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Game Preview: Sukimono, or Thrifting for Treasure in 18th Century Japan

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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If you're like me, you've scoured thrift stores far and wide in the hope of finding unwanted treasures, whether games, books, LEGO sets or otherwise heretofore unanticipated items that are more fabulous than you could have ever dreamed about. Sometimes — well, rarely — you find something enticing and can't believe your good fortune. Who was the fool who discarded this?! Most of the time, though, you find only goods that you can strip for parts or stuff that you wouldn't want to bring into your house for free, much less pay for. And as those strikeouts pile up weekend after weekend, I'm thankful that I don't have to make a living out of my finds, and I'm dumbfounded by anyone who dreams of grabbing a metal detector and living on the beach to discover and resell lost gold rings. Really? You'd want to do that all day every day?

Masao Suganuma's Sukimono from Japanese publisher Grounding Inc. gives you a taste of the thrifting lifestyle in a convenient 15-30 playing time that won't leave you regretting how you chose to earn a living. Players are dealers in antiquities in Japan, all of them searching for tea bowls, tea scoops, tea jars, and a few non-tea-related items to sell on the open market. You can't sell what's not in demand, though, so much of the time you're trying to hunt down the five items available on the market. Items are rare, medium scarce and plentiful — with these values being color-coded on the cards — and they're priced to match, with the goods initially selling for 10, 6 and 4 ryo when they enter the market. As in any real-life market, timing is everything. If I reach the market with, say, three cut-window bamboo flower vases, once I sell them, the price of that good drops three levels on the market, potentially leaving no buyers for anyone else. If no one sells a good, it increases one price level in the next round, maxing out at 15 ryo, with only a single buyer willing to cough up this amount, everyone else having decided to acquire less-expensive wares.

Goods can be found everywhere in the regions of Japan

How do you acquire these treasured items? By scouring the Japanese countryside, of course. At the start of each round, after each player receives a 5 ryo stipend from his patron, players take turns selecting one of the eight countryside decks. Once everyone has claimed their turf, they simultaneously riffle through the decks looking for goods to acquire. The price for each good is on the back of the card, so in true thrift store fashion, you'll often spot something that looks attractive, flip it over to see the price, then say, "Yikes! They're out of their mind!" and put it back to search for something more in your price range.

As soon as you're satisfied with your finds, grab the lowest number from the center of the table; this number determines the order in which players sell their goods and acquire decks the next round. If you held onto goods from the previous round, perhaps hoping to let the price on those goods rise, you can even step out of the goods search as soon as it starts! Ideally you'll make a killing on the market and force other dealers to eat the cost of their purchases when the buyers disappear. The rounds continue until someone has more than 50 ryo at the end of a round, at which point the player with the most money wins.

I've played Sukimono twice, both times with only two players, and while I can imagine the game is best with 4-5 players — with everyone racing through decks as quickly as possible to get the goods in order to sell first — the game also works well with only two. Sukimono captures the feel of thrifting as you rack your brain to remember what part of Japan held a certain good that's now wanted on the market, or as you closely examine the multitude of tea jars on offer to make sure that you're buying the right one, or as you quickly try to calculate whether you should buy one of this or two of that because you have only a few ryo and can't buy everything, or as you stash a few cheap items in the hope that they'll prove valuable someday. (That is why everyone owns three copies of Relationship Tightrope, right?) At least when I finish Sukimono, I'm not standing in a tiny thrift store that smells like feet, my hands moving aside yet another copy of Sweet Valley High and wondering whether I'm finally going to discover something this time...

(Thanks to Japon Brand, which will have copies of Sukimono available at Spiel 2013, for providing a review copy of this game.)

2013 version with Arabic numerals for sales at Spiel
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