Telling Tales on the Tabletop

The Rise of Taiwanese Games
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2019 / July

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Geof Aberhart


In Taiwan, more than 100 original tabletop games are published a year. Beyond pure entertainment, the games are used for a variety of purposes, from government agencies and civic groups using them as a means to communicate with the public (to explain long-term care policies, for example), to businesses using them to train their staff in negoti­ating skills. Taiwan's own original board games, which cover a range of themes, are entertaining and highly collectible, demonstrating the strength of the Taiwanese cultural and creative sector.


Wikipedia describes tabletop games as “games that are normally played on a table or other flat surface, such as board games, card games, dice games, mini­ature wargames or tile-based games.” To most people, “tabletop game” brings to mind images of groups of people gathered around, playing a game on a board, with cards or with other bits and bobs, as a form of enter­tainment.

Giving tabletop games a boost

Rich Man, a Monopoly-like game published by Yawan Stationery, is a classic board game that most Taiwanese grew up playing. In 2008, Yawan established its own game design studio, Two Plus. The following year they launched three original games—Rabbit Hunt, Fuzzy ­Tiger, and Fire Bulls—becoming a pioneer in Taiwanese-­created tabletop games.

However, at that time the Taiwanese tabletop game market was still dominated by Western games, with homegrown games a rare sight in game stores. Many players began asking themselves why all the famous, fun games were coming from abroad, and whether Taiwan could design good games of its own.

The tough part for most game designers is visual­iz­ing their ideas. This was why in April 2012 veteran table­top gamer ­Smoox Chen convened a group of like-minded friends for the first Tai­pei Boardgame Playtest. Online, he invited people to bring their game projects along for testing and discussion. As well as helping build out the games’ mechanics, meetups like this have offered aspiring game makers a way to share resources and work together to develop a blueprint for Taiwanese-­made games. As such, they played a vital role in the early stages of the industry’s development.

Ever since that first playtest seven years ago, they’ve been held once a month without fail. Many of the people that showed up to the first event, Chen shares, didn’t have any experience in publishing table­top games, but everyone kept at it step by step, driven by their enthusiasm. Today, those same people are still at it and have become core members of publishing companies like EmperorS4 Games and Moaideas Game Design.

Theme + Fundraising = New Game Opportunities

The birth of a new tabletop game generally follows the same process: the bud of an idea, production of prototypes, testing and revision, publishing, attending trade shows, and marketing. Or at least that’s the tradi­tional way, Chen laughs, but with 2013’s The Wonderful Island, a new option arrived.

The Wonderful Island was the brainchild of designer Wu Po-yang, who had seen that the younger generation was clearly tired of politicians flinging empty insults at one another and needed some way to vent their frustrations; he also hoped to find a way to arouse people’s interest in politics. With political figures transformed into characters and campaign strategies into cards, players engage in their own simulated electoral campaign. The topicality of the game saw it quickly attract attention, and it soon sold several thousand units.

The Wonderful Island also ignited a trend for topical tabletop games, helping draw in people who were not habitual game players. Coupled with the rise of crowdfunding platforms, publishers have been able to get fans online and raise money prior to publishing, helping reduce risk and injecting more color and di­vers­ity into locally developed tabletop games.

Thinking outside the box

Publisher Big Fun is a company skilled at bringing outside elements into tabletop games, having launched several fun games with unusual themes.

Their 2015 game European Union: The Board Game was a joint project with the European Economic and Trade Office in Taiwan. Drawing on the historical background and parliamentary procedure of the EU, and using actual political parties and EU legislative bills as prototypes, the game sees each player take on the role of a party in the EU and try to get their own legislation passed. Players lobby and debate each other in a lively atmosphere, while at the same time learning about how the EU works. “Several companies have even used the game for their internal training, helping staff understand international relations and negotiating skills,” says Rachel Chen, chair of the Asia Gamification Innovation Education Association.

Big Fun call themselves the “biggest crossover table­top game publisher.” Executive director Slime Yang says, “In all of Taiwan, we are the only ones ­using table­top games as a marketing tool and a form of media.” Table­top games are not only capable of enter­tain­ing—if they have a story to them, they can also communicate concepts. Big Fun’s game Long-Term Care Planner, published last year, is one example.

The League for Persons with Disabilities, ROC, came to Big Fun in the hopes of developing ideas ­beyond ­lectures. The company drew inspiration from the government’s “Long-Term Care 2.0” policy, adapting real-life individual cases into fictional characters. The resulting game helps players understand and observe the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities through various scenarios.

