the pure beauty of the “7” card in Nana; the itten reprint of MAST BUY; the stock game themed around trendy sneakers; and more.
This year there’s also been a bit more movement of doujin games to the digital space, as TriATri has had a custom digital implementation for several months, and Koya is doing interesting work bringing these games to the mobile app stores.
My initial list to buy had been in the low 40’s, but I think I was able to cut it down to the low 30’s – though some of that is delaying titles for later, or already completed booth.pm pickups, etc. It’s been harder for me recently -for COVID and non-COVID reasons- to get as much played as I’d like, and so the backlog of things to try is…already large. I may need a local US house-con just to get these games played – who’s in?
Oh, and as I like to do, I’ll leave you with this tweet of a game that wasn’t ready for TGM this time around, but will be at the top of my spreadsheet for the spring, “Gardo”.