Many people assume that board gaming is a Western-centric male-dominated hobby. Enter any random board game store and you would most likely see a lot more guys stocking up on the latest titles or strategising over their next move mid-game. Many also assume that it would be really difficult to find someone who is Asian, female, or Asian and female, involved in the board game scene. Statistically, 92.6 percent of the top 400 board games are designed by white men.
But things are changing. If you were at the Asian Board Games Festival '22 (ABGF) last month, you would have been surprised to notice that possibly more than 50 percent of participants were female from all ages and backgrounds.
We wanted to put our ears to the ground so we invited @lohwanping from Singapore and Plum from Vietnam, co-founder of @nguhanhgames, to spill the tea on their ABGF experience and what it has been like after stepping into the world of board games!
Shihui: Hello hello! We hope both of you really enjoyed ABGF. We miss everyone so much already! What was most memorable about ABGF for you?
Plum: This is our first ever international event and everything was so overwhelming! We got to meet with many people from the industry: publishers and enthusiastic players. Every moment from ABGF is a memory to treasure. But actually, I will miss the games night industry meetup on the night before and dinner on the last day the most. :D
Wan Ping: It was so wonderful seeing people who have never played games stop in their tracks, get curious and start joining in the free open tables. I also met up with my own friends who brought their parents or partners to ABGF.
Shihui: Yeah! It was a non-stop weekend. The game masters hosted queues of ready players at their tables. Some visitors even returned on the second day and brought more people with them to try the games they missed the day before! They wanted to collect the different stamps to fill up their Play Passports, haha.
Actually, let's rewind a little. What got you started on board games?
Plum: What struck me most is the beauty and variable aspect of board games. My first encounter was on a trip to Australia where I visited 3 board games shops. It introduced me to the big world of analogue games that did not require me to have a computer or any tools to be able to immediately enjoy them. I wanted to make a product that can be played anywhere and anytime by anyone. That's what got me into board games.
Wan Ping: My friend, now husband, introduced me to board games. He would invite different friends over to his house to play some simple party games. Later on, I got beaten at 2-player Agricola but started to love more complex games.
Shihui: It seems like having a positive first encounter with board games really makes people fall in love with it! In the Origame team, Nick’s friend and ex-colleague, Keenan, introduced him to his massive collection. At one point, they would play Citadels every lunch time in the office. Daryl started playing more games when he was living in Canada, as a way of getting to know other people in the city.
What is your favourite board game at ABGF?
Plum: I was impressed with 2 games. The first one is Stereo Mind from Playte, Korea. It is extremely quick, fun and noisy, haha. The second one that caught my interest was Athangudi: Artisans of Chettinad from XOtoXO Games, India. Do you know that the tiles are all plastic? It is another level of dedication to the game, and the gameplay is truly enjoyable.
Shihui: I remember there was lots of excitement coming from that table. We definitely heard incredulous shouts of “WHYYYYYYYY”, “WHATTTTTTTTT” and “HUHHHHHHHHHH” when it came time to reveal players' choices in Stereo Mind!
On that note, Plum, what differences do you notice between Singaporean board gamers and board gamers from your home country?
Plum: I find Singaporean gamers are nice and open to all kinds of game play. I'm guessing that they have had the chance to play many board games and that provides them with wide knowledge, so it is quite easy to explain new gameplay at ABGF. Also we love how supportive Singaporean gamers are to Asian board game publishers. It is amazing!
Shihui: Well, we had so much positive feedback on Du Ky and Hoi Pho, and someone told us that Du Ky is like an Asian Dixit for them!
Wan Ping, what was your impression of Asian board games before ABGF? How has that changed after ABGF?
Wan Ping: I've known of a couple of Asian publishers before ABGF and it was really lovely to meet some of them in person to thank them for their hard work! I hope more people can get to know them, how interesting Asian board games can be, and experience their warmth and enthusiasm in person.
Shihui: This next question is for you Plum. What inspires you as a board game designer?
Plum: My culture and the people around me. I always want to make games that I can play with at least someone I know: my best friends from middle school that I only meet a few times a month, my nieces and nephews who like to visit me every weekend, my colleagues and staff during lunch break, etc…
Who, how, when and where my game is played influences and inspires the way I design the gameplay: how long should it be, how much complexity should be included in the game, what kind of components and mechanics should be presented to them.
Secondly, I enjoy injecting Vietnamese culture into the theme. Except for some very abstract games, the theme does affect the mechanic and gameplay. Therefore, I always try to find a theme that can represent the gameplay and sometimes reverse engineer it.
Shihui: And Wan Ping, what words of advice or encouragement do you have for girls/women who are new to board games?
Wan Ping: Gals out there, don't be afraid to try your hand at a game or two and explore different gaming groups! There is always space at the table for you. I am really happy to say that there are more gaming groups these days that, like what me and my husband do, try to promote a gender-friendly safe space for everyone to come and enjoy the wonderful world of board games!
Look out for our next article featuring Choon Ean from @kakilimacardgame and Ly-Ann, aka @missgameschool for more female perspectives on ABGF.