Where to buy (English language) Board Games in Japan

Hello, fellow gaijins!

Those of us who have been living in Japan for a while have been struggling a little bit to get our regular dose of cardboard for a reasonable price. Board games are quite popular in Japan, as everywhere else in the world, but for many of us, the language barrier makes it a bit difficult to find games. Or, sometimes, the game you’re desperately looking for simply never made it to retail in Japan, and shipping from the US or other locations can be prohibitive.

Fear not, as there are multiple ways (some cheaper than others) to buy foreign board games from Japan.

1. Don’t necessarily buy new! (Suruga-ya, Mercari)

That’s the very first tip I would like to give gamers here in Japan (or anywhere, really): you can get really good offers on board games, if you’re not necessarily look from something that’s still shrink wrapped. Second hand games, in English (or other languages) can sometimes be found here in Japan, and sometimes for “cheap” (see more on “cheap” below).

My two main sources for second hand board games are suruga-ya, and mercari, with a preference at the moment for surugaya:

Suruga-ya are a professional board game store that also deals in second hand. They have a non negligible selection of foreign board games if you know how to look. Specifically, search for “日本語訳無し” in their search bar, and have fun (or look for the board game you’re searching specifically). I have found very good deals on older board games there. The cons: you can’t really check the quality of what you buy from them online, so it’s sometimes hit and miss. Read the fine print on some of the games! I once found a really cheap English edition of “Capital Lux 2”, only to realize at the last minute that it was missing 30 cards (which I assume makes the game unplayable).

Their prices are a bit on the high end for more recent games, but if you factor in the shipping costs from Amazon US, you might end up with a reasonable deal after all.

They also regularly have sales with progressive discounts if you buy more, and shipping costs are zero if you buy more than a few thousand yens worth of stuff. In other words: better buy in bulk.

They’re also a physical store if you can go there in person. I believe they’re in Akihabara?

To be crystal clear: Surugaya is now the first place I look at when I’m looking for board games in Japan.

Mercari is more hit and miss: Mercari is the local eBay, where everyone can buy and sell pretty much anything. Searching for “ボードゲーム” in the “おもちゃ ホビー グッズ” category yields a lot of results, the vast majority being in Japanese, and some of them in English (other languages even more rare, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, there is a large selection of board games on Mercari. But if you’re looking for a specific board game that’s difficult to find, such as a kickstarter you missed, expect sky-high prices.

I found three things that work well on Mercari, to get foreign language board games:

  • First, for popular games (such as catan, dominion,…), there’s enough inventory that you should be able to find reasonable prices.
  • Second, patience is key. You can set up search terms and receive daily emails for the thing you’re looking for. Eventually, it might show up, at the price you’re looking for. It might take a few months (there’s not much demand, and not much offer, for foreign board games), but it will eventually happen.
  • Third, you can haggle on Mercari. It works pretty well, in my experience: since there aren’t that many buyers, and that many sellers, for foreign board games, everybody’s willing to negotiate, to some extent. In general I’d say it’s fairly easy to get a 10% discount, and asking for 20% off the asked price doesn’t hurt. I’ve myself made a few compromises on games I’ve sold on mercari, just to secure a sale rather than having to wait for a few more months.

Here are a few things I’ve managed to get on Mercari and Surugaya:

  • Race for the galaxy for 2’400 Yen (used)
  • Gloomhaven jaws of the lion for 4’700 yen (new. The game was available for $31 on Amazon US at the time, but taking shipping and exchange rates, that was a 1’000 yen discount compared to getting it on Amazon)
  • “Unlock Adventures” (used once…obviously?) for 2650 yen.
  • Scythe (like new. Opened but never played) for 6’000 yen.
  • Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (Base set rise of the runelords, used) for 2’800 Yen.
  • Aerion (used) for 1’500 yen
  • Cartographers (used, like new, missing a couple sheets) for 1’500 yen.

As you might see, in many cases I managed to get prices that were cheaper than Amazon US, and at no shipping cost, this was a clear win.

2. Amazon US remains the king

For very popular games, you might sometimes get lucky and find a cheap copy on Amazon Japan. I feel it’s rare though, and more often than not, it’s some scalper of some sort that’s actually selling it from the US with an added margin. I always check Amazon Japan just in case they have the game I4m looking for, but have found it to be less and less true.

In practice, when I don’t find what I’m looking for on either Suruga-ya or Mercari, Amazon.com remains the best source for board games. Their shipping costs are, for lack of a better word, “optimized”. I wouldn’t say “reasonable”, as in some cases it can almost double the cost of your game, but they remain cheaper than the competition.

At some point in time, it made sense to order in bulk from Amazon.com, to reduce the relative cost of shipping, but I feel that they’ve improved their algorithms on that aspect, and now seem to charge almost proportionally to the amount of games I’m ordering. Bulk is still the best way to save on shipping from Amazon, don’t get me wrong, it’s just lest efficient (for us, not for them) than it used to be.

But enough rant on the shipping costs. For game that have hit retail, and that I cannot find used through my Japanese sources, Amazon US remains usually the store with the most selection and the cheapest shipping costs, so they still get a huge chunk of my money.

3. JIGG Kanto Group

There are a few facebook groups that are dedicated to board gamers in Japan, in particular foreigners. The JIGG Kanto group, in particular, often has members trying to sell copies of the games they’re not playing anymore. Depending on who’s selling, and whether you’re willing to negotiate or not, you can get reasonable prices, in particular if you can meet in person and avoid shipping costs. That’s possibly a better way than mercari, considering neither you nor the seller have to give 10% of the money (+ shipping costs) to an intermediate.

(JIGG: Japan International Gamers Guild)

4. Kickstarter, Friends, etc…

Pledging for games on Kickstarter used to be a really good deal. Nowadays, with added shipping costs, not so much. Then again, waiting for your crowdfunded game to reach retail, only to see the same shipping costs added (in particular if the game end up being sold from the publisher’s website exclusively), could lead to disappointment.

I’m not saying to forget about kickstarter, in some cases it will be the only way to get a particular game you’re looking for, but it’s certainly not cost efficient at this point.

You might also leverage family and friend next time they’re coming to visit you in Japan, and ask them to bring a specific game you’ve been trying to buy. But don’t expect grandma to carry a 10 pounds Gloomhaven box in her cabin luggage.

5.Conclusion

That’s it for now. Although buying foreign Board Games in Japan is probably going to be on average more expensive than if you were in your country of origin, there are a few good deals you can snatch. I strongly recommend to be patient and to monitor sites like Mercari or Suruga-ya for deals, and be open to what you’re looking to buy 😉

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