Bangkok’s Board Game Academy

I didn’t know anything about board games in Thailand until around 6 weeks ago. To find out about new games released by designers or publishers from Korea, Taiwan, or Japan, I know where to look on social media and other database resources or convention previews that provide hints and breadcrumbs.  But for me, Thailand was a black box.

So when I wanted to know more, I reached out to Jay from Cardboard East. While I’m deep into the weeds of the Japan Beat, the fellows at Cardboard East do a nice job of extending their coverage regionally. Jay was able to get me in touch with some folks through Facebook, where most images, information, etc. exist for Thai games.

Of relevance, he got me in touch with Songsit, who runs the Board Game Academy store, cafe, and, wait for it,…: hostel!, in Bangkok.

He and I have been talking for a few months, and, along with some discussions I had with a separate designer, I had discovered some titles that I was interested in picking up (and will need to add to the BGG database once I have a chance!).

Songsit would be getting them in stock as they released between then and my visit, so he graciously set them aside for me, and it looked like I would have time to visit on Friday during a recent work trip when my other obligations would be over, and the store would be open until 2 AM. (He later told me it was originally open 24 hours!)

I didn’t pack well for this trip. I prioritized dressing coolly for the weather over comfort, and I had exhausted and blistered and chafed my feet during my early morning and late night walking excursions through the city.  Sometimes I like the pace and observations available through walking. Other times I’m walking because I’m too cheap and probably should have taken a taxi, or, as you might here, a Grab.

Instead, I walked around 19 minutes from the closest train station I knew about to the store, which started my journey along this road.

The roads are busy both in absolute numbers and in velocity.  This road didn’t have much of a sidewalk and you needed to be diligent.

One of the joys of walking throughout Bangkok is the perpetual market you seem to be in the midst of.  Each alley, or soi in local parlance, seems to have its own soi with its own market and sois. It’s like a fractal market, and each narrowing of the next alley only cuts the traffic and number of stalls by a slim bit.

For this walk, I seemed to pass through a more wholesale-ish region for cobblers of various scales.

Many intersections where at home I would expect crosswalks and stoplights, simply have nothing. I never witnessed an accident of any sort or any angst among the drivers. In lieu of the crosswalks, you would walk up and over the street on elevated sidewalks.

I had tried to find the store via streetview before my trip, but not no avail.  However, once I was in the vicinity, that sign in the first photo was clear where to go.

I didn’t look at the hostel portion, but here’s the library room.  It was an impressive mix of titles, from party games to Roads and Boats to titles released just last week at Spiel.

The store section showed similar breadth, including many copies of In Front of the Elevators, a copy of Let’s Make a Bus Route, and even 3 copies of the expansion released at Spiel for Food Chain Magnate.

It’s not in the photo, but there was a copy of “Where am I ? Alice in a Mad Tea party”, also from last week’s Spiel, for sale.

Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t line up and Songsit wasn’t there when I arrived. I was exhausted, and as much as I wanted to wait for him, I needed to go to my hotel and rest. So, ruefully, I left.

But I also, inexplicably, didn’t return directly to my hotel.  On the way back was a large shopping district, and I owed my father a souvenir.  (Oddly, he requested one; something quite out of character.)

As I looked for one, I also looked around at what games were in other stores. 

First, I ran into a Toys r Us, and found this shelf filled with local language editions of a number of titles.

A large department store also had a number of localizations of several personal favorites, such as Chinatown and Little Town.

I stopped at another specialty game store, Stronghold, which I later realized is the distributor for a game I had picked up at Board Game Academy.

It too had quite an interesting selection, including the Thai printing of the Chinese version of Fluch der Mumie, Gangsi, with Dutrait art.

The library at Stronghold also featured several of last week’s Essen releases.

They also had this delightful sign at the entrance which explained the process of using the library and ordering food in Thai, English, and with pictures.

Soon enough I did make it back to my hotel. I rested some, packed up some, and after one thing begat another, begat another, I had a second wind. I’d now had practice with the local ride sharing service (Grab) and was ready to head back out to Board Game Academy, with minimal walking, to meet up with Songsit.

First up, he and I played Tasso Safari from Korean publisher OPEN’N PLAY.

Players take turns placing one of their sticks on the board.  If there are two sticks on the same level, and neither have a stick on top of them already, you can place your piece bridging the two, and this will earn you an extra turn.  The first player to place all of their pieces wins.

(If you’re wondering about the different patterns, that’s just decorative, as an indicator of length, and doesn’t have a gameplay affect.)

