Friday 23 June 2023

boardgaming in photos: Regicide, Dancing Queen, Santiago

I recently bought Regicide (2nd edition). This was one of my favourite games from last year. In this edition, the box is made of plastic, and the design is similar to that of my Dancing Queen. I like it! Great minds think alike! Regicide is a game you can play with just a regular deck of poker cards, so it is not absolutely necessary to buy a copy in order to play. However I greatly admire the game design, so when stocked them, I quickly ordered a copy. 

The art is fantastic. In this edition the artwork of the diamonds has been updated. They are now bards instead of wizards. My wife and I gave Regicide a go. Her first time, my third. We managed to get to the final boss. We were defeated because we didn't have enough cards. This was the furthest I have ever managed to get. Previously when I played with Allen and Han we didn't get this far. I need to work harder to finally beat this game. 

Dancing Queen found yet another overseas buyer, this time from Vietnam. He bought two card games from Malaysia, Dancing Queen and Politiko. Politiko is a game which pokes fun at Malaysian politics. 

My BNI business community organised a major event on 6 Jun 2023. On the day itself we needed to reach the venue by 5:30am, so a few of us stayed at a hotel nearby the night before. I brought some games, and we played in the evening. This felt like a school graduation trip. I taught Alex and Rocky Dancing Queen. We played a number of my prototypes too. 

My old friend Kooi Khew visited from Singapore, and brought along his three kids. We played Halli Galli, a game that works for all ages. His children are 14, 12 and 6, and it's not easy to find games which suit all these ages (plus the two of us ahem mature age boys). The youngest at 6 was certainly at a disadvantage. 

We later played Santiago. I hadn't played for a while and had forgotten many of the procedures. Teaching the game was a struggle as I stumbled through the rulebook and my own reference sheet. Thankfully the game itself wasn't too complex. Once we completed a round, the process became much clearer and everything ran smoothly from there on. 

My copy of Santiago is an older edition. This is out of print now. There is a newer edition, and I only realised it when I recorded my play on I don't quite like the artwork of the new edition. I like the simpler artwork in the old edition. Nostalgia factor? 

Jing Shen is only six, so he was certainly at a disadvantage when playing against adults. But he was a good sport and enjoyed himself. Kooi Khew and I gave him tips and alerted him of risky moves. In the end our scores were close, within a range of about 10. 

Friday 16 June 2023

Snow White and playtesting

My first physically published game (self-published), Dancing Queen, was released at the end of 2022. Publishing my own game was kind of a bucket list thing. My motivation for creating games is to bring joy to people. I want to bring something fresh and different to players. I want to create happy moments and novel experiences. Self-publishing a game in itself is not exactly an achievement. Anyone with some spare cash can do it. Anyone can be a game designer. If by publishing my game I am only giving myself self-satisfaction, and not many people actually buy or play my game, and I end up with many unwanted copies at home, then I'm just wasting time, money and resources. For the sake of stroking my ego. I don't want to be doing this, so when I contemplated getting into game design and publishing, I thought hard and deep about how should I be doing all this. 

For many years I have been just a consumer in the boardgame hobby. I was a user. I was not in the industry. I knew if I wanted to get into the industry, it wouldn't be simple. Making game design or game publishing a livelihood is not easy. They say making a small fortune from boardgames is easy - when you start with a big fortune. It is perfectly fine to enjoy the hobby as a consumer. Why go into designing and publishing? Why am I trying to turn a not-too-costly hobby into an expensive one? Game designing and publishing is a business. It should not be an expensive hobby. I told myself if I wanted to go into this, it cannot be just burning money. Bringing joy to people is noble, but if I'm burning money to do this, I'm doing it wrong. 

Now my plan is for five years I want to be releasing one game per year. I don't expect to make much money, but I want to make sure I'm not throwing money into a bottomless pit. I want to see some results, so that I can prove to myself that I am capable of doing this. If I'm not as good as I think, I should go back to just being a consumer. That's not a problem. 

Now I have set up Cili Padi Games and published Dancing Queen. It is getting good praise. It achieved targets I set for myself (admittedly not very high targets). So now I am allowing myself to move on to the next game project. I want to do a game a year because I need to improve by doing. My next project will be Snow White and the Eleven Dwarfs


The artwork I use for my prototype is all from the internet. I don't have any of the copyrights. I will need to look for a professional artist to do my own art. I quite like the style of these dwarfs. I'm asking Edwin (who did Dancing Queen) to help me with my next project. 

Dancing Queen is a rather niche game. It is a filler for gamers, which is already an oxymoron. Economically, publishing and marketing the game is challenging. If I want to sell more copies of my game, I probably should make something which appeals to a wider audience. Dancing Queen is not easy for casual players to learn by themselves. Seasoned gamers will appreciate the nuances, but a clever filler is not something they plan gaming sessions around. 

