Tuesday 30 May 2023

Gratitude: Dancing Queen

My journey with Dancing Queen started in January 2021, more than 2 years ago. At the time I had started exploring game design a little more seriously. I came across a game design contest on BoardGameGeek.com, and the premise intrigued me - contestants could only use 9 cards to design a game. I am a big fan of Love Letter, and this 9-card challenge was a good opportunity to test myself. Dancing Queen went on to win the Best Overall Game in June. It was a huge encouragement for me. 

After winning the competition, I approached a few publishers which do card games and microgames. Unfortunately I didn't get any interest. I had been considering game publishing, even before Dancing Queen. I hadn't intended to make Dancing Queen my first published game, because it is in an unusual niche. It is a microgame, but a thinky one. Not really something for casual gamers or non-gamers. In Malaysia, light and casual games will probably do better. It was the first placing in the contest that changed my mind. I knew I would be looking at a niche market, but I wanted to make a game that I am confident about. 

So in early 2022 I started working on self-publishing Dancing Queen. Now I was new in game design (in fact, I still am), but I was even newer in game publishing. There was much more I needed to learn. I ran into many difficulties, despite the game being just 25 cards in a tiny box. Yet the journey was a joyous and fulfilling one. Dancing Queen was released at the end of 2022. 

Now I sell the game at my own website - Cili Padi Games. I sell it through local Malaysian retailers too. Wai Yan from BoardGameCafe.biz regularly helps me promote Dancing Queen, and I am immensely grateful for that. She often takes photos with the customers who buy my game. It is a wonderful feeling seeing complete strangers holding a copy of my game in their hands. As a creator, what is most rewarding is bringing smiles to people. Thank you for your support! 

Friday 26 May 2023

Beethoven vs Newton in 5th place


I submitted my design Beethoven vs Newton to the BoardGameGeek 2023 2-player print-and-play game design contest. The results came out recently and it placed fifth under the Overall Best Game category. This is a design I have spent a fair bit of time on, going through many iterations and playtests. I'm glad it is being appreciated. It won placements under a number of other categories too, ranging from 7th to 20th, e.g. for Best Rulebook, Best Mechanism, Best Date Night Game, Best Gateway Game. It did not do as well in the specialised categories, but I'm pleased it did best in the Best Overall Game category. It means a lot to me because that means as an overall package it is well liked. 

Results in full: link 

Game details, downloadable rules and print-and-play components: link

Monday 22 May 2023

Oriental Daily Interview

The Malaysian Oriental Daily published an interview (in Chinese) of me on Sun 21 May 2023. The journalist contacted me a few weeks ago and wanted to interview me about game design. I showed her quite a number of my prototypes. I didn't know they were going to publish a video too, and I spoke my very local Mandarin. Had I known, I would have switched to a more proper Mandarin. Well, I guess I can say I am being authentic.  

Friday 19 May 2023

boardgaming in photos: Race for the Galaxy, Machi Koro, Star Realms


Younger daughter Chen Rui once saw me play Race for the Galaxy on my iPad and expressed interest. Since then I kept reminding myself to find an opportunity to teach her the game. By now she probably isn't all that keen. She was just curious then. I was just looking for an excuse to get her to play games with me. 

My copy of Race for the Galaxy includes three expansions, so the card deck is huge. In order to teach Chen Rui to play, I removed all cards from the expansions. The base game already has many cards, many more than the average card game. It is complicated enough. Better not overwhelm her. I had not played the physical game for a long time. I used to play this regularly with my wife Michelle when the children were young. That was before they went to primary school, ages ago. Now that I played the physical game again, it was full of nostalgia. Nowadays I play Race for the Galaxy only on the iPad, against AI's. 

I let Chen Rui use the light blue player cards. In Race for the Galaxy every player gets a set of player cards. I use green. Michelle used to play red. 

Playing the physical copy feels different from playing the digital version. On the iPad, the tempo is fast, and I am often lazy to think too much. I don't spend much effort to analyse and to think. I must admit I'm a little sloppy. The tempo in the physical game is slower, and I get to smell the roses a bit more. I am a bit more relaxed and take more time to consider my options. It is a nice change of pace. 

Race for the Galaxy has a second and a third expansion arc. Expansions from different arcs cannot be mixed. I bought expansions in the second arc, but not the third. By the time I got to the second arc, Michelle and I no longer played the game regularly. We did play the second arc, and based on those games we played, I liked the first arc better. When the third arc came out, I read about it but never bought it. If it ever gets released in the digital version I would buy it and give it a go. 

The digital version is pretty good. When I play, I normally play two AI opponents. My iPad is old and if I add a third AI, it can't handle the additional computing and often crashes. When I boot up the game on the iPad, I can play 7 or 8 games in one breath, and it takes maybe 45 minutes or so. I learned a few tricks from the AI's. 

