What inspired you to launch Randomskill Games?
Ethan: My business partner, Shin, and I knew each other for almost two decades and through our love of board games, we have founded Randomskill Games.
We wanted to leave a legacy of ourselves and, on top of that, showcase what Asian designers are capable of in terms of game design. Many of the renowned game designers are either European or American. I would like to break this trend by introducing more Asian designers with the games that I publish.
Shin: I grew up with video games as a huge part of my life. I think many of us reading this too.
Video games were really fun until I realized that it’s the social aspects of playing that is the real deal for me. The Final Fantasy series (100% single player games) would be half as fun if not for the countless amount of discussion with classmates about which character is our favourite, how we min-max, which material to go to which slot, etc.
Board gaming sets friends around the table to interact there and then. This is to me the best way to play games: interactions. Randomskill Games was created with the vision to share this joy with other gamers.
What kind of titles excite you?
Ethan: We are spoilt for choice nowadays as there are so many games to choose from!
Out of thousands of titles that are published every year, Euro and dice games excite me the most whenever new ones are released. Also, I treasure innovation and replayability, therefore, the first few things that I look out for in a game is the mechanics and replayability.
Games with Asian themes and designs are also intriguing to me.
Shin: Carcassone, Cosmic Encounter, Twilight Imperium and Battlestar Galactica.
They are wildly different. I guess I am similar to Ethan, I like games which have high replayability. I also like games with high variance which can be managed as players get better.
Congratulations on the success of your Lawless Empire Kickstarter! However, I noticed the first campaign was cancelled. What lessons did you learn from this experience?
Ethan: Thank you! We are really happy about funding Lawless Empire on Kickstarter. Yes, there are plenty to learn from the first campaign.
We did not research well enough on the shipping and thus the price point was less attractive in the first campaign. Shipping is one of the biggest risk in a Kickstarter project and I am glad we got it right in the second campaign.
In addition to shipping woes, we did not generate sufficient hype before the campaign. We thought Kickstarter would generate interest on its own but we thought wrong! Not only did Kickstarter not generate enough interest on its own, the attrition was pretty substantial.
We even hit a point whereby the backers who backed out of the campaign is more than the number of new backers on one of the days. After this experience, I am offering a word of caution for all project creators: Build a crowd before you launch!
Last but not least, we did a few design tweaks to make the campaign more appealing. Everything was less cluttered to give potential backers enough information even at a quick glance. The slight change was useful in attracting more new backers and we were eventually funded within 48 hours.
Shin: Even with the success of Lawless Empire, we still have a lot to learn. The whole Kickstarter paradigm is shifting so fast these days…
I have to say, everything in Lawless Empire looks very cool and thematic – right down to the custom dice. Who handled that visual style?
Shin: That will be me!
Ethan and I dig the theme of the underworld. We decided that our first game should be this theme since we like it so much. The game mechanics are designed to the theme too. Players have to second guess who their real allies are, like a mob boss or undercover, to win.
The custom dice is heavily influence by Asian cultures, from South East Asia to Japanese traditions. You can identify them a lot more in the expansion.
Ethan: The underworld has always been an intriguing theme to the both of us. Therefore, we wanted to make the game as thematic as possible from the ground up. Our vision of Lawless Empire is to allow gamers to feel like actual mob bosses when playing the game. Hence, Shin has designed it such that player interactions are essential in the gameplay.
Therefore, more than just being thematic visually, the game has achieved what we have set it out to be in our vision of being thematic in terms of interactions. We are happy how it turned out in the end.
As for the dice, they are inspired by Asian designs with some forms of iconic Asian shape in every one of the 6 sides of the custom dice. I will leave it to you to see if you can spot some of them.
According to your website, the initial idea for Overbooked came from that notorious United Airlines incident. How did you get from that to the final design?
Shin: Ethan will be excited to tell you everything about this…
Ethan: The idea was actually conceived really quickly.
It was one of our game’s nights and I was at the table playing games with Daryl (game designer of Overbooked) and some other friends when one of them mentioned the incident and showed us the video of that poor man being dragged off the plane. I immediately presented a challenge to Daryl about designing a game themed around the incident.
Having only been back in Singapore from Ottawa whereby he was a prominent member of the Game Artisans of Canada, Daryl accepted my challenge. He showed me a prototype after only two days! The rest, they say, is history!
The theme of overbooking and the circumstance of how the doctor, who dragged off the plane, was possibly being “racial profiled” is very intriguing to me. Being an Asian myself, I would love an opportunity to raise awareness of the practice of “racial profiling”, and hopefully decrease the chance of it happening again in the future.
How would you describe the current board game culture in Singapore? I’ve visited several times, but somehow the cafes are never open – or I can’t find them!
Shin: The cafés? They are usually operating after office hours. I agree that many of them are quite inaccessible. It is improving, retailers are opening free tables for games to happen, and they are located in major malls.
Ethan: The board gaming culture is not deep-rooted but it is definitely growing fast!
In the past, other one or two bigger joints, the retailers and cafes are usually situated in less populated areas and their business hours are shorter to reduce the overheads due to the limited crowd that they can attract. The scene now is picking up really quickly.
Currently, there are several big retailers and cafes in the heart of Singapore.
In general, the crowd in Singapore prefers lighter games but there is definitely a considerable number of people who appreciate heavier games. There are also meet-up groups which meet regularly on a weekly basis to play games. The meet-up group that I frequent has slightly more than a thousand members and these are the people who are sustaining the vibrancy of the scene.
The next time you visit, pop by one of the meet-up groups! They do get tourists coming to the meet-up to play games and immerse themselves in the local scene and culture.
All in all, I hope the local board gaming scene in Singapore can continue to grow and, hopefully, become one of the board gaming hotbeds in Asia.