The Asian board game design scene needs no heralding or fanfare. It’s not here to be “discovered” – it’s been with us this whole time. Look around at most gamer’s shelves and you’ll spot a Seiji Kanai micrograme, an Oink Games title or two, and maybe even an Asian reproduction of a classic game (Can’t Stop with a cloth mat? Sign me up).
As for my own personal journey through board gaming, there’s been a shift. As Asian-published games begin receiving the recognition they deserve, they’ve become more available through retail outlets and the convention circuit. This has helped introduce me to a slate of newer titles at the top of their class. They may share a region of origin, but they also share one other key distinction: I’d play them right now over anything else.
Publisher: Dicetree Games (Korea)
Kicking things off with a classic, Modern Art comes from the vast portfolio of perhaps the most prolific game designer: the great Dr. Reiner Knizia (and is among his best, at that). This is all well and good, but for the fact that I already own Modern Art. Yet I didn’t own it like this.
It’s immediately obvious that the components in this edition are beyond deluxe. Player screens are themed after iconic art museums and a miniature easel is included to showcase auctioned art. The auctioneer, wielding a full-size gavel (!) gets to perform one of the most satisfying actions in all of board gaming. You may need to establish a penalty for excessive gavel slamming as it is simply that tempting.
Appreciation for this edition truly sets in once you realize that it comes with a complete second set of components featuring renowned Korean artists and their most notable works. For all of the hoopla around deluxe designer editions, it took a Korean localization team to produce the definitive edition of this legendary game.
Publisher: Hobby Japan (Japan)
What’s better than reproducing an all-time great? Taking inspiration from one. Rumble Nation somehow crams everything there is to love about El Grande into a 20 minute area-control scramble. Players roll three dice and split them into two sums: one dictating the territory, and the other setting the quantity of units placed. With territories numbered 2 through 12, there’s also a bit of Catan flavor, taking advantage of the two-die bell curve.
The game continues as described, save for a once-per-game opportunity for each player to activate an instant effect, selecting from a small market of special power cards. Prior to their use, this serves as just enough of a power threat to put many a decision into question. Once all players have exhausted their units, a thrilling sequence of scoring is performed, with territories resolving in numerical order (the number chips having been randomly placed, one-per-territory during game setup).
The drama of El Grande‘s cube tower enters the fray through Rumble Nation‘s reinforcement system. As territories resolve, they reward victors with reinforcement units for neighboring territories where that army has a presence. The tide of battle bound to experience at least one or two shifts, making for quite a satisfying endgame experience in a game you could easily bust out over lunch.
Cine Write & Trade
Publisher: Self Published – Nomas Kurnia & Arif Prima (Indonesia)
Affording some slack here to a game very much still in development, Cine Write & Trade has the makings of a major hit party game. Imagine every player at a table attempting to clue words from a grid, but with an inability to speak.
Players cook up a variety of clue words that others might want to use, and then the bidding begins. After several rounds of observing who does and does not bid in each auction, a mountain of context forms, and players will be ready to guess which words belong to whom. At that point, several layers of humor and bridge-too-far word association will more than likely be in the mix.
Should ownership of a word in the grid be deduced, there’s mutual benefit for both the owner and the guesser, so everyone is playing along. However, the open-ended creation of potential clues truly rewards the most perceptive and creative minds at the table. Only those with the best words will emerge victorious.
For a more complete look into this one, catch James Nathan’s full writeup over at Opinionated Gamers: https://opinionatedgamers.com/2020/01/13/cine-write-and-trade-preview/
Publisher: Engames (Japan)
It’s boom times for trick taking games, but none innovate quite like Nokosu Dice (which I previously gushed over in my Games of the Decade roundup). Nokosu Dice‘s spice is its ever-shifting game state. Beyond the fixed deck of cards, a host of dice are added to the mix. These are displayed publicly in front of each player, but count as extra cards in hand (die color sets suit, pips set value). This means that each hand has fresh deck composition, with each turn playing out with a see-saw of decision making: should players spend public information (dice) or private (cards)?
All of this takes place in a very uncertain environment, as each player’s last-remaining die is never used, but rather has its pip value determine the player’s bid (an objective number of tricks won). Hitting one’s bid is were the vast majority of points come from in Nokosu Dice, so the tension is palpable as players winnow their field of dice.
As in any good trick taking game, once you get a sense of each player’s hand, shenanigans are on tap. Throw in the option to “shoot the moon” by setting a zero-bid at the onset of a hand, dice drafting to start each hand, and an intricate three-tier system for trump suit, and you’ve got yourself a card game with quite a punch.