Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Banana Chan
'In Focus: Perspectives in Board Gaming' is an exclusive series from Punchboard Media that spotlights diverse perspectives across the board gaming industry. Our guest this week is Banana Chan, co-founder of Game and a Curry, and designer of multiple tabletop RPGs and LARPs. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Hi Banana! You are a publisher of board games and a designer of role playing games. But which do you prefer to play? And what are some of your favorites of each?
It depends on my mood! These days, I've been really into roleplaying games. On the RPG side of things, I'm really into shorter freeform LARPs from the Golden Cobra Challenge and indie tabletop RPGs (TTRPGs). 'Monsterhearts' by Avery Alder will always be very significant to me, because it's one of the reasons why I got into playing more TTRPGs and creating RPGs. The same goes for 'Juggernaut' by Jason Morningstar. I think a lot of people who get into indie TTRPGs get introduced through these two, because of how accessible they are!
As for favorites, that's tricky — for RPGs in general, probably 'Dialect' by Kate Hymes and Hakan Seyalioglu, 'Starcrossed' by Alex Roberts, 'Bluebeard's Bride' by Whitney "Strix" Beltrán, Marissa Kelly and Sarah Richardson, and 'As We Know It' by Alex McConnaughey.
On the board game side of things, I'd say 'Photosynthesis' by Hjalmar Hach, 'Dead of Winter' by Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega, and 'Last Will' by Vladimír Suchý are my faves!
What made you decide to start publishing games?
We started off as a blog writing about games. After a while, we decided we wanted to publish our friends' games, so that's how we got into it. It sort of fell into "let's help our friends make their thing into a reality, because we're excited about it".
The name of your company, Game and a Curry, prominently features food, and you have recipes on your website. What made you decide to incorporate that into your brand?
When we were just a blog, we wrote about restaurants and games! We had this plan to write about playing games at the restaurants we were at and it just so happened that we were almost always at a Japanese curry restaurant... Now here we are!
Your most recently published game is Judge Dredd: Block War. Was that designed from the beginning with the Judge Dredd theme in mind?
Yes! Herb Ferman (the designer) wanted to make a Judge Dredd game and designed the game with the intention of making it as brutal as the JD universe. The game is based on the Block Mania story and is definitely as fast-paced the story itself.
[Editor’s Note: Block Mania runs from issues #236-#244 of science fiction comic 2000 AD, which regularly featured Judge Dredd stories]
I understand that designer Herb Ferman is working on an expansion for Judge Dredd: Block War. How is that going? Any details you can share with us?
Yes! The expansion is called Judge Dredd: Block War Escalation. The one thing I can say is that we'll have Judge Anderson in this expansion and she's a badass!
You're also planning to release two other games this year, Lair and Battle of the Boybands. Tell us a bit about each of them.
Sure thing! 'Lair' by Tam is a worker placement game, where players are controlling evil super villains, building out their super secret, underground lair. As the lairs are being built out, so is the score track. 'Battle of the Boybands' by Clio Yun-Su Davis and Vicci Ho is a card game about building the ultimate boyband. Players pick and choose and pass along members until it's time for the big performance.
Switching gears to role playing games, you are co-designing an RPG with Sen-Foong Lim called Jiangshi in the Banquet Hall about a Chinese family that runs a restaurant in the U.S., set in the 1920's, which also features vampires. How did you come up with the idea for this? How did you and Sen connect, and what has your co-design process been like?
Sen-Foong and I have been wanting to collaborate on something for a while and this was our big chance. We spent a couple of days brainstorming everything we wanted to see come to life and it didn't take long for us to settle on a horror/comedy game about running a restaurant. The Jiangshi are a very literal metaphor for the energy being sucked away from the family, as they deal with running a restaurant, racial and societal pressures and trying to survive in general, as outsiders.
Working with Sen-Foong has been great! Even though it's a long-distance design relationship, Google Docs and Hangouts really makes everything easy (sponsor me, Google, JK). This project is also something that's very personal to both of us — for me, I'm first/second generation, so this has been quite cathartic!
You are also working on two other tabletop RPG projects, Nutshells and Once Upon a Time in Jianghu. What can you tell us about those?
I'm writing 'Nutshells' with Kira Magrann, a good friend and a designer I really admire! It's inspired by the 'Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death' by Frances Glessner Lee. They were a series of nineteen dollhouses that depicted death scenes that were later used as CSI training tools. For our game, players build their own paper dollhouses and dolls out of a coloring book. Scenarios (which we are calling Nutshells) range from ghost stories to murder mysteries to teen house parties.
For 'Once Upon a Time in Jianghu' by Tobie Abad, I'm writing a stretch goal! The game is a TTRPG that's Powered by the Apocalypse system about wuxia and Chinese fantasy. I can't say much about my stretch goal, but I can definitely say it's on brand for me to write horror and it's being published by Gallant Knight Games!
You are also working on multiple Live Action Role Playing, or LARP, projects. From a design perspective, how different is it to work on a LARP than a tabletop RPG? Do you find it more challenging? More liberating? More immersive?
Sometimes, I forget how hard it is to write an instruction manual! My favorite parts of writing both LARP and TTRPG are definitely the narrative and fiction elements. For freeform LARP, it's a little easier, because there's a lot less math involved, but then you have instances where there are TTRPGs that are more experimental and you get more leeway with storytelling. I think it really just depends on the project, but with LARP, I like how it can sometimes border on performance art or augmented reality gaming.
On another note, there will also be moments when I just sit at the laptop, put a song on loop and write for hours. And then I go back a few days later and go "What was I thinking?" So editing is also definitely something I struggle with!
You wrote a short story for Renegade's Terror Below. How does that tie into the gameplay experience? Have you had a chance to play the game?
I haven't had a chance to play the game yet, but I'm really excited to get my hands on it at Gen Con! The story serves as background to what is happening in this universe - a secret government experiment has gone awry (the WORMs — Weapons of Remote Massacre) and it's up to you to wrangle up their eggs to sell back to the government. In the game, you're doing just that - collecting the WORM eggs and selling them. Each person has a character that they would be playing (some of which are included in the story), and there are several species of WORM with their own terrifying traits.
What conventions will we be able to find you at this year? What is one unique aspect you like about each con you will be attending?
I'll be at Gen Con, GrandCon, Big Bad Con, Granite State Comic Con, and a couple of house cons here and there. I like Gen Con for the industry parties and events - it's like sensory overload! My favorite convention of all time is Big Bad Con, because of how inclusive and welcoming it is — the community is just so friendly. This will be my first year for GrandCon and Granite State Comic Con, so I'm quite excited for those!
Before we finish up, is there anything else you'd like to share with us? Any other hobbies, passions, or interests?
Movies, TV and music! Those are where I get my inspiration for games. I consume a LOT of media. Aside from being a workaholic, my other passions are probably photography, community building, going to Instagram experience rooms, watching way too much YouTube and Pop Pilates.