For the first time, I’m preparing to visit Tokyo Game Market (TGM). As this posts, I’ll be in Tokyo, visiting the board game shops in Akihabara and Nakano, meeting up with some friends I haven’t seen in more than 20 years and others which I’ve never met.
I want to start with this video Eric did with the founder of Game Market, Zyun Kusaba, talking about its origins. He was involved in founding Japon Brand and, notably for me, the most zealful judge of the recent Trick Taking Party design contest in Japan – playing all 87 of the entries!
Much of my preparation will be the same as always – the research on which games exist and which I want to purchase – and some of it will not. Namely, figuring out how to get my games home! When I went to SPIEL in 2017, I was able to rely on various blogs Dale had written over the years and his guidance on (a) punch everything (b) nest everything (c) bring extra baggies (d) remove rulebooks for languages you don’t need. But so much of that is not applicable to Game Market. Few titles need punched, almost nothing can be nested, and there is typically only one rulebook – and while it’s not in a language I speak, it’s my only copy of the rules! But, more on packing later.
I want to start with my spreadsheet. I do all of my TGM prep through a single spreadsheet and I started using it for the Fall 2018 TGM. There’s a tab for each TGM; they are color coded in a few ways (genre, buy, maybe buy, pass), include the title in two languages, a brief description of why I’m interested, booth location, cost, and three columns for links to information on the game: gamemarket.jp, Twitter, and bodoge.hoobby.net (though that last one I don’t use as much anymore). After a TGM is over, the titles I didn’t buy may find themselves moving elsewhere – titles that are delayed get moved to a new tab for the next TGM in 6 months; titles I “should’ve bought” get moved to a list of older titles that I’ll search for used copies of.
(Somewhat unrelated to TGM, the spreadsheet also contains a tab for frequent Japanese language words/phrases I find myself needing, such as the difference between face up and face down, less than and less than or equal to, in your hand and at hand.)
Here’s a brief shot at where my spreadsheet is one month out from TGM. I started it in April when a handful of titles were delayed and hadn’t made it (with one of those titles delayed from the previous Fall.) It’s currently 80(!) lines long. At present, 35 of those are titles I’ve decided to buy, 5 are things I’m picking up for friends, 5 or so are already confirmed not to make it and will be moved to the sheet for next May, and 2 are in the “likely pass” purgatory where I haven’t quite decided if I will buy them or not, but strongly leaning towards no.
I don’t sweat an accurate EN translation on these, as they are my internal notes. When I add to boardgamegeek later or make EN rules, I am more particular in my language. Most relevantly, I include the Japanese name – even if I can’t read or pronounce it, as that’s the way I need the name in order to find out more about the game. Sometimes I need a description, other times I don’t. Sometimes I add a publisher, other times I don’t.
Game Market takes places over two days, with some publishers present both days, and others only one. Generally, the games I am interested in are exhibited on Saturday or both days, but a few are Sunday only. If I understand correctly, Sunday tends to be more role-playing and children’s games.
While Game Market has a reputation for small print run games which sell out quickly, it is an exception when a creator will not allow you to reserve a game ahead of time. (A link to the reservation form is one of the columns in the spreadsheet.) For some publishers, the reservation period has already ended, and for others it won’t end until the day before Game Market. Other games have a lottery for reservations – such as the title shown below with the metallic hex-globe. You can also see that I have deadlines listed in my sheet above, as for most booths, if you do not pick up your reservation by mid-afternoon, it will be released for sale.
All of which I mention to bring up what happens when you reserve a title from a publisher exhibiting on both days: you choose which day you will pick it up. Traditionally, when I’ve requested help from friends in Tokyo to acquire my TGM games, this day choice is very important. Some folks don’t visit on Sunday and others are busy Saturday and more available on Sundays. Now it’s important in a different way, as I try to manage my own time. I’m going into this assuming I will want them evenly split across the days – though I foresee reasons in the future to both frontload and backload them.
I’ve often described scouting new Japanese games as a three-fold problem. Can you play them (are there English rules?) Can you buy them (both source and payment)? Do you know they exist? The first is becoming a bit easier, but is still a significant hurdle for most titles. The second is becoming wildly easier than even a few years ago as more online stores integrate options like Worldshopping, and publishers which had previously been, essentially, TGM-exclusive, like ruriruri or Manifest Destiny, have started stocking their titles on bodoge.hoobby.net. Pandemic ripples have also pushed more creators to list their titles on Booth.pm.
