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Super Mario Bros., board games, adaptation, Japanese board games

Super Mario Bros. vs. Super Mario Bros. vs. Super Mario Bros.

Nathan Altice (University of California, Santa Cruz)

Anyone who has ever delved into the quirky world of licensed Nintendo ephemera from the 1980s has likely seen Milton Bradley’s 1988 Super Mario Bros. Game board game (fig. 1). Held in roughly equal critical regard as the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie adaptation, minus the film’s pop surrealist take on the source material, the Super Mario Bros. Game is a case study in the unique difficulties of adapting the kinetic flow of a scrolling, single-player action video game to the turn-based rhythms of a multiplayer, roll-and-move board game.

Figure 1

Milton Bradley’s Super Mario Bros. Game (1988). (Image courtesy of author)

Adaptations are a paradoxical part of our media culture. The traits that define their successes—mimicry, referentiality, quotation, familiarity—also instigate their failures. What we as fans, consumers, and critics apparently desire from adaptations is media wedged between the competing demands of fidelity and divergence. If a Super Mario Bros. film leans too heavily on its source, it becomes extraneous. Why see the film if it duplicates the game? But if it strays too far from its source, the adaptation becomes, at best, a superficial contrivance and at worst, a vehicle for Dennis Hopper to flick a forked tongue as President Koopa.

Unlike the film, Milton Bradley’s Super Mario Bros. Game preserves many of the visual and thematic trappings of the video game. Players act as Mario, navigating an illustrated facsimile of the Mushroom Kingdom’s terrain, dodging a handful of Koopa’s minions, collecting coins, and accumulating extra lives as they race to defeat Bowser and rescue the Princess. Super Mario Bros. Game is ostensibly a racing game, with a few unique twists. First, the game board is cut lengthwise into four rectangular segments, each labeled as Worlds 1 through 4 (fig. 2).

Figure 2

Worlds 1 and 2 of Milton Bradley’s Super Mario Bros. Game (1988). (Image courtesy of author)

Players start the game with World 1 in front of them, then add the remaining three segments, in order, when they reach the pipes and vines that link to the next World. Second, in lieu of numbers, the six-sided die has four custom labels: yellow, red, yellow/red, and STOP. The colors correspond to the alternating red and yellow columns that subdivide board space, so players advance Mario to the next immediate space that matches the color rolled. Additionally, players may jump Mario to the upper or lower path, providing some limited choice over how they traverse the course.

Given the constraints of cardboard versus computation, splitting the game board into four horizontal segments is a clever emulation of Super Mario Bros.’ level structure and nonsequential progression via pipes and vines. Scrolling and warping are translated into a manual process, wherein players move the next board segment into view once Mario has reached the end of the prior World. However, limiting players to only four board segments, each placed in sequential order, negates any combinatorial possibilities afforded by the game’s modular design. Likewise, Mario’s one-two checkerboard movement slows the game to a crawl, a mechanical irony considering Super Mario Bros. is a video game about sprinting, jumping, and traversing obstacles under the threat of a timer.

The game’s modularization, branches, and pace are inconsequential once a player realizes that its central impetus—a race to the finish—has only one competitor. Players alternate control of one Mario pawn, and each player’s turn continues until they either collide with a hazard or roll “STOP.” To keep the non-Mario players engaged while they await their turn, they place obstacles from a hand of Hazard cards collected during their turn as Mario. Consolidating player control to a single pawn (theoretically) grants all players a turn controlling the hero and prevents any player from falling behind. The unfortunate consequence is that no player can take the lead, condensing the entirety of the game into its final move. Whoever controls Mario for his final successful leap over Bowser is the winner. Players’ only recourse is to accumulate enough lives to weather the indifference of chance. In the end, Super Mario Bros. Game is less about racing and more about wresting control of Mario from one’s fellow players. The game more successfully adapts the act of playing Super Mario Bros. competitively in the late 1980s—with siblings or friends who desperately want to play while you take “just one more turn” at the controller—than it does the base game itself.

The divergent representational outcomes and latent cultural contexts of adaptation are what make objects like Super Mario Bros. Game so fascinating, no matter how flawed or flimsy they may first appear. By design, adaptations are both supplementary and metonymic, standing in for and in place of whatever source media they are intended to re-present. But they also conform to the affordances of their target media. No cardboard counterpart (or human player) can adequately mimic the computational power of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) hardware. Conversely, even contemporary platforms struggle to simulate the subtleties of social and cultural interactions that emerge when players gather around a board and play. Adaptations must continually bridge that divide, negotiating between the structural, formal, cultural, and representational demands of their source media and the material allowances of their target media.

