Watching stuff– be it anime, movies, or whatever– is a thing I usually do on my own. When I’m hanging out with my friends, I’m usually doing some sort of table top gaming. Getting the two hobbies to mingle in some way is something I really appreciate, whether it’s when I insert some anime-like plot points into my Legend of the Five Rings campaign, or more blatant examples like Tanto Cuore, the deck builder that has an anime maid aesthetic to it.
Because of this, I’m a fan of Japanime Games. They specialize in board and card games that bridge the gap between table top and anime. They’re the English publisher of the aforementioned Tanto Cuore, and they usually specialize in other English releases of Japanese table top games. They’ve also started to release western developed games with an anime-like aesthetic. Mangaka, an Apples to Apples like party game where you draw comic strips using manga cliches and the like, is a personal favorite, but it’s also the sort of game that requires the right people in the right mood to work. If you aren’t fond of drawing and making up stories, and if you aren’t in the mood for that even if you are into it, it just won’t click. So I’m glad to see that Japanime Games has a more “traditional” game made by western fans hitting the shelves with Love Battle! High School.
The best way to describe it to peeps who are into Japanese pop culture stuff is to call it a “competitive dating sim.” Not in the sense that you’re playing as one of the characters competing for the affections for the “main character,” but in the sense that you’re all people playing the dating sim itself and are vying to get the ending of your choice.
This is a victory point game, in that whoever gets the most points at the end of the game wins. The way to score the largest amount of points is to ensure that your desired relationship wins out in the end. At the beginning of the game, you pick either one or two of the five girls vying for the affections of the main dude. If you pick one, you want her to have the highest Love rating at the end of the game (ties are OK). You’ll score 5 points this way. If you pick two, you want one of them to be in first place and one of them to be in second place. You’ll score 8 points this way, but if you don’t get that perfect love triangle, you don’t score any points. Bigger risk for a bigger reward.
There are other ways to score points, but they don’t net you nearly as much in one go as fulfilling your desired shipping ending. So yeah, this is a game about arguing over which ship is the best, and having the means to ensure that said ship becomes the outcome. So not only does the game have an anime-like theme to it, it also kind of about how parts of anime fandom function as well.
How all of this goes down is fairly standard modern board game stuff. You have a board that represents the high school, complete with multiple rooms, each with a different ability the main dude can use. You have six standees representing the five girls and the main dude. On your turn, you get a “Girl” Phase and a “Hero” Phase. You can do either phase first, but you must complete that phase before starting the next.
During the Girl Phase, you play cards from your hand to control the five girls. You can play any number of cards from your hand during this phase. To move a girl to a different room, you have to discard a card that matches the one you want to move. To use the ability on the card, the girl must be in the same room as the main dude. The abilities on the cards either alter the Love ratings of one or more of the girls in some way or do some other effect that either helps you or hinders the other players. Like in any game, there are exceptions to these basic rules, most of which come from specific abilities on the cards, but that’s the basics of that phase.
During the Hero Phase, you get to move the dude and then take one “Hero” action. The dude isn’t quite as maneuverable as the girls, so you have to be a little more deliberate with how you move him. His actions also aren’t quite as diverse as the girls, since he’s limited to either using the room he’s currently in, drawing a card from any of the girls’ respective decks, or kicking a girl out of his current room (a way to mess up another player’s plans). The various room abilities are thematic to their respective rooms, and they do similar things as the girls’ cards. The hero just doesn’t get to do nearly as much as the girls. He is the nominal hero of a harem anime, so he’s more or less as useless as one.
You do this for seven rounds, each round representing a period at school (plus lunch), and once that’s over you have a scoring round that represents the main dude picking which girl (or girls) is his favorite.
There are a few other mechanical things going on. There are plot point cards that act as another way to score points. Once during your turn, you can claim one of the available plot point cards if you met its criteria during your turn. Think of them like achievements in a video game, except you can’t just claim them all. They net you between 2 and 4 points, so they’re a way to either edge out an opponent who is vying for a similar shipping combination, or to make up ground if it’s obvious your ship will lose.
