Game-changing approach: Card game by NUS Business students aims to break the taboo of end-of-life planning

In a society where discussions about death remain taboo, a team of NUS Business School undergraduates have taken on the challenge to change the way we approach legacy planning. Fuelled by both innovation and imagination, they have created a game that not only captivates its players but also serves as a catalyst for open and meaningful conversations about preparing for the future.  

Breaking the silence on legacy planning

When it came to selecting a topic for their Field Service Project (FSP), Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) students Koh Ngiap Seng, Chiu Yu Xuan, Jonathan Chin and Mandy Tay jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with legacy, retirement, and eldercare planning start-up Immortalize.

The task? Improve or create a new game to spark interest in end-of-life planning.

Ngiap Seng, a Year 4 BBA student and President of NUS Board Games, said the brief by Immortalize immediately caught his eye. “I’ve ample experience playing board games, from simple games like Codenames to complex ones like Nusfjord. This [project] about creating a game was perfect for my skillset, and I’m glad my teammates were receptive to it.”

Jonathan, a Year 4 BBA student, shared that end-of-life planning used to be a difficult subject for his family to talk about, with his parents broadly stating that everything was “taken care of” whenever the topic was broached. “Looking back, I realise that having a way to break the ice and make everyone feel more comfortable when discussing death and end-of-life planning would have been appreciated,” he added.

The Immortalize project is one of 214 FSPs in Academic Year 2022/2023. The team embarked on the project in Semester 1, with a designated timeframe of 13 to 15 weeks for completion. They strategically divided this period into distinct phases, including research, ideation, game creation, user testing, and evaluation, allocating one to two weeks for each stage.

The team play-tested Immortalize’s existing concept of a conversational drinking game, but found it awkward and difficult to play. They eventually decided to build a game from scratch, with the objective of making it fun, engaging and repeatedly playable. 

To aid the brainstorming process, the team conducted extensive research into the subject matter as well as popular board games. Ngiap Seng said, “We decided to make it a card game to make it easier to play, and also to simplify our game development so that we could easily make changes using a print-and-play format.”

Named ‘Will of Fortune by Immortalize’, the game went through the critical phase of testing with industry practitioners including a doctor, lawyer, financial specialist and funeral planner.  

To make the game interesting, the team created a unique backstory centred around ‘Peter Devan’ – a tycoon diagnosed with a terminal illness who needs help to make plans for his assets. Players assume personas of Devan’s family members, each possessing distinct abilities that can be strategically employed during the game. The objective is to collect as many legacy cards as possible, across insurance plans, estate planning tools and funeral arrangements. The game ends when a player draws the “Peter’s Last Breath” card, and scores are totalled to determine the victor.

Jonathan reflected that the play-testing phase of the card game was one of the most rewarding moments of the project. “I recall the four of us trying to print, cut, and assemble the cards in school. When we finished, it struck me that this was the culmination of many weeks of game development, ideation, card design and planning,” he said.  

This was a sentiment echoed by Ngiap Seng, who play-tested the game at NUS Board Games sessions to gather feedback from experienced and casual gamers. “The positive feedback and laughter we shared while playing the game was extremely gratifying for me. I could see that the team’s hard work paid off, and we had finally created a game about legacy planning that was fun and interesting to play,” added Ngiap Seng.  

Harnessing diverse skillsets to navigate real-world challenges

Both students shared that the interdisciplinary education and learning experience at NUS have played a pivotal role in the project, where flexibility and adaptability were essential. The duo explained that the team applied business concepts and ideas when conducting market research and target group analysis, while design thinking and project management skills came in handy during the game development process.

Having complete creative freedom in game design presented both advantages and challenges. Initially, the team faced difficulty in consolidating their numerous ideas into a cohesive concept, prolonging the ideation phase.  “Fortunately, our team dynamic allowed us to overcome this. As good friends who know each other well, we were able to communicate openly and honestly… This allowed us to better refine our ideas, resulting in a better quality and more focused concept,” added Jonathan.

The team also encountered an additional challenge related to creating a prototype for play-testing and implementing subsequent gameplay adjustments. Fortunately, they came across nanDECK, a software for creating card decks. Ngiap Seng said, “We had to learn how to use and code it, but this was very useful for us to create a print-and-play version of our game for easy play-testing.”

Associate Professor Chaithanya Bandi, a faculty mentor from the Department of Analytics & Operations at NUS Business School, said, “Despite these hurdles, I was extremely impressed with their ability to think creatively and collaboratively. Their commitment to overcoming obstacles and willingness to learn from each other were truly commendable.”

Assoc Prof Chaithanya expressed that collaborative initiatives, like the Immortalize project, are not only unique to NUS Business School, but are an integral part of NUS’ approach to education. “We are committed to offering our students practical opportunities that allow them to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings, ultimately preparing them for successful future careers.”