Vietnam revives the board game


22 June 2023

A Chinese chess set

Maztermind finds use for Vietnamese traditional crafts in the production of beautiful board games.

In the Binh Chanh district of Ho Chi Minh City, a workshop of 70 employees is crafting premium board games. The work and products inspire a belief in the pleasures of the handmade in social activities such as chess. We ask Nhi Matilda Nguyen about their work.

✿ Do the artisans have any special training to produce these sets?

Yes. At our manufactory, each and every one of the 70 artisans needs to follow strict training to meet our requirements with a focus on (1) materials quality, (2) crafting procedures, and (3) product outcomes.

As for materials quality control, the person in charge needs to have a certain knowledge of natural wood. We always go with natural wood over industrial type, which will require a more intense elimination for its defects on the surfaces, diverse wood grain patterns, woodworm infested scars.

Then the detailed crafting procedures can be listed below:

1. R&D team will hand over the final product to leaders of each department, consisting of assemble team, wood team, moulding team, leather team, and packaging team to name a few.

2. The leader of each team then hosts a how-to product manufacturing session within their internal team, going after with a Q&A session.

3. Afterwards, each team will proceed to finish their part of the game components. This is the most important stage where every game component needs to be crafted with exact calculations.

Taking Premium Classic Chess for example we applied the inlay technique including a wood chessboard made from black & white leathered checkered seamless squares glued on top. The size of each checkered seamless square must be accurate to each dem (1 dem = 0.1 mm), otherwise, the chessboard surface will be open and cannot be perpendicular.

Finally, the Quality Control team will ensure and maintain the product outcomes with failed products being eliminated, returned, and reconstructed to meet our standards.

To accomplish a closed cycle like that, our artisans are not only experts in crafting backgrounds but also proficient in providing exceptional training to team members. At Maztermind, we’re blessed to have a chance to work together with carpenters who started and maintained a passion for woodwork throughout their youth. Or our R&D lead- Mr. Son, who has years of experience in Furniture Manufacturing and R&D, has also been known for his work showcased in Milan Design Week. Under the guidance and mentorship of strong departmental leaders, we meticulously prepared our people for each stage and recurrently weed out their subpar abilities.

✿ Are there any traditional skills that are used in their production?

Vietnamese traditional carpentry is something we have always been looking up to and inspired by. One of the traditional crafting skills that are worth mentioning is wood joinery, with woodworking pieces would be sculptured and carved out of a single piece of wood with the perfect angles that we apply in producing domino boxes. We also apply casting with a twist applied for our main materials: resin and concrete, inspired by the traditional pottery slip casting technique for our chess pieces, ludo pieces, or even dice.

✿ Is there any particular quality about these sets that is Vietnamese?

As a Vietnamese start-up, we’ve always wanted to present to the world our games that are proudly crafted in Viet and by Viet. As we begin our journey, our inspiration isn’t looking ahead to the future but to the past. We find the spark in Vietnamese traditional craft villages’ work in which their manual technique was passed down through generations.

To be more specific, our first two customized Monopoly games: Saigonopoly and Hanoiopoly, stand for the two most significant cities in Vietnam: Sai Gon and Ha Noi, promising customers a fulfilling journey through the two cities and beyond. Every detail of the game from the main map illustrated from the real city map to other game components such as lucky draw cards, tokens, real-life landmarks, etc

Not to mention our ‘Bầu Cua’- Maztermind’s special edition of the traditional dice game for every Tết (lunar new year). With the urge to connect minds, our team to the time when we all sit around, bet your ‘lì xì’(lucky money) on our spirit animal, listen to every beat of dice shaking, with a heart-thumping wishing your picked animal will come out. Gather around your loved ones, rolling the dice like the act of sewing the seeds of new hopes, new beginnings & new resolutions for the year to come.

✿ Has there been a decline in demand for physical sets with the rise of online apps such as Chess?

To us, online games are indeed convenient but can never be compared to the satisfaction of holding a physical chess piece that is meticulously crafted or the fun of actually setting up the chessboard.

Compared to online apps for Chess players, we believe physical board games in general aim for a totally different market with a distinctive and non-repeated target audience. More than a game, every piece embodies a sense of art blending with rational functionality. A pleasure both to play and observe, our board games are a striking showpiece for any interior or an exceptional choice when it comes to accentuating human connections.

It took the CEO Toan Nguyen nearly three years to thoroughly research this product line and market. He opened and operated a chain of five stores called The Craft House in different cities in Vietnam with the desire to provide Vietnamese handicraft souvenirs for tourists to bring back home, which embrace the imprint and identity of Vietnam.

“I talk to customers and acknowledge that everyone at least has played board games once in their life, but they have not intended to play again for a long time, because the toys are not attractive enough. On the other hand, the market has a very high demand for gifts and home decorations. So why not combine board games – gifts and home decor together? A gift or a home decoration created from a board game is unique, beautiful, and cultural altogether”.

✿ What is the key market for these sets? Is it mostly for export?

After 1000 craft products the founder Toan Nguyen launched at The Craft House (another brand he founded as a store for stationery items, souvenirs, and home decorations to name a few), it’s finally time for him to play the trump card: Maztermind- a premium handcrafted boardgame brand. Initially, Maztermind is destined to be the product line for the international market.

Around that time when we all coped with COVID, resulting in other operation problems for international shipment, we decided to open in the Vietnam market as a test before going global. Fortunately, the Vietnam market turned out to be the silver lining with their positive reaction, which keeps us growing throughout the past few years. Nowadays when everything is back to normal, we want to return to our original objective, which is to penetrate the global market.

✿ Are there plans to develop other products?

We’ve already had a detailed producing plan for upcoming games til 2025. All of the games will continue to maintain our brand’s spirit, Maztermind, as a team of artists, makers, and craftsmen sharing one mission of reinventing board games as an art of play.

For now, we’re developing several campaigns at the same time such as Bau Cua for the upcoming Tet (Lunar New Year), an Indochine collection with more Vietnam trademarks like indochine art style and lacquer techniques, or games with a focus on Asian intellectuals such as Mahjong or GO game.

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