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‘Lagim’ card game expands into the dark of Pinoy folklore

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Already played 'Lagim'? Sharpen your bolo as four fresh expansion packs lets players wield powers against new monsters of Philippine lower mythology. Photo courtesy of FICTION MINDS

Designed for two up to six players, “Lagim” players inhabit a gothic 17th century Philippine world where monsters from our lower mythology, like the aswang and sigbin, haunted the darkness just beyond the reach of the barrio’s gas lamps. Acting through heroes like Amihan and The Espiritista, the player could abjure these creatures or capture them to fight rival Baryos.

READ: ‘Lagim’ is the Pinoy folklore card game you've been waiting for

As the group combat card game's creators Fiction Minds garnered more fans and formed a community of players around the first edition, it wasn’t long after that they were also able to launch a Kickstarter campaign. They enjoyed great success there too, especially since backers could purchase expansion packs as a whole or individually through custom bundles. A few of the tastier merch available on their Kickstarter were miniatures like the Silab marker (a crouching figure resembling a bulol to denote an active player) and figurines like the giant Saranggay and the witch Mambabarang.

Now that they’ve delivered their funded promises to backers, the company has seen fit to release those four expansion packs to the open market, offering fresh adventures and more dramatic battles set in the dark folklore of the rich world of "Lagim":

“We started to introduce and create entirely new characters you don’t see in any other traditional folklore,” said Fiction Minds CEO Augusto Ayo. “We wanted to highlight first the creatures of the deep forests (the giants and dwarves) before we introduced other creatures that live hidden among the people in the Baryos.”

The 'Lagim' expansion pack. Photo from FICTION MINDS

Right now, there are four separate decks available in the expansion bundle: the Lakas Pack contains new heroes like the half-giant Sidaya and the pansexual shaman Asog; the Hiwaga + Kontra Pack contains powerful gear that beefs up the attributes of the monsters or the heroes, the Dwarfs Pack which of course has our dwendes, with several colors and varieties of friendliness , and the Giants Pack, which has the powerful giants, including the bakunawa (dragon) and the bull-headed sarangay.

“After the success of the first edition and the Kickstarter launch [in 2021], we decided to put development of other game titles on hold and concentrate on expanding the world,” said Ayo.

He was blown away by the reception from the main game that garnered backers from Asia, the US, and Europe.

Ayo is a skilled artist himself, and as such also oversees the overall tone and feel of the visuals. “We introduced themes for different packs while keeping the gothic undertones. Customers can expect future packs to have differences in art styles, but there’s the same mood throughout,” he said.

While the main game has a very gothic and baroque feel, the expansion packs have been injected with a bit more color. The cards are still gorgeously made and the craftsmanship impeccable. They’ve used gold foil and reflective stamps, making the deck feel premium.

The Tigbanua card. Photo from FICTION MINDS

A minor drawback is when you shuffle the new Hiwaga cards in with the main game, you can tell which ones are from the expansion pack. Especially if you look at them from the side. For example, I can spot if I’m pulling the Gawigawen giant card from the pile, since it’s got white sides. But only because the main game’s cards are all pretty dark in contrast. It’s of little consequence, since they don’t really affect gameplay that much.

What’s greatis that the gameplay is much richer this time around. One of the minor complaints I had when I first playtested the main game a year ago was that there weren’t many Lakas cards available. So much so that I would often draw a whole hand of Kontra cards — a whole spread of magical gear but with nobody to wield them. But with the expansion packs, the gameplay was much more balanced. Everyone had a fighting chance. Everyone got gear and people to wield them.

Since I’ve only been able to play with one other person, I have yet to try a real group game where the expansion decks are included. Games were often too short and frustrating.

To remedy this, one of the ways we modified the rules to our liking — so that the game would last longer — was to mix in the Kontra Cards with the Lakas Cards, piling both into one deck. And then we also mixed in all the new expansion creatures (both dwarves and giants) into the Hiwaga deck, including the new Hiwaga cards. This way both the heroes and the monsters had their own gear to beef up their attributes. We would then draw two cards from the Hiwaga deck to battle for capture, rather than just one card as the rules stated. If it came up that we got two creature cards we’d reshuffle it back down the bottom. If it came up that we got two gear cards, we’d again simply shuffle one back down to the bottom until we got a creature card to capture. This process did not take long. In return the combat was satisfyingly extended for two players.