Specialist stores

With the industry still in its infancy, original Taiwanese tabletop games are being driven by game makers who support one another in their drive to develop the market. Bao­dao Games is a store in Tai­chung set up specifically to cater to those wanting to buy Taiwanese games. Bao­dao’s founder Shin Lin is also chief oper­ating officer of game publisher Mozi Games. Initially, he had wanted to go around other stores to sell Mozi’s games, but he soon figured it would be better just to get a few of his friends’ games together with Mozi’s and sell them himself; hence Baodao was born.

The store specializes in original Taiwanese tabletop games, boasting titles that cover all kinds of themes and topics, from indigenous culture to subways to the power company.

The potential of tabletop games as teaching aids has also attracted the attention of parents and teachers, and Taiwanese-made games have begun to take on educational elements in response. Situated in a depart­ment store, Baodao’s main customers are famil­ies. Parents are particularly keen to use tabletop games as a way not only to keep their kids away from their electronic devices for a period and enjoy some parent‡child time, but also to help the kids hone their minds and their reactions.

Some of the more educational games are even used as common training materials by corporate con­sult­ants, such as Lin’s game Winnor, which was based on his own startup experience. Having seen for himself how tough the process of feeling your way through starting a business can be, Lin was inspired to create a game that gave some sense of what it’s like and help prepare people for the real thing.

All the world’s a tabletop

In the world of tabletop games, a variety of approaches to game mechanics can be found. Some games rely simply on basic math, prettied up with some artistic skill. This has helped Taiwanese games to catch the eye of foreign players at international trade shows. For example, Big Fun and illustrator Chiu Cin­yee’s Harvest Island features cards illustrated with Taiwanese fruits and animals in a meticulous and magical style, giving the game added collectible value as art. Not only did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs select the game as a “Special Souvenir of Taiwan” for 2018, the company even managed to secure distribution throughout Europe.

In an age when people are always busy and would rather entertain themselves with movies or smartphone games, it can be a challenge to make tabletop games attract­ive, so they need to rely on fine craftsmanship and the ability to give players a memorable experience.

The next step

In 2018, more than 100 original Taiwan-made table­top games were published. As many as 50 or 60 game-related expos are held a year in Taiwan, and at any given time there could be five different games up on crowdfunding platforms. It’s clear to see that Taiwanese tabletop games are booming.

Every choice a player makes is the result of their own thinking. The interactions between players are direct and real. Tabletop games can stimulate the mind and trigger the drive to learn, which has piqued the interest of educators.

As the industry develops and more firms get involved, there is a pressing need to develop new markets if revenues are to continue to grow. Rachel Chen believes that “gaming for seniors” is a possible direction to explore.

In other parts of the content industry, like animation and picture books, representing foreign products can save time and hassle, so why are tabletop game publishers so willing to fork over more money to deal with Taiwanese games? Maybe it’s as Slime Yang says: “We need to carve out a path for Taiwanese creativity.” Taiwanese tabletop games promise to be a new realm for Taiwanese creatives to showcase their capabilities.

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桌遊說故事

台灣原創正時興

文‧陳群芳 圖‧莊坤儒

台灣一年有超過100款原創桌遊問世,機關團體選擇以桌遊介紹長照政策、推展觀光,作為向大眾溝通的媒介;公司行號透過桌遊訓練員工談判技巧,培養創業靈感。台灣原創桌遊主題五花八門,富娛樂性,又具收藏價值,展現台灣文創新動力。


查閱維基百科,桌上遊戲簡稱「桌遊」,泛指不插電的遊戲,舉凡卡牌、擲骰、圖板、跳棋、撲克牌等都算是廣義桌遊的一種。這幾年桌遊店在台灣街頭興起,大眾對桌遊的認知不再只有大富翁。如今提到桌遊,大家腦中就會浮現一群人圍坐在一塊兒,玩著具有圖板、卡牌、小配件的遊戲,成為休閒娛樂的一種選擇。

點滴推展原創桌遊

談到桌遊,「亞灣文具」出版的大富翁算是伴隨多數台灣人長大的經典。2008年,亞灣成立2Plus桌遊設計工作室,隔年推出《狡兔三窟》、《虎口拔鬚》、《火牛陣》3款原創桌遊,成為台灣原創桌遊的先驅。不過當時,台灣的桌遊市場仍以歐式遊戲為主,走進桌遊店,幾乎不見台灣原創的身影。許多玩家開始自問,「為什麼知名好玩的桌遊都是國外的作品?台灣是不是也能設計出好桌遊。」

