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Tokyo Game Market — Autumn 2013

Simon Lundström
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Now who are these five?
Come, come, all children who love fairy tales.
A small report on the Tokyo Game Market that was held November 4, 2013, and a history lesson on What Caused This to Happen

There is actually little to be said about Game Market in Japan that wasn't said in my previous BGGN post about this rather weird and unique show. Sure, it's the biggest board game event in Japan, but it's first and foremost a one-day marketplace for indie designers, big and small. Commercial publishers and shops are also there, but they're way outnumbered by the 200+ amateurs displaying both self-printed and professionally done stuff on a 40" x 20" table. As such, depending on your taste and your ability to read Japanese (or your ability to stand waiting for some enthusiast to do paste-ups), Game Market can be more interesting than Spiel in Essen, Germany because here you can find the most crazy things imaginable. No one checks what's going on here. There is no filter: no developer, no publisher, no one. Here, absolutely everything goes, barring perhaps blatantly illegal stuff — though I'd leave any copyright infringement managers at home as you wouldn't want them to die from overload...or maybe you would?

Arriving at Tokyo Big Sight; it's almost raining, which generally is good news

A caveat with this report: It's not comprehensive by a long shot. In fact, I didn't even make an effort to check for things beforehand and had next to no prior knowledge of what would be there. I guess it's technically possible to keep track on what's hot and going to be at Game Market, but in all honesty I don't. Also, I was a bit short on time, only coming to the market at noon two hours after it opened, so the games I eventually fell for were mostly games that had some sort of weird twist to the theme, something that made me laugh, despite the fact that I probably already have at least one hundred games of that type. Just so you know. A report about Game Market by anyone other than me would probably have only a tiny overlap with what I mention.

And yeah, the guy selling his game by shouting "We've got cute elementary schoolers fighting here!", which occasionally turned into "We're selling cute elementary schoolers here!", did make me laugh.

Entering the fair, typical demo tables at Game Market, and live streaming to Nico Video

Kanai Factory had brought 100 copies of a prototype for a cooperative game for 1–8 players...with 16 cards (!). Suffice to say they were gone in a blink, similar to the "Werewolf+Love Letter" prototype he brought for the show in April 2013, a prototype that has still to see the light of day, probably due to the fact that designer Seiji Kanai seems to suffers from Michael Jackson syndrome, finding it hard to beat his previous game Love Letter in terms of elegance and thus not wanting to release just anything. In this prototype, titled Eight Epics, the players were heroes differently skilled in three traits, and the game relied on the well-used mechanism of rolling dice, keeping one or more dice, rerolling twice, and trying to meet different goals determined by the most recently drawn card from a pile of threat cards. Each character had special abilities to use for help, but all player information was open, which meant the prototype also allowed for solo play.

Grounding, the "newcomer" (in fact, they've been around for a while) that experienced insta-fame at Spiel 2013 with Machi Koro and Sukimono, was present with its new game Candy Chaser, that I by a brain lapse failed to get. There were a few copies left of Machi Koro and Diamonsters from last year. Some of you might be surprised to hear that Grounding is in fact an independent software studio, having its awaited shooting game Crimson Dragon as a launch title for Xbox One.

Grounding's Candy Chaser and One Draw's new Lost Legacy
KogeKogeDo ("Burnt House"), which experienced its first Spiel this year with Skirmish! The Scrambles, Sushi Draft! and Witch's Coming!, had a prototype for a weird-looking witch-chasing "3 versus 1" game in which the witch pawns and their familiar pawns were tied together by strings of varying length.

Well-known OKAZU Brand had brought its new light filler Edo Yashiki to the fair, but it disappeared before I got there.

Lost Legacy, the "sequel" to — or should one say "variant game based on the same system" of — Love Letter is coming out in English from AEG, hopefully sooner than later. In the meantime, Hayato Kisaragi (One Draw) put out the second Lost Legacy box: Lost Legacy: Hyakunen Senso to Ryu no Miko, once again with two independent decks, together with a "prototype" extra deck that customers would have to cut out themselves and play with. With the similar promo deck from the previous fair, there are now a whopping SIX Lost Legacy decks to play with. AEG developers tell us that starting with the first deck is recommended as the second one is weirder and might feel too chaotic for people not used to the game's twists and turns. Remains to see whether this second box changes the mood of the game even more.

Though not a debut at this Game Market, but something for certain manga fans to drool over, One Draw also brought its Battle of Berserk board game, a battle game for two players based on the comic book my Kentaro Miura. One Draw has had previous experiences with licensed board games, putting out both Uncharted: The Board Game and the Japanese Code of Princess.

For Tragedy Looper, a success from some years back, BakaFire Party had brought the new tragedy set Another Horizon and a script collection which also contained two new characters for the game.

What I mention here is only what I happened to stumble over. Big variety in designs and visuals is the trademark for Game Market, and the creativity is overwhelming. My favorite-to-check indie publisher Manifest Destiny had brought a whopping ten new titles since last Game Market, including the solitaire X-Live, the RPG-simulating D.D. Dogma, the two-player brain burner Battle Mice, and The Ravens of Thri Sahashri, something as unique as a two-player asymmetrical cooperative game (!).