Snow White is a very different beast from Dancing Queen. It is not a strictly 2-player game. Instead, its minimum player count is 7. It works well for casual players, but it is still a niche game, because of this unusual player count. Most game publishers don't want to publish this kind of game. They prefer games which support 2 to 5 players. Minimum 7 makes a game harder to bring to the table. Sometimes I wonder why I am punishing myself like this. My game publishing choices are making life difficult for myself. 

I have playtested Snow White many times, and I am surprised at how well received it is. Recently I-van Yee did an event at Invictus Forge, inviting his students to experience locally designed games. I brought some of my prototypes. It was a good opportunity for playtesting. 

I had a few variants which I had not been able to test, because it was difficult to arrange such a large group of players. Finally I was now able to test the Evil Queen variant. In the basic game, there are two factions, Snow White being one, and the dwarfs the other. When the Queen is introduced, she becomes the new third faction. In the basic game, Snow White wins by guessing the #1 dwarf correctly. If she guesses wrong, the dwarfs win. The dwarfs win by guessing the number of the dwarf who overslept. If they guess wrong, Snow White wins. There is always only one chance for anyone to make a guess, because the outcome of the guess determines who wins, and the game ends. 

When the Queen is introduced, she stays hidden among the dwarfs to sow confusion. She wins when Snow White or the dwarfs make a wrong guess. Snow White and the dwarfs can only win by making correct guesses. If the other party makes a wrong guess, it is the Queen who wins instead. 

I was worried whether the Queen mechanism would make the game too difficult for Snow White and the dwarfs. Without lies and a secret saboteur, the game is already challenging. There is a lot of information to process. Add on some pieces of data which might be false, all the deductions and calculations can be totally thrown off. As I watched the students play, I had a nagging feeling I was right to worry. Surprisingly, the dwarfs made a correct guess and won. One dwarf loudly declared that this missing dwarf must be a 5 or a 7. Another said it couldn't be a 5. Yet another said she was positive it was a 2. She was adamant so the rest decided to let her take the guess. I had thought she would be wrong because she was the only one thinking it was a 2. She turned out to be right. They all cheered happily. It was a wonderful feeling seeing people enjoy my game. 

Many players used their phones to take notes when playing Snow White.

This is another design of mine - Romeo & Juliet. This is a secret identity team game. Team Romance wants to bring Romeo and Juliet together. Team Duty wants to break them up and force Juliet to marry Count Paris. After the game one of the young gentlemen came up to me to say he really liked the game. That was a touching moment. 

Thank you boys and girls for playing my games. 

27 May 2023, Jon organised a TTGDMY playtesting session in Kajang. I finally managed to playtest Chee Kong's game In a Blissful World. He has spent a lot of time and energy on this design. The vision he has in mind is a deck of cards with which you can play many different games. In a Blissful World is just one of the games. The card deck itself is called Zodiac Go. When working on the game, Chee Kong had asked me for feedback on the art, so I had seen the game before. Although this was my first time playing the game, it already felt somewhat familiar. 

The cards have three characteristics. Firstly, they are numbered 1 to 12, each represented by one of the Chinese Zodiac signs. There are also in one of five elements - metal, wood, water, fire, earth. Finally they come in two polarities, yin and yang. I have seen the art before on my phone. Now that I get to see the physical cards, I find they look better in person. 

There is no cat in the Chinese Zodiac. In this game the cats are jokers. 

You don't directly draw cards from the decks. You pick from the 16 cards in the market. 

The game is like rummy. You play melds. There are three types of melds, the straights, the same kinds and the yin-yang pairs. This meld on the left is a yin-yang pair - metal (yellow) mouse but one yin (black background) and one yang (white background). 

This is Haireey's latest game, Waris Nenek (Grandma's heir). Grandma is dying and all the relatives are assembled at the old house hoping to get some inheritance. Most of these family members are possessed by demons. Most players play these demons, and one player plays the bomoh (witch doctor), who tries to protect the true heir. The demons need to find the true heir within 10 rounds. The first demon to do so wins. However if you guess wrong, you are out of the game. The bomoh needs to keep the true heir safe until the end of Round 10 to win.  

These are the 12 characters in the game. The demons may question the bomoh about characteristics of the heir. The bomoh may lie. The demons individually need to work out which answers are lies and which are truths. They rely on these answers to work out who the heir is. 

Demons have some character cards in hand. They help eliminate the possibilities. The character card of the heir is in the hands of the bomoh. 

This is Jon's game, Inspector's Choice. Every player has a score card, money, and two tokens - jail and release.  

When the game starts you draw a secret mission telling you the kind of feature you are supporting. In my case I drew glasses. Every time a suspect wearing glasses is freed, I earn one point. However if a suspect wearing glasses is jailed I lose a point. 

