Reviewed by Chris Kovac

NIPPON (What’s Your Game?, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 120 minutes; $60)


Nippon is a two to four player point engine building game with worker placement and tile laying elements designed by Nuno Sentiero and Paulo Soledado. The game has a very light them of industrialization in Japan during the early 1900’s.nippon1

To start, each player receives a player board, boat/train pieces in the color of the board, a set of contract tiles, a one point blueprint marker and ten influence markers of various denominations. A player’s board consists of a main area where you put your resources (money and resources cubes), ship and train marker spaces and an achievement area at the bottom of the board used in final scoring. As well, the board has spaces at the top for workers and three resource tracks (coal, money and knowledge) which start at two coal, twelve money and one knowledge.

The board shows Japan broken up into four districts, each with two cities and a ship train box above it. Above the map of Japan are five board action slots with actions listed underneath and a turn track. On the bottom right is an emperor reward chart along with a turn scoring chart. You seed each region at the start with randomly chosen and orientated city markers. Three worker meeples are randomly pulled from a draw bag to fill all of the action slots and adjacent worker rows. Finally, you fill the reward chart on the bottom right with reward tokens of the appropriate type and put the factories sorted by type (silk, paper, bento, lenses, clocks and light bulbs) next to the board. You can now start the game.

Each turn, a player can either take a worker from an action slot (placing the taken worker on the worker box on your player board and performing one of the two actions shown under that action slot) or perform a consolidation action. The actions you can take fall into five major categories:

1. Move a coal or technology marker up its respective resource chart (each a separate action) from one to three spaces and paying an increasing amount for the number of spaces moved.

2. Place one to three ships or, as a separate action, place one to three trains from your board onto a train/boat slot above a region. (If you place more than one, you have to place them above different areas). For every pair of trains/ships you uncover on your player board, you get to move your money marker up one space on your money track.nippon2

3. Build/Run factories. To build a factory, you pay 6,000 yen and have to have a technology level equal to or higher than the technology number on the factory card. Any differences in the technology levels on your chart and of the factory can be made up in architect markers.  As mentioned, the factories come in six different resource types but also three different technology levels (silk/paper are level 1, benito boxes/lenses level 2, clocks/light bulbs level 3) and you can only build one factory of each resource type. Each factory has special effects such as one time increases on various resource charts or getting free resources. If you run a factory or factories (up to three for one “run factory” action), you must pay coal cubes (higher technology factories cost more cubes than lower ones) shown on the factory in order to produce one good. You can get more goods if you have a machinery marker on the factory (up to two for a two machinery marker). You can buy up to three machinery markers using a separate action.

4. Exporting goods. With this action, you can fulfill up to three of your contracts. To do so, you remove, from one or more of your factories, resource cubes equal to that shown on the contract tile. When a contract is fulfilled, you take the reward shown on the contract and then flip it face down. Rewards give you either victory points/money or allow you to move your marker up the money track by a certain amount. Contracts can be worth points at the end of the game.

5. Local Market Action. The local market action allows you to place influence tiles in one of the four areas of Japan next to one of the four spaces by each city tile. The strength of the influence marker you can place is determined by the number and kind of produced resources you remove from one of your factories (higher technology factories such as light bulbs create stronger influence markers than low technology factories such as silk). You place the influence marker next to a city space showing the same resource as where you pulled the resource cubes from to make the influence marker. You can replace lower value makers of yours or another player if the space is already occupied. You get an area bonus when you place an influence marker.

Instead of taking a worker or performing an action, you can do is consolidate your player board. If you consolidate you go through the following steps.

First, you discard all your cash and coal you currently have and replace it with the amount of cash and coal shown on your respective resource charts. Next, you look to see if you have enough workers (three or more) to earn an emperor reward. You look at the number above your last worker and take a tile from that column of the emperor reward chart (it can be coal, money or architects).  After you get the reward, you turn the reward chit which shows a multiplier on the back (2-5) which you put on one of your achievement spaces on the bottom of your player board. These act to multiply points in the final scoring.   Finally, you have to pay 3,000 yen per different color of worker.  You lose two points for each different color of worker you cannot pay. You then put the workers back into the bag.

Players continue either taking workers or performing consolidating actions until you can no longer fill an action slot with a set of three workers from the worker slots.  When all these rows are empty, the round ends and the turn marker advanced. Then you fill up all the action and worker slots with three workers apiece drawn randomly from the bag and start the next turn.

There are three interim scorings which occur when the turn marker passes a scoring symbol. In an interim scoring, the value of each player’s influence in a region is calculated which is the sum of their influence markers plus any trains of that player in that region.  There are also numbers shown on the board in a region and any not covered by players tokens are added up to make a virtual player called the “overseas company” which has an influence score as well. All these influence scores in a region are compared and the three highest get victory points as shown on the victory point chart for that scoring round.  The top two players also score their ship tokens in that region.

The game lasts for eight rounds though the last three rounds in the game only allow each player to take one action before advancing the turn marker. A final scoring happens immediately after the third interim scoring. For the final scoring, all yen held in your resource area is discarded and you get money equal to the amount shown on your money resource chart. Then, you pay for all your workers as if doing a consolidation. Next, you score the nine different achievement areas (i.e. how many areas do you have influence in or how many trains did you build) modified by any multiplier markers placed on them as a result of emperors rewards (some actually require multiplier markers to score). The person who has the most points wins with ties broken by whoever was closest to the players who played last in the final round.

In order to win at Nippon, you have to chain together a series of actions to maximize both your resource tracks (especially coal and money) to run your factories yet balance this against minimizing the different colors of workers so you do not pay too much doing consolidation actions. Overall, I found this a good mid-level gamers game requiring solid strategic planning.  The game is well produced and the rules fairly good though a little vague in places requiring some research on Boardgamegeek for clarification. The only flaws in the game are the rather weak theme and that the final three turns are single action turns which makes the end of the game seem a little rushed. So, if you like point engine games with resource management, this game might be for you. I give this a good solid 7.5 out of ten. – – – – – – – – – – – – – Chris Kovac

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