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board games, Japanese games, adaptation, Game Center Arashi, arcade games, anime

The Multimodal Adaptation of Game Center Arashi

Nathan Altice (University of California, Santa Cruz)

Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game (hereafter GMCG) is a children’s board game published by Japanese toy manufacturer Epoch in 1982. GMCG was a licensed adaptation of the Game Center Arashi animated television series, which debuted in April 1982 during Nippon TV’s highly coveted 7:00 p.m. Monday time slot, where it ran for twenty-six episodes, until September of the same year.1 The TV series was itself an adaptation of a popular children’s manga of the same name. Written and illustrated by artist Mitsuru Sugaya, Game Center Arashi (1978–84) first appeared in the monthly manga magazine CoroCoro Comic. Targeted squarely at CoroCoro’s demographic of elementary- to junior-high-school-aged boys,2 Game Center Arashi followed the exploits of its namesake protagonist, Arashi Ishino, a video game–obsessed schoolboy characterized by his prominent buck teeth, blue jeans, red letterman jacket, and a matching cap emblazoned with his name and an alien cribbed from Taito’s arcade game Space Invaders (see fig. 1).

Figure 1

The opening title card from the Game Center Arashi animated television series (Courtesy Bandai Channel)

Arashi’s competitive exploits followed the archetype of youth-oriented sports manga that gained prominence in Japan in the 1960s and ʼ70s—for example, baseball serial Star of the Giants (1966), boxing serial Ashita no Joe (1968), and tennis serial Aim for the Ace! (1973)—as well as the adversary-of-the-week format popularized by the Ultraman television franchise (1966–). However, Sugaya’s protagonist was unique in his predilection for the burgeoning medium of commercial video games. True to his name, Arashi—which translates literally as “storm”—was a tempestuous youth who challenged a procession of popular arcade games (see fig. 2). Issue to issue, Arashi tackled now-canonical cabinets like Space Invaders (1978), Galaxian (1979), and Pac-Man (1980), alongside then-trendy but now lesser-known machines like Balloon Bomber (1980), Galaxy Wars (1979), and Moon Cresta (1980). Although Sugaya named the manga after the locales where arcade games and amusements were played, their sordid reputation in late 1970s Japan meant that a boy of Arashi’s age wasn’t the typical game-center denizen and thus was barred from entry—even in the comics. Nonetheless, Sugaya consistently concocted scenarios where Arashi could demonstrate his mix of immature bravado, exaggerated showmanship, and preternatural reflexes in front of a live audience, setting the stage for the popularity of esports and competitive gaming that would develop over the next four decades.

Figure 2

Arashi contorts himself as he battles Space Invaders in episode 3 of the Game Center Arashi television series (Courtesy Bandai Channel)

Like his impish protagonist, Sugaya was an avid game player, which showed in his attention to the details of the arcade machines he illustrated. Each game was adapted to the comic format with remarkable fidelity, not only translating in-game graphics to black-and-white illustrations, but often teaching young readers how the games were played with annotated re-creations of hardware and software alike (see fig. 3). Even beyond the rudiments of play, Sugaya explained diegetic tricks and strategies via his characters’ dialogue and illustrated asides, providing readers with practical knowledge that they could lift from the pages and try out on the real machines. For children who played arcade games, Game Center Arashi was both entertainment and strategy guide, a prototype for game-centric publications that would become a major part of Japanese game media in the 1980s.

Figure 3

In the first serialized episode of the Game Center Arashi manga, the namesake protagonist (pictured lower left) battled what was then the hottest game center attraction: Taito’s Space Invaders . Each time Sugaya introduced a new game, he described the game’s mechanics and strategies in meticulous detail, as seen in the topmost frame. (Source and translation: Project Z Scans,

Arashi inevitably bested the arcade machines in solo play, so Sugaya introduced a complementary cast of rotating rivals to add fantastical complications to each game, escalating their difficulty so Arashi was pushed to the limits of his abilities. These complications ranged from new in-game mechanics that weren’t (possible) in the original game, like the UFO in Space Invaders inundating Arashi’s cannon with a “miracle shower” of projectiles,3 to literal escalations in scale and challenge, like the “Giant Vader,” a stadium-sized version of Space Invaders Part II (1979). Arashi’s antagonists included fellow game warriors, monsters, aliens, and eccentric villains whose names alluded to popular games, historical figures, or computer terminology, like Generalissimo Galaxian, Dracula, or the twin brothers ROM and RAM. After an initial crushing defeat administered by his rival, Arashi would undergo a Rocky-esque (1976) training regimen to develop a superhuman finishing move that could counteract his rival’s strategies. The flame top, for instance, manifested a spinning top that could press a game’s buttons thousands of times per second, leaving flames in its wake. Arashi’s special move would inevitably defeat his competitor and prove his gaming prowess—until the next monthly episode introduced a new game challenge and a new villain.

