One great thing about creatives is that they can take inspiration from almost anything and turn it into a consumable product in the form of various media.
Sometimes inspiration can come from something (seemingly) as mundane as walking along pedestrian footpaths through George Town, which is exactly the premise of the card game Kaki Lima.
But there’s more to it than just being a walking simulator in card game form, and Vulcan Post got the lowdown from its creator, Goh Choon Ean herself.
Finding Something Special In The Everyday
Originally from Petaling Jaya, Choon Ean left for Penang in 2011 and founded LUMA, an organisation that provides its services to arts and culture NGOs, organisations and communities such as Arts-ED, Hin Bus Depot as well as individual artists.
The foundations of Kaki Lima were laid when she programmed for one of Arts-ED’s Youth Arts Camp workshops in which 13 to 15-year-olds would visit a heritage site in George Town and learn an art form, which in that case was board game design.
Before she could run the workshop, she had to have an example of a simple game that could be created on a phone.
As she thought about the theme while walking in George Town, an idea struck her.
“I’ve always been inspired by the five-foot ways there and had wanted to work on an art project about it for years, so why not a card game?” Choon Ean said.
“So I went around to take photos and thought of a simple game—players could be pedestrians, just walking around and going to the places that they need to go using the five-foot ways.”
A five-foot way (kaki lima) is a roofed continuous walkway commonly found in various East and Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia included.
When the British built George Town, they enforced a law to have a covered 5-foot walkway for pedestrians since walking was the main mode of transport then.
“However, today 20% of kaki lima in George Town are blocked,” Choon Ean stated.
“There’s a lack of awareness that kaki lima is a shared space. Many think it’s a private space—they compare it to a terrace house or gated community where the porch area is private.”
This issue is reflected in Kaki Lima’s gameplay, so when players come up against the many blocked five-foot ways, they have to figure out how to overcome them.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
After the workshop was over, Choon Ean wanted to fine-tune the game. During a few play sessions with friends, she noticed that gameplay of the initial prototype was missing interaction among players.
Nobody was talking to each other throughout the game, and she felt that this wasn’t reflective of George Town’s great sense of community.
In Malaysia, the ajak (invite) culture is common, where you’ll invite people to come along with you, meet you somewhere or do something together.
So, Choon Ean brought this mechanism into Kaki Lima with the concept of collaborating to clear blocked walkways and casual walking together towards a destination.
“Once that mechanism was in place, it just felt like a better game, talking about not just the accessibility of the walk space, but also reflecting community,” she said.
An Avid Tabletop Gamer Since Young
Choon Ean has been playing boardgames since she was about 7. Boggle (the word game) was one of her childhood favourites.
“I disliked games that eliminated people like Monopoly, but realised I was attracted to the concepts in ‘Euro games’ where everybody gets equal opportunities or number of turns, where randomness is kept to the minimum, and where there’s emphasis on managing resources,” she shared with us.
Besides being her gateway into modern board games, Carcassonne was also the game that hooked her onto expanding her collection.
Today, she’s collected over 80 different games and organises monthly boardgame nights (GameGeeks) at LUMA.
Kaki Lima is the first board game she’s designed, and it took her 22 months and 15 prototypes before she was satisfied with the end product.
“Designing a game is like a game in itself. You get to connect what works, and what doesn’t work,” she commented.
What’s In The Cards?
In a brief overview of the game, ‘pedestrians’ (players) should aim to strike a balance between completing tasks on their Pi Mana? cards, exploring different places in town, meeting other pedestrians, and clearing blocked paths.
The cards are photos of real places in George Town taken on Choon Ean’s iPhone, and the playable characters are also inspired by real people, ‘regulars’ whom her teammates observed in the area.
It’s meant for 3 to 8 players of ages 8 and above, and gameplay can last for 30 to 80 minutes.
What the game hopes to highlight is that kaki lima is actually a shared space, not an individual space. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to take care of it and ensure its accessibility,” Choon Ean added.
It also wants players to realise that they won’t get very far if they don’t care about the community.
Kaki Lima has 16 components to it, but don’t be too intimidated by it as its rulebook is fairly comprehensive, and Choon Ean has also taken the liberty to thoroughly explain how to play it with these videos.
Retailing for RM168, about 100 units have been sold thus far, and it can be found in various online and offline stores in both Penang and KL, the full list of which you can find here.
One of its distributors is Lepak Game creator Rojak Culture, whose co-founder Trixie became friends with Choon Ean through the Tabletop Game Designers of Malaysia (TTGDMY) community.
As for future game ideas, Choon Ean replied, “A game about cultural transmission. For example: how a tradition or trade is or isn’t passed down from one generation to the next, or a game about how soya sauce is produced.”
She also teased the idea of expansion for Kaki Lima about building, renovation, conservation and disaster management in a world heritage site.
- You can read more about what we’ve written on games here.
Featured Image Credit: Kaki Lima