JUDGE Judy. Dick Cheney. Glenn Beck. The Three-Fifths compromise. Bop It.
“Ok, I don’t really know these subjects,” I blurt out exasperatedly as I look at the cards in my hands — again. At a friend’s house for brunch, we’re playing Cards Against Humanity, an American party game where players have to complete fill-in-the-blank statements using words or phrases deemed offensive or politically incorrect that are printed on playing cards.
Having heard of the game before, I was thrilled to discover that my friend had it. But that was before I realised halfway through (the game) that unless you’re American and/or are deeply knowledgeable about US pop culture and history, or someone who’s easily offended, this game is certainly not for you.
“You know, someone should make a Malaysian version of this. Sure more fun one!” I recall my friend exclaiming. And I definitely agreed with her then.
That was two years ago and guess what, it seems someone’s heard our wish! There’s now a card game which is 100 per cent made in Malaysia called The Lepak Game. It’s created by Rojak Culture, a social enterprise aimed at uniting Malaysians and celebrating Malaysian-ness, not through dialogue, but play.
The game is fairly simple. There’s a topic card and you have to pick the most Malaysian response ever from the eight cards you’re dealt and are holding in your hands. The cards contain slangs, current events, references, and inside jokes that only a Malaysian can relate to (e.g tai tais, macha, Mat Rempits, Drink coffee from piring, potong stim, etc). I get the chance to try the game out during a meeting with the game’s founders and creators, Malaysian Trixie Khor and her American husband Stephen Hanlon.
LET THE GAME BEGIN
“We realised the importance of play, not just for children but for adults as well. As adults, we need to take a break from reality from time to time. For us, a tool for play is a game. Maybe we’ll have different tools in the future, like team building or something. But for now, we want to focus on this game,” begins Khor, her enthusiasm palpable.
As an inter-racial couple, Khor and Hanlon share that they grew up with friends of different races. “Whenever we have dinner parties, we’d always play the word-matching game Apples To Apples, a game produced in the 1990s. I realised how quickly strangers can become friends through this game. So I thought why not have a similar game but Malaysian style?” adds the 32-year-old Khor before sharing that subsequent to that, she and Hanlon did some brainstorming and within three months, they managed to compile the words.
It didn’t require much research, divulges Hanlon, especially with regards to food and places. But they did reach out to their friends of other races when they compiled the slangs.
Recalls Khor: “There were some specific Indian slang words that we weren’t sure about so we met up with our Indian friends and played the prototype cards with them. They in turn gave their feedback on what we should include in the game.”
According to the couple, many Malaysians thought that the game was modelled after Cards Against Humanity but stresses Khor, it’s probably nearer to Apples To Apples.
“But I think people know more about Cards Against Humanity as many were asking us to make theˆ more like it. So ok lah, we layan (entertain)! We have the prototype cards here and you’re the first person to see them! Exclusive tau!” exclaims Khor, as she enthusiastically spreads out some grey cards on the table.
I giggle as I see one of the topic cards that reads: “Don’t let ______ keep you from voting”, and one of the response cards, “The return of AES”. Put those two together, and you’re a winner! However, to make the game more Malaysian, players are allowed to bodek (persuade) the “Boss” to pick their card as the best one.
“And that’s what sets the game apart from Apples To Apples or Cards Against Humanity. With those games, you just play it quietly. For The Lepak Game, be prepared to fight and you get to see people’s personalities,” says Hanlon with a smile.
“Yup, Malaysians like to haggle kan? It’s definitely the highlight of the game,” chips in Khor.
MALAYSIAN-NESS AT ITS BEST
So, how does Khor define Malaysian-ness? I pose to the lively 32-year-old.
A pause ensues as this former chemist ponders the question and then she replies: “I’d say Malaysia isn’t just about the three main races. Being Malaysians, we have three things that we all share. Firstly, experience. For example, we experience water rationing and haze. That’s something we can all share and complain about, right? Next is language; we have many words, which are borrowed from each other, like pokai. It means broke in Bahasa, but in Cantonese, it means something else. And of course, we have our own unique sense of humour.”
Somehow, humour transcends all races in Malaysia, discovered Hanlon after living in the country for 10 years. “I’m an outsider and sometimes people don’t even get my jokes. But Malaysians, regardless of their race, can make each other laugh,” he confides, chuckling.
The American, who hails from Washington DC and worked as a freelance writer, was involved in the post-tsunami relief programme for three years in this region before moving to Penang. His own process of understanding Malaysian-ness began then and it grew when he met Khor in early 2009 in Penang.
Khor, whose extended family is from Penang, was in town for Chinese New Year. Hanlon, being the only Mat Salleh during a function, caught Khor’s attention and she simply went up to him to ask what he was doing there.
“I thought that was a bit confrontational,” recalls Hanlon, chuckling. “You know, Malaysians usually go about their business but she was quick to engage with me even though I was different from everyone else there. I remember thinking to myself, “wow, she could be a good friend”. So we kept in touch and later went out and got to know each other better. She loves life, and that’s why I love her!” The couple eventually tied the knot in late 2010.
THE WAY FORWARD IS TO PLAY
To arrive at where they’re at today hadn’t been easy, admit the couple. For a start, there’s no ecosystem to support the game like in Europe where the designers, distributors, publishers, and manufacturers all work together.
“We had some hiccups during the production where the printing and manufacturing took longer to complete and it was costly. There’s no sorting machine either. We had 600 different cards and we had to sort them out manually. There’s also a lack of exposure for games here; we ended up having to promote the game ourselves,” confides the 34-year-old Hanlon.
Nodding, Khor chips in: “There were times we had to go from shop to shop ourselves to promote our game.”
But with help and guidance from the experts at All Aboard Community Gaming Centre (a social club which offers a platform for board gamers and non-gamers), as well as family and friends, The Lepak Game was finally launched in September last year.
Moving forward, the couple hope to expand the game to Sabah and Sarawak, adding on more vocabularies and slangs from East Malaysia. “That means we’ll be doing more research and putting in the explanation as well,” shares Hanlon.
Concluding, Khor says: “We already sent some (the game) to shops in East Malaysia but we’re going to need Sabahans and Sarawakians here in the Klang Valley to help us test the game. So, please contact us so we can play together to ensure the game works.”
Okay, Malaysians, who’s up for it?
How to play the game
Choose a “Boss” (the judge)
Boss deals all players eight cards
Boss displays and reads aloud a Yellow card
All players (except the Boss) match a Blue card within their hand to the Yellow card
Players bodek (persuade) the Boss to choose their card
Boss picks a winner
The player whose card was chosen wins the yellow card (1 point) and become the “Boss” for the next round
After each round, all players reload their hand to start the next round with eight cards
Warning: This game may cause excessive laughter, bodeking and some screaming
*Not for the judgemental or easily offended