So you've just discovered the marvelous hidden world of Asian board games and have some questions, or maybe you're just curious, or maybe you just have too much free time. Here at the Nice Game Shop, we've built a sort of reputation by bringing games from Asia to our store, so we might as well give you a hand.
But first (put on glasses), a bit of history
Asian has a looooong (that's a thousands years long) tradition of board games, with games like Go being played already at a time when Rome was just a village of peasants who all knew each other.
When it comes to modern board games, the story is different.
At the beginning of the 2000s, modern board games in Asia were pretty much a thing of a few, probably very weird people. But then big titles like Catan were published locally and the "board game craze" (which also affected other parts of the world) began. By 2010, board games cafés were a common sight and the interest also drew players to start designing their own games. And eventually some of those reached Europe and North America.
As of now, while the Asian market is still smaller than the European, there is a growing influx from games coming from Japan, Korea, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan. Big fairs like Essen feature many of these publishers and actually many bloggers and reviewers write their own top tens specifically for Asian games.
Asian fairs like Game Market in Japan are gathering also much attention from western players.
Korean boardgames? Japanese boardgames? How are they different?
Didn't your mother tell you you shouldn't generalize?
No, but seriously, Asian board games are hard to classify since they cover all themes and all sorts of mechanics. You might find many Asian adaptions of western board games. But you'll also find games you'll never see created by a western publisher.
For example, the Japanese publisher itten (our personal friends) are known for their fresh and creative designs. "Out of the box" doesn't even begin to cover it. There's not even a box.
Take a look at their latest title, Stonehenge and the Sun, which features a ball you hang for the ceiling. That's not something you find in western games, as they tend to be more conservative and create designs that appeal to the mass-market.
Oink Games is another Japanese publisher known for its minimalistic approach to design and packaging, with most of their games being pocket-size.
You also have other publishers like Moaideas or The Woods Games, with a more western-influenced design approach, but with a splash of their own flair.
You might also find some pretty politically incorrect titles, by western standards, like Barbarossa, a deck-building game with scarcely dressed nazi girls conquering Russia.
Are there any language barriers to play them?
So this all sounds great but you can't speak Chinese or Japanese? Not a problem.
As the appeal of western audiences has increased, you'll see that most Asian board games are published with English rules (either in the box or online). Text-heavy games also feature double text in the original language plus English.
Which are some of the most known games or publishers from Asia?
In very few years, Asian board games have left a big mark on the industry. Yokohama, by Japanese publisher Okazu Brand, was the first to enter the top 100 on Board Game Geek. Other titles like Tokyo Highway and Festival of Thousand Cats have achieved worldwide distribution deals.
As with the western market, you'll find some big companies and very small, boutique-like publishers in Asia.
This is a general list of publishers we suggest checking out.
China: Gamdow Games
Malaysia: Boxfox Games
Singapore: Capital Gains
Where to get them?
That's the biggest issue, as many are available online, but with steep prices for shipping (and potential insane customs charges). Fairs like Essen are normally the easiest way to get them for a good price, but since most have been canceled this year, it won't be a possibility for now.
But wait. Isn't there a place where desperate fans of unusual games can satisfy their cravings? Oh yes, there is! Luckily, at the Nice Game Shop, we have a good assortment of not only Asian games, but also from South America and the Middle East. We ship from Germany to the world. If you're interested in this sort of games, take a look, send us your questions if you have, and enjoy!