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Japanese Game Round-up: Publish Dissertations, Hoard Books, and Find Balance in Black and White

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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I haven't done a round-up of Japanese games in a while, so let's survey a few of the games that I've had open in browser tabs for far too long:

• Japanese publisher 双子のライオン堂 — a.k.a. Twins Lion Do Books — is crowdfunding (KS link) new editions of two games from designer Taiki Shinzawa, one of which is the well-known, yet seldom seen outside of Japan game American Bookshop. Here's how to play:
In the trick-taking game American Bookshop, players must follow suit when possible, there is no trump, and the highest card of the lead suit wins the trick. However, if the sum of the cards played to a trick exceeds a certain value — 14-17, depending on the player count — the trick ends immediately, and whoever played the last card claims the trick. As such, players may not have equal hand sizes.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

A round ends when one player is out of cards; the remaining players then simultaneously choose and reveal which cards still in hand they want to add to their collection. Each card a player takes is worth -1 point, but if a player has collected more cards of a suit than each other player, they instead earn +1 point per card in this suit. After as many rounds as the number of players, whoever has the most points wins.
Board Game: Cinderella's Dance
First edition
• The partner game in this Kickstarter project is the two-player game Cinderella's Dance, which was originally released in 2019 under the name Count Up 21 at an event titled "Is this a trick-taking game?" Here's how it works:
The game consists of a deck of cards (numbered 1-21) and two optional scoring cards. To set up a round, shuffle the cards, remove five from play, then deal each player eight cards. The starting player plays any card, then the next player either plays a card at most three higher than the previous card — so on a play of 5, the next player could play 6, 7, or 8 — or passes. When a player passes, the previous player collects the played cards, stacks them as a scored trick, then leads a card. When a player is out of cards, you resolve the current trick, then the player who has collected more tricks wins the round; in case of a tie, the player who collected the last trick wins.

The first player to win three rounds wins the game.
Board Game: すべてがちょっとずつ優しい世界 (A World Where Everything Is a Little Kinder)
• In that Kickstarter project, publisher Twins Lion Do is offering two previously released titles: A Kindly World (covered here) and Pastiche: The Birth of a Masterpiece, which was first released as ラミネートラミー (Laminate Rummy) in 2016 by designer Rikkati. In this rummy card game, you need to publish dissertations, then have your work peer-reviewed in order to score...although sometimes the peer will be yourself!

I was initially attracted to Pastiche because the deck structure is the same as in Muneyuki Yokouchi's excellent trick-taking game 7 Symbols, and 7 Nations, which is available on the U.S. market from Ninja Star Games as Yokai Septet, and that deck structure is a fascinating thing: 49 cards in seven suits, with one suit going from 1-7, the next 2-8, and so on up to the final suit of 7-13 — but then I read the designer's original rules, and once I finally processed how cards flow in the game, I was hooked. Here's how it works:
Aside from the card deck, the game includes dissertation cards that show various combinations of cards: numerical straights of length 5, 7, 9, and 11; three pairs; four pairs; three- or five-of-a-kind; and so on, with multiple copies of some dissertations. Players are dealt 3-5 cards based on player order, with everyone then discarding down to three cards in hand.

On a turn, take one of three possible actions:

Research: Either draw two cards, add one to your hand, then discard the other; or add the top card of the discard pile to your hand.
Present a dissertation: Take cards from your hand that satisfy the requirements of a dissertation, then place those cards on display in front of you, placing the dissertation on top. You can claim a specific dissertation at most once.
Conduct a peer review: Select a published dissertation (from any player) that has two or more cards underneath it, then add one of the cards to your hand. If a dissertation has only one card underneath it, the paper has been accepted and (1) it is now worth points for its author and (2) it can be cited by future dissertations.

Board Game: Pastiche: The Birth of a Masterpiece

How do you cite an accepted dissertation? You present a new dissertation and pretend that the card under the accepted dissertation is one of the cards that you played; you can cite multiple cards in a dissertation, but you must play at least one card from your hand. For example, you can play two pairs of cards from your hand, say 3s and 8s, then "cite" a 6 from one of your accepted dissertations and a different 6 from another player's dissertation. You'd then claim the "three pairs" dissertation and place only the 3s and 8s underneath it. When you cite another player's dissertation, you must give them a card from your hand — ideally something useless! — as a thank you for their previous work.

Accepted dissertations are worth 1-9 points, and when a player has 15+ points, the end of the game is signaled. If this player has any cards in hand, they claim the "end flag" dissertation that's worth 1 point, then place one card from their hand underneath it. (If they have no cards, the game end is still triggered; they just miss out on the bonus point.) Continue play until each other player has completed two turns and the person who triggered the ending has completed one turn. The player with the most points from accepted dissertations wins; in the event of a tie, the tied player with the fewest accepted dissertations wins.
The card flow seems reminiscent of Abluxxen or ReCURRRing, with you playing sets of cards, then having them removed, although here the sets are stripped away only one card at a time — and ideally you can strip mine your own sets since (1) your dissertations score only when they're reduced to a single card and (2) you don't have to give away cards from your hand to cite your own work.

Okay, I've gone on at length about this one game that I have played only in mind (and backed on KS), so let me now move on to something else.

Board Game: 白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White)
白と黒でトリテ (Trick-Taking in Black and White) is a 2-4 player card game from Tsutomu Dejima of Decoct Design that was released at Tokyo Game Market in the first half of 2021. I have no idea whether copies are available today, but regardless the concept is a cool one, so here it is:
Each of the 36 cards has two suits — black and white — and the numbers on a card always add up to 37, e.g., 11 black and 26 white.

At the start of a round, deal the deck evenly to all players. Whoever leads the round plays a card from their hand and chooses either black or white as the suit. All other players play a card of their choice, then whoever played the highest number in the chosen suit collects the trick (recording in some manner whether the trick was white or black), then leads the next trick.

Once all the cards have been played, players score their collected tricks. If you have taken an equal number of black tricks and white tricks, then you score positive points equal to the number of tricks collected; if not, you score negative points equal to the number of tricks collected. After a certain number of rounds, whoever has the highest score wins.
The cover of this game should obviously have pandas on it, not "regular" bears. Maybe in the second edition...
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