Wongamania Design Story

The Wongamani Design Story: The Genesis of Wongamania (Part 1)

After graduation, I didn't want to follow the same corporate path taken by most of my friends. I always wanted to start my own company. It was 2003 and Singapore is just starting its evolution towards a financial hub after experiencing a deep and long recession. I have some ideas to start a children financial education company with a good friend at that point of time. However, we were concerned that we have no money, no connections and no knowledge at that time and we decided to work in the corporate work briefly before coming back together to start the company. He went on to join a marketing and event company while I joined a wealth management firm.

My friend enjoyed his work in the corporate world so much that he decided to stay for good. We never got down to starting that company. On hindsight, we should have started the company there and than. Who knows, we may have already established a pretty good brand name by now.

Even though I am enjoying my work in the wealth management firm, the dream of setting up a financial literacy company is still alive and always at the back of my mind and I started giving financial literacy talks around the country. After a few years of giving talk, I started to think about how I can reach out to more people rather than speaking to 20-30 people at a time. Why not design a board game instead to teach people the ins and outs of money matters while allowing me to continue doing the money management work which I enjoyed so much?

I always wanted to create my own board game, but a series of unfortunate events kept delaying my progress. The first game that I developed in 2007 was a financial history simulation workshop game. It won kudos from everyone who played the game but I never got to commercialize it, because the game is meant to be conducted in a room full of people with detailed explanation of the various scenarios behind it. The financial concept behind the game is too advance for the man on the streets and I was too lazy to conduct weekly talks on the subject so I decided to keep it as it current form until a future opportunity arises. The name of the game is called Capital Gains Investment Game and that's what inspired the name of our current game company.

Conducting Capital Gains Investment Game

The second game I created was called "$trategy". It's a hybrid board game between "Life" and "Cashflow 101" and it has been pretty extensively tested. However, due to a disagreement with the partners involved, the game never got launched. The prototype is still sitting in my cupboard somewhere. Now that I look back, the game is not really perfected yet and there is still a lot of improvements to be made to the game. Maybe I will visit that game again sometime down the road.

The Unfinished $trategy Game

Due to a disagreement with the management, I decided to uproot from the company which I have stayed for 6 year and decided to start afresh in another wealth management company. As a self employed, it also means building the income and clientele base from bottom up again and the global financial markets were still reeling in shock from the global financial crisis. It's a pretty bad time to migrate. After spending one year of migration, things finally settle down and before I can turn my attention back to games design.

It is than, my health problem started.

I was sick for 2 years, plagued by high consistent fevers, hormone problems and aching joints. At one point of time, I had to undergo radiology and guess what, that procedure nearly killed me! After narrowly survived death, I decided to throw caution to the wind and spent one year traveling to different parts of Europe and Asia. After getting a lot of cultural immersion (and spending a lot of money) I once again turned my attention towards game design.

What kind of game should I create? One of my main purpose of the game is to create financial awareness among the average man/woman on the streets who has absolutely no interest in money matters. I noticed many people playing Monopoly deal for fun and by the end of the day, they are able to recite the names of the important real estate areas in UK and US. Can I create a game on a level of difficult just above that of Monopoly Deal and help people take notice of things like interest rates, inflation, stock, property and bond?

So I set the following objectives for my new game:

- A game which is fun to play and slightly more difficult to learn than Monopoly Deal
- Portable so that it can be easily shared among friends in a cafe setting in land scarce Singapore
- Touch on basic principles of modern economics with the intention of sparking of interest rather than overloading the players with information
- Introduce certain strategic elements that will appeal to more veteran players
- Have graphic which will be well liked by ladies, as they are one of the most important group that needs more help on financial literacy.

Essentially, I have to create a game that follow the most basic principle of all great games "Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master, Fun to Play"

By than, I have piled up a pretty thick stack of game ideas and blueprint which I never got to develop. I started throwing out all those 2-3 hours heavy strategic board games and those games with too much technical financial details. I came upon this blue print with a rough economic cycle drawn on it and I was thinking, "Hey, everyone should be familiar with an economic cycle. This should make a great theme!"

