In my role as with the First Look area at PAX Unplugged, North America’s second largest tabletop convention, I constantly seek new titles to invigorate our show with new life, shining a spotlight on the best of what’s going on worldwide in board gaming. That’s why I’m paying special attention to Tokyo Game Market (TGM) Fall 2019.
Tokyo Game Market is a board game convention that occurs in Tokyo twice a year — fall and spring. The convention is characterized by its small independent publishers often making their games in small print runs, and often even make them by hand. These games are outpourings of passion for gaming, often boldly experimenting with rules or components. I previously covered some of this in my Japanese board game primer.
This year’s Tokyo Game Market fall convention is happening right around the corner, taking place on the weekend of 23-24 of November. This time around it overlaps with BGGCon, which means we won’t be able to see the interviews from BGG staff member, W. Eric Martin, that I’ve come to love. While this isn’t meant to replace his coverage, I want to highlight some games over three categories:
- Games that caught my eye
- Games I’ve reserved for myself
- Games we’ve chosen for PAX Unplugged.
In that last of the three categories, I especially want to highlight Ayako from Big Cat Games, who is procuring and providing the games that will be available at PAX Unplugged. She runs a shop from California that specializes in importing Japanese games and will also have many titles for sale at the show.
First, you may be asking, “how does anyone know about these games”? The answer is twofold. First, gamemarket.jp is the web-based clearinghouse for nearly all things related to Tokyo Game Market (TGM). For navigating the website, I recommend opening the page in a browser that does auto-translation so you can browse more easily. The site has booth listings, game listings, cost of entry and more. You may also find reservation forms for games, where you can hold a title for pickup at the show.
Second, I use Twitter to find a ton of info that TGM’s proper site doesn’t cover. Japan is a market that uses Twitter heavily (as opposed to Indonesia, or Korea which I’ve found use more Instagram), so I can often find news there before it hits gamemarket.jp…if it hits gamemarket.jp at all. Regardless of your means of researching, there is a sense of exploration as you wade the various listings not sure of what you’ll find, then a sharp sense of discovery when your title is found.
One of the coolest things about what you’ll find below is that you are guaranteed to be able to fit everything combined into a single carry-on bag. So if you’re hankering for an international gaming getaway, I hope this gives you a good start!
Games That Caught My Eye But I Won’t Be Buying
Blue Border by Corolab
Like many titles at TGM, this one executes a simple idea and offers up an outlet of exploration from the author. Here, the deck is full of blue, all shades of blue. The players are divers trying to get as deep as possible and return to the surface. The shades of cards indicate depth with lighter being shallower and darker being deeper. Once everyone has completed their dive, the cards are flipped over to show the numerical values on the back, which match the depth of the card. Don’t mess up the order or you’ll drown!
Boope by FoUNtain
You and your friends are on a road trip trying to reach your final destination on time…and without a full car of stench. Wait, what? Yes, stench. You see, Boope is a wonderful localization of “poop.” Your bowels get full on the trip, and only the rest stops can save you. However, the rest stops have limited stalls. You may be the friend left waiting and instead drawn into eating This only leads to more trouble for that BM, so the game requires careful communication between you and your pals. There’s even diaper mechanisms as a fallback! This seems to be in the same vein as last year’s Catain, a spoof on Settlers of Catan that sees players try to win such accolades as the “longest poop.” Boope caught my eye, but only for the absurdity.
Relicers by YOG Games
I admit to not not entirely knowing what goes on in this game, but there is an interesting mechanism that immediately stuck out to me. Each turn, players will tear of a piece from a gridded sheet of paper. The piece can be as large or as small as they want, but the pieces will be drafted later in the round. That means your big hunk of limited paper (and relics and resources on the paper) might go to someone else. In addition to this quirky mechanism, the game fits true doujin style by coming in a ziploc bag rather than a proper box.
Corinth Construction by Toshiki Sato
Tokyo Game Market Spring had just passed and a friend sent a tweet to me back in May that showed this game and its designer’s hope to show it at TGM Fall ‘19. Here was a guy making a fully customizable (and mission driven) pachinko machine that he would make by hand. This, I think, is the magic of Tokyo Game Market: regular folks going wild with their passions and sharing it with their community. Corinth Construction is just a bit too big and costly for me to spring for.
Games I Have Reserved
Dois by Taiki Shinzawa
This is not a new game, but is in fact a reprint of a game Taiki made several years ago. This is a somewhat common practice since games at TGM are typically a print run of under 100 copies. It’s a hobby after all. Anyway, Dois. This is a trick taking game where the cards have either a suit or a value, but never both. You’ll have to see how others play before you piece together the trick. I love trick taking games, and some of my recent favorites have come from Japan, where there seems to be an ongoing renaissance of the genre happening. I hope the love and innovation in trick taking spreads across the Pacific…
Age of Tyrant by Southern Cross Games
Southern Cross games have become one of my recent favorites among publishers. All their games chase a clearly defined thought, toy with accepted norms in board gaming mechanisms, and present themselves with clear and simple rules. In Age of Tyrant, you are a citizen under a tyrannical ruler who wants to shirk your duty as much as possible. Instead of chasing worker placement spots that allow you to complete the tyrant’s building projects, players seek the least efficient places, forcing their compatriots to take the juicier options. After translating the rules, my favorite line came at the end: “Congratulations! As the winner and rebel, you will be exiled and will never return.” Oof, that is heavy!
