Saturday 31 December 2022

My 2022

I had a new role in 2022. I am now a game publisher, with the release of Dancing Queen. I created my own brand and business entity - Cili Padi Games. Dancing Queen was a project I worked on for most of this year, starting in January. It was a fun ride getting a game from completion of design to actual publishing. This is just the first step. There is still much work ahead to promote and market the game. I am grateful to the many friends who have supported Dancing Queen.

Despite the pandemic going into an endemic stage and people now coming out to meet friends just like before the pandemic, this year I have not been playing more games than last year. Work has been busy. And it’s work I love. I’ve been spending time on Dancing Queen. I’m not actually going to many meet-ups.

One thing I have developed this year is a three-day training programme under Play With Purpose, to train our teachers to be able to teach the HABA Learning Program, a learning programme using boardgames designed for children aged 4 to 7. It was satisfying to work with teachers who are passionate about developing children. As a long-time gamer I think of HABA children games as very easy. I took for granted that any adult would be able to learn and teach them without issue. Through conducting the training I realised that even if experienced teachers need some time to get familiar with children boardgames. It is something I had taken for granted. It is rewarding to see other teachers I trained now guiding children to play and have fun. I strongly believe play is an important part of growth and development. And this is not just for kids. Adults love to play too, and we learn, understand and remember better when we have a immersive experience. So in my full time work as a trainer, this year I created a boardgame-based learning activity, called Rivers and Lakes. It is an activity which supports up to 100 participants, and the setting is Hong Kong gangs in the 1990’s. It is great fun to incorporate my hobby into my work.

The game which stands out for me in 2022 is Regicide, a cooperative card game which can be played using a standard set of playing cards. Such a clever design and a challenging one to beat too.

I remember Imperial Steam fondly too, a tough and heavy game which keeps you on your toes. You need to plan ahead well to ensure your train company stays competitive till the end.

Pandemic Legacy Season 0 was a memorable experience with my family. I did the previous two campaigns with the same group of friends. It was my first time playing a Pandemic Legacy game with my family. We have played other Pandemic games before. Although the legacy game format is no longer particularly novel by now, the whole campaign was still great fun. We had our crime boss in Shanghai, our secret base in Moscow the heart of enemy territory, and Michelle had her lethal gunbrella taking out enemy spies.

I participated in the Anigames convention in December, showcasing and selling Dancing Queen. I had great fun teaching my game and watching people play it.

One highlight of the year was meeting the designer of Love Letter, Mr Seiji Kanai, in Tokyo. I got my copy of Love Letter signed and I was thrilled to meet the creator of one of my favourite games.

In 2023 I will continue to work on game design. I need to work on marketing Dancing Queen (if you know of friends who might like it please recommend it to them). Other than this I have been working on multiple game design projects, playtesting prototypes and planning what my next project will be. This is an interesting stage for me - I’m transitioning from just playing and writing about boardgames to also creating them. Thank you for coming along on this journey. Happy New Year and may your coming year be filled with many happy gaming moments.

Sunday 18 December 2022


The Game

Municipium is a 2008 game from Reiner Knizia. It was published by Valley Games, which had a bit of reputation during its days. They managed to secure rights to two long out-of-print classics, and the gamer community was lucky to see these back in print. One of the games was Die Macher, and the other Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. Valley Games often used art and design from Mike Doyle. I used to follow his blog. His style was unconventional. Some of the games with his design work had some useability concerns, but the art was bold and fresh. 

The copy of Municipium I bought was a second hand copy. I saw someone selling it on Facebook and decided to get it on a whim. This is an out-of-print game and not easy to come by. I later realised that Allen my regular gaming buddy who lives a 5-minute drive away from me actually has a copy. I had completely forgotten that. Anyway, I'm happy to own this rare game from Knizia. 

