Since coming to Japan a good friend introduced me to boardgames, more specifically to what is commonly known as designer boardgames, or eurogames – called such because they generally come from Europe and the game designers name is strongly associated with the game to extent of being printed boldly on the box. These boardgames are nothing like your typical chance-based family games such as Monopoly and Game of Life, where the outcome is decided almost 90% on the roll of dice; instead they are mostly strategy-based, and for that reason they tend to have a lot more depth and whole lot more replayability. They generally aren’t suitable for children due to the sometimes complex rule systems, but adults will get a lot more from these kinds of games. You can also get better at these games the more you play them, developing your strategies. These are games that will make you think!
How are Eurogames frugal?
Though Eurogames games are generally expensive (most are around 5,000~10,000円) you will find yourself playing them for a lifetime. They are an entertainment investment, and will reward you many times over compared to other forms of entertainment. Instead of going out for a night on the town and hitting up the local gaijin bar for an evening of complaining about the JET programme and your JTEs non-existant English ability, get some friends round and host a game night! You get all the benefits of going out (drink, socialising, and complaining if you really want) but it’s a whole lot cheaper and more rewarding in the long-run.
Anyway, let me introduce you to my top 3 eurogames…
I strongly suggest Catan if you’ve never played a Eurogame before. It was the first game I ever played and has very simple rules. It has a good balance of chance and skill too, so it’s a great game for both new players and seasoned veterans. It is the most requested game at my house, and it’s great if you have a mix of English and Japanese speakers as there’s very little language-dependency on the cards etc. The basic version of the game is for 3-4 players.
Basic gameplay consists of collecting resources according to where you have placed your towns, then using those resources wisely to expand or upgrade your empire. The hexagonal board tiles are randomized each time you play, and the numbers on top of those tiles (also random) indicate when you can receive that particular resource. Each turn, a pair of dice are rolled – the sum of which shows which squares produce a resource that turn; any town built around the resource receives one of that resource type. The win condition is having a certain number of points; points are obtained by building towns, cities (upgraded towns) and the longest road. It’s a very simple game mechanic and there are numerous different strategies for winning. Trading between players is also a big aspect to the game.
Right now you can it looks at though you can buy the American version through Amazon Japan (though strangely the Japanese version has sold out) for 5,600円. I would suggest the American version anyway though, as there are expansion packs available for Catan that you might want to get at a later point which aren’t compatible with the Japanese version due to different tile sizes etc.
Carcassonne is a little more complicated and probably something I would introduce to people after they’ve tried Catan. Gameplay consists of drawing a tile from the deck and connecting it to one already placed; the only chance element comes in with this drawing of a tile – there are no dice. Once you’ve placed your tile – be it a piece of road, a piece of castle, or a church – you then have the opportunity to “claim” that item by placing one of little men on it (technically they are called “meeples”, though I couldn’t tell you why). Finishing your road or castle will get you some points, and the player with the most points wins the end of the game. There’s no language-specific requirements at all (everything is graphical) so this is also a great game for mixed language sessions, assuming you can explain the game or print out the instructions in your language.
Also available through Amazon Japan.
Up to 5 players, Agricola is a recent acquisition for me and quickly becoming one of my favourites. It is however pretty language intensive and I really recommend getting the English version either from Yahoo auctions or importing it from America. You will also need a large table to play on as there’s quite a lot of bits to this game, and a lot of time (the rules estimate about 30 minutes per player – assuming they know the basics).
The concept of the game is to build a farm during the harsh times of the middle ages. You score points for having a well built, productive and varied farm – with bonus points for card-based house improvements like an oven etc. Each round you choose one action per family member from a limited action choice. At the start of the game, you’re only real choices are which resources to gather – but every round a new action is revealed that you can choose. At a certain point, and assuming you have built enough rooms in your house, you are given the option of having children. Growing your family which means you get more actions each round, but come harvest time you have more mouths to feed. Again, the game outcome is based almost entirely on your choices – the only chance enters the game with the improvement and job cards you are dealt at the start (although these can be very powerful sometimes).
It’s also a great value game as there are 3 different decks of cards that are included (a total of 350!) of increasing complexity – so when you feel you’ve outgrown the easy deck and your players are experienced enough, you switch over to the “interactive” deck, the cards of which appropriatly deal bonuses to interactions of players and combinations of cards in play rather than basic improved resource gathering or simple bonuses.
If you fancy playing some of these games and you live in Kyoto city, drop me a line and we’ll try and get something organized. I have a small gaming group, but the pressures of work, studies, family and research projects mean we are always down a few players.