Hello, Everyone! Welcome back to Cardboard East and my personal journey to playthrough every board game in Asia!
The summer of 2019 is here, which means Asian publishers are cranking out their games.
There are quite a few winners so far, and 2019 is shaping up to be even better than last year. However, not all these games make it across the pond.
Which games from Asia should you be looking out for at Gen Con 2019? That’s why I’m here.
Here’s my list of the Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of Gen Con 2019!
11. Robotech Cyclone Run (Japanime Games, Booth 329)
This ranking is more of a shout-out to Japanime Games. They’re known for publishing a ton of solid anime-themed card games–most notably Tanto Cuore. While TC is definitely not my cup of tea, I admit I found some of the mechanics of the game rather intriguing; I just wasn’t a big fan of the art. However, Japanime Games has published several card games with some of the more prominent names in anime including Naruto, Sailor Moon, Lupin the Third, and Robotech. If you’re an anime fan or are looking for a new CCG to get into, I would strongly recommend checking out the Japanime Games booth at Gen Con this year. And if you happen to see Demon Worker on their shelf, snag it before anyone else takes it from you. It’s THAT good.
10. Emperor’s Choice (Tasty Minstrel Games, Booth 1335)
Emperor’s Choice is an older game (2017) but is getting “deluxified” by TMG. What is this game, and why does it deserve to be “deluxified” you may ask? Well, EC was designed by Hisashi Hayashi–one of the most prominent board game designers in Japan (Yokohama, Yokohama Duel, Trains, String Railway, Minerva, Metro X, and more). EC is a 2-5 player set collection, bidding game where players manipulate their subordinates, influence the emperor’s policies, and politically outmaneuver their opponents to increase their own political standing.
Sounds like a lot? It is. It’s quite a moderately heavy game (3.33 on BGG), and if you are a fan of Yokohama, I strongly recommend you look into EC. While the game won’t be available for purchase as the Kickstarter campaign should launch later this summer, a demo copy should be available at the TMG booth. In fact, a lot of great board games from Asia will be at the TMG booth, and we’ll talk about them later on this list.
9. Jixia Academy (Deep Water Games, Booth 471)
A rose by any other name. Jixia Academy (JA) is a retheming of Hanamikoji (HK). Hanamikoji is one of the best two-player card game experiences you’ll find in gaming today. How good? HK is the evergreen game of EmperorS4 (the original Taiwanese publisher) and has helped the company become incredibly successful. It’s currently ranked as the 230th best board game of all time on BGG with 39 video reviews and 24 written reviews. But how good is Jixia Academy?
Well, it’s the exact same game; however, in JA you’re attempting to win the favor of the illustrious male professors from (of course) Jixia Academy. I’m not going to debate if that’s more or less ethical than pursuing geishas, sorry. I do enjoy the components of JA more than HK. The sword (ancient currency) tokens admittedly look cooler than the original circular tokens (victory markers) in HK. The art is once again fantastic. I personally think the card art in JA is better, but I think the geishas (HK) look better than the professors (JA). If you haven’t picked up a copy of Hanamikoji due to not knowing about it or due to its theme, I’d strongly recommend heading to the Deep Water Games booth to check it out. And while you’re there…
8. Realm of Sand (Deep Water Games, Booth 471)
Cardboard East ranked Realm of Sand as the 4th best board game to come out of Asia in 2018. Yes, Realm of Sand feels like a child of Splendor and Patchwork, but I’d rather play Realm of Sand than either of those two games. I’d even play it over Azul any day of the week. It was the best puzzle game out of Taiwan last year. Majolica (Blue Magpie Games) got a lot of buzz this year being both Jason and Eric’s number one game of the year (Dice Tower), but Realm of Sand pushes all the right buttons for me without the learning curve and has tons of replayability with its different factions and their unique abilities.
EmperorS4 has quite a few spatial games, but Realm of Sand got it just right. Easily one of EmperorS4’s best in-house games to date. With the release of Realm of Sand and Walking in Burano in 2018, EmperorS4 continued to prove that they’re one of the best publishers in all of Asia.
7. Master of Respect (Hobby Japan, Booth 3030)
If you have any interest in this game, run directly to the Hobby Japan booth and grab this game for it is NOT easy to find–even here in Asia. Master of Respect’s Samurai Jack-esque art may not be for everyone, but don’t be fooled. Master of Respect is a phenomenal game that’s incredibly hard to find. Its fast and kinetic gameplay is electrifying. MoR is a simultaneous action selection card game with resource management that makes excellent use of the “follow” mechanic from such great games as Glory to Rome, Puerto Rice, and Race for the Galaxy. Each player is a master of martial arts trying to expand their school by recruiting students, training students, mastering skills, and more.
