ZU Tiles: Hime is a recently-released strategic tile placement game featuring anime-style art. Based on the Chinese Zodiac, the game is easy to learn and fits a wide range of players—beginners and experienced; young and old; those who like strategic gaming or those who like battles. I’ve been captivated by the beautiful artwork developed for the decks posted on the game’s Instagram account, and recently chatted with their art director and old friend of ours, TR, to discuss the game.
Twwk: TR! It’s great to connect with you again. I’ve been really enjoying the art for the ZU Tiles: Hime decks. As art director, what’s your involvement with the art development, and how did you get involved in the project in particular?
TR: Hi TWWK. Thanks for the opportunity to chat about ZU Tiles! Being an art director is a lot like being a movie director, however, the script is a list of game tiles with their individual mechanics that have to be envisioned into art. Each tile is like a single frame from a movie scene. The actors are the artists. As director I outline my vision for each scene along with reference images and the artists translate that into original illustrations using their own style and interpretation. Sometimes I have a very precise vision for the artist, other times it’s more generalized and they have the freedom to freeform the rest. Often this results in some amazing results I would have never imagined on my own. That’s one of the best things about being part of a team. Everyone has something different to bring to the table.
I joined the project in May 2019 after a professional acquaintance told me they were looking for a career change and wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream of launching their own tabletop game company. I felt like God was calling me to make a positive impact, so I offered my services to join their startup. Based on feedback being received so far from places like India, Japan and Mexico, it’s looking like ZU Tiles has widespread appeal across multiple cultures and could impact a lot of people worldwide. I’d like to leave God’s fingerprints upon this project to reach all those people.
Q2: That’s wonderful that it’s already had such a reach! I read about the game, but don’t have a lot of experience with tabletop games, and especially not with tile games. What would you say is the appeal of these games, and particularly of ZU Tiles?
TR: One of the big appeals of board games is the opportunity to share in an active and unique experience with others who have similar interests as you. Board game geeks love to sit down and play games, feasting on salty snacks while making side splitting pop culture references.
There are a lot of ways we can socialize with others, but often they can be passive experiences, such as going to the movies. You sit there and watch. Games are an active experience. You are an engaged participant and the choices you make helps determine the outcome. And while the rules to a game may not change, how an individual game plays out will be different each time. There’s a certain appeal, that at the beginning of a game, there’s no knowing what will happen and who will win. The game night you have with friends around the kitchen table will always be unique each time.
Particularly of ZU Tiles? Where it shines is as an accessible game designed to be enjoyed by many. If your favorite thing is strategy, ZU can be a very thinky game, like Chess. If you enjoy Pokémon and battling, ZU offers that. If you are into Dominos and compatible patterns, ZU has that too. I’ve seen children as young as six to adults into their fifties all playing and enjoying the game. Not a lot games are able to attain that degree of versatility and accessibility.
Q3: That’s wonderful. And I love how it brings together tabletop gaming with anime fandom, particularly through the anime-style illustrations.
TR: Totally. For those who have had the opportunity to attend Anime Expo, seeing their 8,500 square foot tabletop gaming area bursting at the seams with players is a testament to how closely anime and tabletop games go hand-in-hand. Being art director has allowed me the chance to sprinkle in all sorts of geeky references that are near and dear, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Batman, Indiana Jones, and Your Name, just to name a few. We even developed our own alphabet, Ancient Himese, so we could sneak even more easter eggs in. A lot of thought and heart goes into every game tile illustration. I’m very fortunate to be blessed with such a talented team that can bring all my crazy ideas to reality.
Q4: Very cool! It really feels like a nice marriage between game type and anime style. For those who are interested to checking out this game, where can they find it?
TR: While ZU is available through the usual means like Amazon and eBay, I’d like to encourage everyone to consider ordering from and supporting their local game stores. Especially now with how COVID is threatening to put so many out of business forever. Small businesses make up 47% of all jobs in the United States. But it’s more than a job. A lot of these stores are hopes and dreams. I know one local store owner who wanted to open a store her entire life and finally was able to in February, only to be forced closed by COVID a few weeks later. She’s hanging on but it’s very difficult. It’s a story I’m hearing echoed throughout the tabletop industry.
While Amazon is convenient, supporting local business means so much more than most of us realize. For those who don’t have a local tabletop store, the game is also available through Game Kastle, a local shop here in Northern California.