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Japanese Game Round-up: Make Bricolage Street Art, Shed Cards in the River, and Use Tricks for Sumo Moves

by W. Eric Martin

I’m once again surveying titles that will debut at Tokyo Game Market, which next occurs December 9-10, and the cover of BRICOLAGE HEADS from designer Yasuyuki Yamagishi and publisher Ramble Odd Potato makes me want to book a flight for this show.

So dynamic! So full of energy and stories waiting to be told! As for the game, here’s an overview of this two-player design:

In a crowded red-light district, brothers are turning trash into gigantic monsters to win fans of street art in a competition that takes place in the crowded entertainment district. By promoting your work and expanding your influence in the city, fans will come from further afield.

Enter a mysterious world of street art in a mysterious city in BRICOLAGE HEADS. Make art quickly and promote it even more quickly so that your opponent doesn’t steal your fans. After all, by bringing in fans you can get kick-ass effects. The higher the value, the more fans you can bring in at once — but you cannot concentrate solely on increasing the value because the player who draws the last fan from a town square gains the right to erect their own sign in that square.

Not only can you earn points by building a signboard; you can also choose from multiple signboard effects to activate.

Yamagishi published his first four games under the Yamazu Games brand, with his younger brother (pronounced “Kaeru”, which means “Frog”) doing the art — and now Ramble Odd Potato lists Yamagishi as the designer with his younger brother SNAC doing the art, so either the Yamagishi family is larger than previously suspected, or his brother uses many aliases, as he’s also been credited as KAWAZU. (Mystery solved just prior to publication: SNAC, 蛙, and KAWAZU all identify the same person.)

The Yamazu Games line-up

• Another explosive cover awaits on 隅田川 (“Sumida River”), a card-shedding game from ましかまる (Mashikamaru) of Mashika in which you’re not allowed to play the same number of cards as a previous player. As the designer writes in the game overview on the GM listing: “I’m tired of ‘If it starts as a pair, then everyone is a pair.'”

The deck contains 52 cards: three 3s up to ten 10s. The game includes a swapping rule that allows you to exchange all the cards in your hand, picking up an “almighty” card each time you do so, giving you the opportunity to make weak cards stronger.

• Speaking of making weak cards stronger, that concept was the heart of Mashikamaru’s Trick Pages, which was released at the previous Game Market in May 2023:

Trick Pages is a solitaire game in book form that challenges you to defeat monsters via trick-taking.

Initially the 25 cards in your hand have no effects — only their value as cards. The enemy monster plays cards automatically based on die rolls and a specified system. Win enough single-card tricks, and you defeat the enemy…then you have to fight the next monster with the cards remaining in your hand.

If you run out of cards before defeating all eight monsters, you die, at which point all of the cards return to your hand, all of the monsters respawn, and you return to the beginning of the book.

However, by defeating monsters you earn money, and you can use that money to purchase card effects, ideally allowing you to defeat monsters with fewer cards. Effects apply only to cards in hand, so if you’ve played strong cards already, you might have to wait until your next life to apply magic to them.

Monsters have different abilities, not just more life to defeat, so you need to develop tactics to defeat them, possibly by taking detours in the book dungeon to earn money through side quests. In the end, you must defeat eight enemies to win.

SUMO is a two-player trick-taking game from designer kota konno that attempts to mimic sumo action through cardplay:

In SUMO, you try to use card play to push your opponent from the game.

To set up, place the sumo wrestlers card in the center of the sumo ring. (The sumo ring has only three positions: left, center, and right.) One player sits on the left of the ring, the other on the right. Deal each player a hand of eight cards from a deck that contains 20 cards: 1-5 in four suits.

Each player plays and reveals a card, with the high card playing first in the first trick; if the cards are tied, repeat this action until one player wins or all eight cards have been revealed, in which case you shuffle and re-deal.

The first player plays a card, then the other player must follow suit, if possible. If the second player is off suit, the first player wins; if not, whoever played the higher card wins. In either case, the winner pushes the sumo wrestlers card away from them, then leads to the next trick.

If the sumo wrestlers are ever pushed out of the ring, the pusher wins the game. If this doesn’t happen, the winner of the final trick wins the game. However, a player can win earlier through one of three “sumo moves”:

— Abise-taoshi: Crushing the opponent with your weight, which in game terms means playing a 4 in the same color after a lead 1.

