Cargo Studio: Bringing Tabletop Games to Life

Ubi is notable for being the place to go to purchase a vehicle. As you drive around the Ubi area, the sparkle and shine from the new cars emanate from showrooms, with salespeople ready to court you at the slightest hint of interest. But while my visit there was related to finding a car, it wasn’t because I was looking for a new ride. Instead, I was there to find a particular company, Cargo Studio.

Though its logo features a yellow car, Cargo Studio is not in the business of selling automobiles. Instead, their work revolves around the gaming space. The company functions as an incubator to help provide budding game-makers with the resources and tools to get their games to launch. 

We think it's about time you guys receive an introduction to each and every one of our teams' games, don't you think?…

Posted by Cargo Studio on Thursday, May 26, 2022

Studios with small teams often find that development skills aren’t enough to get a game out to market. Certain aspects are needed to ship games, and small indie studios do not always have the necessary capacity or knowledge to fulfil them. Cargo Studio enables these teams to get what they need while ensuring a steady income stream to finish their work. In a sense, they are helping game developers drive their products to the finish line.

Two veterans from the games industry founded Cargo Studio. Samson Oh has roots in the esports scene, having co-founded the massive esports organisation Team Flash, while Kit Lau’s art skills were put to use for several companies such as Dynamite Games. When I arrived at their office, I was also met by Samantha Chiam, Production Generalist at Cargo Studio, who has had previous stints at Daylight Studios and Ubisoft Singapore. Needless to say, aspiring game-makers are being guided by experienced hands.

“Having been in the industry for years and collectively building multiple successful games studios, we as a Game Incubator want to share our experiences, resources and network with aspiring indie game developers who are building their first game or trying to grow their game studio. It is how our incubation programme was designed – to fill in those gaps so that these game developers can realise their dreams of putting the game into players’ hands.”

Through their incubation process, several games have been created. Hammie Scramble is an endless runner featuring hamsters who have escaped their coop, while Rumble Jungle! is a pong game with a twist — you can find the latter on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store already. Cargo Studio also has its own game that they are developing. Aesir Defense is a tower defence strategy mobile game requiring you to build towers for the Aesir Army as you defend against waves of enemies.

Even as a games incubator, Cargo Studio’s office had the feel of a miniaturised game studio. Two rows of tables are lined near the entrance, crammed almost to the brim with desktop PCs and monitors — it is a little hard to see the people working behind them. Samantha said that the open concept layout allowed the different teams working there easier accessibility for consultation. They could walk up and talk to a member of another team to get their perspective on a problem. 

Cargo Studio: Office Space
Cargo Studio’s office has a section portioned off for developers to work on their projects

The day I visited had two teams working on their projects. I managed a quick sneak peek for one of them — a roguelike game in the vein of the 2020 game Hades, which coincidentally is also Cargo Studio’s first game project slated to come for PC.

So there’s much bubbling about within the company, but digital games aren’t the only things being worked on at Cargo Studio. Before we got PCs and consoles to play the latest big titles, most of us would have had to get our fun through a different, physical medium. Uno, Monopoly, even the humble Snakes and Ladders; the world of tabletop games was a big part of many people’s childhoods, and even to this day, more unique creations are being made — Cargo Studio is contributing to that list.

Grab Your Breakfast is one such project. Made by the people at Ameba Games, the game is all about grabbing and completing sets of breakfast items to form the biggest breakfast spread, gathering points in the process. Featuring beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, the project was successfully funded through Kickstarter last May and is set to be sent out to backers by August this year. 

The incubation for board games began early on. The company’s first public outreach saw queries on whether their incubation program could extend beyond digital games, and upon seeing the enthusiasm from these teams, the people at Cargo Studio believed that they could add value to their projects and enable them to achieve their goals.

“Thinking back, it seems almost like a natural process for us. Earlier, we mentioned that our incubation programme was designed to ‘fill in those gaps so that these game developers can realise their dreams of putting the game into players’ hands’. Therefore, there is no reason why we should not be supporting these board game designers when they reach out to us,” said Cargo Studio

“In addition, within our networks, we know of local veteran board game designers who have released multiple successful board games. Therefore, once we conclude that we can help these teams, the decision is clear to us that we should do it.”

Grab Your Breakfast isn’t the only tabletop game in the works at Cargo Studio; two other titles are set to come out with the help of Cargo Studio.