And Wongamania is born... 


The Wongamania Design Story: Concept to Prototype (Part 2)

Initial blueprint of Wongamania

Alternative game board design layout of the Economic Cycle

 When I first came up with the initial concept of Wongamania, there is so many cool stuff that I wanted to implement.

The basic concept of Wongamania works like this.

1) Players are given a basic income every turn to help them build up their resource. The currency system and the action cards draw from the same base. Meaning that by taking action, you are losing out on money, while if you try to accumulate money, you will lose out on actions that can potentially earn more money or slow down your opponents.

2) The players are suppose to make more money through investing and taking risk by navigating through an economic cycle that goes through Recession, Recovery, Growth and Stagnant phrase and investing in assets

3) The asset cards consist of stocks, properties and bonds. However, each of the asset class has a different buying price and income flow at each different phrase of Wongamania.

For example, stock is more volatile than property and it will be able to make or lose much more money than property at any point of time. Property has a more stable price fluctuation and generate more stable income, thanks to the nature of rental. Meanwhile, the bond generate a stable income but cost a lot more to buy and sell at the same price, in order to reflect the lower risk/return that you will generate for bonds. At the same time, the price of bonds will not be affected by the market cycle. This created a complex matrix of different numbers at the different quadrant that totally confused my friends, whom the most complex game they ever played is UNO.

Initial version of the Economic Cycle

4) On top of the asset cards, there are action cards which can influence other players, or the environment which will have an impact on everybody. I separated them into 6 different categories.

  - Health Cards: Single target cards that will affect the health of the player like illness, accident, hospitalization, pollution and flu outbreak. These cards will result in skipped turns or expenses resulting in a loss of earning power.

  - Career Cards: Cards that will influence the income that the player receives every turn. Things like retrenchment, salary bonuses, promotion, vacation, overtime, office politics etc.

 - Law Cards: Counter cards that will negate harmful effect to you or beneficial effects for other players

- Incident Cards. Single target cards that will affect the asset value of the assets played. Things like corporate default, company fraud, tenant damages your property etc.

 - Global Cards: Cards that will affect the environment by changing the position of the economic cycle and affecting the investment value of all the asset cards, or a shotgun affect card which will result everyone making or losing money.

 - Professional Cards: Cards that can be used infinitely as long as they are in play. They are like an adviser you hire to help you, like stock broker, lawyer, economist etc. You have to pay money each time you wish to activate them. Works like a creature in most collectible card games.
Brainstorming the kind of card effects

Initial card effects of the Professional Cards keyed into excel
Each category have around 10 different effects, meaning that there are over 60 different effects and each effect has 1 or 2 cards, resulting in a card pool of 100 actionable cards in total. In order to balance off the action cards by ensuring that each player will be able to draw at least 1 asset for every 3 cards a player draw, I inserted 50 asset cards with equal split between shares, properties and bonds.

It was a total disaster.

Essentially, the players a lot more action cards than asset cards and the players spend most of the time waiting for a player to deploy an asset cards before they can activate harmful/helpful actionable cards. In most cases, harmful actionable cards, which resulted in the asset cards being force sold to pay for the debts before they can stay long in the game to help the players accumulate more money. The assets became a liability in most games tested and players are reluctant to deploy their asset cards and tries to win the game by accumulate 2 income per turn very very slowly. You need to accumulate 30 money, in order to win the game and imagine how slow the game became when players have a hand full of actionable cards with little impact on the game play.

 Essentially, I will need to increase the ratio of Assets/Action in order for the game to work. I also realize that by increasing the number of asset cards will not work, because that will actually make the game duration longer. My objective is to have a game that has a duration of 30-60min, not a 2 hours strategic game whereby players spend more time reading on the effect cards and thinking how to chain the cards into a powerful combo. I need to increase the pace, energy and excitement of the game.

I used a word labeling method to generate the cards. Only Education made it into the final game

I need to trim down a lot of those very fun action cards into something more management and simpler to read and execute. I needed to cut from 100 effect cards to around 50-60 cards.

