Tokyo Game Market: the Catalog

This may seem like an odd post to lead off the end of this week with. Friday, I’ll post my biannual piece about titles I’m looking forward to at Tokyo Game Market (TGM) – which takes place on Saturday and Sunday. This time, I’ll (finally) be going in person! For this first trip, I’m expanding Friday’s piece into three separate articles. Friday’s will be what it usually is. Tomorrow I’ll talk about various parts of my preparation – such as how I research which games I’ll buy and what my packing plans are. But today, we’re going to talk about the TGM catalog.

This probably seems like an odd place to start, but there are some captivating bits of the catalog from afar, and I had to know what it was like. What role it could play in preparation. Traditionally, I’ve seen advertisements for each booth at the fair posted to Twitter. They look something like this:

For a long-tail chaser like myself, my mind wonders at what sort of stealth titles may be in the catalog from booths which aren’t on Twitter or don’t add their information to the Game Market website.

Perhaps in the west, the catalog is best known as your admission ticket to TGM. It is available at local game stores and other such places in the weeks leading up to the show. Traditionally, the ticket to the show was built into the cost of the catalog and entrance to the show was simply holding a copy of the catalog aloft as you walked in with throngs of others doing the same.

At this point in a pandemic, things are different. Tickets are now electronic. The catalog comes with a big yellow warning that it is no longer a ticket.

But let’s find out what’s inside!

The image below shows the only page in the 270 page tome which is in English. It exists to give you the good convention tips, like how to find convention staff if you have an issues; cultural tips, like not taking photos which include other people’s faces without permission; but is also just good at life advice in general, “be hydrated”, and a great all around mantra “don’t cause trouble for other people”.

I’m staying at a hotel which is as close as I could reasonably stay – 500-1000m away from the entrance, depending upon which entrance to Big Sight I’ll use. (Big Sight is the name of the convention center in Tokyo Bay where the event is held.) It will make some of my other days less convenient – as I meet friends for dinner or visit local shops, but with an extensive public rail system and whatnot, I think it will be worth it to know that I can just walk over and at the end of the day, walk back to drop off what I’ve picked up.

If I wasn’t close by, well, the catalog has me covered. This page has thorough instructions on how to arrive at Big Sight – if coming by several train or bus options, a car options, or a boat!

After just a couple glossy pages of advertisements – such as a contest for a new Love Letter card where you may be able to have both your suggestion used on the card and your face as the illustration, the catalog starts into the bulk of its….directory. It is something of a yellow pages for games being released that doesn’t exist at major western conventions like SPIEL, Gen Con, or Pax Unplugged.

It starts out with this fold out matte map of the convention hall. The map is two sided, one for Saturday and one for Sunday. I’ll cover the differences at another point this week, but the convention floor is broken down into major booths (each beginning with “A”) – such as Oink or Arclight; and various smaller booths (each beginning with a katakana character). Some, but not all, of the smaller booths have different exhibitors present on Saturday and Sunday, so you may need to make notes for yourself as to which day you want to be at a given booth.

I had planned to proceed as if my map would be a PDF printout (11 x 8.5), but this map is 18 x 10! There’s a lot more room to take notes and it is easier on the eyes.

The page below is the legend for parsing the booth information. The spine of the catalog shows where you are in the katakana syllabary as you scroll through the booth lists (check 2 pictures down) – and it is repeated twice, once for each day, with the A booths listed once at the beginning.

The legend points out that the booth listings indicate in the upper right hand corner which days they are present, and if a demo is offered. It also lists what type of product is offered – standard games, kids games, expert games, 1&2 player games, social deduction games, trading card games, simulation games, used games, or “etc” products – like dice, t-shirts, and other non-game merchandise.

One etc booth which I didn’t recognize – and can’t find a Twitter account for or any games listed on the Gamer Market website – suggests you always have some “wonder” in your pocket, offering to sell you “con” games (as in confidence, not convention) and other trifles which you can carry in your pocket and which can be played in less than a minute.

Let’s start with those two listings I included at the top: itten there on the left and Oink on the right. Both are “STD” (standard) booths, present both dots (the 1 and 2 just to the right of STD), and both allow demos (the character at the far right in each of those boxes.)

The curious piece here is around the unspoken embargo of information. The catalogs released in early October and mine arrived in the U.S. on October 12. When I saw these, I was excited to talk about them and find out more about some of these…but there was no discussion to be found! As some parts of the western world which discuss Japanese games in English moves into private discord servers, the relevant discussion for me will remain the Japanese language-discussion which happens publicly on Twitter – but why was no one talking about them? Shouldn’t new Oink and itten releases be…chatterworthy?

I asked a trusted Japanese friend and they advised that while they hadn’t noticed this gulf before – between the information being public (in the readily available catalog) but not yet discussed – there seemed to be a sort of unspoken embargo that such titles aren’t talked about until the publisher makes an announcement. (A few days after the catalog arrived, details did begin to emerge on these titles.)

