As for the types of games that people play in Taiwan, Kaseno rattled off a few of the more popular ones: Bang!, Saboteur, and Citadels are all games that I’m familiar with. They’re something in between party games and strategic games — casual games with a strong social component. Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan are also pretty popular and can serve as gateway games as they do elsewhere in the world, but they don’t seem to hold the same sort of revered status they have in the US gaming community.
Diau’s assessment was fairly similar, in that gamers tend to like games with a strong social element. The games she listed as most popular were Settlers of Catan, Dixit, Pyramid (from Ravensburger), Clue, Rummykub, Saboteur, and Inception (see below). Again, this isn’t exactly the same list you’d get if you walked into a game store in the US and asked for some game suggestions. Clue surprised me simply because it’s an older game, and Pyramid is one from 2008 that I’d never heard of before I went to Phantasia. Rummykub, although it’s not quite like the others on the list, is probably there due to its similarity to Mahjongg.
Finally, I wanted to check out games that were being made in Taiwan and China, to see what sorts of things people were coming up with. I wanted to see if there were unique mechanics or any sort of trends.
Well, I spotted one trend which is common in Asia but not limited to board games: knock-offs. Asia is well-known for its fake Nikes, pirated DVDs, and imitation-is-the-easiest-form-of-commerce practices, and this seems to carry over into the board gaming world as well. It’s often combined with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms — apparently the first thing that comes to mind when re-theming a game to give it a Chinese flavor.
So you’ll see things like 3 Kingdoms Battle (to the left), a China-themed version of Carcassonne, or 3 Kingdoms Kill, a fairly popular card game based on Bang!. But the Chinese and Taiwanese companies aren’t always content to just change the theme — they want to add complexity as well. 3 Kingdoms Battle throws in cards and dice, so it’s like Carcassonne except that you can attack each other’s castles somehow, and the cards appear to give you different abilities. In Bang!, each player gets a character card that gives you a special ability — in 3 Kingdoms Kill, you each get two characters, and the prince (equivalent to the sheriff) gets three!
Another game that is currently popular is Inception, based on the movie. Wait, you’re thinking, how come I didn’t know there was a game based on Inception? Well, that’s because it’s made by a Chinese game company and is only available in Chinese. And how did a Chinese game company get the exclusive rights to a major Warner Bros. blockbuster? Heh. Probably the same way this other Chinese company got permission to publish a Bourne Ultimatum game — which is to say, they didn’t.
There’s even a board game company in Taiwan called Catan, though their games do actually seem to be original and have nothing to do with the Catan you’re familiar with. One game is something about bursting your liver in competition, and the other is about being a black-hearted unscrupulous businessman. Both games seemed like they could have some pretty interesting gameplay, with bluffing mechanics and a wicked sense of humor, but they were heavily language-dependent and I couldn’t justify spending that much on games I wouldn’t really get to play much once I got back to the States.
I only spotted two instances of gaming in public. One was at a public library we visited — there were a few elementary school-aged boys in one corner playing some sort of trading card game. Another was at a mall, where I spotted a gaggle of teenagers playing Set. Granted, because I was there with family and doing a lot of sightseeing and such, I wasn’t necessarily in the right places, but I didn’t see a whole lot of other gaming going on outside of the shops.
I did purchase this game called Ghost Play — there’s a subtitle to distinguish it from two other Ghost Play titles by the same publisher, but I couldn’t get a proper translation of it. This one was recommended to me by Diau at Phantasia, and it turned out to be a deck-building game. Again, it’s heavily language-dependent because all of the card abilities are spelled out in Chinese, but at least there are some icons and numbers that help with the basic mechanics. I sat down with my parents and my dictionary app and worked on my own translation of the rules and card text, since it wasn’t on BoardGameGeek yet. I’ve gotten to play one full game so far, and it’s an interesting twist that does some different things with the deck-building mechanic.
Pyramid Raiders is one that Kaseno showed me that I ended up purchasing. The publisher, Moaideas Game Design, is from Taiwan but is positioning their game as one that could be marketed outside of Asia: you’ll notice that the title is in English, and the rulebook has both Chinese and (mostly okay) English. It’s a clever little game that isn’t just copying some other idea, even if it isn’t terribly deep. However, it’s not something you’ll be able to purchase outside of Taiwan easily for now. The product is there, but the question of distribution is something else entirely.
All photos by Jonathan H. Liu except where noted.