While this sounds like quite a lot to manage, MoR has a very low entry point and is highly approachable for gamers new to the hobby. There’s a lot of replay value here as well as players begin with asymmetrical player powers that can be expanded with unique actions and unique students. Timing your actions accurately triggers terrific and terrifying combos. While planning several moves ahead is a must in this game, MoR’s highly interactive gameplay forces players to expect the unexpected. In the words of the great philosopher: Be water, my friend.
6. Shadow Rivals (Moaideas, Booth 1335)
One of the best-kept secrets of Gen Con is Moaideas. For the last few years, Moaideas has shared a booth with Tasty Minstrel Games, so they don’t always appear on the official exhibitors’ list. Taiwanese publisher Moaideas found its stride and voice in 2017 with Tulip Bubble, Mini Rails, and Liberatores. In 2018, Cardboard East ranked Symphony No. 9 as the 5th best board game to come out of Asia. This year, Moaideas continues its tradition of making gamer games for gamers with the 2-5 player card game, Shadow Rivals.
In Shadow Rivals, you will be leading a crew of eight uniquely skilled thieves to steal the riches from the most extravagant parties of the wealthy elite. Each player beings with the same eight thieves; however, each thief can later be upgraded to one of their three unique forms. This means there are 32 unique card powers for players to explore and exploit, and some can be ridiculously powerful–radically changing the game state. Keeping a tight leash on these extensive card powers is the simple gameplay mechanic of “play a card draw a card.” How Moaideas has squeezed all this into 30 minutes is quite an impressive feat. The iconography for card powers can be quite intense, but the player aids do a good job of getting players fluent and up to speed.
While the anime art may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the mechanics behind the game pack quite a punch. I’m a massive fan of Lupin the 3rd, and Shadow Rivals does an excellent job of putting you in the middle of a heist movie. I would argue that Shadow Rivals does an even better job of being a Lupin the 3rd game than the actual Lupin the 3rd game. Moaideas commissioned me to content edit the rulebook of Shadow Rivals, so I was able to play the game quite a bit; I enjoyed every single one of those games. I should also add that the game comes with Holofoil cards. Holofoil cards! That’s pretty awesome.
5. Walking in Burano (Alderac Entertainment Group, Booths 701, 803)
2018 was a tremendous year for EmperorS4. Both their games (Realm of Sand and Walking in Burano) received positive reviews; however, after a year of play, Walking in Burano has surpassed Realm of Sand, especially with the addition of the two mini-expansions. (Both the mini-expansions should be included in the North American release.) Walking in Burano is a perfect example of a small box game doing more with less. WiB is a simple set collection game where players construct a row of three-story houses on a street in Burano, Italy.
This simple concept houses a wealth of interesting decisions and adorable artwork from in-house illustrator, Maisherly.
Cats in the rulebook!
Cats on the roofs!
Cat first player marker!
WiB also holds the advantage of being family-friendly (Ages 7+) and scaling exceptionally well. To this day, I have yet to play a game that uses cards in the way Walking in Burano does. Its unique gameplay, art, and theme all strengthen Walking in Burano’s undeniable charm. The primary complaint of WiB was the limited number of scoring characters and cards. Thankfully, EmperorS4 is a publisher that listens and responds. The mini-expansions are eliminating this complaint one expansion at a time. EmperorS4 hired me to content edit their rulebook and to voice their how-to-play video, so I was able to play the game numerous times last year. From my initial plays and to my recent play just last week, Walking in Burano has proved to be a game that gets better with age.
4. passtally (Pandasuarus Games, Booth 1441)
Analog Lunchbox caught lightning not once, not twice, but three times last year!
Passtally is by far, one of the best abstract games I have ever played.
It was good enough to survive my most recent culling, and I doubt if it will ever leave. This simple tile-laying and route-building game quickly devolves into a vicious route-stealing game with players bound by tense thought and silence. Thankfully, Pandasaurus picked up the license and will be bringing it to North America in 2019. If you’d like to try the CE Variant, simply flip over all three draw piles and splay them out to add even more AP to your turn (if you dare). Passtally is not for everyone. Its abstract design is simple, but the gameplay is vicious. If this is in your wheelhouse though, I cannot recommend Passtally enough. It certainly was in mine, which is why Cardboard East ranked passtally as the BEST board game from Asia in 2018.