At their best, adaptations work like glitches—they surface the jagged edges, the nagging incongruences, and the obstinate materiality of competing media forms. When one medium adapts another—even games adapting games—the formal contours of both come into sharper focus. That’s also why it’s so instructive to compare and contrast multiple instances of adaptation within a given media. When adaptations proliferate, we’re given multiple lenses into both the process of design and the myriad of external forces that shapes that process.

But few media attain the cultural influence necessary to attract multiple works of adaptation. Here we find the intermingling of enduring cultural works—Shakespeare, the Bible, the Odyssey—and commercial mass media—Marvel comics, Godzilla, Star Wars. This distinction is not meant to uphold an arbitrary divide between high and low or old and new culture. The former often starts as the latter, and it’s often in that moment of mass media novelty that we find the widest spectrum of adaptations. A unique liminal moment happens during a media object’s introduction, wherein it is not yet fully formed—or, more accurately, codified and standardized for public consumption by the market forces that control it.

Super Mario Bros. is one such media object. Its rapid rise to international pop-culture phenomena in the mid-1980s made it a target for adaptation across many media. A panoply of comics, cartoons, books, game books, puzzles, music, and movies sprang ceaselessly from Nintendo’s plumber like Koopa from oversized green pipes. And though Milton Bradley’s Super Mario Bros. Game capitalized on surging Mario fandom in the United States, it was not the first attempt to bring Super Mario to the table. Unsurprisingly, Super Mario Bros.’ earliest adaptations arose from Japan, where Mario had appeared in several Nintendo video games prior to he and Luigi gaining their “Super” moniker. And both toy companies that took the first crack at adapting Super Mario Bros.—Japan’s toy behemoth Bandai and lesser-known licensee Takahashi—did so before Nintendo truly knew the magnitude of Mario’s success.

Each Super Mario Bros. springs from a shared digital forebear, working within the same representative parameters of sentient toadstools and brickwork castles, but each adapts a different mechanical mode of its source material. Milton Bradley, a handful of years and continents away from the source, captured a particular culture of play in the 1980s. Meanwhile, Takahashi and Bandai, mere months after the video game’s release, produced adaptations grounded in a shared foundation of Japanese play. And the resulting objects serve as demonstrative links between a shared history and a new future of Japanese games (fig. 3).

Figure 3

Clockwise from top right: Bandai’s Super Mario Bros. Game (1985); Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Famicom cartridge (1985); Devil World (1984), a “silver box” Famicom game; and Takahashi’s Family Computer Board Game Super Mario Bros. (c. 1985). (Image courtesy of author)

Most of the remaining material evidence of Takahashi’s existence is officially licensed Nintendo children’s merchandise. Takahashi appears to have secured a blanket license for several ファミリーコンピュータ (Family Computer) properties in the mid-1980s.1 Takahashi manufactured and sold Super Mario Bros. lunch boxes, dolls, and inner tubes alongside Family Computer rubber figurines (which included Nintendo, Konami, Jaleco, and Namco characters) and the curious Family Computer テレビデンワ, or TV Phone, a toy/game hybrid whose packaging included screenshots of four Nintendo console games.2 Though Nintendo itself made toys, cards, and board games, it initially licensed many of its arcade and console properties to smaller companies like Takahashi, with little of the meticulous (and often litigious) quality control it now exerts over its brand.

Alongside the aforementioned toys and merchandise, Takahashi designed a short-lived series of official Family Computer Board Games that included six adaptations of Famicom games, released in two staggered sets between 1985 and 1986. The first set comprised four titles—Ice Climber, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros., and Excite Bike—drawn from Nintendo’s catalog of first-party console games. The second set included two games: Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. and the series’ sole third-party adaptation, Taito’s shoot-em-up Sky Destroyer.

Takahashi’s Super Mario Bros. has many visual and structural similarities to Milton Bradley’s game. The board unfolds to reveal four distinct horizontal エリア “areas,” each a recognizable facsimile of Super Mario Bros.’ distinctive level themes (fig. 4). Likewise, the spatial arrangement, color-coded spaces, enemy placement, and level transitions appear to presage the Milton Bradley game. But there’s an important cultural structure working behind this adaptation that’s likely invisible to non-Japanese players.