Game Center Arashi arrived at a pivotal moment in Japanese game and media history. By the mid-twentieth century, Japan was already “a full-blown mass society” with newspapers, magazines, comics, film, theater, radio, and advertising reaching millions of Japanese people.4 However, the catastrophic devastation of atomic warfare that ended World War II also triggered an abrupt caesura in Japanese life and culture. Japan’s subsequent occupation by Allied forces—largely administered by the United States—spurred both an assimilation of American values and a postwar economic miracle that forever altered Japanese cultural, social, and economic priorities. Both factors expanded and accelerated Japanese mass media at an unprecedented scale and speed. Television, in particular, introduced to Japan in 1953, “radically changed the nature of advertising and consumption,” not only as a desirable commodity in and of itself but also as a vehicle for mass media.5 By 1960, more than half of Japanese households owned television sets. Four years later, television had surpassed both newspapers and movies as the preeminent mass media format.6

Japanese society’s rapid adoption of television created a demand for programming, and the postwar drive for commodity consumption transformed television into a delivery mechanism for merchandising and advertising, especially for children. Cross-media adaptation helped satisfy both demands; as Anne Allison notes, “by the late 1950s and early 1960s, many popular comic books were being animated for television in what would become increasingly a synergy between these two major industries—manga and television—in the mass (kids’) culture burgeoning now in postwar Japan.”7 This synergy between manga and television was soon buttressed by a so-called third tier of children’s culture: toys based on the characters featured in mass media. Shows that adopted the Ultraman format, for instance, were ideal for cross-media merchandising since they could introduce new, spectacular characters, locations, and accessories (e.g., costumes, weapons, vehicles) at a weekly clip.

Japan’s economic reboot positioned a new generation of toy manufacturers to take advantage of the three-tier media market. Although some established toy and game makers like Nintendo, Tomy, and Hanayama managed to weather the war, a new wave of competitors arrived in its wake. In the mid-1960s, for instance, Bandai (est. 1950) entwined their business with television, employing a “strategy of helping to fund a new program’s development and then sponsoring its episodes as they were broadcast, running ads for derivative products that might include action figures, toy vehicles, and costumes.”8 Fellow upstart toy manufacturer Epoch (est. 1958) first found success in games, most notably their Baseball Board (1958–) series of tabletop baseball games that simulated the sport on a handcrafted wooden playing field with a pachinko ball, spring-loaded bat, and kokeshi fielders.9 But like Bandai, Epoch veered heavily into licensed tie-ins in the 1960s and ʼ70s, including themed versions of their Baseball Board line (Mighty Atom, Obake Q-Taro, and Star of the Giants) (fig. 4) and the Epoch Manga Game Series (1977–80) of more than two dozen compact board games based on popular manga titles.10

Figure 4

Epoch’s Star of the Giants Baseball Board Model C (1969) adapted the sports manga Star of Giants (1966–71) to their popular line of tabletop Baseball Board games (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Although tie-in toys and figurines were toymakers’ principal cash cow, analog games were another viable platform for licensed adaptations of popular television programs. Thanks in part to low development costs and fast production turnaround, licensed board games could capitalize on the latest television crazes at the crest of their popularity. All of Japan’s major toymakers had dabbled in licensed board games post–World War II, but a pivotal moment arrived in 1980, when Bandai launched their Joy Family series of large-box board games, then quickly followed the next year with the debut of the Party Joy series of cheap, portable children’s board games.11 Both series ran for over a decade, comprising more than two hundred games, a large percentage of which were licensed adaptations sourced from manga, anime, television, and video games (see fig. 5). The success of both series inevitably led to competitors’ releasing their own rival series, and the emerging medium of video games promised a new, fourth tier of mass media that might synergize with the existing three. Sugaya had already proven that adapting games to print media could attract large audiences, and it’s no surprise that Game Center Arashi’s success was tightly coupled with the Space Invaders phenomenon. The subsequent anime and board-game adaptations were meant to tap that same vein of success.

Figure 5

Alongside its parent Joy Family series, Bandai’s Party Joy line (1981–92) of inexpensive, portable board games included dozens of adapted works, like this sixth game in the series, Kinnikuman: The Universe’s Top Combat Sport (1983), an adaptation of the Kinnikuman manga (1979–87). (Bandai キン肉マン・格闘技宇宙一ゲーム Kinnikuman: The Universe’s Top Combat Sport Game, 1983) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

However, serial media like comic books and video games changed the scope and form of traditional adaptation. Even today, adaptation typically denotes narrative adaptation, meaning that a story in one medium is translated to another. And for nearly a century, narrative-based adaptation typically involved a one-to-one relationship between a single source (usually a novel) and the derivative work (usually a film), ranging in style and genre from Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone With the Wind (1939) to The Exorcist (1973), Remains of the Day (1993), and Dune (1984/2021).12 However, the endlessly mutable plots, characters, and worlds of serial media have engendered alternative adaptive relationships that integrate and translate a multiplicity of narrative sources into one or more derivative works. Ongoing adaptive ecosystems like the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe demonstrate a many-to-many relationship, where serial comics provide a seemingly endless reserve of source material to translate into film and television that all contribute to the same narrative canon. Consequently, characters and stories are perpetually recast, remixed, and rebooted with no more justification than the catch-all narrative device of the multiverse. Another strategy condenses the sprawl of seriality into a single work, a many-to-one relationship that’s evident in recent films like The Dark Tower (2017) or Gran Turismo (2023).

