Most of my predictions for Houkago Saikoro Club were a bit off. For one, the show’s protagonist, Miki, isn’t a new student. Her background is that of a socially awkward person who doesn’t enjoy “fun” activities that most other people would enjoy. She gets my fullest sympathies since I’m sort of the same way. Except less timid, though having a few extra decades of life experience might have something to do with that. Aya is the energetic girl with the heart of gold, but who I predict will bear the brunt of other people’s in-game jabs. Finally, we have Midori, who is all about rules. School rules, club rules, and, naturally, board game rules. She also serves as the class rep in the series.
The first episode of Houkago Saikoro Club opens with Miki talking about her socially awkward disposition and then proceeds to have Aya pushing Miki to open up with an impromptu tour of Kyoto. The action starts when Miki and Aya start heading home, but catch Midori heading towards her afterschool job as a clerk in a game store. Up to this point, the plot goes pretty much on the rails of the misfit trying to find her place in the world. There’s nothing particularly novel here, which means Houkago Saikoro Club mostly falls in line with my expectations.
But then again, I remarked in the prologue piece for Houkago Saikoro Club that I’m really here for the fanservice. And in this regard, the anime also falls in line with my expectations. In a good way! It starts with Miki and Aya entering the eponymous Saikoro Club and seeing shelves and tables stacked full of games. I found myself scanning the Saikoro Club’s shelves to see what games were on display.
What I found gives me the impression that this is one well-stocked game store! A few examples of the myriad games on the shelves include titles like Patchwork, Splendor, Azul, Descent, Bunny Kingdom, and a whole lot more! Exploring a friendly game store is usually enough to make me feel giddy and Saikoro Club’s environs are no exception.
Houkago Saikoro Club’s Gateway Game: Marrakech
But what made it better was how Miki and Aya were introduced to gaming. For a first episode, they probably weren’t going to pick something more involved. Their choice for the gateway game would be Marrakech, a tile-laying with a die roll element. Sure, the owner of the Saikoro Club talks about its Morrocan rug merchant theme, but let’s face it, it’s an abstract game with a simple ruleset. Each turn, in Marrakech, you turn the merchant, roll a die, and move the merchant that many spaces forward. If you land on an opponent’s rug, pay the rug’s owner and then place your own rug on the board. The player with the most money at the end is the winner. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the game in a nutshell.
For seasoned gamers, the strategies are going to be apparent. When you move the merchant, you’ll want to turn in a way where the die roll gives you a reasonable probability of landing on an empty space or your own rugs so you won’t have to pay anything. And when you place a rug, you’ll want to arrange it so that it traps other players. You’re doing well when you can engineer a scenario such that on an opponent’s turn, they find that no matter which way they turn the merchant, they’ll have a high likelihood of landing on your rug and be forced to pay up.
But for new players who also don’t have game experience or game sense, they’re not going to grok that right away. That was what Miki and Aya experienced. In that game of Marrakech, Midori got pressured into assuming the most dreaded role in any game group: that of the rules explainer. And when the game commenced, the Saikoro Club’s owner would play at full tilt. Miki would then get frustrated, requiring the experienced Midori to step in and play along as her teammate.
Why I’ll keep watching Saikoro Club
What Houkago Saikoro Club does well is in capturing the dynamics of introducing non-gamers to board games. I’ve seen people not understand the probabilities of rolling two six-sided dice and incorrectly place their Catan settlements in low-probability areas. I’ve also seen other people go full tilt against newbies to crush them mercilessly (I may or may not be guilty of this from time to time) and them requesting aid from more experienced players at the table. Basically, anime presents many parallels to what I’ve experienced in the hobby game community.
So the board game fanservice was great! Next episode’s focus on Cockroach Poker should be a treat, especially because it’s replaced Coup as my bluffing game of choice. But will the anime expand upon its subject matter beyond a game-of-the-week format? Will the plot and characters enter unexpected or uncharted territory? Doubtful. But is the anime a pretty good depiction of what it feels like to get into the hobby? Absolutely!