Chen Rui suggested Machi Koro. When my daughters were younger, the three of us often played Machi Koro. We all liked it. It had been a while since we played. Chen Rui and I tried playing just the base game, but using the market mechanism introduced in the expansions. I prefer having the market mechanism, but had not tried it with the base game. I wasn't sure whether it would work well. After trying it out, we concluded that it worked just fine. 

In the base game we only needed to build four landmarks. That felt rather short. I was too used to needing to build six landmarks. 

In the base game, normally all the buildings are sorted and laid out, and made available to everyone at all times. This is just like Dominion. If you have in mind a particular strategy, you can keep at it and buy as many of the buildings needed as you want. The only thing stopping you is other players buying what you want. So in the base game it is easier to execute planned strategies. 

With the market mechanism, there will only be 10 types of buildings available at any time. Buildings are drawn from a facedown deck. During set up you draw them and add them to the market until you have 10 types. If you draw a building which already exists, you group the similar cards. Whenever anyone buys the last one of any particular building, you draw a new building from the deck, until you reach 10 types. When using this market mechanism, there may be only one copy of a particular building you want. It becomes much harder to execute any perfect strategy. You need to adapt to the situation in the market. At the same time you need to react to your opponents' strategies. 

I bought many convenience stores (green #4 building). If I rolled a 4 I would make $12. I would stick to rolling one die for a while. Chen Rui was starting to roll two dice, so my mines (blue #9) could help me. Blue buildings activate on all players' rolls. 

Later Chen Rui and I asked elder daughter Shee Yun whether she wanted to join us. We played with the first expansion, which has boats. I asked them to pose for a photo, to reenact one taken seven years ago.  

April 2023

June 2016

We hear this all the time - "kids grow up so quickly!"  Now both my children have completed secondary school. The three of us don't game together as much as we used to, but it is still great fun when we have our sessions. 

This particular game of Star Realms was rather extreme. My life points (actually it's called Authority) went all the way to 109. Normally players start with 50, and your goal is to reduce your opponent's life points to 0. I more than doubled my life points because I had many blue cards in my deck. 

I am still regularly playing Star Realms and Ascension on my phone, more or less daily. I have almost all the expansions. I have played Ascension for more than 10 years, and Star Realms more than 8 years. 1500+ plays of Ascension, and 1100+ for Star Realms. I should promote them a bit since they've given me so much joy. Go buy them! 

Friday 12 May 2023


The Game

SCOUT is a game from Japan, designed by Kei Kajino. The first edition was released in 2019. In 2022 it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, the German Game of the Year. It is a card game. Most people would categorise it as a climbing game. However it is quite different from the typical climbing game. I find it highly innovative and it would be a shame to imagine it as just another climbing game. 

The game has a couple of unusual twists. I have read about it before, but at the time wasn't particularly interested in giving it a go. One twist is cards have two ends and they are different (hey, just like Dancing Queen!) You can choose which end you want to use. A second twist is you cannot rearrange your hand, just like in Bohnanza. Most people who review the game mention these two quirks, but by only explaining these two, it is far from sufficient to give an idea of what the game is like. 

A game is played over several rounds. Each round you will score or lose points. After a certain number of rounds, the final scores are tallied and the highest scorer wins. A round ends in two ways. Either one player plays all her cards, or she plays a combo which no one else is able to top. The former is just like most climbing games, but the latter is something very different. Typically in a climbing game if no one can top you, you just become the start player for the next run. You get to decide which kind of combo to play, and everyone must play that kind. It is an important advantage to become start player. SCOUT takes this further. If no one beats your combo, you immediately win the round. The stakes and the sense of urgency are much higher here. 

When a round starts, all cards are dealt out. When you examine your hand of cards, you already cannot rearrange them. The only choice you have at this point is whether to turn your hand of cards upside down. You don't get to make that decision for individual cards. It's all or nothing. In a sense you are getting two different starting hands and you must pick one. 

The combos in the game are simple. You have only singles, straights and same kinds. There is no concept of suit. The colours on the cards don't mean suits. When you play combos, you are not restricted to the combo type or the number of cards. As long as you can play something stronger, you're good. If the start player plays pairs, you are not restricted to play only pairs. 

Here's how the combos compare in terms of strength. Firstly, the more cards there are, the stronger the combo. Secondly, same kinds are stronger than straights. Lastly, larger numbers are stronger than smaller numbers. So 1-2-3-4 is stronger than 9-9-9. 4-4-4-4 is stronger than 1-2-3-4. 5-5-5 is stronger than 2-2-2. This feel familiar, but the fact that you can play a combo with more cards than the previous one defies tradition. 