The setting in Municipium is a colonial town of the great Roman Empire. The town is developed and administered following the Roman governmental template, which means you need to have a temple, a bath and other such buildings that civilised people have. Players are powerful families in town, vying for influence. You send your family members to mingle with folks at the various buildings, hoping to gain influence over the citizenry. There are four classes of citizens (in four different colours) and you need to charm all of them. Whenever you collect a set of citizens in four different colours, you swap them for a coin. Whoever is first to collect his fifth coin wins the game. 

There are 7 buildings on the board. The temple is at the centre. The other six surround it and are linked by a circular path. The temple is accessible via two of the buildings. Your family members travel along the paths to the various buildings. Every player has exactly 7 family members. What you do on your turn is simple: take two steps and play a card. You may get one family member to take two steps, or you may ask two family members to each take one step. As for playing a card, you either draw one from the common draw deck to play immediately, or you play one of your three personal cards. Personal cards are single-use, so you better save them for when they are most effective. Cards in the game have a number of different effects, e.g. letting you use the power of a building where you have more family members than everyone else. 

One card effect is advancing the praefect, i.e. the large white pawn above. The praefect always moves one step clockwise along the circle of buildings. Whenever he stops, he gives out a favour token to whoever has the most family members at the building. Favour tokens are just like citizens, except they are jokers and can be treated as any colour. 

Every building is associated with one of the four citizen colours. Whenever citizens of a particular colour are added, they must go to a building of that colour. Once a building has three citizens, it is "harvest" time. Whoever has the most family members gets to claim two of the citizens. The player with the second most family members gets the third citizen. Generally this is how you collect citizens. 

You will always be competing to have the most family members at as many buildings as possible. You need this to win citizens and also to trigger the building powers. The temple at the centre is for tiebreaking. When the game starts, the tiebreaker priority is set based on family members at the temple. Once the game gets going, this priority is only updated when the temple power is triggered. Ties do happen frequently, so it is often important to fight at the temple. OK that sounds wrong and blasphemous. 

These are the personal cards. Everyone gets the same three cards. They are generally more powerful so use them wisely. 

When your family member wears a crown he has the strength of two family members. One of the buildings crown your family members. This is a form of investment. If you invest early in strengthening your family members, it can give you a significant advantage for the rest of the game. 

Once you have a set of four citizens, you must trade them in for one coin. The winning condition is 5 coins. 

The Play

When I first read the rules the game felt a little complicated. Each building has a different power. There are a few situations that can be triggered by player actions and card effects, which need to be handled in specific ways. There are quite a few different card powers too. However once I started playing, I found the game pretty straight-forward. It's just move two steps and play a card. 

Municipium is at its core an area majority game. You compete to have the most family members at the various buildings at the right time, i.e. when the building powers are being triggered, and when there are enough citizens to get distributed. Everyone only has seven family members. If you want to be strong in some buildings, you will be weak in others. Priorities priorities priorities. 

The praefect moves in a somewhat predictable manner, so players naturally gravitate towards competing at the next building he will visit. This is a tactical aspect of the game. The game has both strategic and tactical elements, and you can't ignore either. You need to worry about your overall board position because it's important for your general success. Yet you must not neglect the small tactical wins because they do add up. 

The Thoughts

Municipium was never particularly popular. It is a medium weight game. I think the lack of popularity is partly because it is in an awkward niche. It is not simple and welcoming enough to appeal to people who like light and casual games, and it is not the kind of heavy Eurogame that attracts the hardcore Eurogamers. The artwork probably detracted from its appeal. At first glance the board looks rather dull. I find it a game with character. The building powers are interesting and combine to create a coherent and unique experience. They are not just random powers thrown together to create a problem for players to solve. You can make clever combos from building powers. I always enjoy games that provide opportunities for smart play. This is a game with high player interaction. 

