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An interview with Saashi & Saashi

Tomasz Waldowski: Thank you for finding some time to answer a couple of my question. Do you remember when did you for the first time become interested in board games and when did you for the first time think about designing them?
Saashi: It was around the time of elementary school that I first became interested in board games. There were board games themed on TV animations, etc. in the surroundings. After a while, I started making games of my own. They were games to draw maps and castles on a notebook. I played them with my friend at the school's classroom during breaks. My friend enjoyed it.
When I became a junior high school student, I started playing war games (simulation games) from Europe and the United States, and card games made in Japan. It was about that time that I bought some blank cards and started making my own card games.
However, after becoming a high school student, I lost the opportunity to play games and I no longer designed my own games. Ten years later, a friend of mine gave me Carcassonne and I learned about contemporary German games. In the year I played Carcassonne, I resumed game designing. They were only games for me and my wife to play. But I think that everything started from there.

TW: What do you want to achieve by designing a new game? What is your goal?
S: I think that what I want to achieve is different for each game. For example, in the case of Coffee Roaster, my goal was to make a solo game that I would enjoy myself (I am not good at solo games). Besides this, I also had a desire to make a game that nobody would make for the next ten years if I did not make it. I think that such a small goal is within the designer when they design games.

TW: How long does it take you to transform the original idea for a game into a actual board game?
S: I have a stock of ideas of some sort. However, I tend to be fickle-minded and I cannot sustain interest for a long time. So I think that I should always start with an idea that I am interested in right now. In short, I always want to work on what I would like to design now, so I basically feel that I am always underprepared.
Specifically, if you want to release two new games a year, there is only half a year for each work. After subtracting the time required for art production, graphic design, and factory production, you have about three months.
After starting the game design, it does not take much time to create a game-like thing. Since the seeds of the idea have been in my head for a long time, I think that it is relatively easy to shape it into a game. However, the period following that up to the completion is very hard.

TW: Where do you get inspiration for your games? I have played your games about roasting coffee, making photos and traveling by a bus. Are these subjects important in your personal life?
S: I think that the theme is tied to my own life, because, in fact, the games would not have been completed otherwise. Let me give an example. When designing the prototype of Coffee Roaster, its initial theme was "memories of life". It was a solitaire in which an old man recalls his life. I am personally interested in philosophies about memories, and I spent some time to design a solitaire with that subject. However, I later realized that it was difficult to incorporate such a vast theme into the game. By that time, I only had three weeks left. So it was necessary to complete it in 21 days as a different game sharing its features (solitaire, bag building, using tokens, etc.).

I was drinking coffee while reading a book at a cafe. Then, when I imagined the bag building movement, I imagined the tokens as beans, and I noticed that it was possible to express roasting by moving the tokens in and out of the bag. That was Coffee Roaster. I have been quite interested in coffee roasting for some time that I once even considered purchasing a real mini roaster. There was also a specialized book on roasting in my room, and I already had a basic knowledge of roasting. In other words, I did not have to learn about it from scratch. The biggest advantage to make a game with that theme was that I could save the production time.
Take the "A" Chord is a jazz-themed trick-taking game. At the prototype stage, football's offside was its theme. The offside line goes up and down. After that, we considered art-related difficulties and eventually changed the theme to jazz music. That was possible because I loved jazz music as much as football. On the other hand, concerning Wind The Film!, I thought about making a film-camera-themed game from the beginning. This was also because I like film cameras.
Anyway, since I am rather fickle-minded, if I keep working the same way, I am likely to get bored with it. Before that, I must stimulate myself and change. I particularly feel like this these days. For instance, I like history. I have made a number of historically-themed prototypes. They have not been commercially released. I do not want them to be complex. I would like to design a game that is easy to play and still makes some historical aspects firmly felt.

TW: Do you first develop mechanics of the game or maybe the theme is more important for you?
S: Basically, there seems to be some mechanism at first. At about the same time, a theme emerges vaguely. However, as I mentioned earlier, the theme can be changed later. If that new theme is suitable, the game can evolve further. In other words, I feel that it is more difficult to start with a theme. So far, Wind The Film! was the most difficult game for me to design. It was a game I started making after deciding the theme.
Another difficult task is to give a title to the game. If you give the title at the beginning, it will be easy at a later stage and I think that you can make the game without wavering about the game's world view while making it. There is nothing more difficult than the task of giving a title at the end. In such a case, I really have a hard time.