3. Towers of Am’harb (Moaideas, Booth 1335)
The Tower of Brahma. The Tower of Hanoi. The Lucas’ Tower. I had never encountered a game inspired by the famous mathematical puzzle until I came upon Towers of Am’harb (ToA). Not only is ToA Moaideas’ first big-box game, but it also takes place in the Lovecraftian universe. Hello, my name is Jay, and I love the Lovecraft. Moaideas went all out for their first big-box game: modular map boards for replayability, big wooden cultist meeples (colorblind-friendly), thick white cardboard tokens, wooden tower pieces, double-sided player boards, eight unique player powers, and Cthulhu even haunts your game box cover at night. (He glows in the dark. All hail, Cthulhu!) There are no heroes or investigators in this game. Everyone is in a doom cult, worships a Great Old One, and wants to bring about the end of the world. Can I get an Amen?
The art design is fun and playful, but the unique gameplay is silent and savage. Using the Lucas Tower to unlock areas of the island to summon your cultists creates an intense chess-like atmosphere. The area control and resource management are as tight as they are frustrating; especially when you realize you haven’t been planning ahead properly. The eight unique player powers (or cosmic powers of the Great Old Ones) add the right amount of fun, zeal, and zest to every game. Moaideas commissioned me to content edit the rulebook of Towers of Am’harb, so I was able to play the prototype several times. I thoroughly enjoyed each of my playthroughs, and that was with the virtually colorless and themeless prototype. I cannot wait to play the final production and personally bring about the end of the world. All hail, Cthulhu!
2. Nine Tiles Panic (oink, Booth 1950)
Woah! Woah! Woah! Why did nobody tell me Nine Tiles Panic was Men in Black the board game!? Aliens. Hamburgers. Hamburger-loving aliens. Agents in black suits running around with sci-fi ray guns. UFOs invading a small town. Random children aimlessly wandering a town currently being invaded by hamburger-loving aliens. Pugs. These are a few of my favorite things! Nine Tiles Panic is a re-release of the original 2015 Oink Games release, Nine Tiles. The original played somewhat similarly; however, it was more of a themeless abstract without a narrative to hold the mechanics together. This new release blows the original right out of the water.
I would recommend selling your first edition and replacing it entirely with Nine Tiles Panic; I did.
In NTP, players are designing a 3×3 grid of double-sided tiles as quickly as possible while trying to complete the three objectives to the best of their ability. I’m usually not the biggest fan of real-time games. Surprisingly, Nine Tiles Panic bulldozed through all of my dislikes, charmed my pants off, and left a smile on my face. (That was an odd chain of metaphors there.) The new art direction and theme of the second edition successfully weave a straightforward narrative around the fast, frantic, and kinetic gameplay and keeps it all snuggled close together in one tight package. While it doesn’t give players enough interesting decisions to make it the main course of game night, it’s perfect as an appetizer or dessert. It’s easy enough for kids to enjoy, but challenging enough for everybody to play. One of the best Oink games to date, and easily one of the best board games to come out of Asia in 2019!
1. Moon Base (itten, Booth 2862)
If you have never heard of the Japanese publisher, itten, I strongly recommend you immediately head to their booth at Gen Con. They’re the most exciting design team in Japan right now as their designs really push the definition of what board games are and should be. You may have heard of their little dexterity game, Tokyo Highway, as it was picked up by Asmodee last year. While a bit divisive in its gameplay, Tokyo Highway’s table presence and charm are undeniable. Itten continues this tradition with their latest game, Moon Base–a two-player abstract game that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing in 1969. WOW!
Moon Base is by far itten’s best game to date; however, you won’t see its clever design until you’ve played through your first game.
Players are essentially taking turns placing rings on the moon in a tight area majority game where players are vying to create the longest and tallest moon bases. (That’s why the title font is ridiculously cool.) What you won’t realize is that EVERYTHING matters in this game. How and where you place your rings matters. Which rings you choose matters. Which rings you do NOT choose matters. The order in which you choose your rings matters. Even what player color you select at the very start of the game, MATTERS! It’s as bizarre as it is beautifully brutal. My only complaint is that I wish they had included tokens for scoring (similar to Catan’s “longest road” card). They went the extra mile (or 384,400 km) with the first player marker though–the planet Earth. Perfect. Absolutely, perfect. Everything about this game demonstrates why I love exploring Asian board game design and the unique stories they tell. Get. This. Game.