I consider myself lucky to land a copy of Municipium


Now that my own game Dancing Queen is released, I sometimes receive Paypal notifications about incoming payments. One recent transaction puzzled me. The amount wasn't right. I checked my order sheet and there was no such game order. Only when I checked the transaction details on Paypal I realised this was not an order at all. It was a long-time reader supporting me and buying me coffee. I have been blogging for about 15 years now, and it has always been just sharing my personal journey. Nothing particularly ambitious. It is always rewarding to know that I have brought joy and useful information to others. Thank you to all who have been supporting me and to Bay-Wei Chang! 

Sunday 11 December 2022

Dancing Queen is released!

I must admit it was an exciting moment when I held my first physically published game in my hand. This project to turn Dancing Queen into a physical game started in Jan 2022, which means it took close to a year to get to this point. The game design was completed in 2021 and the game mechanisms did not change. However turning a free, amateur print-and-play game into a professional product still required much time and energy. This small box that fits snugly in my hand is a culmination of two years of hard work and heart work. 

I considered getting the game produced in China, but eventually decided to get a local friend to print it for me. Nicholas runs a printing factory and is not a specialised game manufacturer. Both he and I had a lot to learn about mass producing a hobbyist game. We certainly encountered many challenges and we had to be creative in solving all sorts of problems. The game box is custom made and is not based on any existing box template that Nicholas has. He created a die cut mold specifically for Dancing Queen

I intentionally went with a cigarette-like box because I felt naughty. A real cigarette box does not actually look like this. I converted Dancing Queen into a pure card game because I wanted it to be easy to carry around. I wanted it to fit inside a shirt pocket or a handbag. 

My production cost is high. I use PVC cards. They are strong and waterproof. The colours look vibrant. My cards are all die cut as a whole, as opposed to a two-step process of cutting the straight edges then cutting away the corners. Being die cut means better quality rounded corners. It also means a higher production cost. 

The art went through multiple rounds of experimentation and adjustment. I did a market survey before deciding on the Japanese comic style. Among the three art concepts, it was actually my third choice. However I decided to follow what the market wanted. A marketable product is made for the buyer, not the seller. Now that I have been working with this Japanese comic style art for some time, I can no longer imagine Dancing Queen having any other art. 

These two above are the card backs of the reference cards. Each player gets one set of four reference cards. One player gets the cards with the red backs, the other the blue backs. 

Four reference cards combine to create a reference sheet. Every row represents one card in the game. The left half shows the girl side power, and the right half shows the boy side power. This reference sheet is not just meant for new players. Veterans will find this useful too. They will be able to better guess their opponents' cards, and they can look up this reference sheet to check exactly how many points their opponents will score. 
The rulebook is in full colour. I didn't want a black and white rulebook.

One thing that I still need time to get used to is the card names. In the physical version all card names have been changed to become song names. I like this. The original names are easier to remember, but they are a mess of unrelated keywords and phrases. I like that now I have 18 songs I can sing whenever I win with a particular card. I love singing Dancing Queen at my opponent while doing a little dance. At one playtest session, I observed my playtester unconsciously singing a song in the game. Once I heard a playtester hum Never Gonna Give You Up while reading a card. I thought oh no he just gave his card away. I later found out that he didn't actually have that card. It was just that the whole game gave him the vibes which made him hum the song. When I told him there was this song in the game he was tickled. 

Assembling the game was quite a bit of work. I was fortunate that IMU, a local medical university, was helping their students look for short term (two-week) internships at the time I needed to do game assembling. I offered two internship slots and got myself two 2nd year medical students. They helped me with some of my training work, and also with assembling Dancing Queen. They were a great help. They were meticulous, careful and proactive. Being able to work on boardgames on an internship is probably a rare thing. They are likely the only two who had this experience this year among their course mates. I gave them both a copy of the game as a souvenir. 

I like this Cili Padi Games logo. Cili Padi Games is the brand I am trying to build for my game designs. I tend to like simple logos. Initially I wanted to do a logo which looks like a traditional Chinese stamp. I created a rough sketch and asked Benz to create a logo for me based on that. After a few rounds of experimenting, I settled with this logo. I abandoned the stamp idea, and used this half a taiji icon. Half a taiji in red looks like a chili, which is perfect for the brand name. 

