This week I’m going to be telling you about the idea behind the game and giving you a basic overview of the main mechanics. Please note that these previews will only give you an introduction to the game; I will not be covering all of the rules, but hopefully giving you enough information to decide if it is the kind of game that you will like.
The Meiji period (1868-1912) was an era in Japanese history in which society moved from an isolated feudal society into its modern form. During this period, the government counted on the support of the Big Four Zaibatsu; the largest industrial and financial conglomerates in the country.
In the game, you play as one of the Zaibatsu, and are helping to modernize Japan, by building and running factories, producing goods and supplying the major cities, or fulfilling foreign contracts. You also build rail networks and establish shipping routes, whilst also trying to keep the Emperor happy. Sounds easy doesn’t it?
Nippon is played by each player taken a turn and then going clockwise. There is no round structure as such, but at certain points in the game, a Scoring phase is triggered. After 3 scorings, the game is over. Count up the points, and the one with the most wins and gets to celebrate (preferably by buying Sushi for everyone).
On your turn, you only have two choices. See, I told you it would be easy
You either take a worker from the game board and perform an action. Or you Consolidate.
Try not to think of consolidating as passing, because that is when you get your income of money (Yen) and Coal from your mines, and you get to take a reward from the Emperor. The more workers you have when you consolidate, the bigger your reward will be.
Anyway, onto the first choice, which is the thing you will be doing a lot of in the game - taking a worker.
At the start of the game, three workers are drawn at random from a bag and placed on each action slot of the game board. The meeples come in different colours, but you can use any meeple to perform any action, the colour is only relevant when you consolidate.
You take one of the workers from any of the action slots and place it on your player board. The leftmost four action slots give you a choice of two different actions, and the one on the right only has one possible action - so there are 9 actions in total. Lots of options means lots of challenging decisions.
You can have a maximum of 6 workers on your player board, so once you have done this 6 times, you must consolidate on your next turn. You can however choose to consolidate sooner.
“But what happens if there are no workers in the action slot I want to use” I hear you ask. Well, that can’t happen, because any time one of the action slots is emptied of workers, it gets refilled from another part of the game board. So you always have a choice of the 9 actions.
Everyone loves a game with factories in it don’t they? I know I certainly do! They are certainly important in this game, and a lot of the actions are about the factories.
First of all, one of the actions allows you to build a new factory. There are 24 factories in the game, 4 each for the 6 different goods. Silk, Paper, Bento, Lenses, Clocks and Light Bulbs. Don’t know what a Bento is? Go look it up, I’ll go get something to eat
All factories are available at the start of the game, you can build any of them, as long as you have the money (6,000 Yen) and the required level of Knowledge. Silk and Paper factories are relatively easy to build and only require a knowledge level of 2, Bento and Lenses require knowledge 4, and the Clocks and Light Bulb factories are even trickier, requiring a knowledge of 6.
Each factory shows the amount of coal needed to run the factory, which is another action. There is also a storage area where you put the goods that the factory produces. And there is a unique bonus on the tile. This one for example allows you to keep 1 Coal when you Consolidate (normally, you lose them all)
Factories can also be upgraded by adding machinery (another action). This makes them more efficient and when you run them, they produce more goods.
So, now that you’ve got a Paper factory, and produced tons of it, what do you do with it? There are two uses for the goods you have produced. You can either use them to meet the needs of the people in the Japanese cities, or you can sell them to other countries.
The rightmost action on the game board is where you can supply a city with your goods. There are 8 cities in the game, 2 in each of 4 Regions. City tiles are randomly placed onto the cities at the start of the game which determine what goods that city needs.
This city for example wants Silk, Lenses, Light Bulbs and Bento
If you provide the city with goods, you get to put one of your Influence tiles next to that side of the city. The value of the Influence tile you place depends on the type of good and the amount of that good you provide, but the higher the better. The Influence tile is important during the scorings.
The number (if any) on the slot indicates the Influence of the overseas companies. You see, until Japan starts to produce goods itself, the cities must import things from elsewhere. So, in the city above, the influence of the overseas companies starts at 6. However, once you supply Silk as shown in the image, your Influence rises to 3, and the influence of the overseas companies drops to 5. Influence is important for scoring.
Instead of using your goods to meet the needs of the local cities, you can instead send them abroad. At the start of the game, you have 8 contract tiles. Here are three of them as an example.
To fulfill a contract, you need to send the goods shown on the tile. The number of cube icons shows how many different types of goods you need to send, and the number in the cubes is how many. So, to fulfill the contract highlighted, you need to send 2 cubes of one type of good, and 1 cube of another type.
Each contract tile has a different bonus on it. The highlighted one gives you 2 Victory Points and you increase your money marker up 2 spaces, representing a deal that you have secured with the foreign country.
So, that’s probably enough information for now. I’ve covered a number of the actions already, but tune in next time for the next exciting installment.