CMON buys Japon Brand, the company which introduced the world to Love Letter and Machi Koro

Zombicide and Blood Rage publisher CMON has bought Japon Brand, the collective launched almost 20 years ago to promote Japanese board games around the world.

Japon Brand was instrumental in bringing Japanese games such as Love Letter and Machi Koro to international markets, after being inspired by the surge in novel games from home-grown designers in the early 2000s.

The collective began exhibiting a collection of Japanese designs annually at the Essen Game Fair from 2006, which it returned to in 2023 after a three-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

CMON said Japon Brand would continue to act as an independent division, but would use CMON’s infrastructure and management capabilities to help it introduce games to the global market.

Love Letter

BoardGameWire reported last week that more than 50% of CMON’s 2023 sales were from North and South America, with about one-third coming from Europe – both down marginally compared to its 2022 results.

Asia made up just over 14% of sales for the company, up from about 13% last year – but Singapore-headquartered CMON said it remained focused on growing in the Asian wholesale markets as well as in direct marketing and sales to gamers on the continent.

Akio Nomura, a long-time board game designer and board member of Japon Brand, becomes president of the company following the buyout.

He said, “The situation surrounding the analogue game industry in Japan has been changing over the past ten years.

“The number of people exhibiting overseas on their own has increased, and the number of overseas buyers visiting Tokyo Game Market has also increased.

“However, for many individual artists, ‘overseas’ is still a long way off due to social and economic circumstances.

“We want the Japon brand to continue to be a hope for them. With CMON’s backup, we expect to be more active than ever.”

David Preti, COO of CMON, added, “Japon Brand has always been a great ambassador of Japanese game design to the world. That spirit is very important, and we are honored to be part of that long tradition.”

The buyout follows growing awareness and availability of Japanese board game designs in international markets – largely thanks to the trail blazed by Japon Brand over the years.

Publishers such as small box specialist Oink have been gaining increasing amounts of traction and awareness in the European and North American markets thanks to the success of designs including Deep Sea Adventure and Modern Art.

Scout. Photo credit: Oink Games

Oink’s circus-themed hand management card game Scout was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2022, and currently sits in 116th place in the BoardGameGeek rankings.

Oink was present at Essen Spiel last year, jointly exhibiting with fellow Japanese publishers Saashi&Saashi and Itten – a strategy also employed for their appearance at the 2023 UK Games Expo.

BoardGameWire reported last December that Essen Spiel was hoping to launch a co-promotion partnership with Japan’s largest tabletop convention, Tokyo Game Market, to help boost awareness of both events.

More than 193,000 visitors attended last year’s Essen Spiel fair at the start of October – up more than 30% compared to its 2022 event. Tokyo Game Market, meanwhile, attracted about 25,000 people for its Autumn 2023 show – one of two major events it holds each year.

CMON’s decision to buy Japon Brand follows a strong 2023 for the business, in which its net profit jumped more than 35% amid a hefty drop in its sales-associated costs.

The company, which is most famous for miniatures-focused games such as Zombicide and Blood Rage, saw its net profit rise to over $1.3m compared to about $1m in 2022, according to its latest annual report.

That rise came amid a more than 20% drop in its cost of sales, with huge reductions coming via inventory, shipping and handling costs.

Kickstarter projects made up almost 60% of CMON’s $45m of sales last year, bringing in revenue of about $26.3m – about 40% more than the $18.6m the company made through its wholesale channel.


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