To play cards from your hand, you can take them from anywhere, but they must be adjacent, and you cannot rearrange them. A 9-7-8-6 is not a straight, because the numbers are not in the right order. Using this photo above as an example, I can't play 5-5-5 because one of the 5's is separate from the other two. I will need to play the 7 and the 9 before these three 5's would "meet", and then I would be able to play 5-5-5. 

Playing a combo means you are beating the previous player's combo. In this case you claim all cards in her combo and put them in front of you. You will score 1 point each for these cards. If you are unable to play a combo, or decide not to, you must take one card from the previous player's combo and put it into your hand. After you select the card, you may turn it upside down before putting it into your hand. Also you may choose any position to insert it. Now this can be a very powerful move, helping you create good combos. If anyone takes a card from your combo, you will score 1 point. This is another way points are scored. 

At the start of a round everyone gets a car. This represents a single-use power. When you activate the car, you perform two actions on your turn. You first take a card from the previous player's combo, and you then play your own combo. Normally you only get to perform one action per turn. The car can be a life-saver. Whenever a player is unable to play a combo and is forced to take a card from the previous player's combo, she is effectively also weaking the combo still in play. Fewer cards = weaker. Normally when you take a card, that's already the end of your turn, so you can't immediately play a combo to beat the current combo. The car lets you do this. 

Usually when I introduce games, I don't like going into rules details. I would be regurgitating the rulebook. In the case of SCOUT, I find it necessary to explain this many aspects of the game because it really takes this much understanding of the details to be able to appreciate what it's like. Or so I hope. You might still be clueless what playing the game feels like. I encourage you to experience it yourself. 

And I'm not even done yet with explaining the game mechanisms. Just one more okay. When a round ends, everyone who is still holding cards loses 1 point per card. This is except for the winner of the round, if she wins by playing a combo no one can top. She may still have cards in hand. They cause no penalty.  

The Play

SCOUT is a combination of several unusual rules, and it is difficult to imagine what it's like without actually playing. One key difference from typical climbing games is your hand of cards can grow and can be improved. In games like Big 2 and Fight the Landlord, you have to live with what you are dealt. You plan around that from the beginning. You try to use the strong combos you can make to help you get rid of the weak cards and combos. In SCOUT you can't reorganise your hands, but you can take other players' cards and add them to your hand. 

We did a 3-player game, and the game is tense! Your power combo only needs to survive two opponent turns for you to win a round. Let's say I play 1-2-3-4-5-6. If my first opponent can't top that, he'd take one card, let's say the 6, and turn my combo to 1-2-3-4-5. That's still pretty strong, and my second opponent might not be able to top that. If the second opponent uses his car and further weakens my combo to 1-2-3-4 (taking the 5), a straight with four cards is still decent and might not be easily beaten. In SCOUT it is desirable to build strong combos and hope for winning by being undefeated. However if everyone is thinking the same, you might get into a situation of one seemingly strong combo being surprise-beaten by another even stronger combo. Sometimes you get that anxiety of how strong is strong enough. It is highly satisfying to create powerful combos. 

The need to keep beating opponents' combos is an ongoing threat. If everyone at the table collectively fails to stop one player, that ambitious combo you are building in your hand just becomes many points you have to lose. It is important to watch the number of cards your opponents have remaining. Like typical climbing games, if they have fewer cards than a combo you are about to play, you know they can't beat you. 

If I play the three 1's, and then that 6 on the left, I will end up with the straight 9-8-7-6. 

The tokens in the first row are: start player marker, car marker (once-a-round special power) and point token for other players taking cards from your combo. The numbered counters are for keeping score. 

This photo and the next are from the same game round. You can compare them. 

I played the 9-8 on the right, and then took and inserted a 4, so that I now had a combo of 3-4-5-6. If I played 7-8-9 later, I would be able to link up the 2, making a combo of 2-3-4-5-6. 

The Thoughts

There aren't many highly innovative games. I'm glad that SCOUT was nominated for the SdJ. I think innovation in game design should be encouraged. The last time I played a game which gave me a pleasant surprise like this was Regicide. That's a card game too. SCOUT is the kind of game you can play all night over snacks and drinks while chatting. It comes in a small box so it's great for trips with friends. Highly recommended! 

Monday 1 May 2023

Dancing Queen on The Opinionated Gamers

The Opinionated Gamers (OG) is a blog I have been following for many years, since their inception in 2011. The team at OG was already writing for BoardGameGeek.com well before the OG blog started. They are old timers and long-time contributors to the hobby. 

A few months ago I contacted the founder and chief editor Dale Yu, and asked whether he was interested to give Dancing Queen a go. I sent a review copy to him in the US. This is what he thought of the game: link. He calls it a "super neat 2P card game". I must say I am thrilled. It is surreal to see my own game featured at a website I have been a reader of for so many years.