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The Best Japanese Board Games

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Japanese Board Games

Many people are familiar with Japan’s amazing cuisine, animation, games, music, among many other interests we find fascinating. Currently, the industry that has been on the rise for the past few years now in Japan is the board game industry. Some of the games are widely successful; you have probably played one of them without even knowing it.

Most regions all over the world have board games whose origins date back several hundred years ago. These games mirror the culture of the countries they originate from; several countries like Argentina, Brazil, Korea, India, Taiwan, Iran, and Japan each have a unique gaming environment. This article will primarily dwell on Japanese board games – listing both modern and traditional examples that you can enjoy.

Also, if you are interested in more info on board games in Japan then be sure to check out article here:

Best Modern Japanese Board Games

Machi Koro

Machi Koro
Machi Koro

I like to describe Machi Koro as Monopoly 2.0. This is a game designed for 2 to 4 players. It’s easy to learn, and it’s a light card-and-dice game that is very family-friendly as well. The game only lasts about 30 minutes so it is very fast-paced and will surely keep your interest throughout. The artwork for Machi Koro is very stylized and looks great too.

Machi Koro requires players to come up with little towns for themselves. Earning coins is essential to acquire cards that represent various establishments. Every establishment card is unique in a way because the owner gets a special ability; such abilities include giving the owner the ability to gather more coins from the bank or it forces other opponents to pay them. In case you want to activate a specific ability for an establishment card, a player has to roll the dice and get the number shown on the top of the card. The objective of each player is to come up with a town that earns coins efficiently. 

It’s probably my favorite game on this list. You can read my full review for Machi Koro and other related articles here:

Love letter

Love Letter
Love Letter

Another Japanese board game popular outside Japan and has been quite successful over the years is Love Letter. With time, it has been re-themed and featured in numerous famous franchises, for example, Archer, Adventure Time, and The hobbit just to mention a few. However, most prefer Love Letter in the samurai theme. The entire deck has 16 cards and every round takes 5 minutes or less and the first player that wins four or five rounds is the overall winner depending on the number of players.

Love Letter is interesting and entertaining. The story involves the player being a suitor that tries to win the princess over by letting her read handwritten prose. The player needs to get the letter delivered to the princess by someone close to her while making sure that the rivals’ love letter doesn’t get to her. It is all about ensuring you stay in the game with the highest number card when the game ends.

The entire gameplay is so simple. All players have to get a card from the deck not showing it to the other players; every card contains a number from 1 to 8 plus an effect that includes allowing you to see another person’s card or forcing another player to trade cards with you.

Tokyo highway

Tokyo Highway
Tokyo Highway

Initially, Tokyo Highway started as a two-player game then gradually it became a four-player game. You can purchase the U.S. version with sufficient components for four players in each box. An outstanding feature of Tokyo Highway is the simplicity of its component design. Many components are in color grey while the rest are different ranging from color green, blue, pink, yellow, and orange. This creates a beautiful contrast of colors. The components are made from simple materials like lollypop sticks; despite sounding cheap, they have minimalistic elegance that stands out from other modern component tabletop games.

Depending on the number of players, every player begins with some cars. For 4-player games, start with 7 cars each. Each player aims to have all your cars on the roads they build. Each time your road crosses an opponent’s road, cars can be put on one of your roads. This, in turn, will score you points.

With all the great-looking components, Tokyo Highway guarantees you lots of fun; it gets interesting very quickly and can be so challenging. A 3 to 4 player game also includes establishing buildings to make it more challenging for players to place roads.

Let’s Make a Bus Route

Let’s Make a Bus Route

Let’s Make a Bus Route is a roll and write game that has players develop a bus route for passengers. First, a player needs to take a pen and a player board to draw a bus route directly on the mainboard shared by other players.

Every player has a specific route planning card together with demand cards shared by everyone; demand cards have bonus points. The tricky part about the game entails creating a balance because in case your route uses a similar road as other players, you can bring traffic which can ultimately lead to penalty points instead.

The contents of the game include one map board, 1 start player marker, a bus board, 5 player boards, 6 demand cards, 5 pens, 12 bus stop cards, 5 route planning cards, and 2 rulebooks one in English and the other in Japanese. The game is suitable for adults and kids above 10 years, 2 to 5 players, and playtime is about 20 to 30 minutes.

Birth

Birth
Birth

Birth is another roll-and-move type of game and it’s the latest strategy game taking up the theme of universe creation. The game is all about discovering a new life abroad. The game starts with each player rolling a handful of dice, then the player uses each dice to make moves by moving the pawn around the board as you deposit the die into the section you land on. The prevailing theme of this game involves all players competing as stars right from the beginning of the universe; even though the theme is paper-thin, it’s a wonderful and entertaining game. Birth comes with a two-sided board and some variants meant to increase the level of difficulty as players advance. The game needs 2 to 3 players only and playing time is 5 minutes.