One of the reasons behind this brand name is I wanted something with a Malaysian flavour, thus using the Malay word "cili padi" (mini chili). I want to design games which are simple yet clever and packs a punch. 

My wife Michelle and younger daughter Chen Rui helped me with some assembly. There are many steps. I sleeve every single card. I have a total of 7500 cards to sleeve. After sleeving cards, I have to pick the 25 cards from their respective stacks. The printing house does not sort the cards for me. 7 out of 25 of the cards are the same - the trophies. That reduces my work a little, but there is still a lot to handle. All this is done manually, not using machines. 

One tiring piece of work is folding the rulebook. My rulebook is a long thin sheet of paper which needs to be folded 8 times. Folding this requires high precision and concentration. I have to think through the whole process and define every step. This is tougher work than I expected. 

When I received the boxes, they were not fully formed. They were still flat, so that they were easier to transport. I had to open them up then seal the bottom before putting the cards and rules in. Once this is done, there is still one last step - shrink wrapping. When I published my book two years ago I had bought the equipment needed for shrink wrapping. So this time I only needed to buy the plastic sleeves of the right size. 

Front cover

Back of the box

We changed the notation on the cards. In the print-and-play version, I used mostly icons. I found that not everyone understood the icons well. So Edwin helped to change the notation to a combination of text and icons. The text describes the power of the card, and the icons indicate the point values under different situations. 

One thematic change we made was the disco ball. It was previously a microphone.  

You can buy Dancing Queen at

Saturday 19 November 2022

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

The Game

Ares Expedition is the card game version of Terraforming Mars, and this is a statement you can take literally. It is basically Terraforming Mars with the board play removed. You are mega corporations participating in the Mars terraforming project. You need to create oceans, raise the temperature and increase the oxygen level. When you have done all three sufficiently, the project completes and the game ends. Whoever has scored the most points wins the game. 

Like its predecessor, Ares Expedition comes with many cards. You can almost argue that Terraforming Mars is a card game with a board. 

Every player has his own player board, for tracking production capacity and resources on hand. You start the game with a mega corporation card, which gives you some unique abilities. During the game you will play many cards before you. They will be new technologies and buildings which increase your production capacities, allow certain actions and give you victory points. 

Cards you play come in three types - red, blue and green. The number at the top left corner is the cost to play the card. Cards have various icons and they mean different things. Some abilities give you discounts for specific icons. Some abilities let you score points based on the icons. 

These are called phase cards, and they are the core engine of the game. This game mechanism is similar to that in Race for the Galaxy. Everyone has a set of five phase cards. At the start of a round, everyone secretly picks one card to play, and then you reveal your choices simultaneously. The phases which have been picked are executed in a predetermined order, and every player gets to perform the relevant actions, not just the player who picked the phase. If you are the one picking the phase, you enjoy a small bonus. One element that is different from Race for the Galaxy is you can't pick the same phase in two consecutive rounds. That creates an additional challenge. It is also additional information you can use to guess what your opponents will pick. 

Player interaction comes through guessing your opponents' intentions and making use of them. Let's say you want to play a green card and you also want to perform card actions. If you are pretty sure your opponent is going to select the perform card action phase card, you will select the play green phase card yourself. If you are right, you will be able to do both of the things you want. You also want to minimise helping your opponents. When they are dirt poor, it is probably safe to select the phase cards which allow playing cards. They probably can't afford to pay for playing cards. 

The game board is a glorified tracker keeping track of four things - the number of oceans, the temperature, the oxygen level and player income (which will be victory points as well when the game ends). The gold, silver and copper cubes are generic counters for all resources in the game. This is a clever and convenient way of tracking resources. 

As the game progresses, everyone will have more and more cards in play. Your choice of phase card can have huge repercussions. You know what your opponents can potentially do in each of the phases.  

