Board to death

TABLE­TOP GAMERS GATHER WEEKLY IN BARS TO STRATEGIZE—AND “SLAY” EACH OTHER

The World of Chinese - - Contents -

For around 150,000 in­ter­net users of the “Table­top Game Bar” on Baidu Tieba, “killing time” has a dif­fer­ent mean­ing than usual.

Con­gre­gat­ing on­line to talk strat­egy and swap rec­om­men­da­tions dur­ing the week, on the week­end, th­ese afi­ciona­dos gather in their thousands at pro­fes­sional “table­top game bars” around the coun­try for fun and so­cial­iz­ing, based on strat­egy and role­play—and pre­tend killing.

Though table­top games such as Dun­geons and Dragons be­gan to ar­rive in the 1980s, the first real “gam­ing fever”— based on a home­grown prod­uct—took place in 2010 with San­gu­osha (三国杀, “Three King­doms Kill”), a re-in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the party game Bang! with char­ac­ters from the clas­sic Chi­nese novel. At its peak, the San­gu­osha mar­ket was worth than 40 mil­lion RMB, and at­tracted tens of mil­lions of play­ers, along with lit­er­ary copy­cats like “Red Man­sions Kill,” and “Jour­ney

to the West Kill” at new gam­ing bars in ev­ery city—around 70 to 80 per­cent of which col­lapsed when the bub­ble burst just a year later.

Ex­perts worry that this pat­tern will re­peat: Last year saw the overnight rise of Lan­gren­sha (狼人杀, “Were­wolf Kill”), or

The Were­wolves of Millers Hol­low, the French adap­ta­tion of the party game Mafia. Though board-game bars are once again open­ing in malls and res­i­den­tial dis­tricts, China’s new killing

fever is be­ing helped by a ma­tured fan base and mul­ti­me­dia prod­ucts, such as live stream­ing and mo­bile apps.

Ly­ing Man, a va­ri­ety show now in its sev­enth sea­son, streams episodes on Zhanqi TV fea­tur­ing celebrity guests play­ing table­top games, of which Lan­gren­sha is a peren­nial fa­vorite. More than 40 free Lan­gren­sha apps and mo­bile games are on the mar­ket, help­ing to sup­port an off­line mar­ket val­ued at five bil­lion RMB.

China’s table­top game in­dus­try still strug­gles with its brief his­tory, though, com­pared to West­ern so­ci­eties, where nos­tal­gia for fam­ily games like Mo­nop­oly has cre­ated a mar­ket worth 96 bil­lion USD. Chi­nese mil­len­ni­als “can only play table­top games with their peers,” game de­signer He Min told Jiemian News, “though that makes them value its so­cial as­pects more.” In China, in fact, board games are as­so­ci­ated with re­bel­lion against tra­di­tional amuse­ments: “I don’t want to do KTV…OR play cards, so there’s only table­top games left,” one stu­dent told Jiemian.

Zhao Yong, founder of the DICE CON table­top con­fer­ence, ex­plained that, to avoid an­other crash, the next step for China’s gam­ing in­dus­try is to cre­ate an orig­i­nal prod­uct. In 2016, nick­named “Year 1 of Chi­nese game de­sign,” 33 prod­uct pitches re­ceived around three mil­lion RMB’S worth of in­vest­ments; in 2013, there were just three. In 2017, the mar­ket­ing team of Chi­nese an­i­mated film Dah­ufa part­nered with a gam­ing bar to re­lease a Dah­ufa ver­sion on the Chi­nese game An­i­mals Fright­en­ing Night!, link­ing two do­mes­tic in­dus­tries that long suf­fered a paucity of orig­i­nal, high-qual­ity prod­ucts.

“Though San­gu­osha is over, lots of play­ers be­came ex­perts or even table­top game en­trepreneurs,” Zhao says. “If San­gu­osha took [an in­ter­est in gam­ing] from one to 10, then Lan­gren­sha is tak­ing it up to 100.” – H.L.

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