Welcome to Rainforest CityNovember 1, 2021
Interview with Daryl Chow, on his newest game, Rainforest City.
Daryl, thanks once again for agreeing to do another interview. This time we are talking about a new game with an animal habitat/environmental theme, Rainforest City. could you start off by telling us a little bit about the game and how it’s played?
Daryl: Hi Ryan, always a pleasure to speak with you. Rainforest City is a game about Singaporean flora and fauna that we created together with actual vets and forest experts, so you can be certain that all the information in the game is as accurate as possible. Singapore is a hi-tech city which is more urbanized than probably any other country on earth, and we tend to forget that it is home to a tropical and richly biodiverse habitat that has more species of flora and fauna than the whole of North America. The game is a tribute to this biodiversity, which I feel is also a strong element of Singaporean culture and our history.
First and foremost though, it is a really fun and puzzly game great for families that I personally enjoy playing very much! In the game, players are reconstructing a natural landscape by fitting together landscape cards and overlaying flora and fauna tokens that need to match the landscape type. Players will then create ocean, rainforest, and mangrove habitats to house different elements of a food chain – plants, herbivores, and carnivores. The carnivores are worth the most points, but you will need a herbivore and a plant in the same habitat, so it’s a careful balancing act to restore these food chains, just like in real life. The interaction in the game lies in a unique dial mechanic that allows you to pick what elements you want while subtly denying other players from the crucial link they need. In the co-op version, this dial mechanic shines in a different way, as you’ll need to pick a dial position that satisfies all of your fellow players.
Daryl: Yes, you guessed exactly right, those are precisely all the modes we have – competitive and co-op, and solo, family and advanced. Rainforest City started off as a strategy puzzle game (like very many of my games), but then I realized that the rules were very simple and suitable for kids to learn. Because of that, I added a few more variants so that gamers as well as kids (who obviously want different experiences) can enjoy the best possible version of the game.
The family (or introductory) variant takes away the houses, which allows players to solely concentrate on the puzzle aspect. The advanced mode is for gamers and introduces a race element to hit objectives before the other players (this was part of my initial design). The co-op mode came about because I felt that in a game about nature, you have to work together with the other players to restore the plants and animals (just like in real life!). As mentioned, the dial mechanic takes on a whole new personality in the co-op version too, so it was a natural fit in more ways than one. The solo came last, as that usually takes the most time to design, but I have some gamer friends who wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t put that in. The solo mode is pretty intense as you need to create two landscapes, but it is very satisfying when you can complete all your objectives.
What is the story behind how Rainforest City came to be and how you got actual animal and forest experts to work with you on this game?
Daryl: I personally love collaborations as I feel having additional experts on board really contributes to the quality of games, even if it’s just in the background setting. It started when Animals & Us Academy approached us as they wanted to create a game to teach nature concepts that they could use in workshops. We had always wanted to make games about nature as we feel that biodiversity is a very understated aspect of a people’s collective story, so we heartily agreed. When we had a working prototype, they also roped in Forest School Singapore because they also run nature education for children. We tested the game with students and staff from Forest School to make sure that the family version of the game was suitable for kids, and more importantly that they had fun. It’s been a great experience learning from nature professionals and hopefully, Rainforest City is successful – there’s just so much interesting subject matter to tap on and so many cool games waiting to be made!
The game features different animals from Singapore habitats. What animals will players be trying to collect in their habitats, and what was the process for narrowing down the animals that were featured in the game over other animals found in Singapore?
Daryl: There’s a huge number of animal species that are native to Singapore, and we could only feature very few, so we really had to narrow down our choices. In the game, you are creating 3 types of habitats – ocean, mangrove, and rainforest, and we needed 1 carnivore for each terrain type. We wanted to pick animals that players could relate to or be curious about. The pangolin was an obvious choice, as it’s become iconic as an endangered species due to poaching. We chose the pink dolphin as people know of dolphins, but they may not necessarily know that they are native to Singapore, or that there are pink species of dolphins. We rounded off with the kingfisher as it’s a striking bird that can be easily spotted around coastal areas if you pay close attention. We considered other iconic Singaporean species such as hornbills, mousedeer, monitor lizards, and all manner of monkeys and snakes, but these 3 were the ones left standing. The otter is not just an iconic Singaporean creature, but it’s also representative of how Singapore’s conservationist efforts to clean up waterways have led to more marine life and thus more otters, so I had to squeeze it into the gameplay somehow. My one regret is not being able to include the hornbill, as I actually have some flying around in my neighbourhood that I spot from time to time. We also have 3 herbivores – termites, reef fish, and crabs, that are essential in the food chain. They aren’t as glamorous as their predators, but you’ll get nowhere without them in the game!
We’ve mentioned a few times the dial mechanic. Could you tell us how it works and what inspired it?
