Have you ever wondered why so many of the virtual board games coming out of Japan seem to all have the same sort of feel to them? You go around a colorful board, throwing dice to move your avatar forward. Different notable locations can appear, with there being rewards for reaching certain places. These tend to always have a theme, perhaps involving Final Fantasy or Super Mario character. Plus, they all come down to chance. Well, the similarities aren’t a coincidence. All of these are sugoroku games.
Sugoroku is a sort of game that has been played in Asia since around the 12th century, with decorated boards that players would move around. The earliest versions were rather plain and featured moving characters around the track by rolling dice, with certain dice combinations sometimes triggering specific sorts of movements. It also was originally saved as a New Year’s event. Eventually a variation called e-sugoroku appeared years later, allowing for more themes and wider play. These have served as a foundation for certain sorts of video games in Japan, which we occasionally see localized.
Certain sorts of games are more obviously identifiable as sugoroku than others. Nintendo’s Mario Party and Wii Party series, as well as Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, are common examples. Each one has colorful boards that have their own themes and specific, identifiable characters. All of them involve successfully moving forward and acquiring some sorts of points or wealth to mark a character’s positions. There can also be notable events for hitting certain landmarks. Generally speaking, the more a game looks like The Game of Life, the more likely it is that it’s a sugoroku game.
While these are especially recognizable, due to the Nintendo power behind them, a number of other sugoroku games have found their ways overseas. Both Dokapon Kingdom and Dokapon Journey were released outside of Japan. Both are RPG-infused sugoroku that assign people stereotypical classes, allow them to engage in different sorts of fights and penalize other players while moving around a board to reach their goals. The Switch even received Princess Maker Go! Go! Princess. It takes the Princess Maker daughter-raising experience, places it on a game board and tasks you with completing decreed objectives by traveling to spots. As you do, you build up your child into a strong individual. Even the Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Command Board is a sugoroku, as it involves moving around themed boards inspired by the series’ world, using dice to get around and build a deck up. Sugoroku also shows up as minigames in larger releases, like Dice & Cube in Judgment.
While these are very different games, we can see the sugoroku elements. The Dokapon and Princess Maker Go! Go! Princess games rely heavily on dice rolls. While there can be tactical elements, there is very much an element of chance to them too. They also have the traditional board game structure, where moving along a path and hitting milestones leads to success. Every board has a look or gimmick, with Princess Maker Go! Go! Princess and Dokapon having world maps.
Then, there are the sugoroku-like games that can feel influenced by games like Monopoly. These have found quite a place for themselves in the last few years. Itadaki Street, which had an installment released westward as Fortune Street, has adapted sugoroku gameplay with the element of acquiring property and becoming a mogul of sorts. Billion Road is going to be coming to the Switch and PC, giving people a way to build up their portfolio by traveling around Japan and investing. While these add acquisition and money management, they retain the same elements of chance as other sugoroku and offer the ability to have themes attached to them.
Once you know the concepts to look for, it can be easy to notice the sugoroku video games that may have turned up in your library. The two obvious points are it would be a board game from a Japanese developer. Once you get past that point, you can narrow criteria down further. Do you have boards with clear, colorful themes? Are iconic characters used? Could dice be used for movement, adding an element of chance to your success? If you answer yes to all of those questions, you may have yourself a sugoroku!