Themes We’d Like to See: Studio Ghibli


Gone are the days where the mere presence of a licensed property attached to a board game should be treated as a red flag.  Battlestar GalacticaStar WarsA Game of Thrones, Marvel Comics, DC Comics and others have proven than licensed games can be done well.  With it now safe to approach such games without protective hazmat gear, one license that I think would fit fantastically into board gaming is that of Studio Ghibli, the famed Japanese animation studio responsible for classics such as Spirited AwayMy Neighbour Totoro and many, many more.


The aesthetic style of Studio Ghibli would look fantastic on the tabletop and the whimsical nature of the movies and the way in which the themes are explored are similarly suited to the board game as a medium.  let’s start by looking at a couple of games that would be good candidates for a Ghibli-esque reskin, as well as some games which give the feel of playing in the films of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.

Possible Reskins


Broom Service from Ravensburger is a great example of a game that is suited to a Ghibli reskin as it is pretty much already a Ghibli-themed game.  It feels that the designers took many cues, visually and thematically, from the Ghibli Film, Kiki’s Delivery Service in which a young witch sets up a delivery business using her flying broom.


It’s great to see that designers are drawing inspiration from the rich source of Studio Ghibli, but it’s a pity that no actual license is in place and that whilst there are definite similarities to Kiki, more could be done to further integrate the theme into the game.  A redesigned board would be a great place to start.


Kodama is another game that seems to take a lot of inspiration from Ghibli films.  In this case, Kodama draws on the imagary of the forest spirits from the movie, Princess Mononoke.  


The beautiful games draws on the imagery of these little spirits who are only usually seen at night, and so you as the player must build your tree using beautifully illustrated cards which show a moonlit tree.  The game is absolutely gorgeous and gives a sense of serenity in its presentation.  All that would be needed for a true Ghibli game is a slight tweak of the artwork to bring the visual presentation of Kodama in line with Mononoke‘s kodama.


As with the other two games discussed thus far, Takenoko is a visually and conceptually whimsical game.  The parallels and between Takenoko and Ghibli are, however, significantly less pronounced – though the cover of Takenoko does seem to make reference to my favourite scene from My Neighbour Totoro:


Although the garden setting of Takenoko is very fitting and beautiful, I think it could easily be changed into a forest setting for a Totoro themed game.  This would require a lot more adaptation than the previous two suggestions, but I just really want to play a Totoro game!

Visual Similarities

Some games may not share any real thematic links with Ghibli’s IP, but can give at least the feel of playing in their sandbox.  Tokaido, for example, exhibits a strong, clear art style that conveys the same calm serenity as much of Studio Ghibli’s work:


It also conveys ‘journey’ in a really nice way, much like the Ghibli films.  It’s one that could potentially look really cool as a reskinned journey through the collected work of Ghibli, but I wouldn’t want to mess with the existing art direction which is just spot-on perfection – especially in the collector’s edition pictured above.

The Z-Man titles, Onirim and Sylvion, also have visual styles that are very similar to Ghibli, with Sylvion also having some thematic echoes of Howl’s Moving Castle.  

I love how Sylvion‘s fire elementals are presented as being quite visually similar to Howl‘s Calcifer with you, the player, having to defend a forest from these elementals.  The characterisation and the themes both smack of Ghibli – it’s great!

Finally, the works of designer and artist Ryan Laukat all possess that same, whimsical charm that so exemplifies the work of studio Ghibli.  His games, The Ancient World and City of Iron both share strong visual and thematic similarities with Ghibli films, but it is his Above and Below that best demonstrates this


Above and Below deals with the theme of duality that you find in several Ghibli films in its presentation of a light, airy overworld and a more mysterious hidden world waiting to be explored.  Plus, the art has that same pretty, whimsical appeal.


So, what about you?  Do you know of any games that give that Ghibli feel, either visually or thematically?  I’d love to play some Ghibli games, especially based on Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away, and am really considering what I can do in terms of print and play designs, as I intimated in my new year resolutions.


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