— Hikiotoshi: Using the opponent’s momentum to knock them down, which in game terms means playing a 1 in the same color after a lead 5.

— Wucchari: Throwing your opponent out of the ring, which happens should you play an off-color 2 when the sumo wrestlers card is on the edge of the ring near you.

• Designer kota konno launched their publishing brand — konno. — at the previous Game Market with a different two-player trick-taking game: PEAS, which plays as follows:

Lay out the point cards, which are worth -3 to 3 points, at random in a row; each of these cards designates a “trick lane”. Each player receives a hand of cards, and they take turns playing a card in any lane they like; if you are the second to play to a specific trick lane, you must follow the suit of the first card played there, if possible.

Once all the cards have been played, the first person to play to the first trick lane in the row “leads” in the first trick with their played card; after that, resolve the tricks as expected, with the winner of a trick leading the next trick. Collect enough cards or (failing that) enough points, and you win the hand. The first person to win two hands wins the game.

I email myself game links and tweets and Facebook posts all the time, with those messages composting in a special folder for months or even years, sometimes never to be seen again and sometimes to be dug out for posts that I start…then leave composting for years. Here are a few titles that caught my eye in 2020:

• Let’s start with a look at ゴリラ人狼 (Gorilla Werewolf) from designer よし (Yoshi) and publisher ボドっていいとも! (Bodo Is Good!). This game for 4-21 players debuted at the Tokyo Game Market in November 2019, and it has a ludicrous premise that seems like a novel take on Werewolf:

In ゴリラ人狼, you take on the role of gorillas with poachers in their midst. Gameplay is much like normal Werewolf — except you can speak only in grunts. Luckily when gorillas die, they gain the ability to speak human words briefly, and dying gorillas can choose any two words to teach the remaining players.

Can you overcome the limitations of your vocabulary to find the traitor in your midst?

Project Universe, a.k.a. プロジェクトユニバース, from designer Kentaro Yazawa and publisher Hoy Games is a much larger design than the regular doujin games featured in these round-ups, with a 100-120 minute playing time on this 2-4 player game.

Here’s what you’re doing:

In the game Project Universe, you represent an interplanetary carrier that transports freight to space stations. You procure resources for the freight, prepare to launch a rocket, and head for your destination.

Once your rocket lifts off, you cannot make any on-Earth actions for the rest of this round, so you have to make elaborate preparations on the ground. Your time is spent whenever you take an action, and you suffer a severe penalty if you overwork beyond your time limit.

To win the game, you have to calculate total time spent for on-Earth and in-space actions in order to deliver your freight efficiently, while mitigating penalties.

This mid-November 2020 tweet passed before my eyes, and I kept that game image open in a browser tab for weeks, vowing to investigate the title at some point. What a marvelous title! Whatever could the game be about?

Well, now I can tell you that Number Wonderful from designer Noriaki Watanabe and publisher Drosselmeyer & Co. is an example of what that publisher calls “ゆるゲー”, which is pronounced like “yurugai” and means something like “loose game” — more explicitly, an activity that’s certainly game-like but perhaps not exactly a game, although maybe it is. Here’s a short take on the game, which is for three or more players:

In Number Wonderful, players face all sorts of strange challenges, with each challenge being carried out by the game’s current champ and one challenger.

The only way to score points is to be the champ — but the challenger gets to decide which challenge takes place. Will you be competing to see who can name the dish that other players most want to eat right now? Will you each pretend to be sick to see whose illness looks the most real? If the players vote for the champ, that champ scores points, but they keep those points only if they voluntarily step down from their position. If the challenger wins, then the champ loses all of their banked points.

As the publisher explains in more detail, you wouldn’t necessarily want to play a 40-minute whistling game, but you’d probably be keen to have two people face off in a 40-second whistling competition, whether as participant or judge. Maybe someone exhibits tremendous skill and you discover something special about them — or about yourself?

You will also get to find yourself in a situation in which you’re challenged to do — well, you don’t know what exactly. The game contains 55 challenges, and the back of each card indicates whether the challenge is one of power, speed, technique, sense, or luck. How bold are you feeling, champ?


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