Video games have proven a bit trickier to wrangle into narrative-based adaptation since the formal constraints and concerns of playable media are often drastically misaligned with those of film or television. Games can span dozens of hours, many spent performing mundane and repetitive tasks, or simply offer the most threadbare plots and characters designed to motivate and prioritize play above story. While recent successful video game adaptations like HBO’s The Last of Us (2023) television series fit the traditional adaptive mold quite well, in part because the source games already modeled themselves after cinema,13 the similarly successful The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) illustrates how densely serial but narratively sparse game series like Super Mario Bros. compel filmmakers to build narratives around aggregates of character archetypes, representational cues, in-game locations, mechanical actions, cultural references, and nostalgic allusions.14 In other words, The Super Mario Bros. Movie does not adapt any Super Mario Bros. game in particular; instead, it adapts the aesthetic affect of the series as a whole (as well as other adjacent games and series, like Duck Hunt and Donkey Kong). Any part of any game the series encompasses is subject to assimilation and recombination in the adapted work.

In this same spirit, Epoch’s GMCG is an early and exemplary form of what I call multimodal adaptation. Unlike the narrative-based many-to-many or many-to-one relationships outlined above, this style of adaptation involves multiple modes of adaptation—including narrative—operating in concert in the derivative work. Although the game ostensibly adapts the Game Center Arashi television series, re-presenting characters, locations, and plot points in the game’s artwork and components, it also implicitly adapts the source manga by doubling the derivative work via its own adaptation. However, the nesting doll of adaptation goes deeper still since GMCG comprises four additional analog adaptations of the arcade games Heiankyo Alien (1979), Space Invaders (1978), Scramble (1981), and Frogger (1981). When games adapt games, the principal target for translation is no longer solely narrative- or even character-focused; rather, games can also adapt the formal, material, and logical structures of other games.15 GMCG’s use of a roulette for character actions, for instance, is not an arbitrary design choice but a direct material consequence of both the popularity of casino games in the 1960s and Takara’s Jinsei Game (1968–), Japan’s localized version of Milton Bradley’s Game of LIFE (1960). Similarly, many Japanese children’s board games in the twentieth century adapted the formal framework of sugoroku, a centuries-old Japanese board game (see detailed description in lexicon below). While these characteristics would be invisible to most foreigners, Japanese players would recognize their contours and how they structured play. These and other modes of adaptation work in tandem in the resultant adapted work.

What follows is an annotated lexicon of key rules, materials, and features from Epoch’s Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game. Alongside a full translation of the game’s rules and components and print-quality scans of those same materials,16 the lexicon is meant to provide cultural, linguistic, material, and design context that might otherwise be lost to non-Japanese readers. Although GMCG is arguably unremarkable as a board game, it is certainly remarkable as an adapted artifact, and its multimodal structure reveals the unique and often unresolvable tensions that undergird game adaptations—especially when the targets of such adaptations are other games.


Game Box

The GMCG’s box cover (fig. 6) features a vivid, full-color illustration of Arashi at center performing his Electric Thunder special move as sidekicks Tsukikage Ippeita and Satoru Daimonji look on. On the upper right side, there’s an additional illustration of Arashi taking aim at real-life invaders, a scenario drawn from the first episode of the Game Center Arashi anime. At left, there are artistic reinterpretations of two arcade games: at top is Konami’s Scramble, which is adapted as “Space Defender” (see game III below); at bottom-left is Namco’s Galaxian which, despite featuring in both the Game Center Arashi manga and anime, does not appear in the board game.

Figure 6

The box cover for Epoch’s Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Licensing Sticker and Copyright Symbol

What first appears to be an incidental detail on the lower right corner of the box is an important indicator of the game’s relationship to its source material. Licensed Japanese board games of this era included a silver sticker like the one pictured in fig. 7, signaling official approval from the license holder. In this case, Nippon TV (NTV) is the licensor of the Game Center Arashi animated series.

Figure 7

Small silver stickers like these denoted officially licensed merchandise in Japan (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

To the lower left of the licensing sticker, three copyright holders are listed (fig. 8): from right to left, NTV; Shogakukan, parent publisher of CoroCoro Comic; and Sugaya Mitsuru, author and illustrator of the Game Center Arashi manga. Conspicuously absent are copyright notices for any of the four adapted arcade games, meaning that each is an unlicensed reinterpretation of the source.

