Card Games Asia 2015: Shunichi Taira on bringing Bushiroad culture to the world

The TCG publisher, Bushiroad,  started out as an effort to bring fresh new titles to the Japanese TCG market in the mid-00s, back when it was somewhat a turf of few-years-running tabletop veterans and titles like Pokemon and the Yu-Gi-Oh! and Duel Masters OCGs. Years on, Bushiroad games are well-played and respected in Asia with continued expansion inwards of Western shores for their sucessful integration of anime franchises and lores, as well as bringing new mechanics to the tabletop gaming scene.

Four of their long-running titles, Future Card Buddyfight, Cardfight!! Vanguard, ChaOS and Weiss Schwarz were featured at the recent TCG convention at the Card Games Asia (CGA) 2015 held on 15th and 16th August 2015 at the Suntec City Convention Hall in Singapore. On rounds of observation at the event was Shunichi Taira, producer of Buddyfight and the English version of Vanguard.

taira

A staple to most large-scale Bushiroad tournaments, he was also guest to the Gunslinger Session, in which participants could single-eliminate themselves through rock-paper-scissors to play either Vanguard, Buddyfight or Weiss Schwarz against a key personnel working at Bushiroad or guest seiyuu.

onstage

Taira playing a game of Vanguard with an attendee

After the streamed card battles on stage, the lanky and casual-looking producer clad in a self-explanatory Bushiroad Staff top took time off the first afternoon of the convention for an interview initiated by J-Network. Taira shared the key considerations on his plate when producing his brainchild Buddyfight and the gradual, increased reception of Bushiroad games outward of its Japanese origins.

J-Network: What do you see as the primary differences between Singaporean, Japanese and Western TCG players?

Taira: (The 3 customer bases are) generally the same but with small differences. I would say Singapore is closer to the Japanese base on the whole. (Card accessories wise), Singaporean players prefer deck cases and storage boxes as compared to the US. Playmats are less popular in Singapore compared to the States.

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A gauntlet of Weiss Schwarz and ChaOS decks built by TCG player Mycstea sleeved in anime sleeves in front of several deck- and storage- boxes. Bushiroad releases sleeves, storage boxes and playmats based on the anime they adapt and the characters from their original TCG anime. The rarity, and consequentially, price, on the secondary market increase sharply after the print run of specific designs end.

Japanese players are more casual, perhaps due to how there are more casual tournaments in Japan where players play for fun, and less of playing to win. There are some competitive players in Japan too but the percentage is smaller. The States tend to have more tournaments that are treated with a competitive mindset.

J-Network: What is it about anime fans that draw them into Weiss Schwarz, Cardfight!! Vanguard and  Future Card Buddyfight?

Taira: Weiss Schwarz and ChaOS depict anime characters so their players – anime fans, see it as another form of collection, apart from other merchandise like figurines and the like. So by nature, players of these games are inclined to collect. There are some who play in support of seiyuu and go on to collect autographs (signed cards) of their favourite seiyuu.

A signed card of Hatsune Miku from the Project Diva F Weiss Schwarz set pulled by deviantart member Fubikio

A signed card of Hatsune Miku from the Project Diva F Weiss Schwarz set pulled by deviantart member Fubikio. Signed cards take on a Special rarity in Weiss Schwarz and ChaOS, usually an alternate version of a rare card, which diehard fans of the depicted character’s seiyuu fork hundreds on.

For Weiss Schwarz, the game system is intentionally made for anime fans. It is not too skill-intensive so that casual and new players can still have a chance of winning. If they lose, say, a 10-lose streak, they lose motivation and are more likely to quit. So (we made it such that) Weiss Schwarz is more luck-based than other card games. They can also build decks based on specific characters and even based on a single character, or what you call the “waifu deck”.

As for Vanguard and Buddyfight, we made it with the appeal of being able to role-play as the anime characters.

J-Network: To some, Singapore seems to have been a testing ground of sorts for Vanguard and Weiss Schwarz for their English versions before they are released worldwide. What makes it a suitable candidate for such?

Taira: We didn’t choose Singapore as a testing ground. We (Bushiroad) have an office in Singapore and thus we sell to the international market from here. The Asian market is closer to Japan’s, so we predict that it (our games) will be popular when we translate it in English for Asia.

At first, we weren’t that focused on selling them to the States and Eurpoe, which we would only expand towards if we were successful. But we eventually got a lot of demand there, which was unexpected, and then we decided to release our games there and not wait (further).

