Hey kids, wanna play Let’s Catch The Lion! It’ll be fun! Be sure to make kind greetings before starting the game and say “arigatou-gozaimashita” when we’re done! Do you want to be the Land Team or the Sky Team? Oh wait, you want to know where I got Let’s Catch The Lion? I should explain.
It all started when I was walking around Fairmount Park during Sakura Sunday. Since it was the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia, there were Japanese people selling Japanese things there. One of the vendors was for Let’s Catch The Lion! so I decided to check it out. A minute later I purchased a copy for myself. It was more of less of an impulse buy. I also figured since it was a Japanese board game, I could review it. Lo and behold, you’re reading it right now!
For twenty bucks, I got a neat looking game. The box is about the same size as two manga volumes side by side. The box is mainly yellow with some blue and green to create an image of the land and sky together. Inside is a fold-able board along with eight large wooden play pieces. There is a two page manual but it, like the rest of the game, is in Japanese. It doesn’t get more authentic then that. However, along with the game I was also given a handout in English that explains the rules.
By all accounts, it appears to be a children’s game. The bright colors, simple line art, and animal motif are all designed to appeal to kids. The game rules themselves were designed as an introduction to shogi (the short story: Japanese chess). The game board is only twelve spaces big and there are only five different types of pieces to keep track of. That’s just enough to make a working game without overwhelming someone with options. The chick promotes into a hen upon reaching the other side and you can drop back in captured pieces, just like in shogi! All the pieces even have dots on them, telling you how they move! The game even has a sing-along song!
Don’t let the cute looks fool you into thinking it’s light and simple-minded. Like with Negi Springfield, the cute look only disguises the deepness. After playing it a few times, I discovered one of the most intense, tactical, and brutal games I ever played. I am completely serious. Let’s Catch The Lion stands among top board games like Luffy stands among big eaters.
Being based off of shogi is a very good place to start. While it shares many things with chess, it does distinguish itself by the drop rule. Basically, you can spend a turn to take a piece you captured and put it back on the board on your side. That makes it drastically different from chess. It’s like having a marine drop whenever you want! You have to consider what both you and your opponent have captured when making a move. If you leave a hole in your defenses, your opponent can simply drop in reinforcements right on it. Of course, you can do the same thing, too. Since it costs a turn to do so, it’s actually not as broken as I make it sound. It’s still a cool mechanic that I enjoy from shogi.
If shogi was meant to create the feeling of being a general on a battle field, Let’s Catch The Lion is a sword fight in a trailer. The very simplicity of it contributes to its brutality. There are no complex rules or bloat of information to hide behind. No one will pull out a new ridiculous card combination or beat you over the head with a brick ton of meta knowledge. Everything is laid out in the simplest manner possible so you can focus less on learning how to play and more on fighting your enemy.
And fight the enemy you will. If two players have four pieces each in a twelve space board game, there’s not a lot of room to move around in. If you’re forced back from one row, you basically ceded twenty-five percent of the battlefield (that’s a lot). The very first move you can make is a capture! If that’s not enabling aggressive play, I don’t know what is. Let’s Catch The Lion is not a game where retreating or falling back are sensible options. This game is all about pushing forward. The alternate win condition is to get your lion to the other side without being captured. If you leave your lion back, all you’re doing is letting yourself get pinned against the edge. Believe me, I lost several games by being pushed against the wall. Let’s Catch The Lion is a game where you stand your ground or die (err, get your lion captured).
Are you lion enough for this fight? Do you want to get a copy for yourself so you can catch some freakin’ lions? Well good luck, because it won’t be easy. Let’s Catch The Lion isn’t being distributed among the normal board gaming channels; you can’t even find it on Amazon! There is eBay but that’s never an entirely reliable service. I did find a website that sells it but it’s Japanese. I imagine it would be a problem for some of you to buy something from a Japanese website.
I hope you do get a copy though. This is a catch of a game and any tabletop gamer who manages to get their own copy will be glad that they did. It’s both understandable and complex to play, a hard to get combination. Have fun catching yourself a lion!