Figure 4

The Takahashi Super Mario Bros. game board. To accommodate the game’s small box, the cardboard board is creased or cut into six panels that fold into a rectangle that measures 24 by 14.5 cm. (Image courtesy of author; Analog Joy Club Archive,

Both Takahashi’s and Bandai’s Super Mario Bros. board games are themselves formal adaptations of a traditional Japanese game called 双六 sugoroku—literally, a “pair of sixes”—named for their primary chance mechanism: two six-sided dice. Sugoroku is sometimes localized as the catch-all term board game, but this translation is too broad, since sugoroku does not describe all varieties of Japanese board games. Even designating sugoroku as a “board” game takes liberties with the form, since most were played on more lightweight and inexpensive materials, like paper or newsprint, than the sturdier stock now common in commercial board game boards.

Sugoroku is a set of formal design motifs that has a centuries-long history in Japan. Sugoroku once described an abstract racing game with opposed rows of spaces resembling backgammon. Players cast a pair of dice and moved their pieces atop an ornate wooden box. Improvements in woodblock printing and the increased availability of paper in the seventeenth century transformed sugoroku from an abstract game played by the ruling elite to a mass-media format packed with images and text. Eventually these new 絵双六, or “picture sugoroku,” supplanted the older 盤双六, or “board sugoroku,” as mass media catered to the rhythms and fashion of Japanese life. Using words, images, movement, and space, picture sugoroku told stories, celebrated famous actors or courtesans, depicted scenic landscapes, represented historical vignettes, or delighted players with a menagerie of ghosts and demons drawn from folklore.

Structurally, all sugoroku have a start and finish, but the paths and patterns that link those spaces vary significantly. Some sugoroku are linear. Players roll the di(c)e and move according to the result. In some spaces, there is text that instructs the player to move ahead, move back, return to the start, or 一回休み “rest one turn.” “Jumping sugoroku,” in contrast, uses the die for nonlinear movement. Each space depicts possible die rolls assigned to a corresponding location. If a player’s roll matches a given number, they 飛ぶ “leap” their pawn to the designated space. This structure creates emergent spatial patterns, like loops, that can convey metaphorical meaning. A sugoroku with religious themes, for example, might find a player spending many turns looping through the same spaces that tell them of their moral vices, so they feel as if they are locked in a vicious cycle. Other sugoroku use branching paths, alternate routes for each player, or hybrids of these forms.

Above all, sugoroku are defined by form rather than content, and their simplicity and ubiquity made them an ideal container for all manner of themes—travel, war, sports, history, entertainment, education, and more. Like suited playing cards or a playground ball, sugoroku is a malleable framework of mechanical conventions that can be endlessly iterated and modified. This characteristic makes them an ideal platform for adaptation because designers can conform nearly any media to sugoroku’s structure. Video games in particular were an ideal fit, due to multiple formal affinities—loops, branches, leaps, and other common play patterns from sugoroku appeared again and again in Japanese video games. So adapting those play patterns back to their source had immediate cultural resonance.

In Takahashi’s Super Mario Bros., players roll a die to advance their pawns (every player gets their own) along the white-bordered spaces. A few branching paths give players a modicum of choice over how to proceed, but all routes lead to the level-ending flagpoles. However, some path junctions use a common sugoroku mechanism: hard ストップ “stops,” where players must halt their movement, regardless of their die roll, and follow the on-board instructions. In sugoroku, these stops represent an important juncture in the player’s path, requiring some additional condition, action, or outcome for the player to proceed. At ジャンプポイント “jump points,” for example, players must flip over a Jump card to determine whether Mario jumps successfully, landing in the blue or red space directly ahead, or unsuccessfully, reverting Fire or Super Mario to his smaller form. Another stop point near the end of the underwater section of Area 3 demonstrates a modified “jumping sugoroku” structure. The stop text instructs the player to roll the die and advance to the space with a number that matches their roll. It’s possible to pass the section in five turns, but three paths lead to enemies that force the player to 1回休み “rest 1 turn.”

Sugoroku provided a shared foundation for many Japanese board games, but the format wasn’t sacrosanct. Its flexibility gave designers great leeway to supplement or subvert the form. Cards are not a part of sugoroku, but designers used them to add variation, chance, and sometimes strategy to the traditional format. Super Mario Bros. uses 対決カード or “Confrontation cards” to represent the enemies and items Mario encounters along his path. Star cards, for instance, allow Mario to ignore “rest 1 turn” instructions. Some of the enemies depicted on Confrontation cards require players to exceed a target die roll, while others require Mario to be powered up with either the Mushroom or Fire Flower.