Macaryoshka by PRA
I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about how this game plays. What I do know is that PRA uses some of the most creative components in board gaming. Last year, I received Masala Magic from him and while looking for the incense sticks needed to play, he nudge me by saying, “did you find the hidden door on the box?” Sure enough, the wooden box had a secret compartment for the incense to live. And my goodness, is that game unique! Macaryoshka, however, looks fairly straightforward. It is an abstract where players try to grow their macarons from tiny to large, like a matryoshka doll. For the odd fake pastries, I’m in!
Afterstory of Shibihama by March Hare Games
If you were to walk by this game, I imagine most people would think it looks like an advanced prototype of next year’s honed euro-game. What drew me to this one is its story. Players are recovering drunk fisherman who do their fishing, but then must face the social norms of their buyers, which unfortunately include alcohol. Do you risk your recovery to make the deal? Or do you stay safe and risk losing business? It’s a sad decision making process, and one where you don’t even know the outcome when you choose one or the other, only the risks you’re taking. I’ve very excited to play.
地下迷宮と5つの部族 “Underground Labyrinth and Five Tribes” by Gunther Burkhardt and Horiken0
This is another reprint of a trick taking game, but in this case it’s an old game from Europe called Volltreffer. Horiken0 has a track record of choosing incredible lost gems among card games and bringing them back to new audiences. Volltreffer originally dates back to 1999 and has a boxing theme, but the remake travels to fantasy lands where five tribes duke it out for the crown. The game has three parts: buying cards, showing how nice your cards are in an intermediate scoring round, then finally the trick-taking portion of the game. Everyone is trying to get as close as possible to 66 points along the way, so at some point you may be trying to claw your way back, while others you may be trying to slow down. I’ve never played Volltreffer and look forward to this one.
Games Being Showcased at PAX
Fafnir by Oink Games
Oink is well-known for their well-produced games in tiny pocket-sized boxes. Fafnir is no exception. There is a host of multi-colored and -shaped bits inside that all looks delightful. The game itself looks like a cross between Fiji — and older Fridemann Friese game– and Modern Art — the classic art auction game from Knizia. The popularity of bits given up each round determines the price given for each given type. The prices fluctuate over a series of rounds and at the end of the game, you score for the bits left in your possession. Looks like a brilliant bit of push and pull between players, and I love the closed bid style that comes from Fiji. I can’t wait for this to hit American shores because I think it’s another home run for Oink.
Remember Our Trip by Saashi & Saashi
This group is known for some of the most beloved games to come from Japan, like Let’s Make a Bus Route and Wind the Film. Their lovable art style continues here in an area control game about making the best trip possible. Interestingly, they’ve teamed up with a Singaporean designer, Daryl Chow, and done a kind of mashup between one of his titles and Let’s Make a Bus Route. The room for innovation in collaboration is enormous and I can’t wait to try this out.
Goat N’ Goat by Okazu Brand
Hisashi Hiyashi is maybe the designer from Japan closest to a household name among hobbyists. Yokohama, Trains, Sail to India — he has some hits under his belt. This new title seems based on its predecessor, Sheep ‘N Sheep, but with an even more interesting twist on hand management. Play cards high enough to take cards to climb to the mountains, which score you points. It’s a climbing game, but you’re playing only on your own cards while taking from a common tableau. Sounds tricky and tough!
Nokusu Dice by Engames Studio
Here’s another trick taker, but this time with dice. You will receive a hand of cards, then multi-colored dice are rolled and drafted. For the tricks, you may play either a card or a die into the trick. The interesting bit is in the bidding. Except for the person who bids zero, everyone else’s bid comes at the end of the round and is the number of pips on the remaining die. You get a single point for each trick won, but major bonus points if you’re the only person to hit your bid. The twists here are super interesting and the show can’t come soon enough!
Afterstory of Shibihama and Macaryoska
These looked interesting enough to show to a wider audience. So we are doing just that!
For more Tokyo Game Market coverage, please check out some of the other posts some Western friends have done:
- Xitoliv with Opinionated Gamers
- Patrick Engro with Game Hungry
- A grand multi-pronged effort led by Leon Scheuber over on BGG
These don’t even cover half of the games that will be released, so if you’re interested, head on over to gamemarket.jp and do some exploring. Happy gaming everyone!
Rand has been playing board games since childhood and discovered the world of modern euros while living abroad as a teenager. He believe games reflect the culture that creates them, which underscores the importance of inclusivity and conversation in the hobby. Rand lives in Boston with his wife and adorable EV, and may be found cycling the suburbs on the weekends.