As mentioned earlier, players advance using the dice they cast. The player needs to position the dice at strategic places on the board. A player gets to score based on the arrangement of the dice. The winner is one who garners the most points. For casual players, there are basic rules while advanced rules exist for more serious gamers.

Deep Sea Adventure

Deep Sea Adventure
Deep Sea Adventure

Deep Sea Adventure is easy to set up anywhere with a flat playing surface. The roll and move gameplay is fun for a novice gamer as well. Begin the game by setting a cardboard submarine to monitor the collective oxygen of all players. Just below the submarine, layout tiles ranging from single dot tokens to the tokens having four dots. This game allows you to get creative with its modular game board. Every token contains a hidden value that represents a unique treasure value that faces down. This is a pointer of how you can calculate your victory points after every 3 rounds in the game.

Deep Sea Adventure is more of a push your luck game which encourages players to interact with each other at the table; it is among the perks that make the pocket-sized game so amazing. The game is also portable and accessible to adults as well as kids. All three rounds last for about 25 to 30 minutes; the dice will determine how far and fast a player will travel. Bad rolls impede players sometimes so it calls for a strategy to prevent you from floating outside the submarine while your competitors continue counting their treasure.

Metro X

Metro X
Metro X

I’m sure you’ve noticed quite a few roll and write games have been popping up lately. Metro X is another roll and write game but this time players come up with subway networks by filling in their game sheets.

Players earn as many points as they can with star bonuses after they create a combination of intersecting routes. Players can also score points by being the first one to complete a route. You will want to fill in as many spaces on your sheet as possible to avoid any penalties when scoring. Each player has a sheet of paper and every player uses either the Osaka or Tokyo map. On the sheet, there is an interwoven subway system and the same system has several subway lines. Every line has a specific name with some indicator boxes, empty station boxes on subway routes, plus two bonuses. With each turn, a player shows the topmost indicator card from a deck of 20 cards; after that, every player simultaneously picks a subway line. Depending on the type of card picked, the player has to do what the card reveals.

Passtally

Passtally
Passtally

Passtally is an elegant, cool, and a clever Japanese board game that has many people in the board game community talking. It’s easy to learn, but has a lot of depth and plenty of strategy; be prepared to get hooked to this extremely addictive 3D game. In Passtally, players compete amongst themselves by placing tiles in strategic positions to develop the cleverest connecting routes between their pieces. The tiles are stacked to change all existing routes or add chaos to the existing structures; creating chaos is what earns a player victory. The higher your stack goes, the more points you earn. Ensure that you bag all the points.

Passtally is great for adults and kids older than 8 years. It takes 2 to 3 players and roughly takes 30 to 40 minutes for each game. The route-building game is far from easy since it requires a lot of careful decision making moves. As players proceed, the game begins to bring out a visually striking look as the colors combine and stack on every level. 

Wind the Film

Wind the Film
Wind the Film

Wind the Film is a game that has players running around taking photos. The problem is that the camera only takes half-sized photos. The game requires the photographer to put 2 images in one frame. The objective is to get fantastic pictures in each roll of film. The game contains both English and Japanese rulebooks, 4 summary cards, 1 sunset card, 7 good shot cards each in a different color, 1 score pad, and 84 cards with numbers 1 to 12 available in 7 colors with every color representing a roll of film that tells a certain story.

Wind the film Requires 2 to 4 players and a game takes roughly 20 minutes.

Forest of Tataraba

Forest of Tataraba
Forest of Tataraba

The board game, Forest of Tataraba is an interesting one where every player stands for a Tokyo clan involved in the production of Tatara steel. The major objective of the game is to allow for the continuous production of steel. To do this, players have to learn how they can coexist with the Okiuzumo forest, or else they will not succeed in firing up their Tatara.

Players will harvest trees that are on the board as well as plant them. Trees can grow randomly at the end of a round so you have to think about where you will want to harvest from next.

Each player has 2 Tatara, 1 worker, 3 species of given trees plus a grand Tatara in their color. The game also includes two species of neutral trees with succession tiles in the game. Players are required to predict the location where the forest will grow at the same time adjusting the rate of harvesting and planting so that they balance; this strategy improves production. The game needs 2 to 4 players and it takes 30 to 50 minutes. The game is suitable for both adults and children above 10 years.

Songbirds

Songbirds
Songbirds

Songbirds is a board game that features a deck of 28 songbird cards in the basic game. The game is playable with 1 to 4 players and doesn’t take long since it takes about 15 minutes to finish.

