Jan 30, 2015

Why Lousy Board Games are Popular and Cool Board Games are stillUnknown to the Masses

I was recently invited to join a new online networking portal called JobKred which is still in beta testing phrase. They have this very interesting feature whereby members of the network can ask any of the other members of the portal questions, creating an on-going FAQ. I was asked a question on board game in general and I thought that it will be interesting for me to post the answer here.

My Answer (Too Long to SS)

"One of the problems with designers, not just board game designers, are that they are too focused on product design and spent too little time learning about marketing. The top selling board game in the world - Monopoly, is scorned as a very badly designed board game within the board game community. Catan, is also seen as an old board game, whose game mechanics has become outdated. However, the hardcore game designers have forgotten on some important points: What's "fun" to them is not "fun" to the casual gamers who have to take 1 hr to learn complicated game rules. "

Monopoly is easy learn. Open the board, pass out the money, roll the dice and start buying every single property you land on.

Recently, there is another game called Exploding Kittens, which is designed by board game outsiders (2 Xbox game designer and a cartoonist) with simple mechanics and cute graphics. It raised 4 mil on kick starter within a week, making it on the way to become one of the biggest card game success on Kickstarter. Many board game designers were "disturbed". Exploding Kittens doesn't introduce any new revolutionary game mechanics and is a variant of a popular Victorian era card game "Old Maid". According to the description, the game was tested out with a bunch of friends over 2 weeks and they do not even have a prototype out. On the other hand, many professional game designers spend many months perfecting their game through hundreds of testing and feedback sessions and yet they only raise tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on Kickstarter.

So, the best way to make a board game become a household name is not only to design a good product, but to design a game that has appeal to both casual players and season board gamers, and understand how to market these games to the masses beyond the board game community.

We hope that Wongamania will be such a product.

And Yes, Kickstarter can be a viable way to gain publicity, provided that you have prepared your pre marketing in months prior to the campaign launch. Else it will be one of the no-name underfunded project in Kickstarter. "

As an outsider to the board game community, I have been able to approach the design and marketing of Wongamania from a different angle. I look for a solution using my product, rather than looking for customers for my product. I first identified that there is a need for new tools within the financial education community beyond the ever boring money books, websites and seminars, which is only appealing to only small % of the population. Exactly, how small is the population? Let me use a totally unscientific method to illustrate my point.

By looking at the facebook stats of the top lifestyle blogger and top financial blogger in Singapore.

Assuming that this represents the interest of Singaporeans, only 1.5% (5,330) of the Singaporean populations are on lookout for good information to grow their wealth, while 98.5% (345,709) of the population are more interested in lifestyle information such as vacations, beauty products, food, gadgets and a cute mix-blood baby with a pink hair mother. 

My very first question, "Is there a game in the world, that can appeal to 98.5% of the population, and get them interested in money?"

I look around in both the tabletop and digital world. I notice 3 main trends with the current crop of economic games:

1) Education financial games which are so educational, that they bore people to death within 5 minutes of game play. These are essentially financial textbooks in the guise of a game, force-feeding people academic knowledge and does not engage the audience. 

2) Economic games that are so complicated and strategic that a game normally take 2-3 hours to play. It involves the management of 5-10 different commodities or market effects, along with a huge board with many complicated diagrams and components, putting off the 98.5% who just want 30 minutes of fun!

3) Virtual stock market trading games that will only appeal to the 1.5% population and often encourage bad investing habits such as over trading and excessive risk taking.

The only really successful economic game in history is actually Monopoly and its spinoff Monopoly Deal. Other than the ancient games such as chess and GO, Monopoly is one of the few games that stand the trial of time and is even able to flourish internationally even with all the bad, outdated game mechanics. It is still the best selling board game in the world, with so many different variants, editions and expansions.

However, the problem with Monopoly: The game focus only on property and does not really help to get people to pay attention to some of the most important aspects of money management.

Sensing that Financial Educators are desperately looking for a new solution to reach out to the 98.5% of the population, I decided to design the solution from bottom up. My criteria for the solution:

- It must have a mass market appeal like Monopoly Deal, meaning that the rules are relatively easy to learn.

- It must be fun, has high replay value and not too preachy on the educational aspect. The education aspect must be subtle and inspiring.

- The graphics must appeal to the 98.5% and the playing time cannot be too long. Many people are put off when you tell them that a game requires 3 hours of their time. If it is a 30 minutes game, they won't mind trying it out.

- It must be interactive, meaning that the players can discuss on what they learn, after they played the game and are able relate and share with others their personal money experiences to the game. 

With all these design rules in mind, I created Wongamania as a probable tool to help Financial Educators engage the 98.5%. In the past 6 months, we have thousands of participants in both Singapore and Malaysia who have played Wongamania and based on the feedback from the 98.5% of the population, the results have been extremely encouraging (They love it!)

It seems like Wongamania is working.

The next aspect of the development of Wongamania is probably the most daunting one: To market the game like Monopoly, Cards Against Humanity and the latest Kickstarter sensation, Exploding Kittens to the international market and get more people to get interested in the world of finance and table-top gaming.



  1. Part of the reason Exploding Kittens blew up is also its association with the Oatmeal. If you are already tapping on a platform where you can get your product in front of millions of people, then naturally you'd have more buyers for it.

    1. I agree. Some of the people doing good work by introducing board game to the masses are youtube channel like Table Top to get celebrities to come and enjoy a game of board game. The solution to make board game more appealing to the masses is out there, just that as publishers and designers, we have to try harder using different angles to engage the masses.

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