Figure 8

Copyright information printed on the GMCG box (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)


Players in 1982 would have viewed GMCG as a modernized form of a traditional Japanese board game known as sugoroku (literally, “double sixes”). Similar in structure and style to European racing games like Game of Goose, players roll the titular pair of dice, move their game tokens as indicated, and attempt to reach the end space before the other players. The later, pictorial version of sugoroku, (called e-sugoroku, literally “picture sugoroku”), became a highly evolved form of visual culture tied to innovations in Japanese printmaking and mass media.

Aside from their vivid illustrations and Japanese-specific subject matter, the density of text on the board and the variation in movement mechanics used to advance players to their goal distinguished sugoroku from racing games from other parts of the world. Sugoroku boards commonly included captions and space-specific rules, a trait that we can see echoed on the GMCG board. Some variations of sugoroku might include atypical movement patterns like branching paths, jumping to nonadjacent spaces, or stranding players in a space until they rolled a designated number on the dice. Particularly innovative sugoroku (or the games they inspired) often included multiple, segmented areas, each with their own distinct rules.

Although GMCG diverges from traditional sugoroku in significant ways (e.g., see Roulette below), formal vestiges still underlie its design. The spiral that players traverse as they move from game to game toward the center of the board—a pattern inherited from the Buddhist hanging scrolls from which sugoroku are believed to have been derived—defined one variant known as mawari sugoroku (fig 9). GMCG’s Japanese rules also reference agari at multiple points, which, if translated literally, means “ascent,” but localizes more naturally to “goal” or “finish line.” Again, we find the roots of this term in Buddhist practice, where ascension to a higher form or state of knowledge marked the completion of one’s training. Consequently, the end space in sugoroku is always labeled agari.

Figure 9

As in GMCG , play in the Courageous Japanese Soldiers Sugoroku (1938) proceeds in a spiral, clockwise pattern, ending at the agari (上り) space near board center. Also note the text captions printed in each space and the game rules printed along the board’s rightmost edge. (Kikuzō Itō, Reiji Iizuka, Katsuichi Kabashima, and Tadamichi Koga, Isamashii Nippongun Sugoroku [board Game of Courageous and Heroic Fighters of Japanese Military Soldiers] [Tokyo: Dai Nihon Yubenkai Kodansha, 1938]) (Courtesy Cotsen Children’s Library, Special Collections, Princeton University Library)

For game designers of this era, sugoroku served as a ready-made format of cultural understanding that children would immediately recognize since playing sugoroku was a long-standing New Year’s tradition among Japanese families. Epoch, Bandai, Nintendo, Tomy, Takara, and many other toy manufacturers adapted sugoroku to contemporary game design, bringing a centuries-old formal, material, and aesthetic structure into the twentieth century.


Among the most consistently uniform component names in Japanese board game history is the koma (駒). The kanji character’s literal meaning is “horse,” but for centuries it’s been used to name the game pieces in shogi, Japan’s local variation of chess. This usage is similar to how, in English, the term pawn can designate either the lowest-ranked pieces in chess or a player-controlled component in any board game. Epoch’s use of the kanji (fig. 10) is somewhat nonstandard compared to other children’s board games of the time, which more often opted to render koma in its katakana form (コマ).

Figure 10

A selection of GMCG ’s koma , i.e., game pieces (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)


In lieu of the pair of dice from which sugoroku derives its name, GMCG players spin a roulette to determine their in-game actions (fig. 11). The roulette comprises twelve uniform segments: eleven dedicated to movement and one, colored yellow and labeled Accident, that prompts players to draw an Accident card (see Accident Cards below). In games where players can move their Arashi pawn or an enemy pawn (e.g., “Space Vader”), roulette spaces are labeled with a yellow Arashi or a green alien illustration to indicate which pawn to move. However, one should note that there are seven Arashi segments compared to four alien segments, meaning that players are statistically more likely to move their own pawn. Even more notable is that the roulette values range from one to six, but they are not distributed equally; specifically, there are two 1s, two 2s, three 3s, two 4s, one 5, and one 6. Twenty-five percent of all spins will land on a three, whereas there’s only an 8.33 percent chance to net a five, six, or Accident. This clever bit of proportional manipulation (in concert with the Accident cards and segmented game areas) ensures that, on average, players will tend to stay clustered together, ideally mitigating the frustration of children who might fall too far behind.

Figure 11

GMCG ’s twelve-segment roulette (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Roulettes had been a common die replacement in Japanese board games since the 1960s, owing to two important influences: an influx of casino games inspired by the import of James Bond films and the massive success of Milton Bradley’s Game of LIFE (1960), published and localized by toymaker Takara as Jinsei Game (1968), part of the first cluster of games in their American Game series.