First up is Carnival Connect. Described as a light-medium weight game, Carnival Connect requires players to build their carnivals by strategically choosing rides to place inside for points. But there’s a catch; there are also cooperative elements in the game. To help complete the objectives set at the start, players must also work together with the person(s) next to them by carefully planning and combining the rides they hold in their hands, hence the ‘connect’ in the name.

Cargo Studio: Carnival Connect
Key Art for Carnival Connect

With art depicting roller coasters, Ferris wheels, bumper cars, and more, the game evokes the satisfying feeling of slowly growing your theme park — like the RollerCoaster Tycoon series in physical form. Well, you’d be surprised to know that Carnival Connect originally was very different to what it is now.

The minds behind the game, Daniel Lee and Daryl Chow, first conceived the game with fishes in mind. Initially called ‘The Emperor’s Ponds’, players would take on the role of caretakers employed by an Emperor to build Koi ponds for him. It was to revolve around a core mechanic called the ‘Frenemy System’ where the player cooperates with two others to build up a shared tableau, friends when scoring points as they collectively build their ponds, but enemies when needing to score for their own goals (like bonus points for turtles or goldfish). It is not too dissimilar to what is seen now.

With ‘The Emperor’s Ponds’ inspired by other games like ‘Between Two Cities’ and ‘Kodama Forest’, it began life as a tile-laying game before converting to being a card game to allow for more flexibility for players to expand their ponds. Eventually, even the theme of koi ponds also changed. City building was next used, with the game renamed as Micro-Metropolis. There was an emphasis on spatial goals in the rethemed game, with objectives like placing four red buildings in a line now appearing as part of the players’ targets. These goals would have been strange to include previously, since the pond life aspect used in ‘The Emperor’s Ponds’ was mobile.

As the game progressed towards the last stages of development, the designers felt having the game revolve around buildings was overdone and that using such structures themselves, seen as simple shapes, was a bit too abstract. It was reworked to be more personal, colourful and fun-looking, settling on carnivals as the final theme.

From the joys of carnivals, we now move on to the thrills of space with Cargo Studio’s other tabletop game, Heists in Hyperspace. The team at Time Loop Games handled the development of the game, composed of game designers Dexter Low and Huang Weicong, with Alec Atillano, Poon Jun Jie, and Reianne Lim doing the illustrations.

Cargo Studio: Heists in Hyperspace
Main visual for Time Loop Games’ Heists in Hyperspace

Work on the game began back in September 2021, when Time Loop Games joined a six-month incubation programme by Cargo Studio. As with Carnival Connect, Heists in Hyperspace started differently from what it is now. Taking inspiration from ‘Dominion’, it was initially to be played like a deck-building game before being tweaked.

Now, it plays more like a tabletop card game. Players take on the role of a Captain of an intergalactic treasure-hunting crew, aiming to collect as much treasure as possible through expeditions into mythical Vaults. There are three expeditions for each Vault, played as three rounds in the game. Within each round, the objective is to carefully plan your route to get the specific attributes (dealt as tokens) needed to hire mercenaries to buff your team and to heist treasures for Renown. Players with the most Renown at the end get crowned the winner.

I played one game each of both Carnival Connect and Heists in Hyperspace. Carnival Connect was the more casual of the two. The collaboration aspect required lots of communication with your neighbour to complete the goals, and discussing plans felt rather wholesome despite each player having their own objectives they needed to score for— a good companion piece for families to have.

Meanwhile, as Heists in Hyperspace was played to be every man for themselves, there was definitely more competitiveness to it. The game starts slow, but there’s a level of satisfaction to be gained as you get into the groove and start getting the things you need. The art also makes you feel like a treasure hunter, beautifully depicting the various encounters you’ll get into for each expedition alongside teasing enticing-looking treasure to plunder.

Both games are gearing up for their debut, with Carnival Connect launching its Kickstarter page at the start of August. In the meantime, Heists in Hyperspace is undergoing further play-testing and refinements before it launches its Kickstarter campaign.

At the end of the day, Cargo Studio is more than just making games. After doing the hard work on their tabletop and digital game projects, the team comes together every Wednesday to have a Board Game night at the office — work hard, play hard seems to be the mantra at the company. 

For more information on Cargo Studio, do be sure to check out their website and if you want to see what else they have in store, follow their social media pages on Facebook and Twitter

You can also follow along the progress for Carnival Connect and Heists in Hyperspace at their respective Facebook pages.

Visuals courtesy of Cargo Studio.

Russell Matthew Loh

Watcher of films and player of games. Dabble with writing in between.

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