Interview with Simon Vincent
Fly-A-Way is a brand new board game created by the team at Playlogue Creations. In it, players are conservationists helping out birds in their migration across one of the world’s largest flyway. The birds will face many dangers, so the players will have to make sure these critters complete their long journey.
If you are one of our loyal readers, you know we love birds, so we couldn’t help but be overly-excited about this game. We reached out to Playlogue Creations and interviewed Simon Vincent, the content strategist of Fly-A-Way. We talked about birbs, nature conservation and, of course, their new game. Take a look below and see what we found out.
How would you briefly describe Fly-A-Way and the players’ objective in it?
Fly-A-Way is a strategy board game on bird migration. Players compete to save as many migratory birds as possible, while handling natural and man-made dangers. Players save a bird by placing links on the map board to complete migratory routes.
Would you mind sharing a little bit of the story behind Fly-A-Way? What inspired you to create a game about birds? Are you all birdwatchers?
After working on a brochure on migratory bird conservation for BirdLife International (Asia) in 2018, we had fallen in love with migratory birds and wanted to share more about their life and trials — but in a new, fun and engaging way.
The board game medium was perfect for this because it allowed us to map out the drama of bird migration in a palpable way. Players are put in the role of conservationists and have to deal with threats faced by migratory birds, as they complete their journeys along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.
Our creative director Oon Hong is also a bird photographer and we got the first sense of what bird watching is like through her tales of seeing birds on her trips to various parts of the world. The rest of us do not have enough experience to call ourselves birdwatchers, but we have all come to pay more attention to the sounds and sights of birds as we go about our daily lives.
Since developing Fly-A-Way, you have launched a new game company called Playlogue Creations. How did this happen?
When we started developing Fly-A-Way, all of us from the team were staff at Tuber, a design and editorial consultancy. We spent close to two years on this project, before deciding that our love for game development warranted our own migration — to a new company.
“Playlogue” is a portmanteau of “play” and “dialogue”, and reflects our aim of enriching conversations through games. This conception of ourselves is intimately tied to our experience of developing Fly-A-Way, where we collaborated with BirdLife International as our knowledge partner and connected with Kickstarter backers from around the world.
The game’s board shows east/southeast Asia. Is the bird fauna present in Fly-A-Way all actual species from that region?
Yes, they are. Our game map is based on the East Asian–Australasian Flyway and stretches from Russia in the North to Australia in the South. It features various birds that use this flyway.
Given that the region is so rich in biodiversity – and that you cannot include all the species in the game – how did you decided which species of birds made into Fly-A-Way? Are they the team’s favorites or was there a more specific method for choosing them?
We based our decisions on a few factors. We have birds from three habitats, Forest, Open country and Wetland, and we wanted to represent an equal number of birds from each. To better distribute the migratory routes across the map board, we also picked birds with varied migratory routes. We also wanted to highlight birds of different conservation statuses, including critically endangered birds like the Yellow-breasted Bunting and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. In picking these, we collaborated closely with Dr. Yong Ding Li, our knowledge partner from BirdLife International (Asia), who told us about the birds we should pay and draw attention to.
Out of curiosity, what are your favorite birds that made into the game?
Our project manager Lynette and content strategist Simon were both happy that the Great Bustard made it into the game. Our creative director Oon Hong loves owls, so she was happy that the Short-eared Owl, Northern Boobook and Snowy Owl feature in Fly-A-Way. Our illustrators Iris and Key’s favorite birds, respectively, are the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher and the Fairy Pitta.
The gameplay revolves around a lot of actual ecological information, especially of migratory routes. How much scientific data have you included in Fly-A-Way and what kind of reference material did you use?
We referred to resources like Birds of the World and the IUCN Red List in our initial research. We also read various news articles on the different birds we were covering as we went along with game development. Our main point of reference, though, was Dr. Yong because he works on the ground and has published numerous articles in the area of migratory bird conservation. So we could always rely on him to provide us with the latest information on migratory birds for our game.
Fly-A-Way is clearly well-tuned to current environmental and conservation concerns, such as deforestation and poaching. How do these elements work gameplay-wise?
In trying to save birds, players will have to deal with threats that we have called ‘Fowl Play’ and ‘Bird-tastrophe’. The Fowl Play cards include events like ‘Wild Meat Trade’ and ‘Urbanization’, which reflect the real-life dangers faced by migratory birds. Penalties from cards like these include removing links you have placed on the map board and discarding ‘Wing It’ cards, the cards players can use to aid their efforts to save birds.
To add another layer of drama and urgency, we included catastrophic events, like ‘Deforestation’, in our Bird-tastrophe cards. These, unlike Fowl Play cards, affect all players. The gameplay experience being, as reflected in real life, that when it comes to the environment, everyone is implicated.
Besides BirdLife International, do you have any joints projects with environmental NGOs?
BirdLife International is the first environmental NGO we’ve worked with. We’ve worked with NGOs in other areas, though, like Raleigh Singapore, which runs the Let’s Take a Walk non-profit endurance running event to raise money for various causes, and the T Project, which runs a shelter in Singapore for transgender people.
Do you hope Fly-A-Way can inspire people to appreciate and protect birds? And, supposing it does, what would be the first steps you’d recommend to freshly-minted bird enthusiasts?
It’s partly out of this hope that, while highlighting the threats faced by migratory birds, we wanted players to learn about the conservation actions they can take though Wing It cards. These include the ‘Funds for Conservation’ and ‘Birders to the Rescue’ cards, which touch on the importance of public support for conservation and the importance of nature lovers in raising awareness on the threats faced by migratory birds. We want these cards to also evoke the good work done by conservationists on the ground to save migratory birds.
Perhaps some first steps people can take if they are stirred into appreciating and protecting birds would be to reach out to organizations like BirdLife International to volunteer with them or to donate to them. Other than that, perhaps all of us could learn more about birds in our respective countries by going on nature walks and expert-led birdwatching treks.
Do you think Fly-A-Way could be used in classrooms and other centers for education, such as zoos and museums?
Yes, definitely. Fly-A-Way can be a medium for people, of whatever ages, to learn about migratory birds. Whether Fly-A-Way is played in the classroom, a zoo, a museum or simply among friends, we would like people to enjoy themselves even as they pick up facts on migratory birds and get a better appreciation of their lives.
Do you have any takeaway message you would like the players to get from Fly-A-Way?
On one level, we want players to simply learn more about migratory birds from the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which our game is set in, since these birds might not be familiar to people outside Asia. On another level, we hope everyone gets a better appreciation of the urgency of wildlife conservation, as they encounter the events from the game and try to be the ultimate bird conservationist.
About the Team
Lynette Lee, Quek Oon Hong, Simon Vincent, Hung Key and Iris Tang are the team behind Fly-A-Way. They are from Playlogue Creations, a game company that strives to enrich conversations on different issues through game design, storytelling and collaboration.
 A flyway is a common path used by many species of birds during their yearly migration.
 The East Asian–Australasian Flyway, in particular, is one of the world’s largest flyways. You can learn more about it at BirdLife International: https://www.birdlife.org/sites/default/files/attachments/8_East_Asia_Australasia_Factsheet.pdf