It’s hard to overstate Jinsei Game’s importance in the history of Japanese games, both culturally and materially. In postwar Japan, a game that reflected the American dream of economic prosperity, conspicuous consumption, and all-or-nothing capitalism, wrapped in a life-is-a-highway metaphor, resonated with a society that had assimilated those same American values. But formally, Japanese players understood the game as sugoroku, where chance, rather than skill, strategy, or hard work, dictated one’s future fortunes. And while Takara’s first version of the Jinsei Game was only lightly localized,17 by the 1980s Japan’s version of LIFE had diverged completely from the American source. Today, it remains one of Japan’s most popular games, with annual iterations that reflect Japanese, rather than American, cultural trends and values.

Game Board and Components Box

Figure 12 depicts the localized version of the game board with translated English text and graphic design meant to match the visual design of the original. The flow and rules of play are discussed below, but there are several important material details worth noting in advance. First are the board’s distinctive size and construction. Although the box measures 46.5 by 32.5 cm, the board itself measures 61.5 by 46.5 cm. Two material features together allow the board to fold into a distinctive C-shape that fits in the box: the board’s thin, laminated cardboard construction and the double vertical fold marks visible slightly right of center.

Figure 12

The GMCG game board, localized with English text and matching graphic design (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

A second key material detail supports that shape: the component box (fig. 13). As its name makes obvious, the box is meant to store all the game’s components and thus contains a slide-out plastic tray molded to fit the game’s pawns, chips, stands, and cards. The box itself is illustrated with a skeuomorphic hardware adaptation of an arcade joystick, action button, and coin slot (labeled 100 yen, the standard price of a Japanese arcade game post–Space Invaders), reminding players that they are playing arcade games through the interface of a board game.

Figure 13

GMCG ’s components box, designed to support the board’s C-fold construction (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

The component box fits width-wise along one side of the game box with the game board folded around it like a book cover (fig. 14). As this folding design became the norm for Japanese board games, manufacturers began illustrating both sides of the game board, often complementing the game side with additional artwork, character profiles, backstory, and even educational information. In GMCG’s case, there are illustrations and text descriptions of Arashi’s special moves.

Figure 14

Japanese game boards post– Jinsei Game were, on average, significantly larger and thinner than their American counterparts. To accommodate their size, they were designed to fold around a supporting components box. (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

For those familiar with American board games in the 1980s, Japanese board games diverged significantly from the format and construction of the standardized boards and boxes seen most prominently in games manufactured by Milton Bradley and Parker Bros. These were typically fabricated from heavier chipboard with a single fold that allowed them to lie flat in their box, beneath other components. Japanese games largely mimicked those (and some smaller European) formats until the 1960s. However, Takara’s Jinsei Game once again had an immediate material influence on the design of Japanese games. Milton Bradley’s Game of LIFE required a similar C-fold to accommodate its distinctive 3D plastic landscape features, scale model buildings, and roulette. Likewise, it included a cardboard components box that not only stored the game’s implements but also served as a holder for the game’s cash and insurance certificates during play. Post–Jinsei Game, Takara and many other game manufacturers adopted the oversized format, foldable board, and components box, even for games that didn’t feature miniature mansions, mountains, and bridges.

Accident Cards

GMCG includes a deck of twenty-five Accident cards that players draw if the roulette points to the yellow segment labeled Accident. The term accident is somewhat awkward in English, because the cards are fairly evenly split between positive and negative player outcomes. The Special Move Card Exchange card (fig. 15), for instance, has two players draw a Special Move card from the other player’s hand. Another has the player rest one turn, that is, lose a turn, while another allows a player to swap pawn positions with another player. Many children’s board games of this era, especially Epoch and Bandai games, included Accident cards, and all used them for the same effect: to add an element of randomness to play, so players would never feel overly confident if they were in the lead or overly discouraged if they were far behind. For adult games, this might feel unfair and unbalanced, but for children, this could keep them engaged, since fortunes could change drastically from turn to turn.

Figure 15

At left, the Accident card back illustration evokes the two-headed design of suited playing cards, but Arashi’s opposing expressions indicate how Accident cards can have negative and positive outcomes. At right, anime character Chiru Chiru illustrates the Special Move Card Exchange, which the rules liken to the game ba ba nuki, the Japanese name for Old Maid . (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Accident cards in Japanese games consistently used the katakana spelling (アクシデント) instead of the kanji equivalent (事故) to denote that the term is a loan word from another language, in this case English. This provides a clue to the term’s origin, but it’s unclear whether it was picked up from an American game or from an unrelated, nongame source. One possible candidate for the former hypothesis is the card game Milles Borne, first developed in France in 1953 and later published in English by Parker Brothers in 1962.18 Milles Borne is a competitive car-racing game where players try to cover the most distance while avoiding various hazards, like flat tires, running out of gas, and a trio of Accident cards. Milles Borne was eventually published in Japan but without localization of its game components; instead, it included a Japanese rule sheet that used the kanji, instead of katakana, for “accident.” So, while still possible, it’s unlikely Milles Borne was the ultimate source for Accident cards.

