One of the things that I love about board gaming is the feeling of community. While the hobby is growing- which is brilliant- it's still a relatively niche industry in the global scheme of things. While we do have a couple of large koi carp in our little pond, the industry is also well served by many indie and small companies who make a major contribution to the hobby. And everyone knows everyone, pretty much. As such, the average consumer often becomes aware of any nefarious sharks who are disturbing the peaceful waters of our beautiful lagoon. Over the years there have, thankfully, only been a handful of major controversies when it comes to copycat behaviour or the stealing of ideas. The perpretators have nowhere to hide in this boutique industry and are usually cast out and made an example of. But every so often, you get wind of something that sounds a bit.....dodgy.....
In the late 2000s, a South Korean named Justin Oh designed a family-friendly dexterity game about knocking pieces of wood from a tree with a toy axe. It has been released under many different names over the years, including Toc Toc Woodman and Click Clack Lumberjack, (and by many different publishers) but the design credit, on each of those occasions, has gone to Justin. Fast forward to 2021 and a campaign is launched on Kickstarter for a game called Bamboo Bash, published by Imperial Publishing, Inc, but with no designer credit on BoardGameGeek or the Kickstarter page.
We all love pandas but boy do they love to eat! As Panda conservationists we are all trying to carefully remove that yummy bark and even yummier leaves from the bamboo without destroying the tree OR upsetting the baby panda on top! Each player takes a turn wacking at the tree to remove the outer (edible) layers for points, but take care, if a player knocks off the inner cores or causes the panda atop the tree to fall, negative points will be incurred!
Sound familiar? Well yes, because the premise of the entire game is virtually identical to Toc Toc Woodman. I have a number of problems with how the publisher has gone about this project. They apparently did not contact Justin Oh about a design credit until after the project started to receive a backlash for potential copycatting. They argued, simultaneously, that board games regularly borrow mechanics from existing games (obviously) but that this was not a reimplentation of the existing game but totally new. With that pronouncement ringing in our ears they attempted to distract from the fact that they used a quote from a review of Toc Toc Woodman on their Kickstarter page and got a different publisher of a previous version to send out a mailing stating "Click Clack Lumberjack is back"
Let me be very clear here. According to Justin Oh, the original game's designer, he has not agreed any deal with Imperial Publishing that would allow them to take his concept and publish a new version. This is how game publishing usually works. A designer creates a game. It may re-use concepts from other games but as long as they're implemented in a new way with a different theme, ruleset and artwork then this is largely acceptable, with very few exceptions such as the use of protected terms like 'tapping' from Magic: The Gathering. A publisher then agrees a contract to publish this design in return, usually, for royalties.
The publisher's defence seems to rest on the idea that by making slight tweaks to the rules, they are at total liberty to release this game without so much as a nod to the original designer. They have cited the use of deck building in games that have come after Dominion whilst failing to recognise that no-one has delibarately attempted to make a virtually identical copy of Dominion to sell for themselves.
I'll round off my commentary on this whole sorry business by suggesting that the company responsible for trying to make this new version have acted dishonourably and in full awareness of their actions. They are obviously aware of the original games; they are aware that their use of marketing from previous versions makes their assertion that the game is brand new appear completely false; they are aware that they're struggling to convince anyone in the BoardGameGeek forums that they've acted ethically and they decided that they were better off cancelling a campaign on Kickstarter that was all set to fund due to the negative reaction and then claimed "technical difficulties" and suffering due to rival projects.
At Board Game Hub, we believe in respecting the work of creators in the industry. That means rewarding designers, artists and developers with appropriate remuneration and credits where they are due. Fortunately, stories like this are rare in our wonderful hobby. We just wish that everyone dealt in the business of respect. If you are publishing tabletop games, my hope is that your first motivation is to create awesome gaming experiences, not to scrap for every cent.