It’s true, we live in a golden age of board games. Put away that 10-in-1 travel board game kit you bought at the supermarket! We are spoiled for choice of type, quality and length of games available on the market now. However, most of them do come from abroad, so we want to tell you about the Malaysian-designed and Malaysia-related games that were being sold and tested at Kotakcon 2.0, an annual board games convention in KL, organised by All Aboard Community Gaming Centre.
1. Politiko (2013) by Zedeck Siew and Mun Kao
This is the breakout Malaysian card game. Loosely based on Monopoly Deal, players are vaguely familiar political parties competing for voters, and the first party to have eight voters wins. However, the game mirrors Malaysian demography as the voters are distributed according to demographics and will only join certain parties—which means that some parties may have to form alliances, albeit at a cost of needing a larger collective voting bloc to win. Players also can play scheme cards, modelled after dirty Malaysian political scenarios, to steal voters and to throw a spanner in other players’ carefully laid plans.
Writer Zedeck Siew and graphic designer Mun Kao put together the game in 2013. It was borne out of their own observations of Malaysian politics that political parties across the board treated voters as things to capture through their respective racial and demographic characteristics. The popularity of the game allowed them to launch a second reprint at Kotakcon 2.0. The second reprint contains new scheme cards and two new parties, reflecting new developments in the Malaysian political scene. (For those who own an earlier version, there is an updater pack too.)
2. The Lepak Game (2016), by Rojak Culture
The Lepak Game, by husband-and-wife team of Trixie and Steven Hanlon, is Malaysia’s answer to Cards Against Humanity (CAH), although they really had Apples to Apples in mind. In CAH, players take turns playing a prompt card, and other players respond by playing a card that’s funny. However, the cards in CAH are very US-centric, and that’s where The Lepak Game fills the gap. Steven admits, “When I played Cards Against Humanity, sometimes I don’t get why people laugh.”
Trixie and Steven created the game with the goal of social unity in mind, and have been doing play sessions for bringing communities together. Unlike CAH, with its dark sense of humour, The Lepak Game’s cards are mostly positive, to foster a sense of commonality—so it’s really chill, and lepaky. They’ve also created a few innovations, such as power cards that shift decision-making away from the central player. “We’ve got really mixed feedback from it. They either really love them, or they really hate them,” says Trixie. Based on how they sell, they might consider doing an expansion.
3. Pasaraya: Supermarket Manager (coming soon), by BoxFox Games
Pasaraya is Felix Leong’s iteration on the deck-building game genre, which was popularised originally by the award-winning game, Dominion (2008). In this genre, each player starts with a small deck of cards of their own. Throughout the game, players buy more powerful cards from a central pool to build a stronger deck.
Felix uses the metaphor of a supermarket to innovate on the popular model. Players start with a fixed number of money cards, some cheap commodities and a salesperson in their deck. On the open market are more commodities, staff to hire and demands for certain commodities. Unlike most deck-building games, where spent money goes into your discard pile (and later back into your deck), the money goes away back into supply—which means your deck becomes smaller after spending money. In terms of game mechanics, this allows you to control the size of your deck and what you draw the next turn—the epitome of “controlled luck.”
Pasaraya has been in development for two years, and uses a kid-friendly, locally illustrated art style. They’ve pledged to manufacture the game here in Malaysia! The game is currently crowdfunding for a May 2017 release, and you can pre-order by messaging the Boxfox Games FB page.
4. Spellbreaker (coming soon), by Mohd Firdaus Johari
Spellbreaker has undergone several name changes, but the mechanics have largely stayed the same. The best way I can describe it is two-letter Scrabble with cards. Firdaus tells me that he is developing it for teaching English to children as well as adults.
Unlike Scrabble, which uses single-letter tiles, cards in Spellbreaker are bigrams, or two letter combinations (for example, TH, OU, and GH). Firdaus thinks this is a more natural way of learning language, as bigrams can more easily be associated with the phonetic sounds we already make. Players begin with a hand of eight cards and take turns forming words with nine cards on the table and the cards in their hand. The game ends when a player forms five words , but that player doesn’t necessarily win. Players can steal cards from each other by creating a longer word. (Thus, spellbreaker.)
“I wanted to make a product that teachers can sell and have extra income. I have a personal drive to help teachers,” Firdaus says. However, he does not have any immediate plans to publish yet. If you are interested in word games for teaching English, you can follow or contact Firdaus at his Facebook page.
5. Heroes (coming soon), by Effendy Norzaman
Effendy Norzaman has been in the board-game community for a long time. He runs FnD Mindspot, based in Empire Subang, and promotes a healthy, constructive lepak-ing culture through games. He’s codeveloped Road to Jannah for a company, and he’s at Kotakcon 2.0 this year to further playtest one of his earlier games, Heroes. Heroes was originally developed in 2013 for Mercy Malaysia as an educational tool to teach disaster–risk mitigation and response. He’s experimenting with a few changes, now looking to commercialise the game for markets abroad.
The game is played on a board depicting Southeast Asia. Players are assigned different roles, such as The Government or the General Public. Play is turn-based until an emergency strikes, after which players have a single minute to take action. A scoring system determines the winner, but players can all lose if they make too many mistakes.
The final game, set for a 2017 release, may see an art and illustration update, and will likely be published in English for international markets, and he tells me that NGOs from Japan and Indonesia have expressed interested.
Hold up! These aren’t the only Malaysian board games out there. Check these out:
Earliest board game goes to: MathMagic (1987) by Jimmy Yeoh. The great grandfather of Malaysian board games, it is something like a math version of Scrabble. It’s achieved some modest popularity overseas.
L.E.A.D. (Lead Everyone Against Discrimination) (2015) by The Alphabet Press and Kakiseni. Historic letterpress type was repurposed as base material for a simple stacking tower game. You win if your character card matches the character card of the collectively built tower. Character cards represent the different ethnicities in Malaysia. No longer on sale.
Avarium Academy (2015) by Chain Links Games. A two-player duelling game based on a common anime theme of a new student (“idols”) conquering a superpowered high school. It is doing well enough overseas to merit an expansion.
Monster Hero Academy (2014) by Blue Mana Games. A quick card game on guiding your monster student to complete tests and win reputation points. After some critical reviews, Blue Mana is planning to release Monster Hero Academy 2.0, with an overhauled ruleset.
The Peides Curse: Earth (2014) by Game Design House. A science–fiction, casual strategy game where players travel to the future to open The Heaven’s Door to trap Evil by decoding nine symbolic codes.
Parang (2016) and Gua (2016) by Beast of Borneo. Parang is a simple, streamlined rock-paper-scissors game with a light strategic element inspired by headhunters in Borneo. Gua is a caving adventure game inspired by the Mulu caves.
Wongomania: Malaysian Edition (2014), by Stock Exchange of Malaysia and Capital Gains Studio in Singapore. An investment game where you manage different portfolios of stocks, property and bonds which make profit or loss depending on economic cycles. The Malaysian edition introduces inflation, interest, taxation, and politics, but is unfortunately not for sale.