TW: Your games have very specific graphic design. Who is responsible for it?
S: Takarai Takako is in charge of the illustration of all of my games. She is my wife and a member of Saashi & Saashi. She works at a design company, but since I began making games, I asked for her cooperation. Actually, with table games, she is a more advanced gamer than I am. However, she was not interested in drawing illustrations for games. But I knew that her illustrations are both cute and original, so I kept asking her many times without giving up, and she agreed to join me in the end. And our team is still continuing.

TW: Who is testing your new game before it is published?
S: The first test player is my wife. Her opinion is very accurate and honest, so I can quickly tell at the first test play if the game does not work. If so, it is tough for me, but her judgment is mostly correct. Unfortunately, as it is a fact, I will accept it. On the other hand, if she finds the game interesting, she is quite correct. After that, I will make an opportunity to have other people playtest the game as well. They are friends who regularly play games with us.
After that, the prototype will move on to be playtested with friends who are game designers. Many of their opinions are very meaningful. And since I know their preferences, I also have the merit that I can correctly understand the meaning of their comments.
And when the shape of the game is roughly determined, I ask friends who are neither designers nor gamers to play that game.
At the final stage, my mother and sister will try it out as well. If it is a simple game, my niece will also participate. I am grateful that their reactions are so natural and honest. If you look at their facial expressions, it is obvious whether or not they find the game interesting.

TW: Is there something extraordinary in any of your games that you are especially proud of?
S: I have equally spent time and effort on all of our games, designing and fixing them over and over. People's reactions to them may vary, but I do not feel that I am particularly proud of one of them.
However, in terms of a sense of accomplishment, Coffee Roaster may be a bit special. I made it for myself, who is not good at solitaires, as a solo game that I would like to play myself. And that goal has been achieved. That game is a solitaire, which I can enjoy with ease. In that sense, it can be said that this game has fulfilled my goal very beautifully.

TW: I assume you play other board games. Do you have a favorite title?
S: My favorite games are Imperial by Mac Gerdts and Union Pacific by Alan R. Moon. I like the two-layer structure of these games.
And regarding the mechanism, Martin Wallace's Rise of Empires and Matthias Cramer's Lancaster are very interesting.
Among card games, I like Günter Burkhardt's strange trick-taking games, Trump, Tricks, Game!, Volltreffer, Pisa, etc. And I also play simple card games from NSV (Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag) quite often.
My most favorite board game artworks are those of De Vulgari Eloquentia and Bruxelles 1893.
As an overall trend, I feel that the games I prefer are shifting to simpler ones.

TW: Do you participate in gaming conventions? Do you sometimes travel abroad to participate in them (for example Gen Con, Spiel)?
S: I have not had the experience of participating in overseas gaming conventions yet. I did not participate in this year's Spiel too. In current times, even if we do not actually meet, it is easy for us to communicate about business over the Internet. However, in the near future, I would like to visit such conventions. If that is realized, I will need to take several appointments to make business meetings. And there are people I would like to meet. I am looking forward to that opportunity.

TW: Where can we find news about your new games? Besides on our site of course :-).
S: Our information can be obtained mainly from our official website (tumblr) and official twitter account. Our tweets are only in Japanese, but English pages are available on the website.

TW: Your games in Poland are hard to find. Is there a chance that this situation will change in near future?
S: I am very pleased that you introduced our games in your country. In the future, we would like to arrange to sell our games at your country's game shops within a few months after we release a new game in Japan. However, because the games will be imported into your country, they may be a little expensive.
Another possibility is that a localized version of our games in Europe will be released by European publishers. Not all games, but there are such plans for some of our games. However, these games may be released with some changes (to the artwork and components) from the original Japanese version.

TW: What are your publishing plans for the future?
S: In the autumn of 2018, we released a limited version of Let's Make a Bus Route. (It is not an extended version. Same rules, same map, and little changes to the artwork.)
This year is the year to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the city bus of Kyoto where we live. The memorial version is sold with the approval of the Kyoto City Transportation Bureau. Since its production quantity and sales period are limited, it is planned to be sold only in Japan and Asia.
Let's Make a Bus Route is a game to create a bus route, so we are extremely pleased and honored to be able to collaborate with the Kyoto City Transportation Bureau through this game. Moreover, I feel that I have somehow opened up some new aspects of how our table game culture may be spread.
Our next new game will be released in May 2019. If it is possible, I hope to be able to complete it as a big size game, but I do not know what will happen yet.
In addition, I think that, perhaps in 2019, we will be publishing some of our games from European and North American publishers. Official announcements will be released a little later. I do not know yet the exact dates of their releases, but I hope that people in Europe will have an environment where our games can be obtained easily.

TW: Thank you a lot for answering all of my questions. I wish you all the best and good luck with all your projects! 

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