It was quite interesting and in several ways reminded me of itten’s Stonehenge and the Sun, as you estimate the best positions to place each piece so as to advantage yourself and not advantage your opponent, with the placement rather than the dexterity being the focus. There’s no square tiling or hex grid to guide your placement; it’s up to you.

Songsit also told me it has rules for team play at 4 people, which I’d like to try sometime, as I’m almost always down for team variants.

Up next he had grabbed the puzzley game Overbooked, and, while he didn’t know it, it’s one I’d been keeping an eye on from Singapore.

Thematically, the game is about loading passengers on your airplane.  You place them through drafting from a row of cards which show either a grid outlining a shape of passengers to load or some specific window/middle/aisle seat preferences.

The shape must fit in one of the sections without straddling the aisle or hanging off.

You can, though, position the card’s pattern in a way that a new passenger takes the seat of a previous one -Overbooked!- and these will be worth negative points at the end of the game.  Otherwise, points are earned for “pairs” of red passengers representing couples; white discs, representing babies, that are surrounded by other non-white discs; and the largest contiguous group of each of blue, green, and yellow, with this value being doubled for each of the largest among all players.

It was a nice little puzzle that I’d be happy to play again.

We didn’t have a quorum to play it, but he also gave me an overview of his upcoming game Why Me?

I’m going to give you a light rules overview, but things are subject to change as development is ongoing and, well, possible poor memory on my part. Why Me? is a hidden team game where the players are dealt a card showing their team, and a hand of movement cards.  The color of each players’ token is public, and the cards allow you to move certain characters forwards or backwards by a small amount or a few slightly more exotic options.

What you’re moving on is a randomly laid out spiral path of cards, and a few of these will have affects too.  The winner will be all players of the team which includes the last player to not advance off of the board.

How do you find out who’s on your team?  When a player lands on certain locations with another player present, it triggers a one-way glance at the other player’s hidden card.

He’s planning on launching a Kickstarter for it later this year, and that’s something else about the Thai market: there are restrictions against using KS.   I had noticed in my research that some of the other titles I had been looking at did appear to be sort of crowd-funded, and he let me know that one title I picked up had been crowdfunded, but it was on a platform that only allows backers from Thailand, and the other game used a system similar to GMT’s P500, with the publisher taking preorders directly.

Afterwards, we headed out to the Khao San Road night market and Songsit’s wife, who helps run the company, joined us.

So far we’re at store, cafe, hostel, and designer,  what else is there?  Well, they have an online store that ships internationally as well as distributing to other game stores. I think that’s about everything.

Wait. I forgot about Jarvis.  The store also has a very friendly and soft doggo!

Anyway, back to night markets.

I’m a sucker for public markets when I travel, and so the persistent and pervasive nature of Bangkok’s markets served to deepen my enjoyment and wonder of exploring the city.  “Night market” shouldn’t necessarily have any seedy connotations.  These are more public markets that are just open until midnight, 2 am, or later.

As I researched the trip, I imagined these were a result of jet lag.  The city is 11 hours off of my home time zone, so perhaps there is economic pressure to have some late night activities for folks whose biological clocks are off.

Having now experienced the city, I think it’s just density of people and a love of their markets!  I went to a handful of the night markets, some more interesting than others, some more lecherous than others, some more catered to tourists than others, and Songsit certainly took me to the best one!

The stalls were more varied, and included things like an alligator roasting on a spit where you could pick a rib to eat, and any number of insects for crunching.

I’m not quite that adventurous, also having passed on “pancake” gelato earlier in the day, but I did get some pad thai –and needed to rely on my new friends’ further roles as translators and money exchangers, as I had run out of baht, but still had a little USD on me and did not want peanuts.

We sat at a table to eat and chat, with Songsit occasionally running off and returning with something delicious, like a warm banana crepe.

We also stopped to get a 30 minute foot massage together and chat further, and  I think it was just what my sore feet –and the knot behind my right knee- needed.  I had not understood when they’d suggested an hour, but now I do!

So grateful to Songsit and his wife for the hospitality and thankful to Jay for connecting us.

Board Game Academy and their staff get an “I Love It!” from me.  If you’re in the vicinity, I’d recommend checking it out.

So what did I pick up?

Coconut Empire, Coffee Shop, and Lotto. Coffee Shop came with EN rules, and I was able to get EN rules for Lotto from the publisher.  For Coconut Empire, there is a closed Facebook group for folks to work collaboratively on the EN translation, but the designer has also told me that she’s working on them.

I hope to tell you more about these games in depth as I have a chance to play them, but for now I’ll leave you with this article interviewing วิภาพรรณ วงษ์สว่าง  (Wipaphan Wongsawang), elsewhere referred to as “nanaaa”, the designer of Coconut Empire.

James Nathan

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