The basic level of songbirds is quite simple. For instance, in a game consisting of three players, deal all cards but one from the 28 cards. Beginning with the player that won the game most recently, birds are added to the grid. Every added songbird must be placed adjacent to one that has already been played to the grid. There are only four colors of birds with every suit ranging from 1 to 7 and a copy of every card in the whole deck. The players get to play only 5 birds in a row and a column. Every card in the player’s hand will be played apart from one.

Whenever a row or column gets filled, it’s immediately scored and the color of the songbird with the highest total receives a berry. In the case of a tie between multiple colors of birds, the next highest receives it.

Best Traditional Japanese Board Games

Japan has a plethora of rich board games that span over centuries. These are just a few that I think you should play.

Go

Go!
Go!

The board game “Go” originated in China but the Japanese adopted it over a thousand years ago.  Go is a fascinating game because the rules are very simple; the gameplay is, however, intellectually challenging. It is looked at as a more strategic game compared to chess. To win and beat a formidable opponent, it requires foresight, intuition, and analytical thinking; if a player musters all of that, it will work to their advantage.

Two players each settle on either color of pieces between black or white; the pieces are also known as stones. Use the stones to mark territories on a grid with 19 horizontal and vertical lines that intersect each other. The players have to take turns to place a stone on whichever vacant intersection on that board. Once a piece is on the board, the player cannot move it but the opponent can instead capture and remove it; this happens when the opponent’s stones surround the stone. In case a player cannot make any further move, the game ends. The two will count the remaining intersecting points that fall in their territory plus the captured stones. The player with the most stones is declared the winner.

Shogi

Shogi
Shogi

The ancient Japanese board game Shogi originated from India; it later became Xiangqi in China and Chess in Europe. In the English speaking world, most people are familiar with Shogi as Japanese chess. Unlike the board of western chess that is 8 x 8, shogi features a 9 x 9 board. Shogi also has some pieces very similar to western chess like the rook, pawns, bishop, one king, and knight; other pieces present in Shogi but missing in western chess are silver generals, gold generals, and the lance. The game involves two players and it lasts as long as a player wins. A notable difference between Shogi and Chess is when it comes to capturing opposing pieces, they are dropped back on the board to continue the game and they become loyal to the player that captured them.

Karuta

Karuta
Karuta

Karuta board game is named after a card game introduced to japan in the 16th century by Portuguese traders. Two main types of Karuta are Uta-Garuta and Iroha Karuta; the former means poem cards while the latter is a Japanese version of “ABC”.

Uta-Garuta has 200 cards classified in two sets each having 100 waka poems. One set meant for reading while the other is for grabbing. On the contrary, the Iroha Karuta contains 96 cards each with 48 cards. In place of waka poetry, Iroha Karuta uses proverbs. The standard way of playing Karuta needs a reader, a caller, and two players or more. In all the games, there are two types of cards; one type called reading cards have written information on them while the other type consists of grabbing cards containing pictures or written language on them or both. Each reading card has its corresponding grabbing card.

The game begins when the reader randomly picks a reading card and reads it out loud and the rest rush to pick a card that corresponds to the clue. The player with the most cards wins the game.

Sugoroku

Sugoroku
Sugoroku

Sugoroku is a Japanese board game mostly played by children on New Year’s Day. It’s a tradition for kids to play this game during that time of the year; the history of the game dates back to the 12th century when the game was originally meant for adults and not children.

Sugoroku is somewhat similar to the snakes and ladders game where a player rolls the dice and moves several spaces depending on the number on the dice.  Sugoroku boards feature numerous themes ranging from politics, fiction, movies, adult themes, as well as religion.

Riichi Mahjong

Riichi Mahjong
Riichi Mahjong

A Japanese variant of the Chinese game of mahjong is Riichi mahjong. The tabletop game needs four players with every player having a hand that they must try to compete and win points from the other players. There are some similarities between this game with numerous card games like poker and gin rummy.

For beginners, Riichi Mahjong can be relatively complex for them to pick up. At the beginning of the game, all tiles need to be shuffled and arranged in rows called walls facing down on the table. When starting hands have been dealt, the dealer will pick a tile right from the end of the wall. After picking the tile, a player will either win or discard it by placing the discarded tile in front of them. Discards are arranged in rows in front of every player chronologically in rows of six tiles.

Conclusion – Japanese Board Games Rock!

The article highlights some fascinating traditional and modern Japanese board games to play on a rainy day. The English version of the mentioned games are also available so that you and your family or friends find something that will bring lots of fun to your table; some major retailers will have these games available. Whether you are a fan of Conan or manga Hikaru, you will find Japanese board games fun. If you are already familiar with some popular games like Shogi and Go, try to master other games with friends to kill time; almost all these games have simple to follow rules.