Getting this one just under the wire! GenCon 2021 should have started by now, and while many gamers are devouring the newest releases this year, I wanted to highlight a few board games from Asia that might have missed your radar. Asian games are notoriously difficult to get, and GenCon is one of the best ways for North Americans to get their hands on them—without the exorbitant shipping fees.
Enough intro, on to the games!
No. 5 – The Three Little Wolves (Renegade Games, 1803)
Looking for a good small box card game? You can’t go wrong with The Three Little Wolves, originally by Taiwanese publisher Poki Games.
While the 2-player variant suffers from a less than stellar bot, the game plays really well at the 3 and 4 player counts. This is a great little filler that is not only very approachable but a ton of fun! See my video review for my full thoughts.
No. 4 – 300: Earth & Water (Ares Games, 521)
This game was originally published by Japanese publisher Bansai Games and then, only recently, reprinted by French publisher Nuts! Publishing. If you haven’t heard of Nuts! Publishing, then you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Nuts! is primarily a wargame publisher and, in the last few years, has released some stellar productions. One look at 300, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. But what I love most about Nuts! is that their rulebooks are incredibly approachable and easy to follow.
GMT, only recently, has launched a new series of games called “Lunchtime Games” that run only 20 to 60 minutes—a filler for most GMT fans. However, Japanese publisher Bansai Games has been doing this FOR YEARS and has, in my opinion, gotten really close to perfecting the one-hour wargame.
If you don’t know of wargame designer/publisher Yasushi Nakaguro, you need to stop what you’re doing and look up some of his games. Over the last 35 years, he has designed and published over 60 games!
What’s even more exciting is that Nuts! Publishing will be reprinting three of his games for an ultimate Yasushi Nakaguro War Trilogy, and 300: Earth & Water is the first. While I do like Rise of the Blitzkrieg more, 300 is a darn close second.
I think there is a substantial market for one-hour wargames as many would like to enter this niche of gaming but are scared off by, in my opinion, outdated rulebook formats that are far more complicated than they need to be.
300: Earth & Water is highly approachable, really strategic, and a ton of fun. Grab this one before it disappears. THIS IS SPARTA!!!
No. 3 – Khora: Rise of an Empire (IELLO, 1319)
This game was originally published as Improvement of the POLIS and won the Tokyo Game Market Award for Best in Market when it was first released. However, it was the 2019 re-release that allowed this game to get the love and attention it truly deserves.
I can’t put my finger on it, but Khora (or POLIS as I refer to it) is just a lot of fun. I love that the gameplay is so straightforward and intuitive. If you love engine building and ridiculously overpowered late-game combos, then POLIS er… Khora is something you should check out.
Some people complain about the dice, but honestly, I’ve played this game over 30 times and have seen people lose to bad decisions and not to “bad” die rolls. We even designed a simple variant where the players all share dice (similar to Lorenzo il Magnifico), and while the gameplay was more “fair”, it didn’t make that much of a difference.
The only complaint I had with POLIS was that the Sparta faction is—I’m not going to say “broken” but—a little too straightforward. The game is all about attacking cities, and guess what Sparta is good at? I don’t mind that too much as I will usually give newcomers Sparta as they’re the most approachable.
Now, if only I could get my friends to stop shouting, THIS IS SPARTA. (Who am I kidding? I LOVE IT!)
No. 2 – Wok and Roll (Origame, 2515)
This roll and write game comes all the way from Singapore! Origame is the passion project of Daryl Chow, who has designed games such as Artemis Project and Overbooked.
I covered Wok and Roll in one of my Top 10 videos, where I ranked Wok and Roll as the third-best roll and write game from Asia.
However, if you’re looking for crazy combos and hilariously excellent player interaction in your roll and writes, then Wok and Roll is one of the best roll and writes that I have ever played—in the world.
Rolling dice knowing that you’ll get all of them but your opponents won’t is absolutely hilarious. I’ve seen grown people chanting for more chicken dice—PRICELESS!
However, the best part of the game (after the interactive combo-y gameplay) is the ridiculousness of seeing everyone come up with the best worst pun for their Chinese restaurant.
Check out my video review for more of my thoughts!
No. 1 – IKI (Sorry We Are French, 2111)
IKI was originally launched on Kickstarter by (now defunct?) Japanese publisher Utsuroi, and WOW, is it a masterpiece.
I was really taken aback by just how amazing the game is. This shared rondel building game is incredibly tight, leaving players no choice but to focus on one strategy with no room for adjustment.
This game is not for everyone as it can be a bit too tight and a smidge unforgiving. You only have 13 actions to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and while it may seem easy, it is quite difficult.
I love the myriad of strategies to try in this game—pipes, fish, buildings, stores; however, the order the shops appear on the market and the order and location they’re played in can radically change the course of the game.
If I had one complaint about the reprint from this very apologetic publisher, it would be that they replaced the historical ukiyoe art style (that really tied the game together) with a more modern cartoonish art direction. It really is quite upsetting; however, I’m positively elated that more people will have a chance to experience the amazingness that is IKI.
If you would like to know more about this amazing game, read this excellent essay by Lutz Pietschker.
And that’s my short and sweet list for GenCon 2021. I own and play all five of these games whenever I get a chance, and I recommend you check them out. If you do and like what you found, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel where I post content weekly, or follow me on social media where I’m everything at CardboardEast.
If on that rare chance you’re feeling extra generous, I’d love a copy of Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy, The Rocketeer, Great Western Trail 2nd Edition, Caesar!: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes! (I have to say that seeing an exclamation point immediately after a colon just really grinds my gears.) and the French game, Dive! Shameless. I know. But shipping prices from the west to the east are brutal too.
Thanks again for reading, and stay safe out there, Gamers!