Takahashi’s most notable subversion of the sugoroku format is its end goal. Players still compete to reach the goal axe in the final castle area, but the race is not the object. The game doesn’t end until all players reach the goal, and then they total their accumulated coins to determine the winner. Reaching the goal first nets a higher coin reward, but it’s still possible for the trailing player to win. Though movement, coin collection, and confrontations are still largely determined by the chance outcomes of dice and cards, Takahashi’s adaptation faithfully captures the source game’s competing demands—on one hand, the ticking clock and dedicated sprint button that urge Mario to race forward, and on the other, a space filled with secret vaults and hidden rewards that encourage constant prodding at the Mushroom Kingdom’s destructible architecture.

Another key aspect of Takahashi’s adaptation is the game box, which is nearly identical to the Famicom original (fig. 5). The most apparent change is the box’s color. Takahashi trades the vibrant yellow of the original box for reflective silver. It’s a striking difference, and there was an important precedent for the change. Early in the Famicom’s commercial life cycle, Nintendo re-released most of its first-party catalog in a revised 銀箱 “silver box” format.3 The silver boxes, which were slightly larger than standard Famicom boxes, transposed the game’s title and illustration and condensed the game’s original box color to a thick border surrounding the game’s artwork. Takahashi developed the Family Computer Board Game Series in the midst of Nintendo’s silver-box conversion, so they adopted the house style for all five Nintendo titles in the series.

Figure 5

Nintendo’s original cover design for the Family Computer release of スーパーマリオブラザーズ Super Mario Bros. (left) and Takahashi’s Family Computer Board Game スーパーマリオブラザーズ Super Mario Bros. (right). (Image courtesy of author; Analog Joy Club Archive,

The silver box is a visual clue that the adaptation’s licensing and design may have begun before Famicom Super Mario Bros.’ box design was settled. Other evidence supports the same conclusion. First, the cover illustration is the only official Nintendo art used in the board game. The board, cards, and other components feature custom artwork designed by Takahashi (which they reused for other products). Either Nintendo granted Takahashi permission to use only the cover artwork, or Nintendo had not yet finalized the supplemental artwork used in the manual and other promotional materials, so Takahashi had to produce its own.

Second, Nintendo released Famicom Super Mario Bros. in mid-September 1985. The April 10, 1986, issue of Japan’s Family Computer Magazine featured an advertisement for various Famicom-branded merchandise, including puzzles, towels, and controllers, and all six Takahashi board games (fig. 6). The series was split into 3点セット (“3-point sets”) labelled A (Excitebike, Sky Destroyer, Super Mario Bros.) and B (Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Jr., Ice Climber), and each set sold for ¥3,000.

Figure 6

A detail view of an advertisement from the April 1986 issue of Family Computer Magazine that includes all six games in Takahashi’s Family Computer Board Game series. (Image courtesy of author)

Considering print advertising and game production lead times, the sets’ bundle pricing, and the initial staged releases of the series, it’s likely Takahashi received a timed Nintendo license, developed its adaptation in close proximity to the original video game’s production schedule, and was now clearing out stock. The extreme scarcity of this series in today’s secondary markets and a lack of evidence of any subsequent Takahashi board games suggest that the series found little commercial success. Although Takahashi’s may be the first board game adaptation of Super Mario Bros., it may also be the most ill-timed. Had Takahashi been fortunate enough to release its games a few months later, it might have caught the cultural wave of Mario fandom at its apex.

Takahashi’s adaptation operates in two complementary modes. The board game uses sugoroku as a set of formal conventions to adapt the mechanisms of the source video game. The box uses typography, color, construction, and illustration to adapt the material structure of a Famicom game. The latter is so similar to the source that one can imagine a well-intentioned parent accidentally buying Takahashi Super Mario Bros. instead of Nintendo Super Mario Bros. Even the size was deceptive. Placed side-by-side, Takahashi’s game dwarfs the Famicom original, but compared to typical Japanese board games, the Takahashi box is quite small. And the reason for its diminutive size is yet another layer of adaptation influenced by a competing brand of board games.

