Nippon is not just another funny Japanese word with doubled letters as seppuka or bukkake, but it is also new board game from What’s your Game? Company, in which you will find yourself in the land of the rising sun sometimes around the Meiji period. Your task is to lead one of four Zaibatsu – conglomerates seeking to develop the Japanese economy using advanced technology, successfully trading on both domestic and foreign markets and advance industrialization of Japan.
Game falls into the genre of euro games, so everyone is subconsciously expecting wooden cubes, lots of heavy strategic decisions and minimal conflict between the players. And that is exactly, what you get, except for the last, but we’ll get to that later. First, we should introduce the game board itself.
The course shows Japan divided into four regions. Each of the regions has two cities and every city will during preparation receive randomly placed token representing local demand. Now, these needs will be your goal to meet to receive points during scoring rounds and shift on a scale of points. It’s by far not the only way to get victory points, but is at the same time backbone of the game, without which no player can do.
Game plan still shows a number of important areas. For example a frame for placing ships or rails. But what is most important of all is workers offer at the top and associated actions, that players have available.
Nippon belongs among quick and agile euro games, where players alternate after a single action. As you would expect, everything is intricately tangled to provide some challenge.
When player’s turn comes, he chooses a worker from the top offer and moves him on his game board. He may perform one of the actions, that were in the same column, where worker comes from. Actions include, for example, improving your game statistics for coal mining or production processes, investing in new factories for one of the basic raw materials such as paper, silk, watches or bento boxes. Player may also improve some machines in already existing plant to increase its production or invest in infrastructure – ships generate additional victory points and trains increase influence in the area. By all actions, player basically paves the way for fundamental trading. Using one action, he can produce raw materials in his factories and through other actions, its possible to export them to Japan cities, where demand for just one or another gizmo came from. Products can also be exported abroad and thus fulfill export contracts, which provide mainly long-term gain.
Money in Nippon are, as you would expect, very scarce, yet are needed for most actions. You can easily imagine building factories, but where should all the necessary gold come from.
Nippon is very cohesive and comprehensive game. Actions have fixed relationships between them. To be able to produce, you need to have a factory, but you first need to have some level of technical knowledge. Coal allows producing the goods, but without the proper tools, it will not be worth much. And so on. You are constantly dealing, what to do sooner and where to direct your Zaibatsu.
Game gets still considerably deeper in the moment, when you find out, that it runs in two time lines. The first is your own. Whenever you move, you take a worker from the board, move it to your own game board and take appropriate action. Problem is, that your game board has only six workers. Once all your spaces are full, you must miss one turn and perform a little maintenance and makes the place clean again. There is one more catch to it. Namely, that in such a moment, you have to pay 3,000 yen for each color, that is represented among your workers. So if you have a red, white and blue, it will cost you 9,000 yen and it will nicely make your budget short. For this reason, you can give up turn sooner and perform maintenance before you have to, but it will only slow you down. And on top of that, you will not reach for rewards from the emperor, that are greater by using more employees.
Second time the line is between rounds. At the moment, when players run out workers, round end happens. This is especially important, because some round end with scoring. In this case, players count victory points based on their influence with individual areas. If they managed to produce good products and satisfy demand in individual cities, victory points come in floods. The catch is, that the more players is playing Nippon, the more conflicted the game becomes. With four people at the table, it can be quite ruthless battle for influence in the provinces.
Another characteristic element of Nippon lies in the fact, that players set their own victory conditions during the games. If they manage to sustain production long enough, therefore recruit a minimum of three workers, the emperor rewards them. Secondly, that player gets a small token of gratitude of his choice and then, he can put a token on some of his scoring record on his own board. By doing this, he develops unique conditions under which will he receive victory points at the end of the game.
Player’s task is not only to lead to prosperity of his Zaibatsu, but ultimately to properly set goals to receive the most of the main and crucial currency at the end of the game: victory points. Even the apparent outsider may sprint through the end and become a winner.
Nippon is definitely not a game for one play. It is deep and complex. While keeping the rules at a moderate rate, getting through its thick skin does not last long. All components carry easy-to-understand icons and so after a few rounds, you know exactly what to do and how it works. But how to achieve victory is a perennial issue, which is really not easy to crack.
Game also allows surprisingly conflicting style of playing, which is represented by actively trying to kick your opponent from the provinces, collect their influence and thus steal victory points. It is very good to track, what others are doing, even which workers they collect. There is enough hints to tell you, what players are up to and you can respond to this. That’s a dimension of championship game, which can be reached only after a high number of games, where your brain synapses will sparkle by seeing excess of options.
Nippon is harder euro game, that will reward all fans of strategy. Yes – it is a topic difficult to grasp, no trolls waging war with some orcs. And still, everything falls into place and you will get to write your little story about large Japan corporations. Nippon is after ZhanGuo another big positive notch for publishing house What’s your game?