Could you quickly introduce yourself, for the people out there that may not know you already?
Okay. I’m Saigo, a translator living in Kagoshima in the southern part of Japan, and I play board games mostly with my two kids. I’ve translated and proofread the rules of some Japanese board games into English. I’m a member of a translation team led by Jon Power (@jonpower), who’s helping people register Japanese doujin (indie) and other Asian board games onto BoardGameGeek (BGG). I’m also a member of Japon Brand‘s annual translation team. Recently, I’ve translated some reports on Game Market by Japanese board game websites, namely Table Games in The World (TGiW) and Nicobodo, and uploaded them as BGG News articles. These translated articles appear shortly after each Game Market, thanks to the generous support of these websites’ administrators and BGG News editor W. Eric Martin. And I have a twitter account (@saigo012) from which I tweet about Japanese board games regularly, sometimes sporadically, on weekdays.
We’re very interested in board game cultures around the world. How would you describe the scene in Japan?
Playing a variety of modern board games is still a hobby for a small population, but there are many people in that group who promote the hobby in many directions, and the population is steadily growing. It’d be nice if the board game culture can be widespread in Japan like in your country Germany.
The Tokyo Game Market is developing a reputation for the high volume and ‘quirky’ style of games published. Why do you think the independent tabletop scene is flourishing in Japan?
With regard to the games produced in Japan, I’m really not the right one to comment on it since I haven’t produced any games, but I’ll try my best. Most of the board games currently designed and produced in Japan are doujin games, whereby the designers directly sell their games at Game Market and other shows, as well as through board game stores. Like the culture of Comic Market (Comiket) on which the style of Game Market is based, one is regarded a game designer the moment they’ve produced a game and presented it at Game Market or elsewhere, regardless of the game’s commercial quality or even playability, and regardless of the number of copies produced or sold. I think this openness has motivated many people to design games freely, some of which may turn out to be “quirky”.
As an insider of the Japanese indie board game scene you have seen many different games. What are some of the more unique concepts or mechanics you’ve witnessed?
I’m afraid I don’t have the sufficient overall knowledge to tell which games are more unique. So, instead, I’d like to recommend you to check out the doujin games released over the years. I see many people coming all the way from overseas to the Game Market in search of good games, but the games brought to the latest Game Market are only the tip of the iceberg. To be more specific, most doujin game designers produce games as their hobby with their pocket money. To keep producing new games, they can’t take the risk of producing many copies that might not be sold out within a certain period. In other words, they don’t have rooms to stock so many copies of their games. Thus, many doujin games, even good and popular ones, are produced in small number of copies without ever being reissued. Under these circumstances, it’s highly recommended to dig into the past and look for the games that have been released and played over the years.
As an example of such an act, Encyclopaedist, which was initially released in 2006 by Josee Design, was reissued by Suki Games at Tokyo Game Market 2018 Spring. This game was long rumored as an “addictive” game that one should try out by many notable board gamers. I bought it this spring and it’s quickly become my go-to 3-player game. (For information about Encyclopaedist, see here)
Another one of my go-to game from the recent past is Painter Detective, which was released in 2015. I’ve played it with people of various ages and nationalities, both gamers and non-gamers, on various occasions, on bar tables and on picnic sheets, and it’s constantly fascinated the people who played them that they requested to play it over and over. I keep hearing many people recommending this game, but then again, it hasn’t been reissued (though it was reimplemented by Painter Detective Girl in 2016.)I recently saw a tweet by its game designer hinting that its sequel might come out, so I’d recommend you to check it out. (For information about Painter Detective, see here)
As a good source of information on such doujin games, Jon Power has listed the many hundreds of doujin games he’s helped people register onto BGG. And, in this age of advanced machine translation, I’d recommend you also to check up doujin game overviews and reviews on major Japanese board game websites, such as Table Games in the World (TGiW), Fuuka’s Board Game Diary, and Nicobodo. Especially, on Fuuka’s Board Game Diary, the writer reports about the many doujin games she’s played shortly after each Game Market.
You also work as an interpreter on the Tokyo Game Market for overseas publishers. How has the interest of overseas publishers developed over the years?
More and more people, including publishers, are coming to visit the Game Market from overseas. Regarding the publisher I’m accompanying at the Game Market, they say that they’d like to establish a good relationship with doujin game designers over the years and they keep visiting the show constantly with an interest. I respect their careful and thoughtful action and am looking forward to seeing their visits bearing fruit by and by.
Could you give a sneak peek of what you are working on right now? Which Japanese games can we soon expect to play with English rules?
As a translator, I don’t refer to the information about these games before their designers do, sorry. Instead, I’d like to refer to your great service to keep doujin games at your store with English rules, along with your inquiries asking about the availability of English rules to the designers of the doujin games that have caught your attention, because I think it’s wonderful. As mentioned, many doujin game designers produce and release their games as a hobby in their free time with their pocket money. They normally can’t spare extra time and money for translation and localization. However, the interest expressed by overseas gamers may motivate the designers to take an extra effort to make their games available also to non-Japanese gamers. It’s a mutual thing. Thank you for the interview, and see you at the next Game Market!