Personally, I liked the Giants expansion deck best. And I favored the six-headed, unpredictable Gawigawen.

Whenever you used the Gawigawen to attack a Baryo, you had to flip a coin. In game terms the giant was just as likely to follow your command as to simply shake its heads and walk away. Flip a heads, the giant attacks with fury, doubling its Hiwaga rating (up to eight!). But if the coin flip comes up tails it simply goes off. You put it back at the bottom of the pile and are left with an embarrassing failure. Win some, lose some with the unpredictable giants. I always imagine them having an internal discussion like a folkloric comedy skit where one of the heads just prevails on the other five to say “f*ck all this hassle, let’s just go home!”

The Gawigawen card. Photo from FICTION MINDS

The gawigawen is one of the more obscure creatures included in the expansion packs. It’s found in the mythology of the Cordilleras, usually around Abra. According to some sources a gawigawen is sometimes a handsome guy, sometimes a six-headed giant. What’s interesting though is that they say the ecology of the creature’s heads aren’t separate brains with different personalities sharing a single body, they’re simply faces used as additional sensory organs — 12 eyes, six noses, and 12 ears. There is only one real giant. The brain isn’t even in one of the heads, rather it’s within the thick, bone-reinforced hump. This makes the thing hella tough to kill.

“The gawigawen are relatively neutral creatures who take sides for a variety of reasons,” said Ayo, shedding more light on the giant. “That’s why we think of an ability that can somehow show their trait as a neutral giant; which is flipping a coin. They will either attack or retreat.”

This kind of game mechanic nicely balances out the powerful appearance of a giant on the battlefield. “We need to make sure that all abilities do not overpower both realms,” added Ayo.

While the Fiction Minds team have certainly done their research and draw from many wells of local sources, they do take plenty of liberty with the creatures’ classical stories and abilities. They don’t favor any region. They focus on building a world of their own.

“Imagination comes first in our rulebook,” said Ayo. “We do plenty of research, but we don’t let the development limit the potential of the character.”

A good example is the Kaig card. A Lakas card featuring a young boy in a salakot, the creators describe him as having a Third Eye. In game terms his ability to void all dwarven magical powers is a perfect foil for the malevolent little men of the expansion deck — whether they’re red, green, or black.

“This young boy is very special,” wrote Ayo. “Behind his innocence lies a gift. Or a curse. He can see and talk to spirits and elemental entities. With his ability, he can prevent attacks from malevolent Dwarfs.”

This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a child with specific abilities that abjure dwarven powers. But it makes sense in a spiritual ecology way, where all supernatural forces must eventually face a nemesis that arose because they’ve imbalanced the natural order of things. It’s also very much in keeping with the spirit of the creators’ ethos. Imagination comes first and the strictures of folkloric purism (if there’s even such a thing) trail way behind.

The Dwendeng Itim card. Photo from FICTION MINDS

Speaking of dwende lore, one of the most interesting stories behind the making of the expansion packs is about the “Itim na Kanin” card. Its creation was inspired by a story told to Norbert Bae (Fiction Minds’ game system designer) by his grandmother.

“My uncle was eight years old when he was abducted by a dwende,” narrated Bae. “He went missing for several days. When he came back, my uncle said a dwende had offered him black rice to eat. But he refused.”

According to urban legends, if you partake of black rice or anything edible offered by an enchanted being — like a dwarf — you’ll be trapped in their world, a prisoner and a pet forever in a sidereal limbo. “After several days they found my uncle under the kitchen sink,” said Bae. “He was very hungry. Luckily tito just said no to the tutong.”

Aside from making the expansion packs available on their website and soon in select retail stores, they are already developing a solo campaign. They also plan to introduce new warriors (“We will take inspiration from the different Filipino tribes”) and additional “Lagim” characters that will definitely include ghouls, shape-shifters, and vampires.

If you’ve already had your fill on the main game, then any of the expansion packs will give you fresh adventures into the depths of Pinoy folk horror. But definitely the best kind of maximum “hasik ng lagim” fun must include all the expansion packs in the mix.

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You can order the Lagim Expansion Packs and the main game on the Fiction Minds website. (Availeble for buyers from the Philippines only, for now) or purchase at select Fully Booked stores in Metro Manila.