🎤 Interview with Naoki Sekino

2024年 4月 24日
Indie Tsushin 2024 March-April issueThis article was featured in our 2024 March-April issue. Check out more articles and interviews in the full issue.

We spoke with Naoki Sekino of the board game shop Asobiba about what it's like working together with the rest of the shop staff to create the word-association card game, SIGN!

English (translated)

Translated by Renkon

SIGN, a card game about making word constellations

(2023) SIGN

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Naoki Sekino, and I run the board game shop Asobiba. This shop opened three years ago.

How did you get started making games?

For a while, our staff had been thinking about making a game together, but we thought that if we could make games together with some of our regular customers, we would have a lot of ideas and fun! So that was the start of our team doing exactly that.

Can you tell us about some of your favorite games and genres?

I like so-called heavy games like Brass: Birmingham and Agricola. I also like auction games and economic games.

Can you tell us a bit about the board game café Asobiba?

It is a board game shop located in Kanagawa Prefecture, Fujisawa City, Shonandai, and you can play, buy, and enjoy board games at Asobiba. Last year, we created our own game for the first time and published SIGN. We are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but we are open from 13:00 to 22:00 on other days and on holidays.

Instruction manual for SIGN spread out with the game's pieces in the background

Whenever we go to Asobiba, the staff there are always happy to go over the rules of the games with us. Do you have to learn all of the rules for all of the games in your store?

We know them all perfectly! Well, maybe not quite, but I do have the basic gist of them. Every day we open new games to play, and our regulars often leave us with more new games to check out, so it's pretty tough to keep up.

Please tell us about SIGN!

SIGN is a cooperative board game where players make a starry sky. Everyone besides the solver plays Star Cards with different words written on them and tries to match them with that round's theme. By connecting the Star Cards with chips marked with symbols like "greater than,", the players can communicate to the solver which of these words is closer to the theme. After players put together the constellation in two minutes, the solver gazes at the starry sky and guesses the correct answer. How many messages, or signs, will you be able to solve?

SIGN's player cards fanned out with tokens scattered over them

Can you tell us about the process of making SIGN? Was it different from the way you approached making your other games?

Since we were working as a team, first we all came up with ideas. After doing a lot of playtesting, we voted on the best games, and started production on the one that received the most votes. At first, SIGN was a ranking-style valuation game, but after doing many test plays, we brought it closer to its current form. At the time, the game used a train motif, but we changed it to constellations so that more people could play.

How long did it take to think up SIGN and then bring it to market? What was the most difficult step?

It took about a year after we first landed on the concept. The hardest part was that we were working as a team, so the more opinions we gathered, the harder it was to sort out which ones to go with. It was tough.

What was your greatest influence when making SIGN?

We took inspiration from cooperative games such as ito and Just One.

Person placing a 'manga' card in the SIGN play area

What was the most challenging part of making SIGN?

The most challenging part was deciding how many copies to print. At first, we thought we could produce a small lot of about 50 copies. But if we did, it would cost 5 to 6,000 yen to print each set, which would mean the selling price would be even higher, so we were forced to print much more. Printing more copies meant we had to confident that our game was worth it, so that made us quite nervous.

When making SIGN, how did you select what to use for the Word and Theme Cards?

When thinking up words or during playtesting, we would say, "This might be a good word," and that's how we chose them. As for the themes, everyone on our team came up with words that we could use as subjects.

Player role cards fanned out. Most of them are blue Worker cards, with one red Saboteur card in the center

What has the response been like from the people who played SIGN?

We are very happy to hear that everyone is really enjoying the game. We are extremely grateful that there are some people who play the game and then say, "That was so much fun, I want to buy it!" However, no matter how good the response has been so far, I still get nervous every time I ask people to play SIGN. (laughs)

Were there any interesting or funny responses you've received from players, especially during the playtesting process?

When some customers were playing, the theme was "The current solver has THIS," and the word satou (sugar) was strongly emphasized. To my surprise, it was apparently because the solver's family name was Satou. At first, everyone was like, "Why would they have sugar...?" But then, some players who knew were like, "Their name!" and started hurrying with excitement. It was very funny to see.

The final constellation spread after a round of SIGN

Is there anything in SIGN to which you want to draw the player's attention?

One point that we were very particular about was making the finished board look like a starry sky. We have received compliments on how nice it looks. Also, we were particular about making the game so that anyone can enjoy playing it, even those who are not good at speaking freely such as in games that require a lot of improvisation.

Do you have any board games that you'd like to shout out, especially those made by individuals or small groups? What do you like about them?

I recommend Mob+'s Nana because it is easy to play and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. The cute illustrations were done by Sai Beppu, the same artist who worked on SIGN.

SIGN box surrounded by tokens and cards

Do you have any messages for your players?

We are always grateful to everyone who has supported our board game shop Asobiba, and for enjoying SIGN. Board games have a wonderful charm to them. We hope you will continue to enjoy many wonderful board games from all over the world! Thank you for your continued support.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

日本語 SIGN, a card game about making word constellations

(2023) SIGN








ボードゲームショップあそびばです。 神奈川県藤沢市湘南台でボードゲームが遊べて・買えて・楽しめるお店を経営しています。昨年は初めて自分たちでゲームを作成し、「SIGN-サイン-」を出版いたしました。 月・火曜日は定休日ですが、それ以外の曜日や祝日は13:00-22:00で営業しております。

Instruction manual for SIGN spread out with the game's pieces in the background




SIGNは、星空をつくる協力のボードゲームです。 解答者以外のみんなでさまざまな単語の書かれた『星のカード』をお題に沿って場に出していきます。 星のカード同士を不等号チップで繋げる事でどちらの単語の方がお題に近いのかを解答者に伝えることができます。 2分間で作られる星空を眺めながら解答者は正解を推理していきます。 何枚のメッセージ(SIGN)をみなさんは正解することができるでしょう。

SIGN's player cards fanned out with tokens scattered over them


チームで作っていたため、まずはゲームの案を全員で出し合いました。 テストプレイを何回も重ねて、良かったゲームに投票をし、一番票が集まったものを商品化しました。 最初はランキング系の価値観ゲームだったのですがそこから何度もテストプレイを重ねて現在の形に近づきました。当時は電車がモチーフのゲームでしたが、そこからよりたくさんの方に遊んでいただけるように星座モチーフに変えました。





Person placing a 'manga' card in the SIGN play area





Player role cards fanned out. Most of them are blue Worker cards, with one red Saboteur card in the center


みなさまとても楽しんで遊んでいただいていてとても嬉しいです。プレイされた後で楽しかったから購入したい!と言ってくださる方もいらっしゃってありがたい限りです。 しかしいくらいい反響をいただいていても、毎回SIGNを遊んでもらう時は緊張します。笑


お客様が遊ばれていた時に、「今回の解答者が持っている」というお題で「さとう」という単語をとても強くしていたのですが、なんと回答者の方の苗字が佐藤さんだったそうです。 最初はみんな「なんで砂糖を持ってるんだ・・・?」という雰囲気になっていましたが名字か!とわかった人たちがざわざわしていたのがみていて面白かったです。

The final constellation spread after a round of SIGN





SIGN box surrounded by tokens and cards




AsobibaYou can find SIGN and other Japanese games from Asobiba's online shop. And if you happen to be in Kanagawa Prefecture, be sure to drop by the Asobiba shop!