Background: In 2016 illustrator and game designer Konno Takashi [website
], independently released a little gem called Nobinobi TRPG ("nobinobi" means relaxed or easy-going, and is also a convenient pun on the transliteration of the English word "novice," signaling the game's suitability for inexperienced roleplayers; TRPG is an abbreviation of "Table-talk RPG" and is probably the most common term in Japan for what we'd call tabletop roleplaying). It's a fantasy-themed, card-driven, zero-prep no-GM (technically, rotating GM) storytelling game that can be played in under an hour. Arclight Games snapped it up and a year later released Nobinobi TRPG: The Horror, a horror-themed version of the same.
It's pretty simple: characters are simple, pre-generated archetypes with two different ability scores and a special power. Players take turn drawing scene cards that have simple prompts to act out and a challenge (usually a dice roll target number or a roleplaying challenge) that they need to complete. They get cards that give them bonuses. Do a few turns of this and then the story hits a climax. Super simple, very sleek. It seemed to have been fairly popular on release, and while I haven't lived in Japan for many years and am not qualified to talk about the current state of tabletop roleplaying there, I suspect that "zero-prep no-GM" is a wide-open niche there, where the "cult of the GM" mentality has long dominated gaming. I have a hard time thinking of other Japanese games that fit that criteria outside of a couple quirky indie releases without nearly as much traction (not that there's anything wrong with that!); I could name more translated foreign releases like Fiasco and Fall of Magic than domestic ones, and most of those also only showed up in the last year or two.
Anyway, the designer just went on a big Twitter spiel about the game's design process, particularly about players' ability to process and track large amounts of information, simplifying language for people without RPG experience, and the importance of attractive package design. I'm sure those topics are old hat to most of the people here but I nonetheless thought it was interesting enough to translate. Particularly since he's an illustrator talking about the importance of graphic design, I'll snag a couple pics to show off the games. For me, it really was an "I don't care if I never play it, I want it on my shelf" purchase, and I occasionally see RPG designers talking about how to capture the sleek aesthetic of boardgame component design for RPGs, something I think this game did particularly well.
(His actual comments start in my next post, with occasional translator notes intermixed to provide clarification where I thought it useful)