If you talk to old-school gamers (and we have a lot of them that write for this blog), you’ll hear lamentations about how the experience of attending Essen has changed. As the tales go, back in the day, a gamer would show up in Essen, games would be for sale with little to no prior announcement, and the quality of the games would spread via word-of-mouth. It was an adventure of discovery. People miss that.
I wouldn’t know. My first trip to Essen was in 2015. While a lot has changed since then — the last time I went in 2019 felt very different from the first time I went — even in my first couple of years there were decently detailed “previews” of what games would be available. There were a few surprises, but Essen is certainly a scripted affair in recent years. To me, that always seemed like a good thing — I like to know something about the games I’m buying.
That’s a long-winded introduction, but it is necessary for me to make a point. Today I felt that joy of discovery, the one I’ve long heard other gamers mention. Today was a ton of fun.
This is my reflection on visiting Tokyo Game Market.
As an upfront matter, I’m not going to discuss any particular games here. I played none of them: there aren’t really opportunities for doing so. I’ve put a photo of what I bought below, and clearly, I focused on trick-taking games. But we’ve long done a good job of covering Japanese releases on this blog — and we’re still (shockingly) one of the only English-speaking outlets to do so — so we’ll have details on the games themselves in coming months.
I’m doing this in a series of questions-and-answers, so you can skip to the parts of interest.
How big is this compared to Essen and Gen Con?
The number of games felt smaller than at Essen but on par with Gen Con. There were certainly hundreds and hundreds of games released today. The floor space is on par with the exhibitor hall at Gen Con, but smaller than the Messe at Essen. The number of attendees was smaller than at both. I’d guess 10,000 to 20,000 people? I’m sure we’ll get statistics at some point.
The biggest difference, as discussed below, is that games are not stacked miles high to buy here. This feels much less commercial and more craft-oriented.
What was the biggest surprise?
There is no way I can describe this adequately, but this is the best word to describe the experience:
The entire event is two days. Each day goes from 11:00 (for early entry) or 12:00 (for regular entry) until 5:00. The first day is mostly board and card games; my understanding is that the second day has more RPGs. As that implies, many of the exhibitors are only here for one day, i.e. for a total of five or six hours.
To make it sound even weirder, there are often just a few dozen — maybe even less! — copies of any given game. And that might be all that are ever made. Small batch publishing is in fashion here. I reserved (i.e. preordered) several games where the preorders were cutoff, yet the list of names mine was checked against might have only be two or three dozen names long. Walking around before opening this morning, I couldn’t help but notice that many booths had very few copies of each game.
The focus isn’t on selling massive stacks of games. At one booth, designers were asked to submit 1-5 copies of a game they made, and then attendees could buy one of the games, with which one being determined by a drawing.
I gave away (i.e. did not sell) nine copies of my game Magic Tricks to people I’ve met the last few days. That’s a bigger TGM release than several other games got!
Do a lot of people from America or Europe go?
No. I was around when the press line opened this morning (and publishers also go through the press line), and there were very few people I recognized from Gen Con, Essen, or the other conventions I go to. The same was true throughout the day.
Is it true you have to reserve your games in advance?
I had long heard this. It is true, for a lot of games. But I was also able to buy several games I discovered over the course of the day. And some booths just don’t take reservations; you have to be there early.
What was the highlight of the day?
I had three highlights:
1. Dinner with Trick Kuma, Sai Beppu, and James Nathan was delightful.
A couple of people at the table ate horse sashimi. I’m not going to name names.
2. Taiki Shinzawa, one of the great trick-taking designers, generously signed my copy of Ambiente Abissal, which I purchased at his booth today. My previous copy was then gifted to a member of the trick-taking community.
Shinzawa’s newest game is a trivia game about ranking Japanese prefectures, but there is a horse on the cover, which James Nathan thinks looks tasty. (Okay, fine, he didn’t say that, and I kind of did just name names.)
3. The event begins and ends with an announcement and then everybody clapping. It is a joyful celebration, and I liked it more than I expected I would. Dear Gen Con: Maybe instead of “do not run” chants we can do happy clapping? Can we do it if we promise not to run?
What did I buy?
A picture is worth a thousand words (though this is not everything)!
I got nearly everything on my list. I did not get Flip Trick Writing, since it had sold out by the time I got to the booth later in the afternoon. Also, I bought the “Towards Gut Alley” board game (which I did not know existed), but not the card game of the same name (which I intended to buy), because who would have thought that could get lost in translation.
Would I come again?
I think I will. I won’t be a regular, but I’d like to come back.
I’ve been importing games from Japan for nearly a decade, so I know these small batch games can be hit-or-miss quality wise. But if I have more than a few hits in the set I bought today, I’ll come back decently often. If not, I might just go back to periodically having a game shipped to the US.
The trip is on par price-wise with a trip to Gen Con or Essen. (Before people write in to complain about that statement: hotel prices and badge prices are sky high at Gen Con. Hotels and badges here and at Essen are far, far cheaper than at Gen Con. Depending on airfare, the cost really can be similar, depending on arrangements.)
That concludes my TGM coverage for now!
I’ll do mini reviews of games as I get them played.
The convention is still going tomorrow, but it will be a minor affair for me. It is more RPG focused (which does not interest me), and I don’t have much to shop for. I’m going to sleep in, go to TGM for a couple of hours (and pickup half a dozen more games I reserved for tomorrow), and then spend the rest of my trip doing tourist-y stuff.
Chris. Thanks so much for posting these updates!
Any chance you can give a list of the games you bought? Curious to see which titles I should keep my eye out for.
While I want to go eventually, there are so many things that make it preventative for many. It’s a long flight for a short market time. Tokyo costs other than you mentioned are astronomical. There is no play area, just a dealer hall by all accounts. The limitations of games are on par with other things, but paying for a random game sounds more fun than I would want to tolerate.
That being said, I love how they are committed to mostly smaller packaging and I think there are incredible designs that come out of that market. I don’t know if any publishers send scouts there, but I would if I were a publisher. It would be great to see a space or event run after hours for publishers to meet with designers there as I doubt all of them have the opportunity to travel to Essen and the like for pitch meetings.