The mechanics are pretty simple, and the gameplay itself is probably just OK at best. What makes the game worthwhile is the whole theme of it, and the gameplay really lends itself well to the whole ordeal.
The five girls all fall into well-established anime girl types.
Yuki, the blue haired one, is the childhood friend type. Her deck specializes in Jealousy cards, which are the reactionary “take that” cards. So yeah, she’s the one who reacts to the other girls flirting with the main dude by rushing in with a big mallet to thwack the main dude or something like that.
Katsumi, the red head, is the “mature” girl. She specializes in Seduction cards. Normally, a girl has to be alone in a room with the dude to play a seduction card, but since Katsumi is shameless in that regard, she’ll seduce the dude in front of others, so she isn’t limited in that way.
Rin, the glasses girl with the hime cut, is the stern, stuffy one who’s into “discipline.” Her deck focuses on Punishment cards, which act as penalties when in the room with another girl (she’s humiliating the dude in public), but act as bonuses when she’s alone (he really likes it, he just doesn’t want to be seen liking it).
Sakiko, the green haired pig tail girl, is the loli type. Since she knows she can’t always match the older girls, she also flirts with the other girls. Normally, Flirting cards penalize other girls in the same room, but Sakiko’s Flirting cards give them bonuses. In the game I played, she ended up being a good love triangle target, since she can boost another girl along with her.
Aiko, the one with the shaved sides, is the mysterious magical type. She has a lot of Enchantment cards, which give big bonuses at the cost of victory points. The catch is that, unlike other characters, her Enchantment cards are free. Her cards are the most diverse, in that she has the most weird, rule-breaking effects. One card we saw changed the genders of the main dude and one of the other girls, which effectively made that girl the main character, mechanically-speaking, for that turn and vice versa. It was a neat mechanical way to deal with a common anime cliche.
That’s where the bulk of the real gameplay, and the bulk of the thematic fun, comes in– the way these different cards react and combo with one another. Some of the girls want to get the guy alone, some of them want to get him with other girls so they can combo off of that negatively or positively. Katsumi and Rin usually want to get him alone. Yuki almost wants him to be around other girls, so she can “rescue” him with her Jealousy cards. Sakiko doesn’t mind if she’s with another girl, especially if your strategy is working towards that. Aiko works in weird ways that aren’t always obvious, just like a magical type would appear.
The only real criticism I’d have for the game, other than it feeling a little clunky at times (I wish it was easier to get cards, since I had a turn or two where I just didn’t have many choices card-wise), is that the actual theme is almost antiquated. A lone dude in high school inexplicably being the object of a bunch of girls’ affections is almost quaint in today’s anime environment. Nowadays, the high school shows usually eschew the male cipher in favor of casts with all girl leads, and the shows that do have a lone dude amassing a harem tend towards the isekai “I’m trapped in another world that’s basically an MMO but not” sort. Love Battle! almost feels about ten years too late to really be relevant, but that isn’t too big of a deal. It might not click as well with more recent anime fans, but for old timers like me, having some fun with these tired ideas is still pretty novel in a board game format. It’d also be cool if there were some more options in terms of the characters. They could have easily made a female “Hero” standee and have her function the same way mechanically. Yeah, a couple of cards make some crude references to boners and stuff, but it’s all easy enough to change up. And having some dude choices for the love interests would be easy enough to make. Maybe if the game does well enough for an expansion they can add that stuff in, that way peeps can have whatever combos they want.
I also wish they just went all out with Aiko and had her in a witch hat.
It isn’t the most strategic or in-depth of games, but it’s a fun, breezy sort of thing with a few interesting choices to make. It’s also pretty quick. The three player game I played was over in about an hour, and that was with us figuring out the rules for the first time. The 30-60 minutes on the box looks to be pretty accurate. $40 might be a little steep for this sort of game, but considering how much games cost nowadays, that’s actually a little below average. I’m also not sure how well it’ll play with anyone who isn’t at least familiar with these sorts of anime. It certainly won’t click with anyone who’s really not into the stuff, since the game itself probably isn’t good enough to care about without caring about the theme in some way. But for a bunch of peeps who’ve delved into this sort of trash before? They’ll probably get a kick out of it.
I know I did.