Initially, I wasn’t sold on Raid on Takao. On the surface, it looked like a grim survival game based on the U.S bombings of a Japanese occupied city in Taiwan during WW2, but with magical anime religious powers. And after playing Raid on Takao, that is exactly what it is. The anime religious powers are of a completely different art style which leads me to think that they must have been late additions to the game or they were originally more classically drawn and in-line with the art direction for the rest of the game.
For the game itself, players are taking turns to explore Takao, achieve their fulfilment cards and generally try to stay alive while American bombers circle the skies. The most interesting element of Raid of Takao is the fulfilment cards. Each character has a relationship with one other character giving them specific related objectives which provide fulfilment.
This might be as the violinist playing music to your love in the hopes that she returns your affections or providing sustenance to your daughter. Completing these cards gives you access to a powerful perk for the rest of the game. You are not only incentivised from a thematic standpoint but also a mechanical one. However, at any time, you push your character into regret. This removes all possibility of fulfilment but gives you access to a far less powerful, but still possibly useful, perk.
It’s these relationships are the defining element of Raid on Takao. The fact that the violinist loves the doctor but they are torn apart by war, is the set up for a decent period drama. When you achieve fulfilment for your character, you know that you bring them one step closer to being with the one they love. And when are forced into regret, you can’t help but despair for this couple that may never be. However, all of that storytelling is in your head. At least most of it, anyway. Which is fine to a point. It’s when you have only three lines of text post-backstory, that you get a little disheartened. Raid on Takao needed to lean harder into the relationship elements of this game. In trying to implement them and the other survival systems, it is clear a lot of things needed to be streamlined to save on complexity. You can sit and speculate on this grand love story but you will only ever know a couple of hints and nothing more.
While Takao doesn’t quite make the relationships angle of its game work, there is more to be explored. There are various missions and while they vary the gameplay slightly this didn’t seem to change any of the narrative beats. On top of this, if you don’t bring your characters relationship interest to the game, then your objectives are far less thematic and merely result in moving to one location or another.
Mechanically, the game isn’t particularly interesting either. Players are searching locations and moving rubble but not much more. Takao looks lovely and I like the idea of the characters relationships but none it ties together to make an engaging game. And I say engaging because the grim setting would negate this being an enjoyable game. I don’t think all games should be “fun” and can instead teach us something instead but I do they should be satisfying. Whether that’s the satisfaction of ensuring a character survives or repairing destroyed areas or finding that bottle of water you desperately needed, Takao always fell flat. I survived because I was lucky enough not to get bombed, my character achieved fulfilment because it simply meant moving two spaces, repairing was rarely needed and I had so much bottled water I could have taken a bath.
I wanted to like Takao. Not only because the setting is intriguing and the idea of a survival game is engaging but also because this industry is seemingly dominated by European and American designers. Raid on Takao comes from a small Taiwanese company and clearly, a lot of love has gone into making this game – I just don’t want to play it. So even if you could find yourself a copy, I wouldn’t recommend it. However, I wouldn’t say no to that awesome watercolour style painting for my laptop background.
If Raid on Takao reminded me of anything, then it was Way of Defector. This is a video game that I reviewed for Old Grizzled Games (but you can find it here). It’s a game about guiding North Korean defectors to South Korea. The journey is grim and gruelling and it left me thinking about horrors these people had gone through. However, the actual game mechanics weren’t very engaging or interesting. Raid on Takao is a similar thing. A lot of the mechanics reflect the fact that survival was mainly down to pure luck with these people being wildly out of control of their own destiny. However, the message, setting and relationships that have been torn apart don’t result in a particularly engaging board game. And the wild shifts in art tone (looking at your anime religions), mean that it would be a strange educational game.
Having said all of that, there is potential here. The character relationship mechanism is a great idea that I would love to see reimplemented in a different game and the art design (religion cards aside) is fantastic. So I will be keeping an eye on Mizo Games from now on.
This article was written thanks to a review (could be what this is?) copy we received at the UK Games Expo 2019. If you want more UKGE coverage, then why not check out a little bit of my Star Realms Tournament stuff or our thoughts from the Press Preview.