Settlers Cafe was the first board game cafe in Singapore and it introduced modern board games to Singapore in 2003. Colin Lim, the ex-owner of Settlers Cafe is still very active in the local tabletop scene and we caught up with him to find out his recent involvements with Basecamp Cafe.
Q: Please give the readers a short introduction about yourself and your organization. What is your role? What is your organization about? What is your “origin” story?
My name is Colin Lim, and I am the founder of Singapore’s first Board Games Café, Settlers Café, in 2003. I started the Singapore Game Makers (SGM) in 2018, as I was invited to bring more makers to the Maker Faire 2018 and who better then… Game Designers! And that attracted more than 10 makers to our humble booth at Tampines Hub. It was a pleasure to see the designers showcase their designs to the public, that also culminated with a Q&A session with the world renowned designer, Eric Lang.
It was from this event that SGM today has a committed and wonderful team of industry professionals (Aden – Box Dungeon, Elias – Insured, Musa – Gamerdad and Jonas – Saucy Grannies) who continue to provide advise as well as to connect people within the industry. With very strong ties with the gaming communities, in particular, the largest meetup group, The Singapore International Boardgames Meetup (SIBM), SGM continues to promote, encourage and advise designers.
I have stopped operating Settlers' Cafe and I am currently heading the volunteers for Basecamp Café (BC) located at Simei MRT which has become the de facto base for both the SIBM as well as SGM.
Q: You are the founder of Settler’s café, the first board game café in Singapore and the pioneer to introduce modern board games to Singaporeans. What has changed about the gaming habits of gamers since than?
Speaking from the perspective of the board game café, the real target audience has never been gamers, but more to convert the ordinary patron into gathering interest in the modern board games. When Settler’s Café first started, Monopoly and Scrabble were the major boardgames that the average person were exposed to, and the early games we introduced with great success were games such as Saboteur, Bang, Halli Galli and Taboo. Party games as well as social deduction then and now still remain popular, just that titles have changed (think Just One and Secret Hitler). Such groups tend to stick to these as this is a great way to bond and have a good time.
Whereas other games such as Ticket to Ride help bring the average player into hobby, the cycle goes from just dropping by the café to play, to buying the games and eventually having their permanent gamers over to their home to play (continually playing in a games café can get expensive).
Today, gamers tend to be more informed as the media around has made a big buzz, especially with the Kickstarter platform. In the past, hosts at the café recommend the games whereas today, more often than not, the guests are the ones who request games after seeing the titles, based on what they have heard of the games.
Q: You are the brains behind the very successful SG Board & Card Game meet-up in 2019 and Maker Faire. COVID has stopped all events since than. How did you think COVID pandemic has affected the local game industry and any plans for more similar events in the future?
After Maker faire, we were all excited to keep in touch and share our projects together. What we noticed is that game designers have ideas and they had no idea on how to progress further, with the expectation that Kickstarter will be where they launch off their dream games. We worked with Toy Tag, a Singapore's tabletop retailer, towards the end of 2019 to run a series of game industry talks, SG Card & Board Game Vol 1 & 2, where invited industry professionals would share their experience, and you could then playtest various games that designers are putting up. The credit for the SG Card & Board Game Vol 1 & 2 should go to Zac from Toy Tag for his direction and co
nnections to pull people together for the table top industry. It was a good challenge to get the news out, to get the participants and other logistics planning and execution, which we felt that we had perfected. And then Covid hit.
With the initial fear and worry of the pandemic, not to mention the lockdown, we had to cancel future events. And we had to ask ourselves how we should proceed with helping out the various game designers and to link them up with sources. We then decided to turn Basecamp Cafe into a maker base targeted specifically to help new designers for their games, a meeting hub where designers could meet game producers etc, using its huge library of games as well as the only place in Singapore where designers can purchase game components. Coupled with setting up the main table for designers to record their gameplay presentations / pitches, we worked with Yi Jie to host a regular Thursday Game Makers Co working space at Basecamp on the meetup.
During the pandemic, being pent up has led to a sudden number of new games coming up. Perhaps it was due to being cooped up at home that people took the courage to print and publish their game ideas. The problem next was how to reach out to get these to the public.
