Card games

Japanese minimalism

Nice blog post here by Bruno Faidutti about the trend of ‘Japanese minimalism’ in game design. (It’s in French first, English underneath.) He says straight away that of course minimal games have existed for a while, and they don’t all come from Japan. But there definitely is a strong current tradition there of games involving very small numbers of cards and no or very few other components. Faidutti suggests this is clear enough to be considered a ‘minimalist school’ of game design now, alongside the German and American schools (which he likens to ‘classical’ and ‘baroque’).

Of these Japanese games, I’ve only played Love Letter (which I don’t think works very well with 2 players, but I like it a lot with 3 or more), but there are loads of other really interesting-sounding ones around. It would be nice to see more of them get European publishing before too long: or an easy way for non-Japanese readers to order them from the original publisher.

(A non-Japanese example that I’ve recently got hold of a proper copy (after print-and-playing it a while back) is Daniel Solis’s ingenious Suspense. And Good Little Games has a load of such games free to print and play, including my own Shape Up!, which demonstrate the variety of clever and fun ideas possible.)

I picked up on what I’d seen called ‘microgames’ a year or so back, as first discussed here re what became Shape Up! And have bounced another couple of ideas around too, although they haven’t turned into decent games (yet!) The economics of production of such games are very favourable, of course, as mentioned in this post.

As Faidutti says in the post, “Like painters, writers or chefs, most game authors dream of a pure and uncluttered design, an epitome of simplicity capturing the true essence of gaming.” That partly catches the appeal, for me: but it does sound possibly a bit austere. I’d also emphasize the importance of the feeling of satisfaction gained from squeezing a fun playing experience into such a small diameter.

2 replies on “Japanese minimalism”

I think I prefer your “microgames” label for these. Are the economics favourable, though? Obviously they’re cheaper to produce in absolute terms, but what will people pay for them? I ask because in videogame design there seems to be a tendency to pay $20 for a big game, but expect small games to be $0.

Mm, I realize here I’m somewhat contradicting what I said in that post last year. I should clarify that I don’t think it’s really that good for bigger publishers, as discussed in the Michael Mindes article linked from there. But the emergence of POD outlets has made a big difference to small people. The abovementioned Daniel Solis, for example, has some of his games available for free as print-and-play, but also as POD via DriveThru for prices in the $5–10 sort of range. During 2013 he sold $3300 value, earning himself $900. Now obviously he’s not going to make a living on that, but the site’s only been open a few months and will expect to grow, and he’ll keep releasing new games onto it.
My impression is that ‘physical’ gamers are unlike the video gamers you cite, in that many are quite pleased to get a nice-looking bunch of objects in their hands, that they can play a game with, for 5 or 10 dollars – even if they could get a rough version of the same game for free. It might saturate out when everyone’s got a drawer full of rarely-played gribble, but reviews and recommendations will probably keep good designers in interest. But I dare say that it’ll still require a bigger kind of game and a big publisher for people to be able to make significant money.

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