You may not have realized it, but the world is in the midst of a board gaming renaissance. We’ve had games around for a long time, of course, but within the past 20 years or so, the genre has been expanding at an exponential rate. In the 20th century, the most popular games were pretty easy to find. You could just pop into your local big box store, pick up an Uno deck or a copy of Monopoly or Sorry, and have a great time. Well, not if you bought Monopoly. It’s not a very good game, if you think about it, but I digress.
Starting in the ‘90’s, a movement for new games started picking up steam in Europe, particularly in Germany. “Eurogames” had abstract ideas, eye-catching art and depths of strategy. The game that really tipped the scales was Klaus Teuber’s The Settlers of Catan, a fun trading game about colonizing a hexagon-based island. For many, myself included, Catan was the gateway to a wide world of Eurogames, which only grew after the economic downturn of 2008 got folks to play games at home instead of spending money out on the town. Shops specializing in this new style of game flourished around the world. I myself worked at a game shop for over a decade before coming to Right Stuf, so I love to share my favorite titles with my friends. (You can even jump over to our YouTube page and watch me teach some of my coworkers how to play!)
Shocking nobody, the Eurogames movement made its way to Japan, inspiring creators there to design new games of their own, such as Seiji Kanai’s modern classic, Love Letter. Japan already had its own legendary game culture, featuring classics like hanafuda, go and shogi, but while many people switched to video gaming, others have embraced the Eurogame movement, including the lead characters of Funimation’s recent release, After School Dice Club.
Our story revolves around Miki, a loner girl in Kyoto who doesn’t seem interested at all in connecting with other people. She admits to herself that she “doesn’t like what most people like,” content to throw on headphones and ignore the outside world. But her isolation is shattered thanks to Aya, a classmate of Miki’s who just moved to town. Aya barely avoids running Miki over with her bike, and after apologizing, convinces Miki to wander around town on an adventure. The two eventually stumble upon Saikoro Club, a small shop in Kyoto’s entertainment district that specializes in Eurogames. Takeru, the imposing shopkeep, warmly invites them to stick around and try out a game, only to find resistance from his part-time help. Midori, the representative of Aya and Miki’s class, is infuriated that the other two girls are out past curfew, but after Takeru calms her down, they all end up enjoying a round of Marrakech, one of Midori’s favorite games.
After this session, the three girls are bonded through board games, spending the rest of the series sharing other games with friends and family. Eventually, the gang adds a fourth member, Emilia, a German girl who shares Midori’s dream of becoming a game designer. And really, that’s all there is to it. After School Dice Club is a fun, breezy slice-of-life series about how games are a great way to get past differences and connect with others. The plot can be a little thin at times, so those looking for deep character studies can go elsewhere. But if you’re looking for new games, ample time is spent explaining the basic rules of every game they play. From traditional Japanese games like goita and monjiro word dice to European classics like Blokus and 6 nimmt!, a wide gamut of games are covered. While not nearly as in-depth as YouTube series like Watch it Played or Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, you can easily get a feel for how each game is played.
There is one catch, though: few of the games played are readily available in America at this time. Like books and videos, board games go through print runs and licensing changes all the time, and because of that, by my count, only 5 of the 14 games featured are on the market at the moment, and many of them have different names here. But the suggestions don’t stop there, fortunately. Many actual games line the shelves of Saikoro Club and other locales in the series, and almost all of them are readily available. Part of me really wants a season 2, just so they can go back and play some of my personal favorites, like Splendor, Codenames or Dixit.
The animation is nice and detailed, though not at all ground-breaking, and the voice casts are likeable in both sub and dub versions. It’s a light-hearted, easy-going series that maintains a gentle pace throughout, featuring fun characters that keep you coming back with their likeability. It’s a great option to watch if you need a good pick-me-up, or if you just want to scout out something to bring to your next game night. Put simply, After School Dice Club is definitely worth playing a few rounds.