Oh boy, that's a lot of fats to trim....

The Wongamania Design Story: Trimming the Fats and Game Balancing (Part 3)

In Part 2 of Wongamania Design Story, I was elaborating how I realized that I had stuffed too much contents into the game and I had to trim the number of card designs from 100 to around 50.

Game mechanics testing using pieces of paper.

The first thing that I needed to do is to cut down the number of card categories in the game. The current card categories at that point of time were: Health, career, law, incident, global, professional and assets.

After reviewing all the categories, I decided to consolidate most of health, career and incident into one single incident category. This category of cards will be classified as the single player target category whereby these set of cards have the flexibility to affect only selected players.

Parts of the health cards like flu pandemic, pollution and career cards like traffic jam were merged into the global cards, which was suppose to only affect the economic cycle.

I did away with the entire law category, which purpose was to act as counter cards. I felt that having too many counter cards would slow down the gameplay and lower the energy and excitement of the game. I merged some of the counter cards with the professional cards and rename them into professionals.

The professional cards, which were suppose to placed permanently in the game, became too overpowered as a resulting in near invincibility for players who managed to obtain certain cards. As a result, the design of the professional cards was redesign from a permanent card which you can activate again and again, to a per use card.

All these cards removed from the game...
Game play became much faster as the number of variety of cards was reduced and players now spend more time playing and planning rather than examining and reading the cards.

The new gameplay rules were as follow:

1) Collect 2 Wonga (credits) as salary
2) Collect your income from your assets. Feed the baby, pay the money lender.
3) Convert any number of Wonga into opportunity (playable cards)
4) Perform your actions
5) End game

A new problems cropped up with the new mechanics. Incident cards became too deadly.

The reason for that was due to the price of activating incident cards. The cost was 0 wonga (credits) for incident cards and 1 wonga for global cards. There was also no limitations how many actions a player could take.

The rationale at that point of time is that global cards were much more powerful than incident cards as they had the ability to affect everybody in the game and should cost more to activate them.

A chart to keep track of the various category percentage in the game

Therefore, a player who is rich in Wonga (credits), could simply convert a huge amount of credits into playable cards and spam beneficial cards to himself, while target harmful cards to other players. The rich player was able to get richer, while everybody else became poorer, resulting in the poor players unable to muster enough resource even to turn the tide against the lead player. A game that does not allow a player who is losing to turn the tide against the lead player will result in many bored gamers halfway through the game.

What's the point of playing the game if you cannot turn the tides regardless of what you do?

Incident cards too overpowered. Removed many of the cards along the way.
I realized that I had to impose an limitation on the number of incident cards that could be played.

I imposed a new rule, requiring players to only perform 3 actions per turn. Incident cards still too powerful even with that rule implemented. It did speed up the game though with a limited number of actions per turn, so I decided to keep that rule in the game permanently

At that point of time, I was reluctant to impose a activation cost to incident as I will need to bump the activation cost of global cards from 1 wonga to 2. The number of combo cards that a player can chain falls tremendously once I double the cost of activating the global cards, resulting in less volatility in the economic cycle, and thus less fun and backstabbing.

In order to bump up the activation cost of incident cards, I will have to enhance the power of each incident cards and lower the power of the global cards. A major card re-balancing exercise begane and a huge number of game testing place which we spent another few more months before we settle on the final prototype. 

Wongamania Design Story : Illustrations & Colors (part 4)

After a huge amount of testing using bits and pieces of paper, Wongamania now moves to another important phrase of the game design process.

Putting a design and face to Wongamania.

There are altogether 54 different card designs on Wongamania and there are many other design considerations which we need to consider too, including packaging, token design, logos, instruction booklet etc. The amount of illustration work to be completed is enormous!

