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Board games are a fun way to relieve boredom, encourage banter in the home and help tear the kids away from their screens. They can, however, be a little dated at times. Here are a few creators offering whimsical and elegant games, both new and traditional.

Bright and cheery

When Jun Sasaki established Oink Games 10 years ago, he had a couple of goals in mind. One was to design unusual tabletop games; the other was to make them as compact as possible so that they could be played anywhere and easily stored. His current range of more than 30 board and card games are, as promised, colorful, a bit wacky and packaged in boxes just a tad bigger than two stacked decks of playing cards. Almost all are also priced at just ¥2,420 or ¥2,750, and have Japanese and English instructions.

Durian from Oink Games
Durian from Oink Games

These are mostly fun, quick-play activities — from party games to strategy ones — featuring visual cards, tokens and the clever use of tiles instead of boards. Some even involve smartphone apps. What really makes them stand out from the crowd, though, are the striking color-blocked graphic designs and imaginative use of surprising inspirations that range from literature to angel investing.

Durian (¥2,420) is a game where players pose as shop clerks in charge of buying inventory for a fruit store. The problem is, no one can see the entire inventory list and if opponents suspect that you are over-ordering, they can snitch on you to the shop manager — a temperamental gorilla. The winner is the clerk who angers the gorilla the least. It’s an easy game to learn, with a few added twists, and it comes with cute fruit-inventory cards, plus a bell to call the manager.

oinkgames.com (Japanese, English)

Tokyo Jidohanbaiki from Jordan Draper
Tokyo Jidohanbaiki from Jordan Draper

City inspirations

Jordan Draper, an American designer who has lived on and off in Japan, is a self-confessed fan and friend of Oink Games and, likewise, packages his games in small boxes. Most of his designs are Japan-themed, such as Tokyo Jutaku, a building game of geometric pieces inspired by Japanese architects, and Tokyo Jidohanbaiki, a 3D model of a drinks vending machine, complete with tiny cans and bottles, that can be used to play at least 20 different games.

Tokyo Tsukiji Market
Tokyo Tsukiji Market

Many of Draper’s works involve multiple components for well-thought-out gameplay, presented with a minimalist aesthetic that makes them particularly stylish. Even complex games like Tokyo Tsukiji Market — a foray into fish market economics involving various boards, chits, markers and plenty of tiny seafood tokens — look neat on the table.

Draper has also collaborated with Japanese designers, translating three games into English and giving them new looks: Praise, a bluffing game where you give fake compliments, based on Peke’s Homero; Cactus, a balancing game that rethinks the pieces of Naotaka Shimamoto’s Tribe; and Colorful, a graphic design makeover of Tadashi Ohtani’s cute cooperative card game Match Me.

The games can be bought directly from Draper’s website with a flat-rate shipping fee of $15. Prices range from $10 for games printed on rolls of washi tape to $50 for Tokyo Tsukiji Market.

www.jordandraper.com (English)

Sukima’s Ie Shougi Tou set
Sukima’s Ie Shougi Tou set

Dinner games

For those who find it hard to remember the moves of shogi pieces, Sukima’s Ie Shougi Tou set (¥21,780) is a good place to start. Each of the plywood pieces are embossed with symbols instead of kanji to indicate how they can be used — dots to show if a piece can move one space up, down, left, right or diagonally, and short lines to indicate that it can move more than one space.

Sukima's Ie Shougi Tou |
Sukima’s Ie Shougi Tou

This in itself makes the shogi set interesting, but Sukima has added another unusual element. The board is made of earthenware by Yusuke Wakasa, a ceramist based in Etajima, Hiroshima Prefecture, and it’s designed to also function as a plate for food. Wakasa stamps each board with little crosses to create a grid and glazes it with an indigo blue inspired by the Seto Inland Sea. A fun suggestion from Sukima is to use the board as a platter and arrange appetizers on it in an opening play.

If you’re not ready to buy a shogi set just yet, first try Sukima’s free Ie Shougi app, which uses the same symbols and highlights where a piece can move on the board.

bit.ly/ieshogi-jp, bit.ly/shogiapp-jp (both Japanese)

Teyney's Wavelet
Teyney’s Wavelet

Shiny, shiny

A stunning contemporary version of Reversi, Wavelet unexpectedly comes from a metal machining company that is better known for producing medical equipment parts. Designed by Toshihiro Aya of O-lab for Kyouwa Precision Co. Ltd.’s Teyney home goods brand, it won a Good Design Award last year and is a novel way of showing off the factory’s manufacturing skills.

Wavelet by Toshihiro Aya
Wavelet designed by Toshihiro Aya

Instead of black-and-white Reversi discs, Wavelet has round pebbles of solid brass and aluminum, seamlessly joined and buffed to gleaming gold and silver. The standard green Reversi board is replaced with a block of maple wood, carved with a grid of indents. This also serves as a lid to a storage box for the pebbles.

It’s an invitingly tactile work and the pieces develop a patina with use, an aging process that Teyney says adds to the design’s charm. If you prefer them to shine as new, though, a gentle clean with metal polish will restore them to their original look.

Wavelet is meticulously crafted, so it’s a little pricey at ¥40,700, but it’s designed to last and looks beautiful in the home, even when it’s not in use.

bit.ly/wavelet-jp (Japanese, English)

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