Every time you create an ocean, you receive a small bonus, which is shown at the front of the ocean tile you flip over. The temperature and oxygen tracks are divided into four subsections. Some cards can only be played when the level is within a certain range. 

The Play

Ares Expedition at its core is a card combo game. A tableau game. You are constantly trying to make effective combos of cards you draw. You want to get cards which jive well and boost one another. When you put together a nifty combo, you try to utilise it as much as possible. All these combos exist to help you produce efficiently, and convert resources efficiently to victory points. Player interaction comes from the phase card selection mechanism. You do have to watch your opponents and try to minimise assisting them. There is a race element, and you need to get a feel of your opponents' tempo. 

You generally feel like you are building your own little empire or engine. There is little aggression. Although this is a competitive game, the setting is completing the Mars terraforming project together. Everyone is working towards the same goal. This is an efficiency game. How do you contribute more to the cause than the rest? You will use various small tactics to gain small edges. You try to build a more efficient combo than others. You adjust your strategy as you watch your opponents' engines evolve. 

Sometimes you place cubes on cards to represent specific resources as described by the card. Cubes on this Livestock card are livestock. Each cube is worth 1 victory point (VP) at game end. Whenever you increase the temperature on the surface of Mars, you get to place a cube on this card. 

This is one of the mega corporation cards. The bonus here is being able to produce plants right from the get go. When converting plants to forests, you need one fewer plant than usual. 

By late game you may have more than 20 cards in play. 

It is important to put together combinations of cards which help one another.

The Thoughts

There is a sweep of history feel in Ares Expedition. After all you are terraforming Mars over many generations, developing new technologies and completing huge projects. Despite being a card game, it is not a short game. It took me about an hour and a half. The core mechanism is different from Terraforming Mars. Ares Expedition uses the phase card mechanism. However the overall feeling is the same as Terraforming Mars. The main thing is still card combos you make to efficiently generate and convert resources to be used for the terraforming effort. I imagine if I had bought Terraforming Mars I wouldn't buy Ares Expedition, because it doesn't feel necessary to me. It is not shorter by much and doesn't deliver a significantly different experience. Take this with a pinch of salt though. For the fans of Terraforming Mars, this may be exactly what you want - a variant of a game you love. It really is Terraforming Mars presented in a card game form. 

Thursday 10 November 2022

Dancing Queen preorders closing soon


This is an exciting time for me. My first physically published game will be out soon - Dancing Queen. The whole journey took close to two years. I hadn't specifically planned for this to be my first published game. It all started with participating in the 9-Card Nanogame game design competition on I started the design process in January 2021. Dancing Queen later won the Best Overall Game. 

The actual publishing project started early in 2022. By this stage the core game mechanism did not change any more. However there was much more we had to improve and adjust. We tried out different concept art. We explored how to better communicate the card powers. We revisited and rearranged the rulebook. We still had to do more playtesting, including cold playtesting, to tease out what else were problematic and needed to be addressed. There was production planning and quality checking to do. Costing. A lot of detailed work went into the project, and I now have a much better appreciation of the intricacies of creating a good product. It is much more than just game mechanism and nice art. 

Preorders for Dancing Queen will close on 27 Nov 2022. You can preorder at Cili Padi Games. Dancing Queen will be at the Anigames convention 9 - 11 Dec 2022, which will be at GMBB Mall in the Kuala Lumpur city area. 

These are proofs using final art, and not the actual product yet. There were still some corrections and adjustment needed. The game printing is in progress now. 

I like how the colours turned out. 

We are printing on PVC - sturdy and waterproof

The rulebook is full-colour

The rulebook went through many revisions

Eventually the cards will all be die cut and have rounded edges

The whole game will be packaged into one small box that can fit into your pocket

Preorder Dancing Queen at Cili Padi Games by 27 Nov 2022! 

