Game Buzz: Four from Japan

It seems that most of the conversation about hobby games centers around the US and Europe.  However, Japan has been rising up as a force in the international gaming scene lately, with the charge mostly led by Japon Brand.  Japon Brand is kind of an umbrella publisher that promotes lots of different Japanese designs.  In this post, I’m going to briefly look at four of the Japanese titles that came out at Spiel 2013.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Eggs of Ostrich is a game for exactly 3 players that was designed by Shinpei Sato and published by conception.  This oddly titled game (with an oddly descriptive title) is all about collecting ostrich eggs.  It is a small game, with a total of 39 cards (12 egg cards; 12 bag cards; and 15 claim cards) as well as 50 plastic egg chips and 3 yellow glass stones (amber).

image by BGG user Hajadda
image by BGG user Hajadda

The game takes place over ten rounds.  At the beginning of the game, the egg cards (numbered 4-10 with 3 amber cards) are shuffled and two are removed from the game.  Each player has 5 claim cards (2, 3, 5, 7, and skip) and 4 bags (2, 3, 5, and 7).  Each round is fairly simple – reveal the top egg card, choose a claim card, and reveal simultaneously.  If the egg card was numbered, players who revealed a numbered claim card split the eggs.  So, if an 8 was revealed, and all three players revealed numbered claim cards, each player gets 2 eggs.  However, if one player played a skip, the other two each get 4.  The eggs go in the bag that matches your claim card.  If that bag now has more eggs than the number (such as 4 in a 3), it breaks, cannot be used again, and will get no points at the end of the game.  If the revealed egg card was an amber, it is claimed by a single player who plays a skip card.  If 2-3 people play a skip card, no one gets it.

Once the round is over, and eggs/amber have been distributed, leave your claim card face up on the table.  You can’t use it in the next round, but get it back for the following round.  The game ends after ten rounds, and players add up their points.  If a bag is full with exactly the right number of eggs, it is worth points equal to its number.  If it is not full, it gets points equal to the number of eggs in it divided in half  (rounded down).  Amber is worth four points.  The player with the most points wins.

I would say that looks like a good little push-your-luck game.  It’s a little like Incan Gold in the splitting of the eggs, but adds the extra element of possibly being able to mess others up with skip plays.  If you think you’re going to get 2 from an 8 egg, you might play a 2 claim card.  However, if an opponent plays a skip, you’re getting 4 and your bag breaks.  That adds the whole “clearly I can’t choose the wine in front of me” element.  This seems like a straightforward filler, odd though it may seem at first.  I don’t think there are plans to distribute it in the US yet.

image by BGG user kreven
image by BGG user kreven

Lost Legacy is a 2-6 player game designed by Hayato Kisaragi and Seiji Kanai, and was published by One Draw.  Lost Legacy is a 10-minute game that is a follow-up to one of the biggest games of last year, Love Letter (also designed by Seiji Kanai).  And when I say biggest, I am intentionally being ironic.

image by BGG user Messire
image by BGG user Messire

Lost Legacy takes the Love Letter system (as well as the alliteration) and puts more of a science fiction spin on it. The game comes with two decks of 16 cards that can be used as a whole or intermingled with each other following specific rules. You will always only use 16 cards in a game. Gameplay follows the same pattern as Love Letter – draw a card so you have two, then play one and execute it’s effects. There are a couple of differences – sometimes, cards will get played into the Ruins, a face down pile next to the deck. Also, when the deck is empty, there’s an investigation phase. In numerical order of the card left in your hand, each player can investigate by either revealing at a player’s card (including their own), or a card in the Ruins. If the card is the Lost Legacy card, that player wins. If not, the next player investigates. If no one finds it, no one wins.

As I mentioned, there are two sets of cards to play with. The base set is called The Spaceship set:

1. Girl of Fate – If this card comes out of your hand and is revealed, you lose.
2. General – Look at the top card of the deck. You may exchange it with the card in your hand.
3. Female Thief – Look at one card in the Ruins or another player’s hand. If the card is the Lost Legacy, you win.
4. Swordsman – Look at another player’s hand. If it is an X, the X effect is ignored and that player is out.
5. Lost Legacy – This card cannot be played.
6. Old Map – Look at the top card of the deck and place it in the Ruins, which you may then shuffle.
7. Search – Look at any one card in the Ruins. You may exchange it with your hand.
8. Assault – Look at another player’s hand. You may exchange it with your own.
X. Sneak Attack – When another player looks at your hand, discard this and take their hand. They are out.

The other set is called The Flying Garden:

1. Saint – If you are kicked out of the game, turn over a saint in your discards, draw a new hand, and remain in the game.
2. Necromancer – Return all discards of one player to the deck and shuffle it.
3. Adventurer – Look at up to 2 cards from the Ruins. You may exchange one with your hand.
4. Guardian – Collect all player’s hands, shuffle, and redeal.
5. Lost Legacy – If you discard this, put it in the Ruins, then shuffle the Ruins.
6. False Information – Look at the top card of the deck, then shuffle it with a discard of an player and put it in the Ruins.
7. Storyteller – Shuffle all card in the Ruins, then look at one.
8. Curse – Name a number, then look at a player’s hand. If it matches, they’re out.
X. Wound – If you have two wounds in your discards, you’re out.

