Rediscovering the Tokai region through analog play: MusaForum's board game adventure

In the modern digital world of the internet, AI and remote work, many of us are seeking an analog oasis in the technological desert. For some, this has been a return to listening to vinyl records, or photography using film. Others have turned their attention towards the tactile and social appeal of board games. The Game of Life, which many of us remember growing up in the 20th century, was re-released in an updated version this year to a new wave of popularity.

In an effort to help recreate the board game as a social tool, Nagoya University Museum and the regional architectural society teamed up to hold an event based around the concept. The games were designed and made by MusaForum, the student organization which supports the museum. 



MusaForum members explain the games' rules to the players


"Three noodle cards: ankake spaghetti, Sugakiya ramen, and miso udon?!" "I wonder how many times you'd need to roll the dice to get from Toyota to Hida..." In a room at the Nagoya Chamber of Commerce one Sunday in December, cheerful voices ring out as people huddle around tables. It's a mixed group - families, couples, students. They are playing two games - one being a version of Parcheesi or Ludo based on touring the 3 prefectures of the Tokai region by bus, and the other a card-collecting game with the theme of famous foods of the Tokai region. 

The bus game involves rolling the dice to move your piece (the bus) around Aichi, Gifu and Mie prefectures, collecting as many passengers as possible as you go. Land on an unlucky square and you might get sent back to the start of your route...get lucky and you could poach all of your opponents' passengers for yourself. In the card game, players draw cards with foods such as miso and red bean paste on them, and match them with their place of origin to earn coins. Many participants had never met before the event, yet sitting down and playing the games together allowed them to quickly build relationships and social ties with one another.


3D printed game pieces


The idea for an event involving local people to showcase the appeal of the region was suggested to Nagoya University Museum and MusaForum by the southern Nagoya division of the Aichi Society of Architects and Building Engineers. Their proposal was to create board games that would help local people rediscover the area they live in. The eight students in the group took on the challenge, and began planning the event in March 2023.


MusaForum members with Assistant Professor Ayako Umemura (top left)


"Living in the Tokai region, it's difficult to decide where to go when you have a holiday. We wanted to use our game to help people discover interesting places they could go," says Sota Shigematsu, who led the development of the Tokai Travel Bus game.

The card game was inspired by a trip to the souvenir shops at Nagoya Station. Buying a gift of local food to take home for your loved ones is common practice in Japan when on vacation, but the students felt that it was difficult to choose a real local speciality from the huge choice available. The group's leader Haruka Katada, 1st year PhD student at the Graduate School of Environmental Science, explains: "We tried to put ourselves in the shoes of someone selling Nagoya and Tokai region souvenirs, and create a game that would help people understand what to look for."


Whole families came along to enjoy reconnecting with their local area through the games


The game pieces and cards were all made by the students themselves. They gathered data on over 60 different local specialities, going around the souvenir shops at Nagoya Station and contacting the makers of the items to get information and photographs. 

The greatest difficulty, according to Haruka, was finding a theme for the game that the whole team could get behind. "But we talked it over several times and eventually settled on our final direction. I was excited about the idea of creating an educational event with the museum, and starting from nothing and coming up with a complete plan was a great experience."


Many players were complete strangers at the start of their games but formed connections through the shared experience


After kicking off the project in March 2023, the teams attended classes on board game creation, went out to take real-world surveys, decided their themes, came up with rules and manufactured their game equipment, coming up with the whole concept through their own hard work and creativity.

Assistant Professor Ayako Umemura, who oversees the MusaForum students' activities, is excited about the next stage of the project. "The students are already implementing what they learned at this event, and seem motivated to keep up development of the program. I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with!" she says.


The board games featured in this article are available to try at the Nagoya University Museum. Please ask the museum office staff if you would like to have a go!


Click here to find out more about the Nagoya University Museum