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A Let's Go To Japan! Game Design Dev Diary

"Let’s Go! To Japan is the most personal game I have ever made." Game designer Josh Wood shares how his game came to be.

Josh Wood, Blogger

April 6, 2023

5 Min Read

In 2020, after 3 years of saving, my girlfriend Kathleen and I were ready to go to Japan. I had spent a lot of time working on the trip: writing notes, figuring out the train system, watching countless travel influencers, and I was even learning Japanese! Finally we saved enough! We had the trip booked: flights, hotels, restaurants, EVERYTHING!– and then the pandemic started.

In the early days of the pandemic, I would often bump into the notes that I had written for the vacation, and they were a painful reminder of the trip we didn’t get to take. I could’ve thrown away the notes and moved on, but instead I was inspired to make this game. I felt that building my trip was like a game with its strategic planning and daily optimization. It also let our trip exist at least in some small way. Making the game allowed me to take a deep dive into Japanese culture, and now when I do finally go it will be even better!

Let’s Go! To Japan is the most personal game I have ever made. At times I probably became obsessed with this project. But it was the pandemic; what else was I supposed to do?
One of the first decisions I made was that I wanted the cards to have a lot of information and personality. I’ve had the pleasure to work with Elizabeth Hargrave on two games and I really enjoy her process and how she displays her interests thematically. I loved how she designed the bird cards in Wingspan. There are so many of them and you can look at any card and understand the size of the bird, what it eats, and where it lives. It is easy to see that she cares about birds and wants to get the facts right.


I wanted the cards in my game to feel thematic to the people who have been to Japan as well as to those who have never been, all without setting foot on a plane. Creating the list seemed easy at first– Just put down all the things I wanted to do in Japan. Easy. But I knew there needed to be more options and I needed to include activities that are off the beaten path.

I have put in hundreds of hours into researching places and activities in Tokyo and Kyoto. With over 2,000 temples and shrines in Kyoto, I had to decide which seven or so would make it into the game. There are 1,000 or so neighborhoods in Tokyo; which ones do I highlight? I tried to include as many wonderful experiences as I could; I hope people will forgive me if their favorite place isn’t in the game! I also had to think about what other people like to do on their vacations. Some people are foodies, some want to relax, some are more budget conscious. I even developed the walk mechanism because players told me that they enjoy leaving large swaths of their schedule open when traveling. And I love when games tempt me to take cards or actions that might not be optimal because they are things that I personally like. I want people to take the Anime Museum card because they are fans of anime over that Watch Sumo card even if it might score them more points.


But Let’s Go! To Japan had to be about more than just the planning. The scoring phase is when you take the trip, and it’s where the theme is the most apparent. Taking a walk engages players at the end of the game by providing choices as they score. There are a lot of unknowns to vacations and this mechanism helps simulate that wonderful feeling of discovery on vacation. The Highlight of the Day mechanism helps players create story beats on their vacation. Each day has three cards stacked with the top card being their “Highlight of the Day”. This highlight acts as a bonus scoring objective to each day. These activities score better based on what you have done in the past. You excel at the cooking class if you’ve eaten a lot of Japanese food, you find the hot springs of the onsen more enticing if you’ve done a lot of physical activities on your trip, etc. Let’s Go! To Japan became an engine builder where you only run your engine once.

Since the game takes place in Japan, I wanted to use artists who live in Japan. I felt that it would help players connect with the activities if the images were captured by people who were actually there. One of the artists, Toshiyuki Hara, would only draw images if he could actually go to the location. This really helped give a sense of being there when he drew images such as Ikebukuro and the Imperial Gardens. Kailene Falls would order the food so she could illustrate what was actually prepared for her. Erica Ward, who did the bulk of the art, was an absolute savior to the project. Her insight allowed the game to have a rich theme. While it was stressful to have to find so many artists who met this criteria, it was worth it! All of the artists produced amazing pieces and I can’t thank them enough.

Brigette Indelicato is someone that I trust whenever I need graphic design. For Santa Monica she really helped push the beachy feeling in that game, and I knew she would do amazing work on this game. She also had to cancel her trip to Japan due to Covid, so it felt extra special that she got to work on this game and am extremely grateful for all the work she contributed.

I am also extremely grateful for the work everyone contributed to Let’s Go! To Japan. I had many nights where I struggled to sleep through my anxious thoughts. I spent so many hours worrying about the outcome of this game. I want to thank my coworkers for helping me through this project, helping me share my love of Japan, and helping me make this dream project a reality.

Finally thank you for reading about this game. I really hope you love playing as much as I enjoyed making it.

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