However, there were other precedents for Accident cards in Japanese games dating to at least the 1970s. Epoch’s Akatsuka Fujio's Taxi Station Game (1977) and Ishinomori Shōtarō’s Montage Game (1978) both included Accident cards, but they may have picked up the term from fellow toymaker Takara, whose Trans-National Drive Game (ca. 1976) included them as well. And if Takara is the most likely Japanese source, the trail of influence may once again lead back to Jinsei Game. While the original Game of LIFE didn’t include cards, there were Accident spaces that thematically fit the game’s automobile/highway metaphor. And of course, LIFE’s emphasis on the chance ups and downs of life makes thematic sense for the way Accident cards were subsequently used in Japanese games.

Game Flow

As illustrated in the game’s rule book, GMCG’s game board is partitioned into five discrete areas (fig. 16). The first four, designated in the rules as “special training games,” are unlicensed adaptations of Japanese arcade games. Each is given an alternate name and a principal rival drawn from the TV series: Denki Onkyō’s Heiankyo Alien (1979) becomes (I) “The Dentist’s Heiankyofu Alien”; Taito’s Space Invaders becomes (II) “Nando’s Space Vader”; Konami’s Scramble becomes (III) “Satoru Daimonji’s Space Defender”; and Konami’s Frogger becomes (IV) “Hawk Takano’s Hi-Frogger.” Players start at the lower left section of the board and proceed clockwise sequentially from game to game, completing one before moving to the next. Each has different rules and goals, but their shared, overarching objective is to rank higher than other players and accumulate the most Secret Move cards (see below). Once all four games are complete, players face one final challenge in [V] the Game Space (Tournament Finals Area) to decide who is the ultimate game warrior.

Figure 16

An illustration from the game rules depicting players’ spiral movement trajectory (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)


If there is one truism to children’s board games in Japan, it’s that play begins with janken. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s the Japanese equivalent of rock-paper-scissors, a game where competing players make one of three hand gestures simultaneously and determine the outcome based on a simple set of rules: scissors beat paper; paper beats rock; rock beats scissors; and matching gestures produce a draw.

What’s likely surprising to non-Japanese readers is how, for centuries, janken has been a culturally prominent mechanism for decision-making in Japan. As Tofugu explains, “janken isn’t just used for schoolyard disputes. Virtually everybody in Japan plays janken to solve disputes or make decisions.”19 As such, games like GMCG nearly always instruct players to determine turn order with janken, nesting a game within a game.

Game I: “Heiankyofu Alien”

Players begin GMCG in the lower-left quadrant of the board, on the subboard labeled the Dentist’s Heiankyofu Alien (fig. 17). Here, the players’ objective mimics that of the source game, namely, to capture aliens by digging holes and luring them into them without being captured themselves. Players may start at any of the four marked entrances equipped with two Hole chips apiece.20 On their turn, players first spin the roulette to determine their action. If the roulette lands on an Arashi illustration, the player may both (a) move along the white circular marks up to the number of spaces shown and (b) place/pick up a Hole chip in an adjacent space, in any order. If the roulette lands on an alien illustration, the player must move an alien. Here, the player may either advance an alien into a hole, or, if they can do so by an exact count, have the alien land in another’s player’s space, subsequently sending the player back to the start (the analog equivalent of losing a life). Once an alien falls into a hole, it is stuck there for a turn before escaping, allowing a player to capture it by stopping in a space adjacent to the hole. Once all aliens are captured, the game ends, and players are given Secret Move cards based on their rank.

Figure 17

The “Heiankyofu Alien” special training game (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Among the four subgames, “Heiankyofu Alien” is one of the most faithful analog adaptations. Most notably, it shows a clever solution to what would become a common design problem in arcade adaptations—namely, how does one translate a solo, player-versus-computer digital game into a multiplayer board game? In 1982, there were few precedents for digital-to-analog game adaptations, so a ready solution did not exist. Bandai’s adaptation of Nichibutsu’s arcade game Crazy Climber, for example, which may have been the first of its kind, had been released only a year prior. And both it and GMCG arrived at similar solutions: multiple players would strive for the same goal simultaneously, allowing them to disrupt their opponents’ progress, and vice versa. Similarly, when an arcade game included in-game enemies governed by programmed behaviors, an adaptation would delegate enemy control to players. This achieved an important design compromise: by tasking players to continually swap roles between protagonist and antagonist, no single player got exclusive rights to being the hero, nor was any single player stuck always playing the enemies.

Game II: "Space Vader"

“Nando’s Space Vader” is a rather oblique adaptation of Space Invaders. Instead of shooting down columns of advancing aliens, players advance their pawns across the alien formation’s rows—effectively using invader ships as board spaces—to reach the patrolling UFO piece at the top of the board (fig. 18). Players start on one of the six designated invader ships based on their rank in the prior game, but in reverse order. In other words, the highest-ranked player begins at the leftmost ship and thus must traverse more spaces to reach the finish.

