PORTLAND NEEDS WILLAMETTE WEEK.
NOW WILLAMETTE WEEK NEEDS YOU.

The need for strong, independent local journalism
is more urgent than ever. Please support the city we
love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.

Designer Tony Miller’s New Game Involves Sumo Wrestling Beetles, but It’s Really All About Connecting With His Young Son

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.

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."

Twogether Studios Wants to Make Role-Playing Games Even Your Dad Can Play

Portland Gamecraft's Upcoming Strategy Game Has All the Makings of a Huge Hit

Mt Caz Ranger Clubhouse Is an Artist Collective in Corvallis That's Created Everything From Poetry Games to Treasure Hunts Meant to Be Played at Enchanted Forest

Louie Mantia Updates Centuries-Old Japanese Playing Cards With Stunning Modern Designs

Designer Tony Miller's New Game Involves Sumo Wrestling Beetles, but It's Really All About Connecting With His Young Son

Brandon Dixon's Swordsfall Is an Afropunk Take on Dungeons & Dragons

Ami Baio's Card Games Are About Connection, Not Necessarily Competition

Pomegranate Has Been Making Artful Games and Puzzles Since the '60s. But 2020 Is the Year It Truly Blew Up.

It Took a While, but the Founders of Crafty Games' Lifelong Love of Role-Playing Games Is Finally Paying Off

Play Escape From Portland, a Board Game From Your Friends at Willamette Week!