将棋 - Shogi
As a real game amateur (video games, card and board games, puzzles, I like everything), I wanted to know if board games were popular in Japan. With a friend from the student village, I went to a couple of game shops but unfortunately couldn't find anything nice! In France, the board games market has grown a lot over the last few years and there are plenty of nice games, but in Japan it doesn't seem to be the case. However I'm not going to give up, at least I can try to introduce people to the "Werewolves of Thiercelieux" (a great atmosphere game). And if I can manage to train tarot or coinche players (two awesome French card games), then I'll be really happy. You can expect me to try!
In the end, we didn't find what we were looking for, but I had heard about shogi (Japanese chess) and been willing to try for quite some time, so I ended up buying a shogi board instead. I had the rules explained by another student who's been playing in a club for a while, and we then played a round...of course I got my ass kicked. I then played a few games with my friend Tom, who's a beginner as well.
I have an excellent overall first impression about the game. Here is the board:
As you can see, everything is written in Japanese, and this is probably one of the reasons why the game doesn't have much success abroad. It's a shame because the game offers nice gameplay mechanics and seems to be highly tactical. I really enjoyed the few games I played. I won't go over the rules in details, but I'll roughly describe how it differs from chess:
- captured pieces can be reused and in a very effective manner, since they can be replaced virtually anywhere on the board. As a consequence, it's crucial to build a solid defense, otherwise a piece that was previously captured by the opponent can reappear in a very dangerous spot.
- most pieces can be promoted and become more powerful, under specific conditions of course. That brings additional parameters to take into account when developing a strategy.
- pieces are individually weaker: there are two pieces that behave respectively as the bishop and the rook but apart from that, the others are rather limited in their movements. For instance, the knight only targets two squares and several pieces cannot move backward. It's a bit confusing at first but it's just a different gameplay to get used to.
Overall, the game opening is slower, pieces can't be deployed as fast, but the mid and end-game are really aggressive. The rules are a little more complex than those of chess, but it's really not that hard. After a couple games, I'm starting to understand some strategy basics. I enjoyed the game so much that I'm going to try to find a club, and check out if there are organized sessions at school. I'll keep you posted.
The battle is fierce :
I've just found how to get out of a dangerous situation :