Grand Trunk Games
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Grand Trunk Games

Coming up with an aesthetic direction for Shikoku 1889 and its box cover

With all the waiting everyone has been doing for Shikoku 1889 to hit Kickstarter, I wanted to share a bit about the production process and what has been taking us so long. I’ve had a lot of fun working on this project thus far so I’m glad I can finally talk about our process, the components, and some of the decisions behind the presentation we chose. In this blog, I’ll mostly focus on the historical research we did and how that influenced the production.

One thing I wish I did for 1861/1867 was a bit more research into the history of Russia and Canada (both general history as well as railroading history). Work on Shikoku 1889 began in September 2020 almost immediately after I hit the print button for 1861/1867. We spent the first couple months doing historical research of Japan, Shikoku, and Japanese railroad history. Admittedly, I don’t think the historical research had a huge impact on the game’s components, but I do think it guided a lot of our aesthetic choices and the cover.

As it turns out, the information about railroading history for Shikoku is pretty sparse. Ikeda-san even went to a library in Tokyo to try to find any information that was never translated to English or never made its way to the internet — but even there he wasn’t able to dig up much. So the bulk of information we got was for general Japanese history and Japanese railroading history (with plenty of debate about the details of the railroading history!)

The sense I got from reading about this period in Japan (as well as influence from Karim who lived in Japan for a number of years) was that it was a time of rapid modernization. Before the Meiji Era started in the late 1860’s, Japan had a policy of “sakoku” or “closed country” where the nation essentially isolated itself from the rest of the world for about 200 years. However, once the Meiji Era began, Japan took a diametrically opposite approach; allowing outside technology and culture to come pouring into their country. Many images or ideas of “historical Japan” might depict the samurai of the shogunate periods or the serene Edo period, but Japan in 1889 was a time of juxtaposition between traditional and modern.

As you can see in the references below, a typical sight might be pull carts on dirt roads alongside small shops while giant power lines, trolleys, western-style buildings, and railroads sprouted up in the middle. Men wearing kimonos while also sporting mustaches and top hats. (By the way, Old Photos of Japan has a treasure trove of images like these.)

Additionally, you can see how the art styles were shifting during this period as well. Japan was moving away from traditional aesthetics while new technologies like the printing press and new pigment compounds led to artworks that might not match what we would expect to see.

I could write at length about the different directions we considered, but at the end of the day, we decided to go with a box cover that we felt would best capture a scene that might actually see on a street in Shikoku in 1889. Erik ended up borrowing lots of references from the images we saw and pieced together the scene you see below.

One thing Karim suggested that hadn’t really occurred to me before was that it is actually quite rare to have people on the covers of a train game. The focus is often on the image of the locomotive, but we’ll often forget who was driving, riding on, or whose lives were impacted by locomotives.

It’s possible we put too much emphasis on making a cover that was historical, and perhaps this cover doesn’t immediately feel “Japanese”, but that was also kind of the point. I think if we threw an image of Mt. Fuji in the background, people who look at the box would immediately make the connection that this is “that 18xx game set in Japan” but also wouldn’t really say much more than just that.

Our goal in making this cover was to present you with a view of Shikoku perhaps you hadn’t thought of or seen before. We wanted old next to new as well as people next to technology. Piquing your interest to pull it off the shelf at a game store or for a game night is also a nice added bonus!



I’m Josh Starr. I am continually learning about the 18xx genre. Anything I write about here is more of a reflection of my own learning than any prescription for strategy or the “right” way to think about or play games in the genre.

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