Malaysian tabletop games to enjoy at home during the Covid-19 quarantine


  • Arts
  • Sunday, 05 Apr 2020

'Kaki Lima' let’s you go truly local and explore George Town’s historical ‘five foot ways’ from the comfort of your home. Photo: Kaki Lima

In recent years, local card and board games have been steadily gaining popularity, and they look a good bet now to keep bored Malaysians at home occupied as the nation waits out the Covid-19 quarantine.

Such tabletop games, conversely, are inherently built to bring people together (in their own homes, for now) and foster unity and camaraderie.

Who can forget gathering around a table to play a game of Monopoly, Cluedo or Uno with family and friends?

Perhaps, with the government’s movement control order (MCO) in place till April 14, now might be a good time to check out a tabletop game – and a local one at that.

Through these new generation games, you can discover many things about Malaysia without ever leaving home.

Homegrown tabletop games have been slowly and steadily gaining traction in recent years. Photo: TTGDMYHomegrown tabletop games have been slowly and steadily gaining traction in recent years. Photo: TTGDMY

From board games like Kaki Lima, a light strategy game based on the five-foot walkways in George Town, and Empayar, a game set in an ancient Nusantara kingdom to card games like The Lepak Game (think of it as the Malaysian version of Cards Against Humanity) and Rimba, an educational game about local wildlife conservation, the Malaysian tabletop games scene is a lively and diverse one.

Conceptualised and designed by local game designers, these tabletop games give players a unique experience with their truly Malaysian flavour. With themes surrounding history, culture, fantasy and the everyday Malaysian life (watching TV soaps!), homegrown games have been invariably enjoying some traction in recent years.

“Local games capture hidden segments of the rich culture that Malaysia has to offer which people internationally or even locally do not always get to see, ” says Lim Yung Sing, a Kuala Lumpur-based game designer. He is currently working on his game, called Animal Office. Edmund Lau, one of the designers of Reef Stakes, a marine-themed role playing card game, agrees with Lim.

“Local games are becoming more important now because they provide an alternative platform for fun sessions and entertainment.

“One thing about local games is that most of the themes carry a specific message, something that one can relate to but in an entertaining way. Because of this, games can foster unity and build social networks, ” he adds.

'Reef Stakes' carries timely environmental themes and discusses stakeholder relationships. It was designed by a team of people in the marine conservation field. Photo: Reef Stakes'Reef Stakes' carries timely environmental themes and discusses stakeholder relationships. It was designed by a team of people in the marine conservation field. Photo: Reef Stakes

For instance, Reef Stakes, which was launched in 2018, allows players to debate, argue with or even sabotage each other before collectively deciding the future of reef ecosystems.

The game is designed to mimic real-life stakeholder relationships and introduce some of Malaysia’s most iconic marine species.

Fun and educational games like Reef Stakes, Rimba and BonDing (a chemistry card game) have found a faithful following in families with young children.

In fact, Ho Yi Jian, one of the founding members of Tabletop Game Designers Of Malaysia (TTGDMY), goes as far as to say that if the designers know what they are doing, a game can be designed for better cultural fit.

"That means it has better appeal to a targeted audience and market and that appeal applies on many levels. Adding a relatable theme makes it even more likely for a Malaysian to pick it up as it reaffirms their identities and they would be able to quickly understand the rules because it piggybacks on closely known or shared concepts," says Ho.

TTGDMY is an independent community built around the Malaysian tabletop game design industry.

'Rimba' is an educational card game about Malaysian wildlife conservation.  Dr Jane Goodall, one of the world’s leading primatologists and anthropologists, got herself a copy last year when she was in Malaysia.  Photo: Rimba'Rimba' is an educational card game about Malaysian wildlife conservation. Dr Jane Goodall, one of the world’s leading primatologists and anthropologists, got herself a copy last year when she was in Malaysia. Photo: Rimba

On a more political front, Ho’s Koraptiko board game, which is still in its play testing stage, lets players be corrupt politicians vying for supremacy.

TTGDMY, founded in 2017, continues to actively guide, support and nurture local designers and also expose Malaysians to the tabletop gaming industry.

In the TTGDMY circles, the price point for games range between RM99 for The Cikgu Life (out of stock now) and RM159 for Kaki Lima.

In many ways, Malaysians have been willing to give these localised games a chance, and a pre-MCO community event like Game On Lah! in KL attracted a large following of fans.

Familiarity, local lingo and Malaysian pop culture are also things to consider in creating a successful game.

For 29-year-old Haireey Hashnan, having a fun gameplay is important to catch a player’s attention. His game Drama Pukul 7 gives players the chance to be characters in a typical local soap drama.

In classic soap drama style, the objective of the game is to fight for the spotlight by eliminating other players and destroying their Air Muka (dignity), which acts as health points.

Indeed, Drama Pukul 7 gives you the licence to be as dramatic and scheming as you want. Throw in an eye roll, a hair flip or pursed lips and you’re halfway there to becoming a Malaysian telenovela star!

'The Drama Pukul 7' game capitalises on the tropes of local TV dramas. For once, being over the top is a good thing. Photo: Faihan Ghani/The Star'The Drama Pukul 7' game capitalises on the tropes of local TV dramas. For once, being over the top is a good thing. Photo: Faihan Ghani/The Star

“Tabletop games have to be fun first before anything else. Yes, the theme should be a hook to attract people to get it first, but a good-fun-lasting game will keep your audience replaying your game, ” says Haireey.

Truly, there is definitely something for everyone.

If you’re the competitive sort, then Kaki Lima may be the right fit for you. This three- to eight-player game, suitable for ages eight and up, will test your knowledge of George Town, Penang as you race to the finish line.

The game allows players to visit heritage sites, taste famous cuisines and gather with friends in George Town, all from the comfort of one’s home. Players also get to collaborate with each other to remove obstacles along the way.

If you’re looking for something more challenging, Pasaraya: Supermarket Manager might be worth checking out.

This deckbuilding game gives you the chance to be the manager of a supermarket who has to oversee the balance between purchasing stock, fulfilling orders and recruiting staff.

In many ways, Pasaraya is the sort of game to resonate in these Covid-19 quarantine times when conversations are about food supplies and social distancing.

'The Lepak Game', a Malaysian version of 'Cards Against Humanity', features various cards which players can match together to make unique and funny combinations. Photo: Filepic'The Lepak Game', a Malaysian version of 'Cards Against Humanity', features various cards which players can match together to make unique and funny combinations. Photo: Filepic

And if fun and laughter is what you’re seeking in this trying times, check out The Malaysian Dream by MGAG (a local meme website). Be the perfect Malaysian with this interactive card game as you sabotage, complain and pay your way forward to buy or gain Dream cards.

Recite the Rukun Negara correctly or be the lucky driver to find a parking spot in a shopping mall to gain a Dream or challenge your friend to do 10 jumping jacks.

In the end, it is the cooperative spirit of many of these homegrown tabletop games that gives them value, according to game designer Cazz Cheah.

“They’re inclusive, not necessarily in the ‘representation’ sense, but in terms of how their gameplay is designed. So no player is eliminated before the end because of unlucky dice or random number generator results.

“People don’t feel left out as a result. These games are definitely more appealing to casual players, or families with kids, ” says Cheah, whose Codex Fantasia game is slated for a year-end release.

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