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Tokyo Game Market — Spring 2013

Simon Lundström
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A short personal report from Tokyo Game Market, held April 28, 2013

Game Market is the biggest board game event in Japan, boasting about 5,000 visitors for this event – but visitors who come to Game Market expecting to see a "mini Spiel" or a "mini Gen Con" soon discover that it's something quite different from both.

Game Market started as a flea market for board games, and while remnants of that still remain, it's now mainly a fair for independent game makers. Hence it's closer to Spiel than Gen Con in being a marketplace for games and not a game convention. Though there are tables to demo games and some tables for free gaming, coming to Game Market only to play games is a miss. Here you come to shop.


But Game Market differs vastly from Spiel, too, both in scope and atmosphere. Of about 250 exhibitors at Game Market, 200 are independent makers whose games probably won't ever be sold outside of the fair. Game Market is, of course, much smaller than Spiel – just one large exhibit hall – but it's also highly concentrated; each standard exhibitor has only about half a meter worth of table space to display goods, some having an extra demo area double that space. Also, the fair is much shorter, lasting one day from 10:00 until 17:00, so there's no room or time for fancy booths. It's just table rows of exhibitors, one after the other.

But the most eye-catching difference from Spiel is neither the size nor the time span. It's the exhibitors themselves. Them being indie makers means that the games are both polished and not; you find photocopied homemade war games beside lavishly printed card games with five expansions. Also, "indie" usually means print runs are small and reprints are rare, especially for the nicely printed games (due to printing cost and minimum print run size). These indie exhibitors aren't businessmen; they're designers, and once one game is finished, they're on to the next. If something sells out, it's likely gone forever, so the feeling of "get this now or never" is very prevalent.

Of course, major (and minor) publishers and game stores are also present, having significantly more table space and larger demo areas for the commercial games, but nothing as fancy as the booths at Spiel. Game Market is a rough place both as far as fair layout and game design is concerned. One of the newcomers at the fair was Playdek, which came there to show off the demo version of the pad/smartphone version of Tanto Cuore. The auto AI wasn't finished yet, but the game was playable, and a lot of people stopped by to take a look.

Warlord Games booth, Arclight's game demo area, Lost Legacy, Tragedy Looper, String Savannah, Tanto Cuore digital

One of the biggest (amateur) titles this fair was probably Seiji Kanai's and Hayato Kisaragi's Lost Legacy, a small card game using the mechanisms from Love Letter but adding a bit of a deduction part at the end. Despite the cost/size ratio – almost $20 for a one-deck box – Lost Legacy sold out its 200 copies in 30 minutes. Kanai also had a roughly assembled beta version of his next title, a Werewolf-inspired game, but having brought only fifty copies, they were out before anyone could react, and his two hundred copies of Love Letter were gone in a blink.

Another big deal at this Game Market was BakaFire Party's reprint (!) of Tragedy Looper, a "time-traveling" game in which players repeat the same scenario several times in order to solve a mystery. Hisashi Hayashi (OKAZU Brand) was also present at Game Market with his sequel to the string games, String Savanna, and his cheap games Sail to India and Patronize for 500 yen (about $7) apiece. Designing "500 yen games" (the challenge that eventually spawned Love Letter) is now an established part of Game Market; everyone is free to use the logo for all games they manage to produce for that price.


The line-up for game makers Manifest Destiny and Misaki Koubou
And of course, my personal share of lock-on targets were at the show. Having missed Misaki Koubou's maid game from 2012, I made sure to get both Seven Force and Scepter (which, I learned, now had three expansions). Human Gameware Supplier (a.k.a. Hitoasokai) was present with their Gefallen. And last but not least, the crazed maker Manifest Destiny, set on churning out super weird card games at a faster pace than anyone can follow, had six new titles – and that was since Game Market in Osaka, only six weeks ago. This time, their main three titles were Promenade, a game about social dancing; Eureka City, a city-building card/dice game; and a pair-solitaire time-looping game called Last Seven Days. All, of course, only in Japanese.


Toho board game and an angry daddy
Non-Japanese speaking gamers shouldn't despair too much, however, as Game Market is gradually becoming a place to which Western publishers go to search. French publishers Moonster Games and Cocktail Games were present, together with Japanime Games, Alderac Entertainment Group, and probably more companies I simply wasn't aware of. Considering the fair design, I'd say Game Market is a fabulous place to look for rough diamonds.

But while we're waiting for more publishers to investigate and excavate this board game mine, it's obvious that certain games won't ever leave the fair: half-blatant copyright infringements like "Lapita", a bridge-crumbling game strangely resembling a certain animated feature film, niche games like the lavishly produced "Shrine Maiden board game", and last but not least, minor themes like in "Get away from my daughter, you!", a small one-deck card game about fathers trying to shoo away unwanted suitors.

Game Market is held twice a year in Tokyo – the next time being in November – and once a year in Osaka, in March. Any gamer who happens to be in Japan at that time should pay the fair a visit.

Versions of Cat & Chocolate, winner of the Japan Boardgame Prize in 2010

A nomad-themed game, and designer Seiji Kanai at his stand

A guy selling his homemade figurines done on a 3D printer

The game line-up at One Draw's stand

Typical rows of sellers at Game Market

Buy too much to carry? The post office is ready to pack and ship your games

Notes: Sorry for the low picture quality and that I haven't been able to enter many of the games in the BGG database yet. They're coming...
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