如何將點子具象化,是多數桌遊設計者最需要克服的關卡。於是資深桌遊玩家Smoox號召了幾位同好,在2012年4月開始了第一次的台北桌上遊戲測試聚會。他在網路上邀請對桌遊設計有興趣的民眾,帶著作品前來測試討論。除了透過測試讓遊戲機制完整,也互相分享資源,一起構築台灣原創桌遊的藍圖,在早期台灣原創桌遊發展過程中扮演關鍵角色。

測試聚會從2012年起固定每月舉辦一次,連續七年不曾間斷。Smoox分享,當年參加第一次聚會的成員中,許多都是沒有桌遊出版經驗的菜鳥,大家懷抱著對原創桌遊的熱情一步步前進;而他們現在都已是線上桌遊出版社的核心成員,例如摩埃、愛樂事等,至今仍持續堅持走在原創桌遊的路上。

議題+募資=桌遊新契機

一款桌遊的問世,通常會經過點子萌芽、製作樣品、測試修改、出版、參展與通路行銷等階段。Smoox笑說,這樣傳統按部就班的方式,卻在2013年《美麗島風雲》橫空出世後,有了另一種可能。

看準年輕人對於政治人物打口水戰,或是選前選後不同調的現象感到厭煩,鬱悶的心情需要出口,更希望喚起民眾對政治的興趣。設計師伍博暘將台灣人最熟悉的選舉議題,製作成《美麗島風雲》。將民眾熟知的政治人物創造成遊戲的虛擬角色,選舉裡常出現的助選、競爭策略也都化作有趣的卡牌,以玩遊戲的方式打一場虛擬選戰。挾帶著話題性,讓這款桌遊甫出版就備受新聞媒體關注,短時間就賣出幾千套。

《美麗島風雲》的銷售佳績,開啟了話題性桌遊的風氣,非桌遊玩家的民眾受到議題吸引而接觸桌遊。再加上這幾年募資平台越來越成熟,桌遊出版可以先在網路上吸引粉絲,籌措百萬以上的資金後再進行正式出版,大幅降低風險,也讓台灣原創桌遊更加百花齊放。

意想不到的桌遊題材

跳脫單純以太空冒險、虛構中世紀人物為遊戲背景的純娛樂桌遊,擅長將桌遊出版異業結合的大玩桌遊,則推出了許多意想不到的好玩桌遊。

2015年出版的《歐盟議會》,是大玩桌遊與歐洲經貿辦事處合作發行的作品。以讓台灣民眾認識歐盟為目標,大玩桌遊參照歐盟的歷史背景與議會開會流程,並以實際政黨與歐盟審議過的法案為雛形,讓玩家扮演歐盟裡的政黨,透過談判交涉,努力讓自己提出的政策法案通過。遊戲時玩家間互相遊說或辯論,可能是胡扯也可能是具體實例,在一來一往的對話中,不僅讓遊戲氣氛熱鬧、增添趣味,玩家也在無形中熟悉歐盟。「許多企業在辦理內部教育訓練時,也會將這款遊戲導入,藉此了解國際關係,增加員工談判技巧。」亞洲遊戲化創新教育協會理事長陳婉瑜表示。

從自主設計桌遊跨到接案合作,大玩桌遊自稱是最會跨界的桌遊出版社。執行長楊東岳說:「全台只有我們把桌遊當成行銷工具,當媒體來操作。」桌遊除了作為遊戲商品,保有娛樂性外,若能帶有故事性,就可以透過桌遊傳達概念,去年大玩桌遊推出的《長照規劃師》即是一例。

有鑑於民眾對長照概念的模糊,中華民國身心障礙聯盟找上大玩桌遊,希望在教育現場有講課以外的可能。大玩桌遊取材自政府長照2.0的給付和服務項目,並以真實個案設計成虛擬角色,讓玩家透過情境模擬,體察年長者、身心障礙者以及照顧家屬的需要。今年「亞洲遊戲化創新教育協會」便以這款桌遊在北中南開設「用遊戲看懂長期照護」的課程,一改長照給人的沉重感,以輕鬆的方式與民眾拉近距離,讓課程場場爆滿。

