Analog games on the rise as people are less bored of board games

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Players are seen playing Catan at the No. 2 branch of Jelly Jelly Cafe Shibuya in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

Analog games, which usually require a board, dice, cards or a combination of the three, are making a resurgence amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The recent rise in popularity of these types of games suggests more people are realizing the importance of personal interactions, as well as an increase in demand for indoor entertainment.

“This doesn’t look good.” “I think I might lose.”

In early December, four men and women in their 20s were playing a game at the No. 2 branch of Jelly Jelly Cafe Shibuya, a board game cafe, in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

They looked like they were enjoying strategizing and trying to read the other players.

“Playing a game that requires face-to-face interaction is really exciting,” said a 27-year-old woman from Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

The cafe, which has 13 shops nationwide, carries a total of more than 1,300 board games, and guests can have a drink while playing with their friends. For beginners, the staff can recommend simple games and explain the rules.

“Sometimes, we are fully booked on weekends,” said the manager of the No. 2 Shibuya branch. “Most of the guests are in their 20s and 30s.”

Recently, many of the popular board games in Japan come from the U.S. or Europe, such as Catan, in which players acquire resources to develop an uninhabited island, and Splendor, in which players are gem merchants working to increase their wealth and earn prestige.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Cards and coins from the board game Splendor

These games require some luck, so everyone has an equal chance to win.

Demand for board games has further increased as a result of people wanting indoor activities amid the pandemic.

According to a survey by the Yano Research Institute Ltd., the analog game market expanded by 15% in fiscal 2020 compared to the previous year.

Sales of such games, including card games, have been increasing at consumer electronics giant BicCamera Inc.

“When people were asked to stay home, The Game of Life board game was sometimes out of stock,” said a spokesperson for BicCamera.

With the popularity of board games continuing to rise, the spokesperson said BicCamera has been expanding its collection.

While social media and online games continue to be popular, the appeal of playing with others in person is also gaining traction.

“In-person interactions help develop a person’s social skills and improve their ability to communicate with others,” said Hironori Takahashi, a researcher at Osaka University of Commerce’s Institute of Amusement Industry Studies. “I recommend playing board games during the year-end and New Year holidays.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Gunma Prefecture’s Jomo Karuta cards

Learning something new

Playing karuta, a traditional Japanese card game, might be something to do while on a trip home or on vacation.

Recommended versions are those that feature the history and culture of various regions.

While playing Gunma Prefecture’s Jomo Karuta, natives of the prefecture will remember the interesting aspects of the Jomo region as the cards are read and the pictures are seen, such as “Rai to karakkaze, giri ninjo,” which translates to thunder and dry wind, and the importance of duty and empathy.

Other regional karuta cards include Saitama Prefecture’s Saitama Kyodo Karuta; Ishikawa Prefecture’s Kaga Kyodo Karuta; Kagawa Prefecture’s Udon Karuta, as the prefecture is known for its udon noodles; and Tokyo’s Kichijoji Karuta, which is based on the Kichijoji area.

“Localized karuta has the power to connect people with the featured area,” said Yukio Yamaguchi, chair of the nonprofit Japan Kyodo Karuta association and a professor emeritus at Gunma University.