Đại Việt Kỳ Nhân: When Vietnam’s Prolific History Meets Board Game

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After copious exchanges with friends from abroad, Tô Quốc Nghị had a flash of realization: just like his friends’ countries, Vietnam has always had a wicked awesome history, but the dull, uninspiring textbook lessons have misled people into thinking it’s not. Then comes Đại Việt Kỳ Nhân, an art project that aims to retell Vietnam’s glorious past through illustrations and a board game inspired by the country’s heroic figures.

According to the description on its site, Đại Việt Kỳ Nhân is a community project that aims to illustrate Vietnam’s historical figures. The founder, Tô Quốc Nghị, started with just 16 illustrations on his page. After nearly one and a half years in the run, with more artists having jumped on board, the project has produced more than 100 works depicting figures from different historical periods, 50 of which have been published and received much praise from the community.

Illustrations of the figures are sourced and published based on their respective historical period, each featuring 16–18 characters. They are also grouped based on similarities of personal traits, such as gender, expertise, ability, historical merits, etc.

As a historical project, Đai Việt Kỳ Nhân considers accuracy a top priority. In order to create visually intriguing paintings that still accurately reflect historical details, the team carried out rigorous research with the help of a group of advisors and artists. “We fastidiously examined historical records, previous studies, as well as relics, statues, reliefs, to build a factual depiction of the figures. However, mistakes were inevitable and required multiple revisions from us,” Nghị said.

A card-based board game is a special addition to the illustration project. “When I talk to young people, I was astounded by the fact that many of them know more about the history of other countries than the history of Vietnam. And so our team decided to create this game as a more engaging and creative medium for them to learn history from.”

This game is inspired by a traditional Japanese game called Karuta, which usually consists of 100 cards, 50 of which are character cards, and the rest are fact cards detailing the lore of each character. The rules of the game are simple: before starting, the two players will be randomly dealt or choose 25 character cards.

Next, they will have two minutes to look and remember the positions of their own and their opponent’s cards. The dealer will read out any random fact and the players must find the card with the historical figure that the fact is ascribed to. Players have the right to take cards from the opponent’s side, and whoever is faster will get the points.

Before its limited release, the Đại Việt Kỳ Nhân card set was tested by players of different ages and received positive feedback. Since May, more than 100 sets have been given to young people who are passionate about history as well as the project itself.

Like other community projects, the lack of funding has always been an issue for Đại Việt Kỳ Nam. For more than a year, the expenses for all of the group’s activities have been paid out-of-pocket by its members. All profits made from the board game have also been used to help struggling artists keep working on the project. Due to this budget constraint, the team has not been able to give their board game a wider release.

The lack of reference resources has also been a huge obstacle. “Unlike neighboring countries, Vietnamese historical texts often focus on retelling the events and feats rather than describing the heroes’ appearance, customs, or weapons, so it is difficult to visualize them in paintings,” Nghị explained. Not only that, some of the project’s followers had their own, sometimes inaccurate, interpretation of historical accounts, which led the group to receive much unsolicited criticism.

But Nghị is still unwaveringly determined: “But that just goes to prove how much we all need a good historical lesson. In the near future, we hope to extend our portfolios to include figures from the second millennium so that Vietnamese people, especially young people, can have something a bit more exciting when they want to learn about their country’s history.”

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