Year launched: 2019
Game type: Board games
Flagship game: Fire in the Library, in which players try to save books from a burning building.
"Sumo wrestling beetles" might sound like an obscure premise for a board game. But for designer Tony Miller, Kabuto Sumo is simply an ode to what he loves most: board games, wrestling, and his 7-year-old son, Raphael.
To play, opponents compete to knock each other's small, wooden discs off a raised board. The discs represent different battling bugs, from giant stag beetles to rhinoceros and blister beetles.
Due to publish in June, the game's intentional simplicity is partially in response to Miller's first release, 2019's Fire in the Library. Raphael was 5 at the time and just learning how to read—a skill required to play Fire in the Library.
"Here I am excited about this game, and he's excited with me because it's Daddy's game and he knows that," Miller says, "but he can't play it."
Miller decided to devise his next game based on his son's interests. He noticed Raphael spent most of his time at arcades playing coin-pusher games. So one day, Miller grabbed some chunky, wooden pieces from his 500-plus board game collection and drew a square on a piece of paper so he and his son could play their own head-to-head version.
But the idea didn't really take off until Miller saw a clip of battling rhinoceros beetles during a Japanese pro-wrestling match he was watching.
"It cuts to this image of two big, chonky beetles fighting each other on a log," he says. "I'm like, 'What is this?' So I proceeded to fall down a rabbit hole of learning all about Japanese rhinoceros beetles."
After pitching Kabuto Sumo at pre-pandemic board game conventions, Miller landed a publisher. Acclaimed illustrator Kwanchai Moriya ended up reaching out and offering to contribute art, due to his own childhood fascination with "chonky beetles."
But each part of Kabuto Sumo—even Moriya's detailed, slyly cutesy designs—had to be approved by Raphael.
"I actually asked his permission to share it with everyone else," he says. "He was very excited about other people playing his game."
What game are you really into right now? "With COVID limiting face-to-face game time lately, I've been playing a lot of digital card games. Logged a lot of hours on Slay the Spire, Monster Train and Griftlands specifically."