Prologue to Houkago Saikoro Club

Houkago Saikoro Club sits at the confluence of two of my chief interests: anime and board games. Because it’s an anime about board games and board gaming culture. And while I’ve played board games with anime art (Argent the Consortium, Tanto Cuore), I’ve yet to see an anime that touches upon the diversity of board games in the way that Houkago Saikoro Club does.

That’s not to say that anime based around tabletop games don’t exist, but when they do, they are focused on one specific game. Yugioh stands out as a very well-known example of a hobby game anime, albeit a CCG. Hikaru no Go focuses on the game of Go, presenting it in a riveting manner. So much so that I even tried to figure out how to play it.

My Experience with Hobby Game Anime

When looking at hobby game anime on the whole, my experience is that it’s had a reasonably high floor for entertainment value. Their focus on one particular game usually allows it to milk the intricacies within the game to generate the drama that’d keep me watching.

Now, some shows do a better job of it than others. Exemplars within the genre include Chihayafuru, which focuses on the card game karuta. Chihayafuru wouldn’t be as exceptional if the characters and their relationships weren’t so well-developed and if they didn’t cover some of the history behind the poems inscribed on the cards. Akagi, an anime about mahjong in the criminal underworld, is compelling from the situations that the protagonist finds himself in. The ensuing tension is so thick that it’d blunt any machete trying to cut through it. Below these heavy hitters, you have shows like Saki, another mahjong anime focused around cute girls with special powers that benefit their mahjong skills. Its premise is silly, but the mahjong was entertaining on the whole.

If we extend hobby games anime to include all after school club anime, the quality becomes more muddled. At the top, you have relaxing shows like Yuru Camp (Laid-Back Camp). At the other end, you have eye-rollers like K-ON. My guess is that Houkago Saikoro Club will fall more in the middle of this category. Because of this, my expectations aren’t going to be as high as it would be if it were a pure hobby game anime.

And that’s how the trailer seems to shake out. New school year. New student. The need to make new friends and find a place where she belongs. Oh, and there’ll be a cast of quirky characters who’ll be along for the ride. I’ve seen this trope done pretty much to death and it doesn’t do much to elevate my expectations for a highly engaging anime. At least, if it weren’t for the tantalizing fanservice being offered.

Why I’m Hopeful For Houkago Saikoro Club

Fanservice? Well, not what you might be thinking of. The flavor of fanservice I’m referring to contains no heaving cleavages, panty shots, nosebleed-causing incidents, or any of that nonsense. I’m talking about board games fanservice! You know, the allure of slipping the box from its transparent shrink wrap. Of hearing the box groan in delight when you take off the lid and catch a whiff of the new game smell. Of the satisfying tick when you punch out a chit from the many many cardboard sheets that come with the game. Of the pure bliss from knowing the enjoyment that’s soon to be had at your fingertips…

So yes, a lot of excitement. What other feeling would you expect from me when I go through Houkago Saikoro Club’s trailer and see games like Terraforming Mars sitting on a shelf? Or when I see the girls bullheading around, playing 6 Nimmt!? I’m intrigued with how they present the board games in the anime. Are we going to see someone hate-drafting while playing Sushi Go? Or how about taking someone else’s spot in Agricola? Or pretending that they’re not Hitler? These are the moments that I live for from Houkago Saikoro Club anime. Anything less and I’ll be sorely disappointed.

So can we get a show with characters as endearing as the ones in Hidamari Sketch, but with a focus on board games? If the Houkago Saikoro Club anime manages to reach that level, I’ll be a very happy viewer. Otherwise, I’ll be content enough to watch a cute anime girl pass a card to her opponent and claim “It’s a spider!” when she knows damn well it’s a cockroach.

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