The last one can still be tough. For my context, I need to look far out the long tail. One thing I’ve been watching is how to tune my radar of which games to buy. It’s unlikely I’m going to license more than 2 or 3 titles from each TGM, but where in my confidence spectrum of the ~45 titles I buy do those 2 or 3 end up? One of my favorite releases from 2022 Spring was the last one to make the cut and one of my favorites from 2021 Fall was just below the cut!
So I do a few things. Most, but not all, new releases will be mentioned at some point on the Game Market website. How often I check it depends upon how close we are to the show, but it has two types of news to note. One section serves as a database of titles and the other serves as a blog of sorts for publishers to share updates (such as when reservations open). Both are sorted chronologically and while not usually the first place I hear of titles, it usually is where I get the bulk of the data for my spreadsheet – such as booth number, cost, and a description of how a game plays.
Booth.pm, an Etsy-style marketplace in Japan, is another good source of information – you can search for analog games, sort by release date, and see if anything interests you. Some of these may have been released. Others may be pre-order announcements. (Booth also has a tag for each Game Market, but I have not found these thorough enough to be useful for the granularity at which I go through the titles.)
But the first place I hear about things and how they make it on the spreadsheet is Twitter. I follow most of the designers and publishers I’m interested in. Sometimes a designer tweets about a potential game and then months go by and it never materializes – but sometimes those months go by, it does exist, but I never see a record of it elsewhere, so I’m glad I saw that single mention of it and knew to have someone pick it up! For titles where there isn’t quite enough to add it to the spreadsheet yet, I bookmark it for later. As Game Market nears, I periodically go through the bookmarks removing what is no longer necessary, chasing down what still interests me, and leaving some things to check back on later.
Other times it’s a specific gamer that I follow who tastes I’ve grown to trust. Those conversations happen off of Twitter too. Sometimes private DMs with friends in Japan is the hot tip I need to discover games like Conquest.
One new wrinkle this Fall will be paying for titles. In the past, I’ve recorded the cost in a spreadsheet and wired or Paypal’d money to someone who handled the physical acquisition. This time I’ll be doing that piece – and not just at Game Market, but the whole trip. All of the guides say that Japan is still a largely cash-based society, though more recent ones also note that as with many things, the pandemic catalyzed shifts that were slowly happening, and IC card and credit card transactions are more common, but “more” does not yet mean pervasive.
So I bought a coin purse! Japan uses coins up to around the equivalent of $5, so I’m expecting a lot of change. (And hoarding my 100 Yen coins, as a friend has some kind of vintage Japanese arcade cabinet which needs them to operate.)
The games I’m planning to buy shouldn’t stress ATM limits or customs declarations, but it’ll be a lot of organizing – of both bills and who is paying. Some things are work expenses, some are personal, some are errands for friends. I’m currently thinking about doing what I see a lot of folks do at the BGGCON flea markets, where I have a small envelope for each booth. The envelope would be labeled on the outside with the vendor and what I’m buying, and on the inside, it would have exact change prepped.
(Cutting back a bit to the Saturday/Sunday balance, there’s a chance I call on a friend to help pick up a few titles for me. If that comes to pass, the envelopes may be worthwhile. Also, how will I be there myself _and still need an assistant_!?)
The change factor is important. It was a lesson I learned in recent years as I visited my local farmer’s market more. Nancy, the first booth as everyone arrives – and from whom I buy a lot of wondrous things from kale she insists on tearing rather than cutting to sheets of moss – gets hammered first thing in the day with people handing her a $20 bill to buy $3 worth of beans. And I get it! So I found a local ATM which lets me choose the mix of bills I want, down to and including $1s, and it’s my first stop before I see her each week. What’s the ATM bill dispensing like in Japan? I was able to get some good advice from a friend that most ATMs (such as JapanPost) limit how many 1000 Yen bills they will dispense before switching to 10000 Yen bills, but that 7-11 ATMs let you choose “give me all 1000 bills”, so you can get a bunch! (There is a 2000 Yen bill, but it’s essentially a $2 bill as to circulation frequency.). Video game arcades can be common in certain neighborhoods and, just as they were in US malls 30 years ago, have change machines! These will show you how they’ll divy up your change, but you can readily turn your 10000 bill into nine 1000s and some coins.