Saturday 29 October 2022

Jekyll vs Hyde


The Game

Jekyll vs Hyde is a two-player trick-taking card game. This is unusual. Most trick-taking games support around 4 players. I was a little doubtful whether a two-player trick-taking game would work. Julian suggested I give it a go, so I did. 

A game is played over three rounds. One player plays Dr Jekyll, and the other Mr Hyde. Mr Hyde is the second personality of Dr Jekyll who is trying to take over to become the dominant personality. Dr Jekyll, the original personality, wants to maintain control. The board is mainly a tracker to see how far Dr Jekyll has fallen. There are 10 steps on the track. If Mr Hyde can advance the pawn to the end of the track within 3 rounds, he wins and becomes the dominant personality. How far he advances at the end of a round depends on the difference in the number of tricks taken by the two players. The bigger the difference, the further the pawn moves. Mr Hyde wants to make sure one player wins many more tricks than the other, be it himself or his opponent. Dr Jekyll tries to keep things balanced, ideally each player winning 5 tricks. 

There are 25 cards in the deck. There are 7 cards each in 3 suits - green, red and purple, and there are 4 potion cards. Every round each player is dealt 10 cards, so there will be 5 cards not known to the players. Before each of the three rounds starts, players must pass cards to each other, starting with just one in the first round, and eventually passing three in the third round. You will be revealing more and more information to your opponent. 

In case you are not familiar with trick-taking - when playing a trick, every player must play a card. Whoever has played the strongest card claims all these cards just played - i.e. the trick. 

When one player starts the trick by playing a card, the opponent must play a card of the same suit if he has one. Only when he doesn't have a card of that suit he may play any other card. If the cards played are of the same suit, the larger number wins the trick. If the suits are different, the stronger suit wins. Suit strength varies from round to round, and may even change in the middle of a round. The first suit being played in a round becomes the weakest suit. When a second suit is played for the first time, it becomes the second weakest suit. The suit which has not yet been played automatically becomes the strongest suit. 

A potion card triggers the special ability of the suit of the other card played. When the purple power is triggered, the winning player claims an additional trick from his opponent. When green is triggered, the players exchange two cards. When red is triggered, the suit strengths are reset. All these powers can greatly affect the outcome of a round. 

This pawn used for tracking Dr Jekyll's fall from glory is beautiful - a bust with two faces. 

These round markers are used for keeping track of suit strengths.

For Mr Hyde to advance 10 times within three rounds, he more-or-less needs to have two rounds of 7:3 and one round of 6:4. The trick difference would be 4 + 4 + 2 = 10. 

The Play

This little game gives you a decent mental exercise. If you play Mr Hyde, one difficult decision is who do you want to position to be taking more tricks. When I started playing, I instinctively thought that it would be easier to play Mr Hyde, because I just needed to make things go out of whack. I didn't need to maintain such a strict balance. The more I played, the more I realised it wasn't that simple. 

The information glimpsed before the start of a round can be crucial. You use this to guess your opponent's hand and his intentions. The potions are crazy powerful. You must defend against them, and you must use them wisely. 

That basic tactic in trick-taking games - getting rid of one suit as soon as possible - still holds true here. This is important because you will have freedom to play what you want. 

I get a feeling that I have more control in a 2-player trick-taking game compared to a 4-player one. Because of that the game feels more strategic. However I am not really an expert in this genre. For the pros, a 4-player game is probably just as strategic as a 2-player game, because they understand trick-taking deeply and can read their opponents well. I am nowhere near that level yet. 

I like the art

We arranged the tricks we won this way, so that it was easier to keep track and count. 

When the pawn enters the red zone, the Hyde player becomes the start player for the new round. 

The Thoughts

Now that I have played Jekyll vs Hyde, I must say 2-player trick-taking games do work. If you are into trick-taking games, this is worth checking out. It is quick, clever and strategic. It is a game in which you can orchestrate killer moves by reading your opponent and planning ahead well. Since this is a 2-player game, it can also serve as a filler on game nights when you are waiting for everyone to turn up.