On the left there is one very specific person shown. If this specific person is freed, I earn 5 points. 

Every turn one person will play the inspector, and the others will try to bribe him. Five suspects are put in a line-up. The inspector will announce who he intends to jail (red token) and who to free (green). This is just the initial intention and it is not the final decision. All other players may now openly bribe the inspector, trying to influence his decision to jail or to free someone else. After all the bribes are offered, the inspector makes the final decisions. 

This is a game in which you need to guess your opponents' secret mission, in order to be able to effectively minimise helping them score points and also to force them to lose points. I found this quite interesting. 

This is Yi Jian's micro RPG, My Dishonourable Brother, inspired by the Lee Kwan Yew family saga in Singapore. In this game, the elderly father has just passed away, and the siblings find out that many of the properties left behind have not be managed well. They start accusing one another of mishandling. This is a game where you can be creative and exercise your eloquence. 

All the best to Malaysian game designers! 

Friday 9 June 2023


The Game

Zoorena is a Malaysian local game, designed by Mike Ooi, who focuses on making games with broad appeal.  Zoorena is a card game which comes in a small package. There are 10 types of fighting beasts in the game. You challenge one another to battles. If you win, you score points by claiming your opponent's beast card. The stronger the defeated beast, the more points it is worth. The game ends when the deck runs out or when one player reaches 5 trophies. The highest scorer wins. 

Zoorena is a game for 3 to 8 players. You start the game by having everyone draw a card. You will always maintain having one card in hand. That's your beast. On your turn you only perform one action. The most basic thing you can do is to challenge another player to a battle. You compare your beasts privately, and the higher numbered beast defeats the other one. The winner claims the loser's card as a trophy and places it before him face-up. The loser then draws a card to replenish his hand, because you must always have one card in hand. Simple. 

Instead of a one-on-one battle, you may gather two or more people to gang up on one opponent. The attackers add up their strengths, so it is often hard for the defender to win. However even if the defender is defeated, only one of the attackers will benefit, because the defender has only one card to surrender. The weakest attacker gets to claim the card as his trophy. The rest get nothing, other than the satisfaction of having won an unfair fight. 

If you don't feel like attacking, you have other options too. You can discard your beast and use its special ability. Only some beasts can be used this way. You can also discard your beast in order to draw a new one. Finally, you can choose to do nothing. Sometimes that's the wise thing to do. 

The basic rules are simple. The key to the game is the special abilities of the ten types of beasts. They are numbered 1 to 10, which seems like a big gap. The strongest beast is ten times better than the weakest. However once the special abilities are taken into account, the comparison is not so straight-forward anymore. Also since you can decide to gang up on a player, the 10's are not as invincible as you think. 

The 1's cannot attack, but they defeat anyone attacking them. They are the best defenders. They can also create confusion. Let's say a 6 attacks a 1, and loses. The 6 is revealed, and you may then think the winner is a 7 or above. If you confidently attack using your 10, believing you will win even if the defender is a 10 (attackers win ties), you will lose your precious 10 to the lowly 1. 

This 4 above is Hang Tuah, named after the Malaysian folk hero. His special ability is if he participates in a joint attack and wins, he has the opportunity to switch to a different beast. 

10 may be the strongest, but Hannibal cannot win trophies. The loser's beast is discarded instead. So it's actually rather useless. There's a card which forces the loser to discard a trophy. That one is a scarier card. 

The Play

I played Zoorena for the first time at the local game designers showcase event at Vivae Board Game Cafe. The designer himself taught the game. We did a 4-player game. The game moves at a brisk pace. Being the first game, it takes a bit more time to read the card text and to understand the implications. You do need to appreciate the card powers and understand how they interact to fully enjoy the game. 

This is a 4-player game in progress. The face-up cards on the tables are the beasts we have defeated and claimed as trophies. They are open information so everyone knows who is closest to five trophies and who has most points. The leading player has a big fat target painted on him. 

This is a game in which you target specific people to attack. You also gather multiple people to attack one person. If you are not very comfortable with these, the game may not work for you. Still, victory is individual. Alliances are temporary and they are just for convenience. You don't have true allies. Collaboration only works when you think you'll get something out of it. This is a game with some politicking, since there are negotiations, alliances and persuasion. You have to appear weak and divert attention to your opponents. 

The Thoughts

Zoorena is a light game. It's the type that's suitable for boardgame cafes - casual, easy to learn, plenty of player interaction. It is almost a party game. I imagine it can get pretty rowdy. Part of it is inspired by Love Letter. Guessing your opponents' cards is an element I like. There's also the politicking and player manipulation aspect which encourages player interaction. 

It's a small package that fits in your hand. Only 50 game cards and 4 rules and reference cards.