Figure 18

The “Space Vader” special training game. In Japan, “vader” was a colloquial truncation of “invader” that both cleverly skirted copyright and referenced one of Space Invaders ’ sci-fi inspirations, Star Wars (1977). (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

On their turn, players spin the roulette and, based on the result, either move their Arashi pawn or the UFO. In the former case, players advance their pawn in a back-and-forth pattern (indicated by the arrows on the board) ascending the invader rows. However, each player is allocated two Fuel Chips at the start of the game, and if they end their move in the same column as the UFO, they may spend a chip to attempt a Direct Attack. To do so, they spin the roulette a second time. If an Arashi appears (a roughly 64 percent chance), the player can move their pawn vertically by the indicated number in hopes of landing on the UFO by exact count. However, if an alien appears, the player must move the UFO and, as a result, fail the Direct Attack and forfeit their Fuel Chip. Once a player reaches the Boarding Zone just below the UFO, they must loop back and forth until they are able to advance vertically and board the UFO. Once three players reach the UFO, the game ends and Secret Technique cards are distributed based on each player’s finishing rank.

Game III: "Space Scramble"

Game 3’s literal translation is “Satoru Daimonji’s Space Defender,” but I’ve chosen to localize the title as “Space Scramble,” since the adapted game appears to mimic Konami’s Scramble rather than the purported source, Williams Electronics’ Defender (1981). Scramble was a highly influential sci-fi shooter that added horizontal scrolling to the gallery-shooter format, extending game space beyond a single screen. Players flew above a mountainous terrain populated by rockets, fuel tanks, and other enemy targets, using a forward-firing laser to eliminate UFOs in their path while simultaneously firing bombs at the terrain-based targets below. The latter targets were particularly important since the only way to replenish the player’s rapidly depleting fuel gauge was to destroy enemy fuel tanks.

In “Space Scramble,” players start in the reverse order of their “Space Vader” rank (fig. 19). On their turn, a player spins the roulette and advances their pawn along the interconnected path of diamond-shaped nodes. Here, movement is more strategic, since the path widens and narrows, and players can block opponents’ ships with their own. Prior to moving, a player may also opt to drop a Mine chip (each player starts with one) along the path to further obstruct opponents, since mines and labeled meteorite spaces must first be cleared by expending a Fuel chip. Each player starts with one Fuel chip, but they may collect additional chips by stopping on the Supply Base spaces marked by a pink star. Once the first player reaches the Space Base at the end of the path, the game ends, and, once again, Special Move cards are allocated based on player rank.

Figure 19

The “Space Scramble” special training game is played along the perimeter of the central Game Space. (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Game IV: "Hi-Frogger"

Game 4, the final special training game, is “Hawk Takano’s Hi-Frogger,” an adaptation of Frogger that, like “Heiankyofu Alien,” adheres closely to its source game (fig. 20). In both Frogger and “Hi-Frogger,” the players’ objective is to safely cross the road and river and arrive at the opposite bank. The moving obstacles are placed in advance on the indicated icons, and as in the first two games, the roulette determines whether players move their own pawn (in any orthogonal direction) or an obstacle pawn. Traversing the river requires players to hop atop the moving turtles, logs, and islands. (And, true to the logic of the source game, the moving obstacles screen-wrap when they reach the edge of the game board.) Once all players land on the riverbank, Special Move cards are awarded based on their finishing rank.

Figure 20

The “Hi-Frogger” training game. The board layout is nearly identical to arcade Frogger . However, in the arcade game, there are five rows apiece in the highway and river sections; here, there are six highway rows and four river rows. (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Game V: Tournament Finals, Showdown Cards, and Special Move Cards

The central Game Space is the site of GMCG’s concluding Tournament Finals (fig. 21). One player (decided by janken of course) shuffles the five unique Showdown cards and places them face down in the numbered boxes in the Game Space.

Figure 21

The Tournament Finals Area includes numbered spaces for the Showdown cards against which players will battle to decide the ultimate game warrior. Also note the background illustrations depicting characters inspired by Galaxian , Space Invaders , Donkey Kong , Pac-Man , and Frogger . (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Each Showdown card depicts one of the game/rival pairings derived from the anime. In figure 22, for instance, the card indicates that the player will battle Yamaarashi Taisaku in the game “Yosaku.”21 Each player then decides which of their Special Move cards they want to use to battle the Showdown cards. Each Special Move card includes an illustration and description for one of Arashi’s game-winning techniques, along with one or more game names that that technique can defeat (including the almighty Supernova, which can defeat any game).

