“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” as the saying has it (and Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’). We need to keep playing sometimes even after we’ve become grown-ups — no, it’s because we’re now grown-ups. We don’t mean going out drinking with friends, nor necessarily heading to a beach resort or a amusement park. No, it could just be playing a video game.
And so when one of PingMag’s editors found out about a board game cafe in Tokyo, we all set out to go and play!
Our destination was Jelly Jelly Cafe in Shibuya, part board game cafe, part coworking space. Inside, the walls of the cafe are lined with shelves and shelves of board games.
There are over 110 types of board games at Jelly Jelly Cafe. We didn’t even think there could be so many!
We spoke with the owner, who told us that a lot of the games were from Germany. The cafe’s collection includes card games, dice games, and 3D board games, all of which can be played at the tables. As there were many games that we had never seen or heard of, we asked the owner to recommend some and explain how to play them.
Our first game was Hey! That’s my fish!, which is originally German. The rules are really simple. To start, you arrange the hexagonal tiles of “fish” on the table. There are 3 types of tile — 1 fish, 2 fish or 3 fish tiles. First you put your penguin pieces on any tile with 1 fish. Depending on the number of players you get 3-4 penguins. After this you take turns to move 1 of your penguins to nearby tiles in any straight direction you want. The penguin “catches” the tile where it ends up and the next time you move, you can collect those fish. The game is played to see who can get the most fish.
However, the crunch comes in how your penguin cannot move “over” a tile where your own or a fellow player’s penguin currently sits — and the same for tiles that have already been “caught”. This means the game is decided by blocking other players so they cannot move and claim more fish!
Although the rules are simple enough, the game actually takes a surprising amount of strategy and gamesmanship. Before starting to play we thought the board game was just for kids but were impressed with the complexity required to move the penguins successively!
The penguins all have different facial expressions and poses. You could even use them as decorations on your desk.
Our next game was Hol’s der Geier, another German game and designed by Alex Randolph, the famed American game creator. This one’s a Uno-style card game.
Like the best of games, the rules are easy. You get 15 cards numbered 1-15. There are also “vulture” cards from -5 to 10 points. These are shuffled and then placed face up one-by-one. Each turn, the players must choose 1 of their number cards and put it face down. At the same time, everyone then reveals their card and the biggest number captures the vulture card and its points. However, if 2 or more players have the same highest number, then they cancel each other out. And if the vulture card is a minus number, then the player who placed the lowest numbered card has to take it.
The skill comes in placing the appropriate high or low numbered card according to the vulture card that is dealt, as well as having a Poker-like memory for what your rival players have already used and what they have left. It can be a frustrating and challenging path to victory… or defeat!
We played a Japanese version of the game and loved how as the numbers get bigger, the picture of the bald vultures also gets closer and closer. And the facial expression on the vulture for the minus cards is just priceless.
Next, we decided to try a Japanese game, Yabu no naka. The name translates as “In a Grove” and is derived from Akutagawa’s famous short story about a murder.
The players are detectives who have to work out who is the true murderer based on the “evidence” of other players. There are body-shaped cards numbered 0 and 2-8. These are shuffled and 4 laid face down on the table — 1 victim and 3 witnesses. The murderer is one of these witnesses. If one of the witnesses is number 5 then the murderer is the smallest number (which may even be 5); if there is no number 5, then the murderer is the largest number.
The players have to guess which card is the murderer. They are dealt a card from the remaining pile which they are allowed to look at. They then pass them around to the next player, meaning everyone sees 2 cards. The first player to go then chooses 2 cards from the 3 witnesses on the table and looks at their numbers. The other players can then see the 2 witness cards that the first player has not seen.
(There are other gimmicks to the rules, such as the first player’s ability to “switch” the victim with 1 of the witness cards. You can read the full rules online [Japanese only].)
Each player has to place a tile next to who they determine is the murderer after they have seen their 2 cards. Making the right judgement based on the limited information you have calls for real Texas hold ‘em-like skill.
Whether it was the higher level of difficulty or because of the murderous nature of the game’s themes, this game felt very different to the others. While up till now our choices had been cute and bright, In a Grove had a more toned-down design. The chips you place next to the “witness” you think is the murderer are also rather mysterious and cool.
Our last choice was Ciao Ciao, another game by Alex Randolph. This one’s like a combination of Cheat and Sugoroku. The game uses a die in a cup where only you can see the number you roll. You move your piece according to the number you announce. But are you lying? Once you’ve moved 9 spaces you are home and if you can get 3 pieces in the goal, then you’ve won.
However, if you get caught lying, then your piece falls into the jungle pit below and you have to start again. The die is also special; it only shows numbers up to 4 and with the other sides being a cross. If you get the cross then you have to lie and take the risk of being exposed by your fellow players if they call you out. All in all, despite its vibrant colors, this game requires players to adopt poker faces!
If you call another player a liar and they are actually telling the truth about the number on the die, then it’s your piece that falls into the pit.
We love the design for the game. As the pieces pile up in the pit, even though they don’t have facial expressions, you still feel sorry for them. There’s also a great picture on the box of the pieces tumbling down to the bottom of the jungle.
There were so many more games waiting to be played but that was all we had time for today. We love smartphone apps and video games, but there’s still something fresh and fun about playing analog-style against others face-to-face. Many people dream of playing Poker with a brandy in one hand, yet we reckon these kinds of light-hearted and enjoyable board games are the real way that grown-ups should play!
Okay, I’ve finished writing the article so it’s back to Jelly Jelly Cafe to try another game… with a beer in my hand. Ciao ciao!
Boad Game Cafe @ Jelly Jelly Cafe Shibuya
Shintokyo Building 202, 10-2 Udagawacho Shibuya-ku, Tokyo