The packing is also now on me. Game Market releases are, of course, known for being quite small, but, like, that metal hex-globe is also on my pickup list – how do I fit that in my suitcase!
So, I did some pre-measuring. My purchases from the Spring came out to almost 20 pounds even, and 23 when packed in the main carry-on bag I use. They also used up about 102% of the volume of that bag.
So I bought a new checked bag. It should give me quite a bit of volume, but I still don’t know what to expect. I’m buying a few more titles than usual – and am trying to squeeze in all the favors for all of those who’ve helped me find myself here. I’ll have a bit of clothes to bring home of course, but I’m not going for toooo many days. One checked bag and a big carry on? Should I bring a second carry on? It can’t hurt, right? (I practice-packed what I expect to be the size of my Saturday reservations, and they came in a bit shy of half off the checked bag – without any clothes padding.)
One note on the packing. I’m guessing that I’ll sort of line the outside of the checked bag with my clothes and have the games occupy the middle bits. But many small box Japanese games don’t stay shut well, and I worry that everything will be a jossled and jumbled mess (does anybody have an extra green 5 for Exhaust?), so I do plan to bring this bag of sort of silicon game box rubber bands with me. They are made by Engames and I bought them from Korokoro-dou. Sometimes a Japanese game I buy comes held together by one, but I almost always need a few more.
I plan most vacations with a spreadsheet, and this one is no exception. My “TGM (Long Weekend)” sheet dates back 2.5 years – it has average sunrise/sunset, average temperatures, average rainfall…where will I sleep? What timezone will I be in?
It is less precise about what I’ll do and where I’ll eat. Sure, there are a few sites I want to see, but I tend not to plan specific meals – rather I may have a list of 4 or 5 places to try if we’re in this neighborhood at a meal time. (But, um, check out this tea shop/ice cream counter 🤤…)
But that won’t be this trip, for a few reasons. First, I have 5 meals already set! Local friends have set up meals for us, and I’m grateful. Those are my only firm plans besides attending TGM itself. But also, there are so many restaurants in Tokyo! The most common stats list more than 130,000 restaurants – in comparison, the New York City number seems to be around 27,000. The research would be too daunting.
Outside of the memories with friends and TGM, my plans mostly revolve around shopping for used games or visiting other stores that hold a special place in my heart. That mostly means the Suruga-ya and Yellow Submarine stores in Akihabara, but there are a few others too. This recent BGG post goes into pretty good verbal and pictorial detail of the major shops. (As to the answer for my question in that post about selling used games to Suruga-ya, etc., I’ve been advised that’s only possible for locals with a valid ID, etc. I left that out of yesterday’s catalog discussion, but one A-booth game cafe and store will buy used titles from you at TGM!)
So for this trip, the plan is basically…just TGM and friends (maybe a little pottery shopping). It seems likely I’ll return in May for the next TGM, and that trip I may extend further for some sight-seeing.
But I will over-plan how to acquire the titles. I’m filled with anxiety about making it to the booths to pick up the titles. Sure, TGM may be two days, but some publishers are only present on Saturdays. Surely there are things to be discovered by casually looking around which can’t be prepared for through a review of Twitter, Gamemarket.jp, and the catalog? How will I allow time for that? What about that feeling of discovery? Will I end up cutting short getting to meet so many of the designers I’ve been longing to meet.
Maybe that’s for next trip too. We’ll find out. Let’s go to another video from Eric, this time walking around before the show opened a number of years ago.
Wow, seems nice. Let’s try that – if I can get in early to walk around, even though buying titles early -heck, even queuing for titles early- is forbidden, just being able to acclimate would do wonders for me mentally.
I talked to a few contacts and one was able to put me in touch with Arclight for a press badge which should get me in 90 minute early. Huzzah! But there are two things I’ll need for the folks I meet – both at our dinners the days before and in my pre-opening wanders: business cards and a map.
I knew Japanese business card culture has an outsized importance compared to the US, but in talking with a few friends, I was still underestimating how many I would need and the degree to which I should have my name present in katakana – the Japanese syllabary used to introduce non-Japanese words into the language. So I ordered business cards – first for exchanging; heck, I’ve had those for years now in preparation. Then I ordered more – to get in with my special badge, I was advised I would need one to show who I am with. Done. Then came the katakana advice, so I ordered more. (Collect them all!)
