A Chat About Mooncake MasterMay 26, 2021
In this edition of Meeple-Sized Interview, we talk with Daryl Chow about Mooncake Master and his board game company, Origame.
Daryl, thanks for agreeing to talk to us about your game, Mooncake Master. Could you tell us a little bit about it and how it’s played?
Daryl: Mooncake Master was the first game that we published through Origame and it is iconic of the type of game that we aim to make and keep making – simple and intuitive rules, choicy enough for gamers, and a beacon of Asian culture and design. From the box sleeve to the mechanics, care has been taken in each step of the process to make the game feel like a box of mooncakes that you would pick up from a Chinese supermarket. The Mid Autumn Festival, or sometimes informally known as the Mooncake or Lantern Festival, is a time of year where people gather with their families to enjoy lanterns, the moon, and mooncakes. Mooncakes are especially popular in places such as Singapore, where you would traditionally give mooncakes to your parents as a gift. In Mooncake Master, you are tasked with making these beautiful mooncakes for fussy customers. The framework is very simple – you draw 3 mooncake quarters, which have different flavours and toppings, and pass 1 quarter to each of your neighbours. With your 3 quarters, you start building your mooncakes. This goes on for 4 rounds until you have created 3 full mooncakes, after which they will be judged for their beauty as well as whether customers will be willing to buy them. The game is over after 3 rounds. It sounds simple, but there are a lot of tough choices to make in the game! Another plus is the little to no downtime and the fact that you can enjoy a highly interactive puzzle with up to 6 players in 20 minutes.
Every game has a story behind its creation. What is Mooncake Master’s story?
Daryl: Most of my games start with explorations of mechanics, and this one is no different. I designed a game a number of years ago themed around Jack and the Beanstalk, where you would pick a card and hand the other two to your neighbours and try to race to climb the beanstalks to discover treasure. The game and this ‘sharing’ mechanic worked, but the choices were slightly too simple and there wasn’t much replayability. When I started designing spatial games, I realized that joining up quarters could allow you to form interesting combinations. The moment I thought of mooncakes, I knew I had a game. Mooncakes not only have lots of interesting toppings and flavours, but mooncakes are all about sharing, which was a natural fit for the ‘sharing’ mechanic. The modern yet traditional mooncake box aesthetic, which is all about elegant packaging, also allowed us to work with an innovative new illustrator to create a visual appeal that suited our up-and-coming brand.
What makes Mooncake Master different from other drafting games out there?
Daryl: In most drafting games, you are only picking for yourself. Here, you are also picking for your left and right neighbours, which feels very different because you constantly need to keep a lookout as to what the other players are doing. You don’t want their mooncakes to be more beautiful than yours, or to perfectly fit the wants of multiple customers. Often, there may not be a perfect tile for yourself, but a tile you know will perfectly foil your opponents, so it’s worth going out of your way to make them wince.
If you are an expert player, however, you will know how to fit these unwanted tiles into your long-term plan!
As you mentioned above you like to make games, at least for your publishing company, that reflect Asian culture. Why is that and do you think that those outside of your culture can use them as a learning tool or springboard to understand Asian culture a little better?
Daryl: Board games are an awesome medium because they are experiential in nature and get players involved in their narrative and stories. And therefore, board games are an excellent and fun way to learn about different cultures and histories. Games by nature and definition are abstract, so why not use a skin that we, as Singaporeans and Asians, know and care deeply about? I think when you make games that tell stories, that can only serve to make a good game even better. And when these stories are meaningful to you, I believe the audience can feel that too. I wrote a while back about games that were a proud representation of Asian culture and history, and I think learning about other cultures can only serve to enrich your own life. You may start to discover colours and tastes that you never knew you liked until now, and people around you may even start to seem less foreign. In our games, we always start with a fun mechanical core, but as we go along we are always thinking of how to integrate the theme and stories into the mechanics, components, and artwork. For example, all our games come with an additional glossary (as long as we have enough space) so that players who appreciate the theme can continue their cultural explorations.
As we wrap this up, can you give us some hints about games coming in the future from Origame?
Daryl: There’s always interesting stuff in the works and our upcoming games are going to be very varied in nature. Up next will be a card game about picking durians, Singaporeans’ favourite fruit, with mechanics reminiscent of 6 nimmt. Afterwards will be Buffet Boss, a project we have been working on for a while, a dexterity game with a layer of strategy which is a collaboration with a product design studio Design Insight. Also in the pipeline: a tile and token-laying game that teaches about rainforests and mangroves and food chains, a cooperative word game, and a real-time perception game themed around Peranakan tiles. So there’s plenty to be excited about, regardless of your preference!
Thanks again Daryl for taking time out to do this interview. If readers would like to pick up a copy of Mooncake Master, Miniature Market has some imported copies.