I’m impressed with how Lost Legacy looks like a completely different experience from Love Letter while maintaining that familiar structure. The addition of the Ruins plus a different win condition means this game will be very different. There’s no rule in place to play several rounds, as in Love Letter, but I’m sure you can to extend the experience however you want. This will be a good one to keep an eye on.  AEG will be releasing it in the US as part of their Big in Japan line.

image by BGG user middleclassjoe
image by BGG user middleclassjoe

Machi Koro is a 2-4 player game designed by Masao Suganuma and published by Grounding. It was one of the fastest sellers at Spiel this year, mostly because there were only about 100 copies. It’s a dice-based city building game where players rival companies trying to build landmarks in their cities before their opponents do.

image by BGG user matador
image by BGG user matador

The game comes with 108 cards, 2 standard d6s, and 60 coin tokens.  Each player starts with three coins and the same starting city – a wheat field and bakery face up, and a station, shopping mall, amusement park, and radio tower face down to indicate that they are under construction.  On your turn, you roll one die (two if you have completed the station).  The number rolled will let you know which buildings can be activated.  Blue buildings give you money when anyone rolls that number, even if it’s not your turn (your primary industry always makes money).  Green buildings give you money only on your turn (shops, factories, and markets that make you cash).  Red buildings allow you to take money from the person who rolled the dice (they’re coming to your restaurant).  Purple buildings allow you to take money from all other players, but only on your turn (major establishments everyone wants to visit).  If you don’t have enough to pay someone else, pay all you can – there’s no penalty for not being able to pay.  Transactions are processed in counter-clockwise order.

You may also pay to build a new building, purchasing it from the supply.  This will help you make more money on the roll of the dice.  The four landmarks can be built in this way, and the player who is the first to build all four wins the game.

This game looks like a pretty fast one that will be easy for everyone to pick up.  You roll, collect money, and buy.  That’s it.  The guy being interviewed by BGG at Spiel compared it to Dominion.  And I can see that – you’re not building a deck, but you are putting together an engine of buildings that only produce money at random times.  So it’s kind of a luck thing, but it seems that there are going to be some different strategies to pursue in terms of where you want your money to come from.  This looks like a very cool little game, and I hope a domestic publisher picks it up.

image by BGG user ryo_nyamo
image by BGG user ryo_nyamo

Sail to India is a 3-4 player game designed by Hisashi Hayashi and published by OKAZU Brand.  Hayashi is a fairly well-known designer at this point, being responsible for the String series of games (String Railways and String Savanna), as well as the big hit DBG, Trains.  This is another game getting picked up by AEG for their Big in Japan series – I’ll be using their rules for this bit of the post.  There’s probably more going on here than in the other three games, and the 60 minute play time reflects that.

The game comes with 4 historian card, 4 domain cards, 3 technology cards, 1 Lisboa card, 12 coastal town cards, 4 reference cards, and 52 colored markers.  Players begin with a historian card (tracking VPs), a domain card (tracking wealth, ship speed, and scientists), and a reference card.  The three technology cards are laid out so everyone can read them.  The coastal towns are facedown in a line with the Lisboa card on the left end.  The three closest to Lisboa are revealed.  Each player puts a marker on the Lisboa card, one marker on ship speed 1, and three markers on your technology space.  Each player gets 2-4 wealth (depending on order), placing a marker on the corresponding space of their card.

On your turn, you get two action points.

  • You can employ a marker, which places one from the stock into Lisboa.  Markers for wealth and VPs over 5 must come from Lisboa.
  • You can move ships up to the number of spaces as your speed.  Markers are moved to sea spaces next to the cards.  If you move to an undiscovered coastal town, flip it up, gain a point, and end your movement.  Markers in Lisboa can be used as ships.  You can also convert a ship into trade goods, placing it on the card.
  • You can sell trade goods, returning the markers to Lisboa.  There are six types of trade goods, and you get one wealth per good type you sell.  Also, if you sell three or more types, you’ll get VPs as well.
  • You can pay two wealth to take your ship from a sea area and build a building on the card.  You can now use its effects.
  • You can pay wealth to acquire technology – move a scientist from your domain card to the corresponding space on a technology card (one that isn’t occupied).  You may then use its effects.  You’ll never have more than the three scientists you start the game with.
  • You can pay two wealth to increase your ship’s speed to 2, or 4 wealth to increase from 2 to 3.  It costs two action points to increase from 1 to 3.
  • You can return any ships, trade good markers, buildings, bankers, or historians to Lisboa at any time on your turn as a free action.

The game ends when the last coastal town is discovered (you’ve found India).  It can also end if two or more players have no markers left.  The player who triggered the end of the game finishes their turn, then everyone else gets one more turn.  Points are totalled, adding you historian points, points for buildings, and points for technology.  The player with the most points wins.

With a minimum amount of cards, it’s amazing how much game seems to be here.  It reminds me of an Adlung Spiele game like Meuterer or Verrater in that way.  In fact, this seems like it would be a good game for that line.  It seems fairly simple to understand, but with lots of good choices in the way you manage your markers.  I find it fascinating the way the game deals with money and points – you have to have markers available to increase past 5, and you’re using your potential ships to increase points.  I really think that’s going to add an incredible dimension to the experience.  So that’s another one I’m looking forward to.

So there you go.  Great stuff coming out of Japan – check them out.  Thanks for reading!

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