台灣原創專賣店

不同於其他產業的競爭性,還在起步階段的台灣原創桌遊,同業間彼此扶持,有著共同把市場做大的決心。位於台中的「寶島桌遊」就是一間因應而生的台灣原創桌遊專賣店。創辦人林家進本身也是桌遊出版社「莫仔有限公司」營運總監,當初抱著要跑桌遊店推銷自家產品,不如順帶把朋友的桌遊也一塊帶上,因而有了寶島桌遊。

店內清一色都是台灣原創桌遊,主題包羅萬象,原住民、捷運、電力公司、台灣花磚都能成為桌遊設計的素材。林家進表示,2015年成立時店內品項大概20種,隨著這幾年台灣原創桌遊蓬勃發展,如今店內至少130款桌遊,見證台灣桌遊的興起。

挾著台灣創新教育的實力,以桌遊輔助教學受到學校老師及家長的青睞,也使得台灣原創桌遊有朝教育發展的現象。因此不同於坊間桌遊店獨立開在街邊,以桌遊玩家為主要客群;位於百貨公司專櫃裡的寶島桌遊,主要消費群則是以親子為主。讓小孩遠離3C、創造陪伴小孩成長的親子時光、玩桌遊能增加思考和反應,這些都是家長選擇桌遊的原因。

除了店面銷售,有些教育意味高的桌遊,也常被顧問公司作為人力訓練的教材,例如林家進以自身創業經驗所設計的《青創十力》。有感於傳統學校教育多以培養職員,指導學生在職場上所需技能為主,關於創業的Know how,大家都是邊創業邊摸索,過程很辛苦,所以林家進才有了在遊戲中體驗創業的靈感,試圖藉由桌遊來減少創業者碰撞的機會。

全世界都是台灣桌遊舞台

除了針對國內議題而設計的桌遊外,大多數的台灣原創桌遊都是有機會銷往國際的。在桌遊的世界裡,遊戲機制相通,有些只需數字加減即能進行,再加上許多原創桌遊堅實的美術功力,使得台灣原創桌遊經常在國際展會上獲得國外玩家青睞。例如大玩桌遊與插畫家邱馨怡合作的《四季之森》,卡牌上繪有台灣水果與特有動物,細緻又魔幻的畫風,彷彿藝術品,讓桌遊不純然只有娛樂,還具收藏價值。2017年在德國埃森桌遊展上首次亮相時,不到3天就把帶去的250組全部賣光。不僅被外交部選為2018年台灣特色伴手禮,還有代理商簽下銷售全歐洲的版權。

楊東岳表示,大玩桌遊在設計桌遊時,看中的是未來5年持續銷售的潛力,所以願意在美術花上6位數的製作費。看似成本高,但若將市場放在全世界,納入攤提概念,這樣的投入非常值得。要讓忙碌的現代人願意在電影、手機遊戲等眾多娛樂消遣中選擇桌遊,所以更需要用精緻的產品,為消費者留下難忘的遊戲經驗。

台灣桌遊下一步

2018年台灣有超過100款的原創桌遊出版,與桌遊相關的展會一年高達五、六十場,甚至同時有5款桌遊在平台上募資,種種跡象都顯示桌遊在台灣正蓬勃發展。

在桌遊的世界裡,玩家的每一步、每個選擇都是自己思考的結果。有些遊戲,選擇不只關係自己的勝負,也會影響其他玩家,遊戲中玩家彼此合作、卡位、阻撓……,互動直接且真實。不僅為桌遊玩家帶來樂趣,看準桌遊能刺激思考、啟發學習動機,也引起許多教育工作者的注意。

當越來越多人投入原創桌遊的開發,桌遊也透過各種管道被民眾認識,但消費者的荷包不會因為產品增加而變大,所以更要積極開拓市場。陳婉瑜認為,樂齡桌遊將是未來可以嘗試的方向。透過桌遊活絡腦部發展、擴大長者的社交圈、增加與兒孫的互動,甚至成為推廣桌遊教學的一員,讓退休生活充滿各種可能。

與其他內容產業如動畫、繪本面對一樣的問題,代理國外作品不但省時省事,且已有市場口碑;但為何桌遊出版社甘願付出更高的成本,冒險堅持台灣原創?或許就像楊東岳說的:「要為台灣文創走出一條路。」台灣原創桌遊將是文創產業發揮的新舞台。

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