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Local Designer Series: Nicholas Pang of smol tok

Local Designer Series: Nicholas Pang of smol tok

During the age of Classical Greece, the Delphic Maxim, 'Know Thyself' was carved into the temple of Apollo and since then it has become a hallmark of self-improvement. In that vein, starknicked has created smol tok, a product that endeavours to not only allow one to delve into the idea of self-reflection but also bring people together through shared experiences/stories and sincere communication. 

"At that time, I had a day job that sucked my soul dry. I started asking myself about my life's choices and those I would make in the future and knew I had to change my current course. "


smol tok was created by Nicholas Pang, who has a background in theology and communications and was inspired after reading Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Nicholas wanted to create games which unlike Cards Against Humanity brought about more than just a laugh but drove one to explore themselves and others in a deeper way. 

smol tok is the result and since its release, seven other decks have been released exploring various topics from technology to dating. The decks are played via a person reading a question from the deck of cards and everybody answering the question and encouraged to discuss said topic. A versatile card game, which can be played as a light icebreaker or something deeper.

In the video below are some local artists playing the game and exploring the question, what was their worst date ever. 

1. Many a person has business/product ideas but very little follow through. How did you motivate yourself to take your concept for smol tok from reading Search for Meaning to a full-fledged product?

I didn't start out with any intention to create a product. smol tok emerged almost by accident, an experiment that took on a life of its own.

I was very much inspired by Frankl's, Man's Search for Meaning. I believe that every young person should read it. That book is powerful and life-changing. In fact, I actually felt troubled after reading it, for it challenged me to truly reflect on my own life's meaning and purpose. It made me wonder if my life was making any impact on the world. My conclusion did not. 

At that time, I had a day job that sucked my soul dry. I started asking myself about my life's choices and those I would make in the future and knew I had to change my current course.  

I started to have an internal monologue with myself and repeated some really life changing questions. It got confusing, tiring and honestly scary. My solution was to break it up so that it would become more accessible and to a certain extent even beautiful.

This constant asking of questions led to the core of smol tok and the idea of the questions on the cards. I was glad for the distraction to be honest. It took my mind off my dull day job.

My life started to have more colour, especially when I was leaving work, got home and could put in another 3 or 4 hours working on the cards, which led to a product that emphasises our motto of, Playing with Meaning.

2. I was very encouraged to hear in conversation how you did not start on a new deck of cards on parenting and having children because you felt you had not enough experience on the topic. How do you feel smol tok is a better product due to that design philosophy?

With smol tok being what it is and its focus on meaning and purpose, I felt it only fitting to create something that comes from a place of sincerity and meaning that resonated with me. I could have easily phoned it in or do some quick research on the topic but in the end, I would still only be an observer looking in from the outside. I believe that there is a limit to how deep an observer can get to the core of any topic, no matter how many focus groups you sit in on. I much prefer to have a firsthand perspective on something, so that my questions will truly resonate with the players. 

Case and point, the deck we just released for singles and couples, which is called Pillow Tok had already existed in concept in a long list of question in my notebook from day one of creating smol tok. Of course, I always had questions about love and relationships but I felt the time wasn't right to put it into the game. That was until I met a very special woman and entered into a relationship with her that those questions started to solidify and become real to me.

That special woman eventually became my wife, YAY! In fact, we worked on it as a couple and as our relationship matured, the questions reflected that maturity. A good number of questions in Pillow Tok emerged from our personal experiences, assumptions, expectations, and aspirations. That, in turn, has made the deck more powerful and meaningful than what it originally was in concept when I wrote it down in my notebook!

So getting back to a deck planned for parents and children. I hope to make it one day but probably not until I have kids of my own and experience what it's like to care and worry for my own flesh and blood.

3. What is the biggest challenge of making a board game in Singapore?

For me, the biggest challenge doesn't stem from the board game making process in Singapore specifically, but with the publicising side and the use of social media to promote smol tok as I much prefer meeting and speaking with people face-to-face rather than through a screen, virtually, a reason why I attend many fairs to show off smol tok in person.

Nowadays, nobody can escape or avoid social media. Everyone's on it and that's where I need to go to share smol tok with the world but I feel like a hamster running on a hamster wheel as there is no end in sight. And a reason why I generally prefer board games to video games, 

But if I had to name a specific challenge about the process of making a board game in Singapore, I would say it would have to be the lack of mentorship, a jumpstart programme or someone to go to like a guru.

I had a lot of questions about making a board game. The whole endeavour requires many skills and for the average Singaporean, which I include myself in, who isn't plugged into the big board game brands or networks, there was a lot of trial and error, experimenting and coming up with my own processes, which still might not be the most optimal way to do things.  

Related: Local Designer Series: Christina Ng and Yeo Keng Leong, Designers of Three Kingdom Redux


4. What kind of game would you recommend for a first-time designer? For example, card or board game, etc.

I would say card games. Prototypes can be quickly made, even if rough and ready. Cards are also easier and cheaper to produce. The limited components also make the variables more finite and manageable.

5. From your experience, what is your biggest piece of practical advice for aspiring boardgame designers?

I got two, ha! First, you got to get clear on why you're making a board game. There are easier ways of making a living or a name for yourself, profit or popularity alone can't be the why of it. Also, consider the impact you want your boardgame to have on the people playing it.

Second, play more games, more often! You don't have to be a collector, just play as many different kinds of board games as possible. Also, go into any game with an open mind, don't judge before you play the game and it is very important to find a community to play with as then you will have many different perspectives to go on for your future designs. 

6. What is the hardest part of the production process of making a board game? Example, looking for a supplier, printer for the game, etc. 

That has got to be Following Through!

Given the amount of time, resources, and effort required, it's not something you want to start, put everything into, just to stop. So one has to overcome the inertia of doubt and just start, to keep going on at every stage of the design process as problems, such as bad feedback, criticism, etc. crop up all the way to the end product. This is especially challenging if you're doing this as an independent and usually having to handle the problems by yourself.  

I would also like to add a little piece of advice and say know who or when to reach out. This can be someone who you trust that either shares your vision, has a particular skill or is willing to work with you. Things happen at the speed of trust. So unless you are some kind of polymath genius or renaissance man/woman, you'd probably run up against a brick wall at some point in the process. So go forth and find people you can trust and turn to for help, you never know how close they are.

Zhou Huibin is a smith of words who majored in Philosophy & History from the University of Western Australia and whose life has followed the flow of his hobbies. He seeks continual contentment in his ponders, reading, writing, painting and board games which fills almost all of his time.
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