Random Thoughts

Souvenirs from Japan

When I visited Japan with my family at the end of 2022, I did not initially plan to visit their boardgame stores or to buy any boardgames. However our itinerary was quite free-and-easy. We didn’t really have many must-go places. So I decided to set aside some time for boardgame stores. Okay this is when non-gamers start rolling their eyes. Unfortunately for me, both the boardgame stores I visited were closed. I realised that some shops in Japan close in the last week of the year. Probably to do stock take, in addition to having a break. I wasted my effort going to these two places. I should have checked more carefully beforehand to make sure they were open. 

I was not satisfied and decided to look for non boardgame specific shops which might sell boardgames. I visited two places. One was BIC Camera, a departmental store which sells electronics and home appliances. The other was a bookstore, Shosen Grande. Unfortunately both their game selections were small. BIC Camera did sell Catan, and it was JPY 2980. That’s about MYR 100, which is very cheap. I am guessing Catan is highly popular in Japan and mass produced, and that’s how they can manage such a low retail price. 

The reason I visited BIC Camera was I had gone to another branch when I was in Yokohama, and that branch had many boardgames. Side note: No, I did not bring Yokohama (the boardgame) to be played in Yokohama (the city). I don’t own Yokohama (the boardgame) but I have played it. It was by chance that I discovered the boardgames section at BIC Camera Yokohama. We had a little time when waiting for our train, so we went there to browse. I was thrilled to see quite a few interesting looking games. I didn’t manage to buy any because I didn’t have enough time. I used Google Translate on my phone and its camera function to help me read the Japanese on the game boxes. I wanted to get a few games from Japan, preferably something I couldn’t get in Malaysia. I hindsight, I probably should have just bought a few there and then, even though I only had very little time to decide. At that time I hadn’t visited the game stores in Tokyo, so I thought I still had plenty of opportunities to buy games. Such is life – sometimes we miss golden opportunities without realising it. This was why when I was in Tokyo I looked for BIC Camera. Too bad the one in Tokyo (Nihombashi area) wasn’t as well stocked on boardgames as the branch in Yokohama. 

We visited Daiso in Tokyo – the 100-yen shop. Most of their products are just 100 yen, which is about MYR 3.30. I was pleasantly surprised to find a small collection of games, all for 100 yen each. I picked a few which looked interesting. I wasn’t hoping to find games I particularly liked. I mainly wanted to try new ideas and see how people created and marketed games in Japan. I purchased not as a gamer, but as a game designer, publisher and marketeer. I hope to learn from what others are doing. 

When we were in Kanazawa, a city near the west coast, I saw some games at the train station and I bought them. 

 
The games on the left and at the bottom, with the yellow bars, are from Kanazawa. The other four are from Daiso in Tokyo. 
 
 
This is just a standard deck of cards, with a bullet train (shinkansen) theme. Train enthusiasts will like this. I’m not one and I like it. It’s a nice souvenir. 
 
 
There are 10 different types of shinkansen in the deck. In addition to trains, some cards are based on train tickets. It’s quite evocative. 
 
The rightmost face-up card is the joker. That’s the card back on the right. 
 
 
This is the other game bought in Kanazawa. This is a simple boardgame (I assume). I bought it not because I knew how to play or because I thought I would like it, but because I wanted those six beautifully painted shinkansen locomotives. 
 
 
Look how pretty they are! These are all based on real shinkansen locomotives. They are not just generic models. I should go find out which routes each of these locomotives actually serve.  
 
 
I have not studied the game rules. The game comes with 8 tiles which can be assembled in different configurations to form the game board. In addition to the 6 trains (which I think are the player pieces), there is one die, and many tiny cards. 
 
 
This is what I intend to do with those six locomotives. I am adding them as pimp-up bits for my Ticket to Ride: Japan! See how pretty they are! 
 
 
The size of the locomotives I bought is close to that of those in Ticket to Ride: Japan, so they are compatible. I am guessing these two locomotives in this photo are based on the same real-life shinkansen locomotive. The one on the left is what I brought back from Japan. The one on the right is the original Ticket to Ride: Japan locomotive. 
 