Figure 22

At left, the Showdown card back replicates the design from Arashi’s iconic red cap. Fittingly, the Arashi cap was an adaptation of the USS Hornet CVS-17 Apollo 17 recovery hat, which Arashi wore in the initial Game Center Arashi one-shot manga. At right, the Showdown card featuring Yamaarashi Daisaku and the game Yosaku (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Players place their Special Move cards (fig. 23) face down in a line that corresponds to the five Game Space boxes. Depending on how many Special Move cards they won (maximum eight per player), they may play one, two, or no cards to oppose each Showdown card. Once everyone has made their selections, the player who dealt the Showdown cards reveals the first card; the other players do the same, revealing their first Special Move(s) while announcing them to the other players. If the Special Move card defeats the Showdown card, it’s left in place; if not, it’s discarded. Once this process is repeated for all five Showdown cards, whoever wins the most wins the game. In the event of a tie, players conduct a winner-takes-all playoff round.

Figure 23

At left, the Secret Move card back depicts Arashi amid adapted invader illustrations. At right, the Fish Pose special move adapted from yoga, which can defeat the Giant Vader or Yosaku Showdown car ds (Epoch,ゲームセンターあらし・ゲームマシン挑戦ゲーム Game Center Arashi: Game Machine Challenge Game, 1982) (Courtesy Nathan Altice)

Ultimately, the Tournament Finals is a guessing game that puts players on roughly equal footing. There is some congruence between the villains/games depicted and the special moves that bested them in the anime, but this knowledge of the source show doesn’t benefit players. The only advantages players gain are either by ranking high in the prior games and subsequently learning more secret moves (so they have more cards to play), or deploying a select few Accident cards that allow a player to disrupt their opponents’ Finals play.


1. ^ “1982年に起こった ʻ月曜19時アニメʼ の攻防,” Magmix, January 3, 2022,

2. ^ Frederik Schodt, Dreamland Japan (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 1996), 84.

3. ^ Mitseru Sugaya, “The Final Blow! The Saber Dance!,” in Game Center Arashi, trans. Project Z Scans, vol. 1. chap. 1 (, November 6, 2020), 17,

4. ^ Marilyn Ivy, “Formations of Mass Culture,” in Postwar Japan as History, ed. Andrew Gordon (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 242–43.

5. ^ Ivy, “Formations of Mass Culture, 248.

6. ^ Ivy, 248–49.

7. ^ Anne Allison, Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 61.

8. ^ “Bandai,” in International Directory of Company Histories, vol. 55, ed. Tina Grant (Chicago: St. James Press, 2003), 44.

9. ^ “野球盤は進化を続けて60年” [Baseball board continues its evolution for sixty years], スポーツ報知 [Sports news], April 21, 2018, Kokeshi are limbless wooden dolls with hand-painted features.

10. ^ These were アトム野球盤 F型 [Atom baseball board model F] (1965); オバQ 野球盤F型 [Oba-Q baseball board model F] (1966); and 巨人の星・野球盤 C型 [Star of the giants baseball board model C] (1969). See also “野球盤ゲーム” [Baseball board games], 昭和レトロなアナログゲーム大図鑑 [Shōwa retro analog games big illustrated encyclopedia], Analog Games, accessed March 18, 2024,

11. ^ Nathan Altice, “Joy Family: Japanese Board Games in the Post-War Shōwa Period” (paper presented at the Digital Games Research Association Meeting 2019, Kyoto, Japan, August 2019),

12. ^ Each adapting, respectively, the novels The Clansman (1905), Gone with the Wind (1936), The Exorcist (1971), Remains of the Day (1989), and Dune (1965).

13. ^ For an example of how critics called The Last of Us game “cinematic,” see Matt Kamen, “The Last of Us Review,” Empire, May 6, 2013,

14. ^ See Marco Vito Otto, “Every ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ Easter Egg and Reference,” Collider, updated November 25, 2023,

15. ^ Nathan Altice, “The Logic of Analogue Adaptation,” in Material Game Studies, ed. Chloé Germaine and Paul Wake (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2024), 222–37.

16. ^ Materials are available via the Analog Joy Club website,

17. ^ Nathan Altice, “Three Studies for a Material History of Japanese Board Games,” in Handbook of Japanese Games and Gaming, ed. Rachael Hutchinson (Tokyo: MHM, 2024).

18. ^ Frederick Augustyn Jr., Dictionary of Toys and Games in American Popular Culture (New York: Routledge, 2012), 69.

19. ^ Hashi, “Japan’s Most Dangerous Game: Rock, Paper, Scissors,” Tofugu, July 6, 2012,

20. ^ In Japanese games, a “chip” is a common board-game appellation for small, usually rectilinear, components punched from a single sheet of thick cardboard. It’s unclear whether the name derives from chips used in casino games, the similar chits from war games, or another source.

21. ^ Yosaku was originally an SNK arcade game released in 1979, but the card likely references an unlicensed port of that game, titled Kikori no Yosaku, released in 1981 for Epoch’s Cassette Vision console.