Bandai’s Super Mario Bros. Game was the Japanese toy company’s fifty-first entry in its popular パーティジョイ Party Joy board game series. Party Joy began in summer 1983 (as did the Family Computer), offering young players a low-cost, portable, and collectible form of “party” (i.e., group) play in a variety of genres and styles, from horror and adventure to licensed properties featuring Ultraman, Gundam, and, starting with Super Mario Bros.’ release at the end of 1985, video games. Each game cost ¥1,000 (roughly $7) and included all of its components in a 22 cm by 15.5 cm by 2.8 cm slipcase-style box, sized nearly identical to two mainstays of young Japanese life—ジャポニカ学習帳 Japonica learning books and B5-sized manga digests. The games, from content to case, were designed to fit the cultural and social contexts of Japanese children’s lives.

Bandai’s established commercial stature, manufacturing capabilities, and large stable of freelance designers were reflected in their production quantity and quality. The Party Joy series alone continued for nearly a decade and comprised 135 games. During the 1980s, Bandai produced over five hundred board and card games across roughly two dozen individual series, even though the Mamiīto Toy Division, the group responsible for Bandai’s board and card games, represented only a fraction of Bandai’s overall business. And despite Party Joy games’ low cost, they had remarkably consistent design quality. Game components were all-over printed in full color, including parts that weren’t visible during play. The backs of boxes and game boards, which were typically blank in other Japanese board games, were illustrated with comics, game lore, and other information.

Like Takahashi, Bandai uses the official Famicom artwork as the basis for its cover design—including the distinctive yellow background (fig. 7). Likewise, Bandai uses an identical typeface for the title, now set in red with an added drop shadow and vertical ゲーム “game” text at the end of the title. Bandai also crowds the box with trade dress, logos, marketing text, an English title, and most notably, supplemental artwork. Along the cover’s top edge, there’s additional brickwork and a second akimbo Kuribo adding destructive impact to Mario’s jump.

Figure 7

Bandai’s スーパーマリオブラザーズゲーム Super Mario Bros. Game (1985), no. 51 in the パーティジョイ Party Joy series. (Image courtesy of author)

The red Party Joy logo, visible at the upper left corner of the box, shows the series’ trademark game board style. To accommodate the small box, Party Joy (PJ) boards are cut and creased to fold compactly—a design style that Takahashi and several Bandai competitors adopted for their own board games.4 But PJ 51 contains no standard board. Instead, players use thirty-six individual cardboard マップパネル “map panels” to construct Mario’s courses (fig. 8). As with Takahashi’s and Milton Bradley’s adaptations, Bandai’s designers subdivide the Mushroom Kingdom into four Worlds, each comprising nine map panels: a Start, a Goal, a 金庫 “vault,” and six interstitial panels drawn from a shuffled deck.

Figure 8

The nine “map panels” (each 10cm by 5cm) that comprise ワールド1 (World 1) of Bandai’s Super Mario Bros. (1985). (Image courtesy of author)

Each time the lead player reaches an end space on a panel, that player connects a new panel, simulating Mario scrolling the World into view. Each end of the interstitial panels has an upper and lower path, so the panels connect seamlessly and allow players to pursue alternate paths. Bandai touts this as a feature, boasting that players can arrange the game’s boards into “2880 patterns.” This marks an important divergence from the video game, whose level arrangement and sequence are fixed. Offering players thousands of distinct variations of play was a clever ploy to entice players to switch off the TV and unfold the board.

Bandai’s stochastic world-building is one of several inventive variations on the sugoroku format. In lieu of dice, players move according to Mario’s current state—one space per turn as regular Mario and three spaces apiece as Super and Fire Mario. Mario passes freely through yellow circles, but must stop and draw an Accident card when he enters a red circle. “Accidents” are not as unfortunate as they sound in English—while some cards contain enemies that players must battle, others reward players with coins, power-ups, or a temporary boost in movement speed. Battles are conducted with a custom Action Dice whose results are compared against a table that lists different outcomes based on Mario’s current status.

Once again, Super Mario Bros. Game’s outcome is largely luck based, though the chance elements are more deftly disguised than they are in the other adaptations. The game can end, for instance, at the conclusion of any World. The first player to reach each World’s Goal flips one of four Goal cards. If they reveal the sole Princess Peach card, they win. This may seem like an abrupt end to what should be a longer game, but reaching the Goal panel is a remarkably slow affair. A trademark design element in many of Bandai’s board games is highly punitive stalling mechanisms. Numerous card and battle effects send players back to the start as normal Mario. The constrained movement, forced stops, persistent backtracking, and sudden reversals of fortune can be maddening to contemporary game players, but such formal mechanisms were common in sugoroku and fit the needs of the game’s intended audience—children—who might easily become bored if one player took a definitive lead.

