An Interview with Smoox Chen about 150BG.con

Today in Taiwan, one of my new-found favorite board game conventions is happening, 150BG.con, and I wanted to share with you some details about it from our friend, and one of the organizers of the convention, Smoox.

This is the fourth instance of the convention, which derives its name from the cost of each of the games that will be exhibited: 150 NT$!, around $5 USD.  (Even a ticket to the event costs 150 NT$!)

Last year, I was able to play one of the games released at the convention, 矩陣謎語 (Lost in the Grids), a cooperative game where players attempt to arrange square cards in a grid such that no row or column has more than one card of any suit or number. It whetted my appetite to try more of these releases!

It’s an intriguing premise, so join us below as we hear from Smoox about the background of this 5 hour convention.

What was the inspiration for starting the 150BG convention?

3 years ago Huei from Soso Studio approached me about this convention idea because he felt that a game takes so many efforts in all aspects to be ready to be released. But there are so many cool ideas that might never see the light in the public because the designers don’t have the resources to push their designs to the next step of publication. Besides that, both Huei and I are fascinated by the “500 Yen” games commonly seen in Tokyo Game Market which roughly equals to 150 NTD. So, boom! There is the 150BG.Con. 

In looking over the release list for this year, I saw a few names of designers and publishers that I recognize, like Citie Lo (A Pleasant Journey to Neko) and Soso Games (Castle Crush, Dadaocheng).  What is the range of participants?  New voices?  Established designers? A broad spectrum?

150BG.Con welcomes designers of all sorts, but mostly those who don’t mind cutting cards, applying stickers, and folding boxes for each copy of their 150-priced games. 

It’s a great chance for rookie designers to test their game ideas and learn from this “production process.” Because they have to go through not only design and playtest, but also graphic, components (with limited budget in mind!), packaging, and promotion. It’s a practice of MVP (minimum viable product) oriented project. They can kind of have a feeling about if they enjoy “game publishing” or not. Although the scale (1k MOQ vs. 20 hand made boxers) is drastically different but the mental exercise teaches you some lessons. 

For experienced designers, it’s a good way to experiment a bit on their crazy ideas or even get some feedback on their potential future releases (by making a 2-player version or Roll and Write version). 

GeGe Game Lab preparing their 150BG.Con release, 斜槓人生

What methods do the designers use to produce the games economically enough to sell for 150 NT$? 

Most of the games were produced for 10-50 copies. So it’s about not losing money rather making money. And so far they are doing good in the balance. (To my surprise too!)

There are many great resources they can use in the stationary shops. 

Last week I went to a shop and found this:

Beautiful tiny tiles of excellent quality! 

(And I designed a small game around these tiles, maybe for the next 150BG.Con.)

How much are these tiles you asked?

Only 18 NTD per bag with 70 tiles!

Besides, they can print a deck of poker cards (54 cards) from a few professional printing companies for as low as 40-60 NTD. And the minimum order is ONE copy. 

If you can squeeze the game into a deck (including the rules), it’s very likely that you can make some money by this method (if the game is fun of course).

Some experienced designers will use the leftover components from their previous games, such as cubes, tokens, cardboard, and even meeples. 

How is the design process different for a game released at 150BG rather than Spiel?

For 150BG.Con it’s more about expressing the core mechanic of fun and forgetting the beautiful artwork and quality components. You want to see if people will say to you, “I really look forward to seeing the final product of this game in the future.” If you get enough feedback like this, then you have a green light to pursue the actual publication. 

For Spiel your game needs to be perfect. So a lot of efforts need to be made to polish the rules, and the artwork and components must be of top notch to be able to compete with all the “Major League” players. 

So you can see 150BG.Con as a pre-selection of potential Spiel games in the future. 

In what ways is the pandemic affecting the show?

In the past 150BG.Con was a sporadic event. We didn’t have fixed intervals for it. So technically it’s not postponed or canceled due to the pandemic. But we do speculate a bit on the proper dates for the event after a few big conventions like book exhibitions and digital game shows were forced to be cancelled in early 2020. 

Later on the pandemic is properly contained in Taiwan so we hosted the third event last August. We can feel that people were very enthusiastic about it probably because there were no other board game conventions happening around that time. 

The onset of the new virus variant created some crisis in January but luckily it didn’t spread out. So we just need to follow the safety guidelines and ask everyone to wear masks and keep social distance then we shall be fine. 

Your game “The Three Little Wolves” premiered at a 150BG convention, but has now seen a full production copy be released. Have there been other titles released at a 150BG that went on to have wider releases?

Yes, Three Little Wolves was an alumni from 150BG.Con. Poki Chen (Wok on Fire) brought the game to the con and it was very popular. He even got some pre-orders after selling all 30+ copies on that day. Later on I joined force with him to bring the game to a full production version. It’s a pity that we couldn’t bring it to Essen to show it to  more people. Luckily we already have some partners who will localize it to other languages. :)

Another game that went into full production is also from Poki Chen, which is Colorful Treasure. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both games are from Poki. He plans very well for his game release through the 150 version to the formal version. He is a graphic designer by day and is very good at doing this DIY / PNP styles. So 150BG.Con is like his home game. 

You can see the 150 version of Colorful Treasure (it’s called Treasure Hunter at that time) in the photo below.

He sold 40 copies and got pre-orders of 50 more after the event. It’s cute, it’s fun, and it shows the potential. 

The other reason his games got released is because I like them and decide to help develop the games and bring them to Essen under the umbrella of TBD (Taiwan Boardgame Design). We look forward to exploring more gems in 150BG.Con and help foster new designers. 

If readers want to follow along with news and teasers about this convention and upcoming titles from Taiwan, what are the best sources of information?

You can follow 150BG.Con on Facebook or Twitter. We will try to post more information there. :)

What have I forgotten to ask about?

That’s pretty comprehensive already!

Thanks for the spotlight!

An intriguing roll and write about being a theater usher that was released at the 3rd 150bg last year.

As I prepared these questions, I had tracked down information for around 11 of the 20 titles I had found announced for today’s show.  We hope to bring you our thoughts on a few of these when we have a chance to try them.

As with many of the Japanese titles I import, the games won’t include English rules or components – and there’s no reason they should. It’ll take me some time to work through the rules for how to play, and some of the games with more language intensive components aren’t able to make the shopping list. 

I’ll leave you with this photo from the 150BG Facebook group of one of the titles I’m most looking forward to. There are roll-and-writes, war games, social deduction games, abstract games, solo puzzles games, and more –for $5 each at one 5 hour convention! 

There’s something genuine and palpable about the love put into the design and crafting of these releases and they bring me an irreproachable joy.

James Nathan

王群元’s 150bg release “魔幻特攻” (roughly: Magic Special Attack), from the 150bg Facebook group

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1 Response to An Interview with Smoox Chen about 150BG.con

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