Anime and pop culture in general tend to catch on faster in Asia than elsewhere. After something becomes popular in Japan, it spreads to other parts of Asia but there might be a time lag before it reaches the West. But with the Internet and Internet communities, such is reduced.

J-Network:  Buddyfight is seen as one of the simpler TCGs among the Bushiroad propeties and the game sells partly on this simplicity. However, towards the start of the 100 Season, there are more and more complex mechanics and card archetypes brought to the table, such as the introduction of the first Size 4 Monster, the ability to mix Worlds using special Flag cards and the 100 Demons archetype, as well as the Crossnize ability in Star Dragon World. Will these developments still enable Buddyfight to continue remaining simple and easy to pick up?

Taira: We made Buddyfight easy to pick up but hard to master. There are many kids playing Buddyfight so we don’t want to make it too complex, but it becomes so when more expansion sets are released as with any other TCG. It gets a bit inevitable. We want to slow down the pace at which the complexity of Buddyfight increases and do not want to raise it too significantly.

However, in Buddyfight, players do not necessarily have to play with more complex cards. Buddyfight is a fast game, so if you run cards with complex effects or builds but not draw them at the right time, you can still get outsped by your opponent.

J-Network: Describe some of the challenges that you face when producing Buddyfight.

Taira: As we know, Buddyfight comes in three mediums – TCG, anime and the manga, all three which are available in both English and Japanese. Releases are almost simultaneous for both languages but the English is a bit delayed currently with a two-week delay. For all mediums, the English and Japanese teams work very closely to ensure that they are in sync.

If the Japanese version is way ahead, people who can’t wait will start playing the Japanese version. But in English-speaking countries, players should play in English so that the game is easy to pick up. If a new player plays against an opponent using Japanese deck, it would be hard for him to understand the gameplay if he doesn’t speak Japanese.

(Taira then offers to elaborates the issue of synchronization for Vanguard and Weiss Schwarz.)

We are shortening the lag for Vanguard. When the English (first Booster expansion) started out, the lag was 8 months, but now its only 2 months. We will eventually shorten it to 1 month.

For Weiss Schwarz, it’s hard because the Japanese version has been around for 7 years, but only 3 for the English. We are not thinking about shortening the lag but depending on the title, such as (the) Attack on Titan (card set), we might release the English version before the Japanese. We might decide to release a set in English first in other instances.

The Attack on Titan English Trial Deck

The Attack on Titan English Trial Deck

J-Network: Over the years, Bushiroad has dictated and compiled changing banlists for its games. For instance, in Vanguard, cards that are used one player too many such as the iconic Dragonic Overlord THE END and Majesty Lord Blaster, or overly common supports like Calamity Tower Wyvern, were eventually banned at some point in time in the Japanese version but not in English. Does this reflect a difference between the competitive mindsets of the two languages’ metagames?

Dragonic Overlord the End, an once-overused card that used to be limited to 2 copies per Vanguard deck instead of the usual limit of 4 due to its notorious ability to restand, an ability highly valued by many players

Dragonic Overlord the End, an once-overused card that used to be limited to 2 copies per Vanguard deck instead of the usual limit of 4 due to its notorious ability to restand, an ability highly valued by many players

Taira: If a deck is good in Japan and it wins (in their metagame context), a lot of people will be “dragged” into it and try to build a similar or even an identical deck. The banlists are to encourage players to change decks. But in English, players try to build other stronger decks which may or may not directly counter the “meta” decks. We do not see a need to release a banlist in English as there is still variety among the top few decks.

J-Network: In Vanguard and Buddyfight anime, the anime is produced such that the air date of episodes in Japan, and the cards that they feature occur near or before the release of the same cards in the real-life TCG. What are some challenges in maintaining this sync?

Taira: There aren’t much challenges we face for this but we plan very long ahead. Generally we try to match the personality of the (cardfighter/Buddyfighter) characters with their playstyle.

J-Network: What is your favorite World, playstyle and character in Buddyfight?

Taira: Legend World. It has a lot of equipment and heroes.

Flag of the Legend World, a series of cards based heavily off Western mythologies (Source: Buddyfight Wikia)

Flag of the Legend World, a series of cards based heavily off Western mythologies (Source: Buddyfight Wikia)

I prefer a more control-ish playstyle. Rather than trying to win as soon as possible, I play a longer game and use cards that try to prevent the opponent from doing what they want. I prefer a slower  and longer games.

Characters wise, I like Paruko for how she does her commentaries, which are very funny and energetic. I also like Drum and how he supports his buddy, Gao Mikado, and when they’re together it’s pretty funny too, the way they joke around.

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