Thankfully with the recent lessening of restrictions, it is now possible to host large events. Moving forward, I believe that the pent up demand for board games events will ensure great attendance for any major tabletop expos, conventions etc. For the local game designers, this could be the opportunity to showcase products or prototypes that they came up with during the pandemic.
While Volume 3 of SG Card & Board Game was in the works, we are still limited by the pandemic restriction. We are now still recovering from the effects, and will likely start again once we find the right people to head and manage it.
Q: Many board game designers have approached you for guidance and advice over the years. How has the Singapore tabletop design industry evolved and where do you think it is heading towards?
Firstly, there is definitely a lot lesser of the Monopoly Clones that I used to see in the past. There is also a lot more emphasis on the quality of the game as well. While some of the games in Singapore still seem to be reskins of popular games (Off track has striking similarities to Saboteur) with a local flavor, the majority of the local tabletop games focuses on local themes and are obviously targeted to the local mass market.
While there is always a tendency to make games with a local theme, Black Dove Games paved the way of NOT using Singapore themes in their game with the launch of their first game, Dive, Diver Die! back in 2010. Their game sold out in Essen Spiele where it debuted, and we can only wonder how much more successful it would have been if they had Kickstarted the game. What I am starting to see more of are games that incorporate the newer and more popular mechanics in their play (The successful Fly A Way from Playlogue Creations) and are not shy to go on the international audience using crowdfunding as their main marketing platform. These productions are also good, comparable with established brands in the market.
Peering into my crystal ball of the future, while crowdfunding is going to be the mainstay for our indie game designers, local studios like Capital Gains Studio are coming up to help game designers with great games to be able to reach out to the international audiences. CMON Asia in Singapore is also localizing games, and are not shy to help distribute good games to Asian countries like Thailand, Philippines and Taiwan, to name a few.
Q: Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to enter the local tabletop game industry?
Play more board games! Different games have different mechanics and how they mesh themselves together to the end products. When you have more exposure, you do get an idea what types of games are popular, why they are popular and most of the time, a particular game mechanic / system / storyline etc will strike a chord in the project you are working on.
Build a prototype and playtest. After which, you playtest and playtest until it results in the right buzz / feel which you want your target audience to feel. To me, a game is also never complete, but you as a designer, will know when it is enjoyably ready to play in it’s current state.
Know why people want to purchase your game (Unique Selling Point). This is especially true and important when you are making a game to sell. Without the USP, you do not give your potential customer a better reason to buy your game then game X.
When I was running Settler’s Café, I had a retired navy officer who created a game called Admiral. This was a Monopoly clone, which was themed within the Navy. The quality was pretty poor and the retail price was $50. The designer claimed he had published 10,000 sets of the game. The game was a flop, and finally it was sold at Cash Converters for $5 a set. My heart goes out to him as he had put in his retirement sums into a clone of an already published game (he knew only the game Monopoly), did not widely playtest it (family and friends only) and in the end, the USP was that it was about the Singapore Navy (very weak USP).
Q: What are the future plans for yourself and the team in regards to developing the Tabletop community in Singapore?
At this stage, we will continue to support the Singapore International Boardgames Meetup and keep the Whatsapp group chat around. We are also cautious about putting in too much effort into events and conventions as we are still waiting to see how globally and locally, governments are dealing with a post covid environment.
Our vision is in bringing Singaporean game designers from a local perspective onto a credible international presence. This will be by giving game designers with credible games the opportunity to connect with publishers or the assistance to kickstart their games.
We are here to SHARE, SUPPORT and HELP each other to grow in our individual journeys in the game industry. Our integrity here is a pledge to honor and respect each other's IP. Collaborate and not plagiarize each other's work.
We will still be happy to meet up and playtest games, or have coffee and chat with you.
Q: Where can we find out more about Basecamp Cafe?
You can find out more about Basecamp Cafe at our website at: www.basecamp.cafe . Our Cafe is located at 30 Simei Street 3 #01-08, located just at the first floor of Simei MRT.