Manifest Destiny's impressive line-up, a sold-out Girls & Panzer battle game, abstract game Kings and Bombs, and Team Okokukan's Whose Cream Puff is this?

As I've mentioned before, though the majority of the exhibitors here are nothing more but loving enthusiasts doing their own games, the quality is impressively high; my rough impression is that more than half of all exhibitors here have their game in a nice box with offset print (or similar), looking no worse than a commercial game — an astounding feat at an indie level — but it hasn't always been this way.

Game Market started in 2000 as a marketplace for second-hand board games, arranged by one single individual, the game enthusiast Jun Kusaba; from what I hear when OKAZU Brand started telling me the story, homemade games were just a little spice to add to the flavor. Designers like Susumu Kawasaki, Naoki Homma and Taiju Sawada started selling their own handmade productions there only a few years after the start and gradually the home-makers increased until they started to become the majority in about 2006 — but it was still mostly handmade, self-printed and self-cut stuff. Game Market was too big to handle on his own, so the concept maker Kusaba turned to publisher Arclight Games to handle the show.

Team SAIEN's Mangrove, Hau La and
Dazzle (not from this year's show)
It was a few years after this point that the group Saien came into the picture. Though they have almost left the stage by now, they're worth a special mention because they brought something new into the picture: production quality. Saien was a group of visual artists and designers, and their games resembled nothing previously seen. Having access to professional tools, lathes and cutters, they could make their own cardboard boxes and wooden pawns; they cut their own cards from embossed paper. Their games were works of art. This pushed other creators to rethink the possibilities for production quality, and as with Japan's huge fanzine market for homemade comics — already a well-established culture of small press publishing — the step wasn't so big; it just raised the roof, not to mention the investment risk for the indie designers.

In retrospect, it's almost ridiculous in how many aspects Saien was ahead of its time. While all of its games are pretty to look at, a few of their designs are ingenious. Khmer was a 16-card game long before the "simple 500" and microgames existed as a concept, and the brain burner Dazzle still remains a highly unique design. Some of you might remember the tall cartoon-colored stacks at the indie collective Japon Brand booth at Spiel in 2010 – that was Saien's Hau La, a game in which you built a tower with bendable rubber sticks. Granted, it was more a piece of art than an amazing game, but it gave a sense of where Saien's ideas were – above the clouds. However, this was a couple of years before Japon Brand had the attention at Spiel it boasts today, and the game was a huge failure, with only a few sales at Spiel and lots left to carry home. That this was partly the reason why Saien stopped making games is painful to hear now; had they been just a few years later, their situation would probably have been highly different.

So the high-quality race at Game Market is younger than we might think, just a few years old. More and more use small-press card printers at high costs, a double-edged sword that makes better-looking games for the gamers but puts a higher financial risk on the designers' backs. Asking around the fair, the profit margin for most exhibitors was limited to a few dollars per game, with print runs varying from 50 for the no-namers to maybe 300 for the half popular — not even close to paying for the time and expenses to even come to the fair. Being able to take as much as double the printing cost for a game seemed to be limited to the big names only, and the few lucky ones who have managed to create huge hits.

This is truly a scene in which the participants are ready to pay for just having other people play their games, and the only winner is the printer. Previously mentioned Manifest Destiny brought ten new games, all professionally printed with high quality art, something that marketing managers would probably call the Stupidest Move Ever as the sheer amount of new things almost has the effect of chasing away potential customers. It seems designer Kuro doesn't care. He's not a salesman, he's a game designer. He's here to design games. His production cost for his $25 game?

$27. Per copy.

Zimeon, from Tokyo Game Market, Autumn 2013

The Grounding team

Hayato Kisaragi and his wife showing the new and old Lost Legacy

Home-molded, home-painted metal figures for sale

The veteran Schizoid Fox with his Hero Quest-inspired Dungeon Mania

Of course someone had an Attack on Titan RPG. What did you expect?

Game Market's most expensive game? A hand-crafted version of the abstract strategy Amen was $250 apiece

Okazu Brand booth with the new filler Edo Yashiki that disappeared before I got to the fair

The guys at BakaFire party, cosplaying characters from their game Tragedy Looper

Team Okokukan showing off its products

Kogekogedo's prototype of its next game in which pawns are tied together by strings

Boogieboard Werewolf; Werewolf is the current fad, and tons of exhibitors had their own version of the classic game

Small Publishing present with its Board Game Guide

Publisher and board game shop Sugorokuya's booth

More werewolf – here Super high school level Werewolf, based on the video game Danganronpa that in turn is based on...Werewolf!

Saikikaku's line-up of educational word dice games

Shogi professional Madoka Kitao showing off her latest game Seven Stars

Even a slight taste of Spielmateriel was present

After a while, you get a bit blasé from all great looking, weird amateur games, like Arcatype here

"We're selling cute elementary schoolers here!" A laugh can sell a game — at least it worked for this guy

Battle of Berserk board game

Lacour Colliseum by Misaki Factory

The new Lost Legacy

Soramimi Fantasy, which requires a shuffling mp3 player to play

The Ravens of Thri Sahashri, a two-player cooperative by Manifest Destiny

Japan's post office shipped away 200 cartons full of games from the fair – almost as many as they shipped here. Those boxes!

Five o'clock — closing up for this year
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