The problem is, my initial entire team did not have any design background and we literally stumbled through the whole graphic design phrase like a couple of blind mice. We were lucky to have engaged 3 very talented young artists, Kaitlin, Olivia, EeLin to help us complete this massive project.
When I met up with the artists, I was bombarded by questions such as moods, colors, styles, themes etc and true enough, I ended up staring blankly at the artists. At that point of time, I was deciding on the theme for Limited Launch Edition. I wanted the game to look fun enough, so as to dilute the traditional mindset that learning about money is boring and tedious while the game must look serious enough, such that it will not deter adults from playing a "kiddy" game.

In order to blend this 2 conflicting concept together, we decided to use a more cartoonish style of drawing, while using a more serious tone in coloring. We decided to pick blue and gold, the traditional color of money and high finance.

Little did I know, that using two colors scheme to color all the different cards was actually a huge challenge for the artists. We were initially presented with a design scheme that focus more on the blue than the gold concept, but I rejected this initial coloring scheme as the cards became too "Batman" dark and depressing. The designers than proceeded to tinker around by adding more gold and yellow into the design resulting in a much brighter theme, though still maintaining the classic colors of gold and blue.That coloring scheme became the basis for the Limited Launch edition Wongamania.

The other problem we had was the interpretation of the cards by the illustrators. For example, on the card "Credit Upgrade", the meaning behind the card is essentially an upgrade of the credit rating of the bond of a company or a country, which will help lender assess the risk that they are taking when lending money to these organization. Singapore has a AAA ratings which means that Singapore government bond has an extremely low chance of defaulting. In this case, the ladies, who do not have finance background, thought that it has something got to do with a credit card. Hence, they drew a couple of credit cards during the initial conceptualization phrase.

We also had a couple of miscommunication between the artists. For example, we have this professional card called "Head Hunter" which is suppose to be a job agent for professionals. However, the ladies, who probably were inspired by the numerous video games which they played, drew an assassin (Head hunters are hunters who hunt for heads. Check this Wiki)

Other illustration problems started to crop up as we progress worked on the illustrations. For the "Trust Fund" card, we used a very cute piggy bank standing among loads of money. Our Malaysia partners immediately flagged that out as "insensitive", as pigs are considered as a taboo among the Muslim community.

Another illustration ran into trouble in March 2014 when Malaysia Airlines MH307 disappeared over the Indian Ocean. Our initial "Accident" card depicts a plane crashing in the sea and this illustration hits too close to home to a recent tragedy. We changed the graphic to a car crash, which seems a safe enough theme, since nobody seems to care too much about car crashes these days.  
Packaging was also another big headache for us.

Our artists did not have any industrial experience when it comes to packaging design and we literally groped around in the dark, doing tons of research online and offline, asking shamelessly around for advice, before we manage to design something acceptable.
Our first packaging design was a disaster. The packaging is too small and flimsy to hold 150 cards and the package design is too dull and unattractive. There are also no company logo, barcodes, company details, game summary, content summary and a bunch of important information that should be part of the packaging.

We reworked on the prototype design using just powerpoint and came up with this design guideline for our artists.

The new design was much more appealing and study, but the overall atheistic of the packaging was still not to our liking. Firstly, the color is too dull and does not stand out in a world of colorful tabletop packaging. Secondly, using the economist as our poster boy seems to make the game too... serious... and boring. It looks more like an economic textbook disguised as a game rather than a fun FUN game...

The shape of the packaging also did not work as the current design is not study enough to hold 350 grams worth of cards and tokens as the fold by the sides were too weak. After much discussion with our manufacturer, we had to overhaul our packaging design so that the box will be much sturdier.  

There are of course much more problems which we encountered during the design process, like the process of applying for trademark in various countries, figuring out how the barcoding process work for a retail product and how to write an attractive game summary to appeal to people to pick up the game in a store. In any case, after much trials and tribulations, we managed to publish 300 sets of Limited Launch Edition Wongamania. Getting the game published is only the start of the challenges that we will face. The next of problems pushed the team to the edge of exhaustion. Large scale play testing of the game, marketing and public relationship nightmares, quality control and supply chain problems, crowdfunding woes, redesigns and improvements for 1st edition, money problems.

Fear not! I will share with my readers on the details of some of these issues. To be continued in the next episode Wongamania Design Story!

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