HK Profile: Board game developers Ray Wong and Hon Ho

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Recall your favourite childhood board game. No matter which one comes to mind, what you probably remember most are the hours of friendly competition and laughter around a table with family and friends – unless it was an extended game of Monopoly, that is.

It may come as a surprise here in the age of pervasive digital entertainment, where countless games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds are just a few taps away but many people still prefer the social interaction and hands-on fun of an old fashioned tabletop board game. And, for Ray Wong and Hon Ho, the two Hong Kong artists who co-founded Marrow Production, board gaming has evolved from an enthusiastic hobby into a business venture.

Three years ago, Wong and Ho established a Kickstarter campaign for their first board game creation, Journey: Wrath of Demons, and finally the game is available. Journey sprang to life based on Ho and Wong’s shared passion for creating toys and games. “First we thought of creating statues or busts of historical people,” recalls Ho. “But then we decided to create something people would enjoy playing. We got inspiration from Chinese chess, Dungeons and Dragons and even the video game Bomberman.”

Ho and Wong’s idea drew financial backing from more than 1,800 online supporters who collectively pledged more than US$425,000. To put that in greater perspective, the project is currently the third-highest-funded Kickstarter based out of Hong Kong, more successful than the likes of renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s Hong Kong Trilogy campaign. These days, anyone with big dreams can use Kickstarter to launch a project or business. Yet it also requires business savvy. Ho says the funding process was like ‘watching the stock market or riding a rollercoaster. The funding went up and down every second’.

Unlike more traditional games that operate with just cards, dice and tiles, Marrow packed their game with more than 30 playable miniature figures, all based on characters from the Chinese epic Journey to the West. “We noticed lots of excellent games based on Western culture but none on Chinese or Eastern mythology,” adds Ho. Aside from the story, all of the game elements were created in-house by Marrow. Ho personally contributed his skills as an adept miniatures painter. “Just like board gaming in general, miniature painting is becoming increasingly popular nowadays,” he claims. “Especially in Europe and the States. There are even miniature painting competitions worldwide.” Due to the incredibly intense level of detail required, painting a single figure can take around 10 to 20 hours. Wong is a talented sculptor who runs his own creative studio and works in the toy industry. Each of the game’s figures was meticulously hand-sculpted by him based on illustrations of the monsters and pilgrims from Journey to the West. He used wire to create the figures’ underlying bone structures and then added clay to the frames to begin the actual sculpting process.

Other producers have followed in Marrow’s footsteps, like the locally produced alternate history board game Dust: Operation Babylon. Similar kinds of online-funded board games have led to the industry’s growth worldwide, with designers tapping into global demand despite geographical borders. In 2014, UK newspaper The Guardian wrote that the internet had caused a golden age of board gaming and encouraged the hobby’s resurgence. Gaming conventions are also expanding, such as the four-day Spiel trade fair in Germany and Gen Con in Indianapolis, USA.

Marrow believes the tabletop community here in Hong Kong is growing for these very reasons. Local players are increasingly meeting up in gaming cafés, such as Wan Chai’s perpetually crowded Jolly Thinkers, which carries hundreds of popular imported titles.

“Though people may think it’s a geeky activity, geeky is not a bad thing,” remarks Ho. “It means you’re interested and passionate about something. And with gaming, there’s more human interaction.” Marrow’s long-term plans are to translate the game into different languages, localise it for different markets, add new characters and expansions, and create a smartphone app. For Wong and Ho, the journey is far from over. David Bates

For more information and to order the game, visit marrowproduction.com.

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