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If you’re about to or have already joined the workforce, there’s no doubt that you’ll have heard some horror stories. Whether they’re about abusive colleagues or nasty office politics, what we know is that none of us in our right minds would want to face them IRL.

But what if you could get a little taste of it through a game, in the name of good fun?

Yee I-Van (Ivan) had one such idea to bring to life, inspired by his 16 years of experience as an employee and entrepreneur. Having been a manager himself, he’s been exposed to plenty of quirky personalities.

“Also I have an aunt who was formerly a super senior HR director so I had a wealth of ‘resources’ to draw from,” he told Vulcan Post in an interview.

Couple those troves of experience with his self-proclaimed warped sense of humour and a tendency to see the silliness in inappropriate situations, and you get The Alchymyst’s Lab’s first in-house developed card game, HR: The Toxic Workplace Game (HR).

Your main goal as a player? Sabotage your colleagues and get them fired. That’s right, you can be the bad guy now.

Some familiar and relatable personalities

Some scenarios here were oddly relatable / Image Credit: The Alchymyst’s Lab

Funnily enough, despite having “HR” in its name, the gameplay is like nothing you’d want to see from a real HR department. Instead, any HR SOPs are now being executed with malicious intent.

HR is a 2-4 player game where you and your frenemies are Managers on the climb up the brutal corporate ladder. To win, you’d have to complete a full project cycle by collecting and playing all 4 Project Management cards before your opponents do.

And because the workplace doesn’t come without its competition, other Managers will try to stop you from achieving your goal by getting the employees under your team fired. This is another way to win HR, by serving Warning Letters to other Managers’ employees through Misconduct cards.

These Misconducts can range from common frowned-upon behaviours at the office like being drunk at work, breaching an NDA, or having an office romance. When an Employee receives 3 Warning Letters, they are fired and placed in the Retrenched Pile.

Of course, you could block your opponent’s Misconduct attacks using certain Instant or Action cards, which acts as the workplace equivalent to closing an eye to an employee’s misbehaviours.

In HR, you’ll be working in a fast-paced and dynamic environment, but thankfully, the job is easy to pick up. Ivan intended for HR to be easy to play while also providing enough depth to create strategies so players could balance luck and plans to “git gud”, as he put it.

Get all 4 Project Management cards before someone sabotages your team / Image Credit: The Alchymyst’s Lab

Upon trying a hand at it myself, I was able to complete a 2-player round in 45 minutes. Though the cards are based on scenarios and characters you’d find at work, they were easy enough to understand that even those who’ve yet to enter the workplace could relate to certain behaviours. 

For example, The Tai Chi Master or The Overachiever are characters you’d not only find at work, but in school group projects too. The former will typically find ways to pass any work to other team members, while the latter is your typical KPI-meeting, straight-A teammate, sucking up to the bosses or lecturers.

And because art imitates life, HR has a rule where the Manager who draws The Overachiever employee in their hand gets to go first.

On the flip side, there are also some seriously wacky scenarios such as a Misconduct card where an employee is found having a collection of dead birds under their desk. (If you ever get a real colleague like this, I think misconduct would be the least of your worries. My thoughts and prayers will be with you.)

A 6-month long project

The actual inspiration for the “take that” mechanics of HR came from another game that Ivan wanted to make some technical improvements on.

Did you know: A “take that” mechanism of games is where you can take an action that screws over your opponent.

After restructuring and redesigning it, HR was by play-tested numerous times with any friends Ivan could gather.

Early prototypes of the cards / Image Credit: The Alchymyst’s Lab

“I had an office theme in mind, in which I imagined a large dysfunctional company where everyone was out to mess with everyone else, and get each other fired. I saw the potential of injecting humor into a usually dry topic,” said Ivan.

Perfecting the project took Ivan about 4 months, whereby the largest portion of his time was spent writing and ensuring all play cards related well to the theme.

Adding humour was quite difficult for Ivan who had to test his jokes on a new set of eyes with every rewrite. “After a while, your own writing starts to read like the ramblings of a mad man and isn’t as fun to read as much as the first time,” he added.

The final stage of the project was finding the right printers and getting the production tests done before proceeding with the game’s full production. All in all, the whole process to bring HR to life was a rough 6 months.

At least no one tried to sabotage the project cycle…

Back burner of creativity

The Alchymyst’s Lab itself is a lean company, consisting only of Ivan, another designer, and an intern. For the most part, it’s been providing outsourced services for animated content, digital video games, social media, and graphic design.

“It’s a personal experimental playground for backburner projects that I’ve accumulated over the years, stuff that one might say they’ll get around to doing but neglected for years to come,” Ivan told Vulcan Post.

His own experiences comprise being commissioned as an artist for a local card game, Kuih Muih, and he’s also been a university educator in game art development for the past 15 years.

Since he’s primarily worked as an artist for other titles, HR is his first time fully writing and publishing a game under The Alchymyst’s Lab.

Do it yourself

Launched in June 2021, Ivan reported that HR has been receiving notable support from local communities, friends, and family. 

“Currently, as a business, I’m aiming to break even as that would be a clear indicator if I have my systems right,” Ivan noted. “I think I’m 30% of the way now and there are still some initiatives I will be rolling out gradually to keep the interest in the game alive.”

One of them is the game’s allowance for users to print out blank cards to design their own.

This would give users the liberty to expand their own card decks upon paying the upfront RM50 for the set. By making their own cards, users can create meaningful and more personalised scenarios relating to their own office cultures, adding inside jokes amongst their colleagues too. 

Other cards you can play to cause setbacks in your opponents’ projects / Image Credit: The Alchymyst’s Lab

HR is mostly geared towards an adult audience who are part of the working class, and has thus far been receiving customers who’ve matched this demographic.

Ivan hopes to continue creating more tabletop games in line with this market. Simultaneously, his team is testing another game with a younger market in mind, as he wants to have a diversified catalogue of products in the future.

While not The Alchymyst’s Lab’s core business, the team hopes to explore more game ideas in their repository while looking into possibilities of publishing deals abroad.

On my end, HR will probably be my company’s next meet-up game. After all, nothing suggests a healthy company culture better than looking forward to getting together after long durations of working apart and doing our best to sabotage each other!

  • Learn more about The Alchymyst’s Lab here, and check out HR: The Toxic Workplace Game here.
  • Read more game-related articles here.

Featured Image Credit: Yee I-Van (Ivan), founder of The Alchymyst’s Lab

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)