Daryl: The dial mechanic originated for another game at first as a choosing and assigning mechanism for puzzly games. In the other game, you could call it a lazy Susan mechanic but functionally it works exactly the same. In recent memory, the colour assigning mechanic of Lanterns works similarly, but in Lanterns, the choices that result are restrictive or non-existent.
Usually, in a puzzle-type game, it’s hard to do anything but a simple draft/choosing of puzzle tiles, as anything more complex will distract from the main puzzle. However, this isn’t super interactive and often in a puzzle game players may run into analysis paralysis on their turn, resulting in downtime for the other players. The dial mechanic helps with the two issues of downtime and interaction.
The mechanic functions with the active player rotating the dial to one of 4 positions, picking the 2 items that their arrow points to, then all other players picking their choice of 1 of 2 items that their own arrow now points to. As all players pick and place simultaneously, this cuts down on a lot of downtime and keeps players engaged. Somewhat coincidentally, all Origame games so far have a simultaneous component because of the desire to give players a maximized game experience with minimal downtime.
The dial mechanic generates interaction in a competitive game because the active player has a chance of denying a competitor a crucial link in their food chain (slightly reminiscent of the active player in Wok and Roll denying all other players a good roll) if they are paying attention. This interaction becomes even more interesting in the co-op version because the active player needs to consult the other players as to which dial position is best for all players, especially if other players’ needs may be more pressing.
With a realistic and important theme, I’m sure you did some research of your own while also learning things from the partnerships you formed. What is the most interesting thing you learned well making Rainforest City?
Daryl: I think one thing that we are proud of at Origame is that we pursue themes that are meaningful and well researched, and we always have glossaries in our games that provide additional background for players whose interest has been piqued by the topic matter.
For Rainforest City, besides learning about many species of flora and fauna, one of the things I did in the course of my research was to attend a nature exhibition held at the National Library, where I had the chance to talk to the curator. The exhibit was about the relationship of Singaporeans with nature and I learned a lot from the articles on display, including the clearing of vast swathes of rainforest to make way for plantations early on in the history of Singapore. That inspired the name Rainforest City, because Singapore is literally a city built upon a rainforest. I also learned about colonial naturalists and how they raced to document their findings of flora and fauna, as well as recent conservation efforts to protect nature reserves in Singapore.
Being a gameschool site, I have to ask, though we’ve talked in some ways about it. What does Rainforest City offer gameschooling families or classrooms?
Daryl: I would say that Rainforest City is an invaluable addition to gameschool curriculum in a few ways.
Firstly, the approachability of the game. Rainforest City is at its core a game designed as a fun strategy puzzle. The game is inherently playable and anyone can have fun playing it over and over again. Because of this as well as the friendly animals, the game is very approachable and I believe that kids would want to play it even outside of an educational framework, and adults will have fun as well. The educational aspects are baked into the mechanics so that they don’t interfere with the gameplay.
Secondly, speaking of educational aspects, as this game was designed in consultation with animal and forest educators, there are many learning points that were intentionally weaved into the gameplay. For example, the houses in the game were added to show the human impact on flora and fauna. The food chain mechanic also illustrates that in order to score the lucrative carnivores, you need to have all parts of the food chain in place. There is also an educational booklet in the game where we describe all the habitats and flora and fauna that are used in the game in detail.
Thirdly, because of the number of modes available, the game is customizable for educators to deploy in different settings. Students can play co-operatively as well as competitively, and there are simple as well as advanced modes for students of different ages to enjoy. As an educator myself, I do appreciate the flexibility of customization!
When is Rainforest City due out and how can readers get a copy?
Rainforest City is in the printers now and we should ideally get it in late November to early December, just in time for Christmas. We are opening pre-orders on our website on November 1st, and pre-orders will receive a limited edition tote bag as well as a discount! We also encourage interested readers to follow us on @origame.co on our socials as we’re always up to new things.
One last question, and then we will let you go. I am a big fan of roll and writes and you just released a new one, Arachnoir. Briefly, could you tell us about it?
Arachnoir is a game that we released as a print and play last year. We decided to publish a physical version because we were happy with the response (plus we personally really enjoy playing the game!)
Arachnoir is a roll and write where the mechanics really fit the theme – you are sketching out your spider’s web while tracing its path to trap insects. It is intensely puzzly and you often have many competing priorities (do I trap the moth this turn or complete that quest before another player does?). You will likely need to adapt your strategy along the way depending on the webs that are rolled that turn. One mechanic I really like in an otherwise solitaire game is that players get a chance to plant flies on each other’s maps, sometimes forcing them out of position. The published version also comes with plastic spiders, so it is perfect for Halloween!
Thanks, Daryl, for taking time out to this interview.