I haven’t given you any tunes to listen to yet! OK, when you’re down with Eric’s videos, this is what I’ve picked out for my “turbulence music” this trip. You can listen along as you finish out the article. (I like to pre-pick out music to listen to on the airplane – especially during turbulence. Mentally I picture the movie made of the moment, things shifting into a bit of slow motion…what’s the music the director has paired with this dramatic scene to set the tone for what is about to happen to our hero?)
I know the trip will be wonderful. I know I should relax.
But I’m not there yet. I’ve been writing this article on and off for the last few weeks and for these words, I leave for my trip in 5 days. What I keep forgetting is that I’ll have 2 full days and an evening to adjust to things (and get change for large bills). Also, money can be exchanged for goods and services – so anything I forget, can likely be taken care of.
I’ve been walking more. I bought new walking shoes and fitted them with the right insoles. I’ve been parking at the furthest spot in all parking lots and trying to walk to dinner or ice cream when I can – 2 miles each way? Let’s do it!
I’ve watched most of the YouTube videos and read most of the articles about tips for visiting Tokyo, what to do, what not to do. Do get myself an IC card; don’t stand my chopsticks in my food.
I over thought which airport to fly into, but the prices were similar and Haneda is so much closer. I booked a hotel which is in the bay and <1000m walk to Big Sight. I booked it when travel was still not possible, and the price was _cheap_. Japanese hotels have more options than your typical American hotel’s 3 (2 Queens, 1 King, or a suite). Here you’ll get quite a few options based on the square footage of the room, then sometimes tacking on the view (bay or city), breakfast buffet or not, smoking not – a lot of options! I landed with a room somewhere near the top of how nice the rooms went – and it was still around $50 USD a night!
I’ve been studying Japanese for 20-30 minutes, mostly with that little green owl, for more than 650 days. The current lessons are about the environment. Yesterday I was learning how to say “That company is polluting the river.” Last week’s lessons were about restaurants, but I also got to say “I have a reservation” – and hey, that’s a good one for TGM!
But, well, I’m not sure how often as I wonder around Big Sight I’ll need to talk about Russia’s abundant natural gas resources, so as the clock keeps ticking on my trip, I’m going to shift my practice into mastering more of the words and phrases I expect to see more use.
My nephew is so excited about my trip. He called the other day to tell me her learned how to say konichiwa.
The other piece is the map.
I’ve mentioned it a few times this week, but I cannot figure out my best approach for visiting the different booths. While I’m likely to use the map which came in the catalog, I’ve been filling out a PDF with the different booths I want to stop by and which I’ve made reservations at. Some reservations are time sensitive (as they are released to the public at 2:00 PM) and others aren’t. So everything on the map is color coded.
But my eyes can’t see a pattern.
Here is the part of the floor plan in question.
That isn’t all of the show – TGM this time is 30% wider than Gen Con, maybe 3 or 4 less aisles, but 80% of the exhibition floor space of Gen Con. That’s a lot of walking! Specifically the map above cuts off the “A” booths – which are the larger corporate publishers, such as Arclight themselves, Oink, or itten. Also the localizers – like Engames, and the ones that straddle the line in the middle – like HobbyJapan. There are some titles in those booths on my shopping list, but they tend not to take reservations, and nothing is really gone forever, so I’m more OK missing out on something there.
For the smaller booths shown above I’m leaning towards two passes: one down and one back. Colors correspond to booths with no reservations, mid-day release of reservations, and late or no release of reservations. On the first pass, I’ll grab the red booths. On the return pass, I’ll grab everything else.
Whew! Is that everything?
Tomorrow we’ll talk about titles being released, but concurrently as you read that, my feet will be exhausted from the previous few days – and yet trying to rally for the map puzzle I’ve created for myself.
First video embed says “not found”
Thanks! Just fixed
Thanks for embedding those videos, JN! Happy to contribute to others finding their way, just as I have had assistance with my trips.
Your planning is far more involved than mine! I made few reservations and mostly winged it in terms of getting games. That said, I did have a flyer made it English and Japanese that talked about the BGG Store and the possibility of selling games through it, and handing that out led to many future deals.
You appear to be uber-organized and well prepared for this trip. Soak it all in, and may you make all your rounds in time to gather the games you desire.