A unifying trait of all three adaptations is the acknowledgment of their status as secondary and supplemental objects. Each game assumes the player understands and enjoys Super Mario Bros.’s characteristic mechanisms and frames the board game as a way to prolong the play experience outside the confines of the television set. The most subdued is the Milton Bradley box, which punfully proclaims, “Based on the blockbuster video game!” Bandai and Takahashi are more overt about the source-adaptation connection, alluding to the supplemental benefits that the board game provides. The back of PJ 51’s box uses another Mario-themed pun—“The Family Computer has jumped from the television to a board game”5—and subtly frames the accompanying four-panel manga in bowed black borders mimicking the curvature of a CRT television (fig. 9). But the game also offers four-player simultaneous play and “2880 patterns” of maps—both impossibilities in the video game. Takahashi similarly promises, “This game puts the fun of the Family Computer on a board” and quite literally adapts Nintendo’s material design to remind players that the board game is nearly identical to the video game—just a bit bigger.

Figure 9

The back cover of Bandai’s Super Mario Bros. Game (1985) with a newly illustrated four-panel manga and text touting the game’s “2880 patterns.” (Image courtesy of author)

There is a palpable media anxiety in these adaptations. Digital games were the new forefront of play, and they represented a real threat to toy and game manufacturers, like Bandai and Milton Bradley, who had captured children’s attention for decades. Children only had so much time in the day to devote to play, and video games were increasingly filling that time. One response was to pivot their business to video games, as Nintendo had. Another was to absorb and adapt the old to the new. If board games were to recapture consumer attention, they might as well try to mimic the form and mechanisms of the encroaching new media. And throughout the 1980s, as video games began their rapid rise to cultural prominence, large and small toy makers alike tried to adapt video games to board games.

That’s why it’s so important for historians to take a closer look at adapted media. There’s little historical or critical attention paid to objects like Milton Bradley’s Super Mario Bros. Game. Once it’s judged to be a bad game, it transforms from artifact to collectible curiosity, a showpiece meant to sit alongside other Mario memorabilia without any consideration for how it came to be, how its adaptation functioned, or how culture shaped its play. Similarly, as sugoroku, Takahashi’s and Bandai’s adaptations have as much to say about the history of Japanese board games as they do about Super Mario Bros. It’s only through careful material observation, comparison, and translation that these important cultural foundations begin to resurface. And such insights allow us to dislodge the edifice of Super Mario Bros.’s cultural legacy and read it as a new object once again.

A Note on Archival Sources

The game artifacts described above are part of the author’s archive of over four hundred Japanese card, board, war, and role-playing games spanning the twentieth century, as well as several dozen board game adaptations of video games from the 1980s to the present. Part of this collection is now available online as part of the Analog Joy Club, an archival site dedicated to the research, translation, and exhibition of historical Japanese analog games.6

For the past two years, the author, assisted by several UC Santa Cruz undergraduate and graduate students, has acquired, scanned, archived, translated, and uploaded more than fifty Japanese board and card games. The complementary goals of the project are, first, to make these games accessible to and playable by a wider audience and, second, to compile a detailed history of board games in Japan in the twentieth century. Due to the constraints of licensing, the ephemerality of products marketed to children, and the fragility of cheap consumer objects, many of these games have become scarce and, in some cases, prohibitively expensive. Without active preservation and study, a significant period of game history will be lost.

For an overview of the history of Japanese board games from 1945 to 1989, see Nathan Altice, “Joy Family: Japanese Board Games in the Post-War Shōwa Period,” Proceedings of the 2019 DiGRA International Conference, August 2019,


1. ^ The Family Computer, usually known by its shorthand moniker Famicom, was the Japanese predecessor of the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES). Nintendo released the Family Computer in 1983. The NES followed in 1985, the same year as Super Mario Bros.’ debut.

2. ^ Three of the four games depicted—Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros., and Excitebike—were adapted as board games. However, the screenshot above the Donkey Kong Jr. title actually depicts Donkey Kong 3, a Nintendo arcade game.

3. ^ For comparison, see「銀箱(任天堂再販)」 “Silver Box (Nintendo Resale),” Nintendo used a similar uniform style for the so-called black box games released in the United States for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

4. ^ Party Joy’s designers initially used the board’s folds to offer a main game and a短い時間で遊ぶ時 quick play game with modified rules.

5. ^ Author’s translation. The original Japanese reads, ファミリーコンピュータがテレビから飛び出したボードゲーム.

6. ^ Analog Joy Club,