SG Got Game: Designing board games is her cure
After quitting accounting job & pursuing her passion, Christina Ng is happier and healthier
Board games changed their lives for the better.
For many, such games are solely for children or festive occasions.
But for Ms Christina Ng, 36, and Mr Yeo Keng Leong, 41, rediscovering a love for the old-school pastime improved her health — and their marriage.
Indeed, Ms Ng quit her job as an accountant to design board games.
Mr Yeo believes that everyone has something to gain from playing games. He told The New Paper: “Games bring us all together.”
The couple’s table-top passion began in 2009 when they were dating.
Mr Yeo had discovered that Samurai, a video game that he had been playing, was actually adapted from a board game.
He bought that board game and while it was complex, they quickly found themselves enjoying it.
It led to a second game called Agricola, a feudal farming game that proved to be a favourite.
Ms Christina Ng (left) and Mr Yeo Keng Leong (right) set up their own company, Starting Player, in order to design and publish their own three-player-only game, Three Kingdoms Redux. Ms Christina has since left her job as an accountant to work full-time on operating Starting Player. TNP Photo: Jeremy Long
The couple — who were married in 2010 — are not alone in rediscovering the joy of board games.
A recent revival means the tabletop industry is worth US$880 million (S$1.18 billion). And though that pales against video games’ US$91.5 billion, plenty of people are happy to shell out $100 and above for each physical strategy game.
Although the couple were initially hesitant about the cost, they found it to be well worth the money, they even bought expansions. The estimated total of $300 made sense based on their frequent usage.
“One game takes about an hour,” Mr Yeo said. “If you divide $300 by the 800 times that we’ve played...”
GAME ON: Cards from the three-player game where players take control of armies and generals in a competition for resources.
The couple exclaimed in unison: “That is about 30 cents for each hour of entertainment.”
Then board games took on greater significance for Ms Ng. When she started working, it became clear that the stress and long hours that came with accountancy were taking their toll on her health.
She suffered from gastric problems. Sometimes she had no desire to eat. Sometimes, it was so bad she would be unable to get out of bed because of the pain.
Mr Yeo, who teaches locally, suggested that she leave her job.
He said: “We don’t smoke. We don’t drink. We don’t shop. Once in a while, we go for a holiday, that is about it.
“I told her, ‘We don’t need your income. Let’s just live a simple life.’”
Ms Ng was hesitant at first, then they hit upon a literally game-changing idea.
Pieces of the board of Three Kingdoms Redux, a two-hour long, three-player game where players take control of army and generals in a competition for resources. TNP Photo: Jeremy Long
As the couple had already begun to design their own board game as a hobby, Ms Ng could take on the task full-time.
The choice was clear — stay in regular employment at the cost of her well-being or pursue her passion.
In 2011, Ms Ng she became a fulltime board game designer, and she has never felt healthier or happier.
Two years ago, they released their three-player-only board game, Three Kingdoms Redux — based on the Three Kingdoms period in China.
While it has sold more than 1,000 copies worldwide, they noted that they have yet to make a profit. But as Mr Yeo said: “We did not intend to make money off of it.”
However, that made it hard for Ms Ng to tell her parents of her change in vocation.
“We didn’t tell them up front,” admitted Ms Ng.
Before the revelation, she introduced board games to her parents as an ideal retirement pastime.
She managed to keep her secret for a whole year.
It was in 2012 that she made the big disclosure. It led to many questions from her father, who was worried about her finances.
There is still a concern, but otherwise they support her decision.
Indeed, they are helping to “road test” Ms Ng’s new game idea.
So what attraction do board games hold? For Ms Ng, it is the face-to-face interaction.
“It is not so much about winning but about the time we spend together,” she said.
“People spend a lot of time on their mobile phones nowadays. Although it feels like we are closer together, you are actually interacting more with the machine than with another person.”
Three Kingdoms Redux is now available on startingplayer.com for $70.
"People spend a lot of time on their mobile phones nowadays. Although it feels like we are closer together, you are actually interacting more with the machine than with another person."
— Ms Christina Ng