 
This is Werewolf: Dead or Alive from Daiso. I am guessing it uses the standard rules. I still have not read the rules. Until now I have only played with the most basic Werewolf rules, i.e. with just werewolves and villagers. I have not played with the additional characters. The game comes with four other characters. I’m not exactly a fan of Werewolf, but this set is pretty and cheap, thus a good souvenir. 
 
 
Left: card back. Centre: part of the rules. Right: Reference table specifying which characters to use and how many for the different player counts. 
 
I like the artwork – Japanese manga style. 
 
 
This is Topolomemory. There are a few versions of this game and it was not originally published under Daiso. I think Daiso ran a project to create a product line of simple and convenient games, and brought Topolomemory in as one of the games. They collaborated with some popular game designers in Japan. I still don’t quite understand how this game works, after skimming the rules using Google Translate. Only after buying the game I realised it contains Japanese text. I had thought it was all symbols and drawings, and thus would be playable even if I didn’t know Japanese. Now I’m not so sure I will be able to play it. It may not be language independent. I’ll need to try to read through the rules again to understand how the game works, before deciding whether to try to play. 
 
 
That in the centre is the card back. At the bottom left is one of the rule cards. Round cards look pretty, but they are not practical. I find shuffling them and dealing them a pain. Round looks good and probably helps in marketing, but I don’t like it. 
 
 
This is Stockbreeding, a 2-minute game. You can certainly call this a microgame. I have played this once now. 
 
 
The game has 24 cards and 4 animal pieces – sheep, pig, cow and horse. At the start of a game deal all cards out evenly to all players. Any surplus is discarded. You don’t look at your own cards. Shuffle them and form a face-down stack before you. The four animals are placed at the centre of the table. 
 
To play a round, someone counts to three and everyone reveals the top card from their deck. You must try to grab whichever animal is shown on your card. If two or more players need the same animal, only the quickest player will win it. If you are able to grab the animal you need, you score 1 point, by placing your card face-up next to your draw deck. Otherwise, you discard your card. You end a round by returning all animals back to the centre of the table. 
 
The game ends when the players’ draw decks are exhausted. Whoever has the most points wins. 
 
This game sounds a little silly, but it turned out to be quite fun. This is a speed game, a reaction game. I played this with Julian, Cindy and Tim. Tim was the fastest gun in the west, and never missed an animal. When the game ended, he had a perfect score. I bet this will work very well as a drinking game. You can probably play all night and have a wonderful time, playing it repeatedly. This is a game of skill. If you play with Tim, he will likely win all night and never get to drink (assuming loser drinks). He will be your designated driver. If there is a big skill difference, you may want to handicap the strong players by asking them to use their left hands. Or left feet. Okay sorry I’m getting a little drunk here. 
 
I shouldn’t make this sound like a game drunkards play. This can be an excellent children’s game. Without alcohol I mean. It’s simple, quick and exciting. 
 
 
This one is called Long Long Animal. This is a card game and the rules are straight-forward. I have yet to try it. The art is cute. 
 
 
This is a set collection game. Most sets have two cards. There is only one long cat set which has 3 cards. You score 1 point for every set you complete, except for the long cat set which is worth 3 points. If you manage to collect all four of the regular cats, you score a bonus 4 points.  
 
 
The leftmost is the card back. The rest are the rules and reference information. You can scan the QR code for English rules. 
 
I am doing game design and publishing, and how these Daiso games are being produced and marketed is a strategy I can learn from. Go for a wider audience. Go far casual players, so that it is a bigger market. Bring joy to more people. My first game Dancing Queen takes a different approach. It is a microgame, and there aren’t that many rules, but it is not a simplistic game. That is why I don’t target casual gamers and non-gamers. I target gamers. I target gamer couples. I go for the deluxe treatment, using high grade materials and pre-sleeving every card. My rulebook is in full colour. The cost is higher for me, but that’s okay because I’m not going for the low mass market price range. 
 
These 100 yen Daiso games take the opposite approach. 100 yen is only MYR 3.30. I’m going a niche market, going for specific gamers who like this kind of game, while Daiso is aiming at casual gamers who happily grab a small, cheap and light game to play at a gathering or on a trip. It’s a different ballgame, and one I certainly want to explore and learn about. There will be different challenges and techniques. 

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