Some catalog listings – which it just occurs to me are not un-reminiscient of business cards, which have an outsized role in Japanese life – are visually striking and leave me curious; some are reminders that “oh yeah, I haven’t seen any announcements from them, I wonder if they’ll have a new titles” – and just as often “I wonder if they have extra copies of their previous release I haven’t been able to find”. Others are vague allusions and illusions that are undecipherable to me. This is not the article about anticipated titles, so I’m not going to dig too deep into the specific titles here – just want to give you a flavor of what things are like.

The catalog also has more booths than I expected listed as spare space.

Hey, here’s something I found in going through my research – The Game Gallery, one of the most popular video reviewing channels in Japan, doing a page-by-page livestream of the catalog!

So while the catalog spoils some games which haven’t been announced, it also does a curious job of leaving some mysteries. That new itten game about nuts? It’s a reprint of a Spring release, MADA HAiLE – but here’s MADA HAiLE mentioned in the catalog! Is the original and the reprint available at different booths? We’ll see!

And what about these two. The designer lists Golden Animal in their image – with the name and art of the original edition from the Spring. Jelly Jelly has since announced a Japanese reprint, under the name “Golden Animals” – it is not teased in their catalog image, but another “will this exist at TGM in 2 editions?” question to think about.

So after 80 pages of Saturday booth lists, the booth listings repeat for the next 62 – sometimes listing the booth’s new occupant, and sometimes a redundant listing from Saturday.

After the booth lists, there are a few more matte newsprint pages before we return to the glossy magazine inside the back cover advertisement for muscle car erasers. First up, three interviews. One, with the staff of one of my favorite, and top-tier stylish, game stores, Korokoro-dou. Like many small game stores in Japan, they are a publisher – reprinting such games as Luz, but they also have a line of game themed t-shirts and other accessories. The second is with Kei Kajino, the designer of Welcome!, Reputation, oh, and SCOUT!, and the third is with Japanese publishing company GP Games, who is the domestic publisher of titles from Catan to The Crew.

Next up a 6 page article on Rummikub, its origins, its variants (Okey and Madrid), and some game-state puzzles, like what would appear in a book for studying Chess or Go moves.

Then: a glossary! I went to a Pax Unplugged panel a few years ago where my friend Rand and some other friends were talking about something. One panel member mentioned boardgamegeek, and when he had a chance, Rand explained what boardgamegeek was. That moment has stuck with me since then. I certainly lose sight of who my audience is and which bits should be clarified and which can be taken as common knowledge. Pax Unplugged is probably a bit special in this regard due to its size and pulling more folks from the Pax video game side. It also helps to remember that as a ballpark figure, less than 10% of games which are sold – even of the hobbyist titles – end up logged as “owned” on boardgamegeek. The panel couldn’t assume, or at least shouldn’t, that the listener knows what they’re referring to.

Which is all to say, maybe other conventions would be well suited to include a glossary in their catalogs! (Though I assume Gen Con would just as soon sell the space to the highest bidder to place another advertisement.) The glossary includes terms like action point; Ameritrash; Essen Spiel; area majority; deck building; batting; and more.

Up next – an 8 page article about how to write a good rulebook! (Gen Con, et al… I’m side eyeing you again. Seems like this would be great catalog/program reading while folks are waiting in line to get in, waiting in line for a food truck, waiting in line for waiting in line. Etc.)

It covers things like the structure of the sections of a rulebook; writing an overview; a general game flow; the shape of the rulebook; how to make it readable; the importance of headings and how to format them; having a unified writing style; standardizing terminology and clearly stipulating terminology; etc.

The catalog has a few more ads, one from a Go organization which explains the rules to Go and gives examples in a 1 page advertisement, another a full page manga illustration of a game of Niagara gone terribly wrong for one of the players.

The other piece I wanted to note is a two-page spread about the Arclight award winners. I talked the other day about one of them, Suroboruos, and one of the games featured in the Oink image above is a reprint of one of the award titles. I think it’s worth reading in that Suroboruos piece the criteria Arclight uses to select its winners. I find them to be carefully thought out and easy to identify with when it comes to what features I like in games.

So….that’s the catalog! I learned other things when browsing it – like high school and under get in free; in addition to that Rummikub article, it looks like there’ll be a booth, with keychains based on the joker tiles, etc.; and a book of Fillit game state puzzles!

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the general preparation I’ve done for my trip – planning for which titles to buy, how to pack, how to acquire, what I’m doing besides TGM – and on Friday, Rand and I will talk about some of the specific titles being released.


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1 Response to Tokyo Game Market: the Catalog

  1. Dale Yu says:

    Man, already jealous of your trip. Looking forward to learning more about Nuts a GoGo

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