Making it rain

From left, Pakawat Nakwijit, Rati Watanatada and Pakawat Kijsuwanpaisa. Tawatchai Kemgumnerd

On 20 July, 1969, Thailand underwent its first ever test run of the Royal Rainmaking Project. Initiated by King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1955, the project is one of the late king's most recognised achievements, bringing rain to thousands of drought-stricken Thai farmers.

"We just thought it must have felt special for that pilot, the one flying the plane that successfully created the royal rain for the first time in 1969," said computer engineer Rati Watanatada, 24.

"He was doing something no one had done before in Thailand, based on instructions given to him by the king. We wanted to sort of replicate that experience in our game, letting our players learn about the processes of the Royal Rainmaking Project naturally as they play."

Rati and two friends from college -- software developer Pakawat Nakwijit and IT consultant Pakawat Kijsuwanpaisa -- make up the team Sai Fah (Thunder), winners of the recent "Gifts From Dad" boardgame-design competition. A collaboration between computer games publishing company Garena and the Chaipattana Foundation, the competition took place between Oct 2017 and Jan 2018, and saw over 200 teams of teenagers and adults, aged 15-30, compete at designing a boardgame based on one of King Bhumibol's numerous royal projects.

The purpose of the project is to create a method to teach children about the achievements of King Bhumibol in a fun and productive way, with each game designed for print-and-play purposes. This means all games must be simple enough that anyone can print out the components and play them in their own homes and schools. The winners were announced at an event on Jan 18 this year, where the three members of Team Sai Fah took home a total of 120,000 baht in prize money, winning both the first-place and popular-vote prizes for their game Sai Fon (Rainfall).

"Our game wasn't exactly like many of the others, which to me didn't bode well at first," admitted Pakawat N.

"We didn't do anything that was directly about farming or the sufficiency economy, which was what most people would usually think of first when talking about royal projects. Most of the other games were about planting crops or digging wells, so deep down it's been a little unbelievable we were chosen."

While perhaps not perpetually on the tip of Thai tongues the same way the sufficiency-economy programme is, the Royal Rainmaking Project is undoubtedly a significant achievement. In 2001, the project earned King Bhumibol a gold-medal award from the Eureka Organization, for inventing something of great benefit to the global public. It was also licensed to aid the African country of Jordan in 2009, easing the severe droughts plaguing the country.

"The Royal Rainmaking Project was one of the first ideas we came up with and settled on, as we felt it just the right idea for a boardgame," explained Pakawat N.

"It was one of the many programmes with a clear and scientifically defined progression, which made it relatively easier to design a systemic game around. While more popular projects like new-theory agriculture or the sufficiency economy would most likely be chosen by other teams, we wanted to do something a little different, possibly highlight an achievement that isn't as well-known or frequently mentioned."

True to its print-and-play nature, the rules to Sai Fon are simple. There are several Cloud Dice, each representing a different area of Thailand that requires rain. Each dice is made up of three faces, representing the various weather conditions in each of those areas, including Not Cloudy, Very Cloudy and Heavy Clouds. Each player must take turns playing cards corresponding to the weather conditions on their chosen Cloud Dice in order to finally make it rain, earning however many points are represented on the dice. The first player to reach 10 points wins.

"According to the king, the process of making royal rain is divided into three stages: agitation, fattening and attack," explained Rati.

"We've included these terms in our game as well, in the form of the cards played to affect the Cloud Dice. The Agitate card will turn the Cloud Dice from Not Cloudy to Very Cloudy; the Fatten card will turn the Very Cloudy dice to Heavy Clouds; and finally, the Attack card turns that into rain, scoring the player who played the card however many points are on each dice. We also make it more of a game by allowing other players to interfere with your cards, such as by prohibiting certain cards from being played or skipping your turn altogether. That's where we include a little room for depth and strategy, where smart players can mess up others' plans."

Agitation involves spreading certain chemicals in the air to create humidity, which naturally forms rainclouds, turning clear skies into cloudy skies. The clouds are then fattened by chemically condensing them into rainclouds, making them heavier. Finally, a plane is flown into the clouds, accelerating the process in which water finally turns to raindrops.

Each player tracks his points using raindrop-shaped tokens, which are put on a scorecard that looks like a rice paddy. These little actions don't actually add anything to the gameplay itself, but gives a little representation of the benefit royal rain has on Thai farmers, and are conscious design choices by the team.

"I think the subtlety in the way we introduce the concepts of the royal rain initiative is what sets our game apart," says Rati.

"The terms on the cards, from Agitate, Fatten and Attack to the Super-Sandwich Attack, are all terms established by the king himself. The players may think that each term is just the name for an action in the game, but they are actually acquiring real knowledge about the royal rain project in an entirely organic way. It's not overbearingly educational, nor is it too outlandish, so there's a right balance that doesn't make it overwhelming for small kids."

The balance between work and play is on a delicate scale, one that Thai parents are still struggling with today, as over-tutoring continues to be a prevalent issue in Thai society. The Sai Fah team believes that proper education can only be achieved when the student is open to the new knowledge, not overwhelmed with so much that they have no opportunities to be themselves and ultimately shut everything off.

"Ours may not be the most fun or the flashiest game, and honestly I don't know if I'd buy my game over some of the other teams' games if I came upon it in a store," said Pakawat K.

"But I feel like our game was the one that best communicated its theme, in a way that didn't create resistance on the player's part. There were no lengthy manuals to read, no heady concepts you need to be familiar with. You simply spent 10 minutes learning the instructions, and before you know it you have a rudimentary understanding of the royal rain process and what it does for those who need it, and enjoy yourself doing so. There's no better way to learn."



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