Innovation for Democracy
What is Open Source? Find Out by Playing Our “Open StarTer Village” Board Game!

Open StarTer Village
© The key visual of OpenStarterVillage is made by Shiny. Please follow CC BY 4.0 license if you would like to use it.

In one of the classrooms of Taichung Girls’ High School, the students were sitting in groups, closely inspecting what’s in their hands – the Open StarTer Village board game. “I would like to use my three action tokens to initiate this project, and recruit one engineer to develop it!” said the students as the game started.

In 2022, Open Culture Foundation (OCF) and FNF Global Innovation Hub jointly developed the “Open StarTer Village” board game, to promote concepts of open source, open data, and open government to the general public and even in schools in a fun and educational approach. Such an idea resonates with Innovation for Democracy, one of the focuses of FNF Global Innovation Hub that aims to seek innovative ways and digital tools that everyone can adopt to foster democracy.

To encourage people to learn what open source is, the game was designed to allow people from different backgrounds to understand how an open-source project works, and what they can do to contribute even if they are not tech-experts. The game also features various popular open-source projects in Taiwan and around the world, which will serve as an important reference for people who want to develop their civic tech projects in the future.

Get to Know Almost Every Civic Tech Project in the World at One Time

Inside the board game set, you will find project boards, action boards, event cards, labor cards, project cards, starting hand cards, 50 score cards, player aid cards, and little tokens of various colors. This sounds just like a usual board game, but there are surprises hidden within: OCF has incorporated many actual open-source projects from around the world in the project cards, which can be further divided into open government, open source, and open data projects. Under open government, there are, for example, Public Policy Digital Participation Platform, a platform where citizens can propose a policy or ask for amending legislation and government bodies are obligated to reply to or launch a formal discussion with them, and Open Parliament Livestream, a livestream channel established by Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (parliament in Taiwan) to publicly livestream legislative discussions in the parliament for people to observe and monitor on TV or online. Players can also learn about open-source projects, such as Linux Kernel, an operating system kernel that’s similar to Unix, and Public Money? Public Code!, an initiative that encourages governments to adopt free and open-source systems in governmental platforms built with tax payers’ money. As for open data projects, there are the famous Mask Maps developed in Taiwan during the COVID-19 outbreak for people to see the mask stock data in pharmacies, as well as Disfactory, an anonymous reporting system for illegal factories on farmland. There are many valuable projects that players can easily learn about through the Open StarTer Village board game.

Technology Should Be Co-created by Everyone, Not Just by Tech Experts

Through this game, OCF and FNF want players to experience the process of starting, executing, and finishing an open-source project. In real life, contributions and expertise from different disciplines are needed to launch an open-source project. OCF took that into account and designed 7 different characters in labor cards: engineers, artistic designers, copywriters, marketing PRs, advocates, public servants, and legal personnel. It helps players understand that they don’t necessarily have to know coding to participate in an open-source project, and every one of them is equally important for the making of a project.

This game can be played by 2 to 4 players at one time, which takes about 40 to 50 minutes for the simplified edition, and up to 90 or 100 minutes for the standard edition. In this game, players first have to use their action point tokens to initiate a project, and recruit labor of different fields to develop it. Players can not only work on the projects they initiated, but also contribute to other players’ projects. When a player helps facilitate other players’ projects, he/she/they can actually earn more points. With this design, OCF wishes to remind players of the importance of collaboration in an open-source project.

Trial and Promotion Events with Various Participants

To test and promote the Open StarTer Village board game, OCF and FNF worked together to hold many trial play sessions, workshops, and events in 2022 that target various participants: university and high school students and teachers, democracy advocates around the world, and participants of open-source or tech conferences. By doing so, they received feedback from different kinds of participants to ensure that the content and mechanism of game is understandable to the general public.

From September 30 to October 2, OCF and FNF tried the games together with professors and students at Chinese Culture University. On October 29, 2022, at University of Taipei, OCF and FNF also held a workshop consisting of trial plays and discussions on open government and projects on civic tech. Some professors and players came to ask how they could use the game in their classroom and would like to learn more about the game.

On October 21, 2022, a trial play was also held at Taichung Girls’ Senior High School. OCF and FNF guided the students there through the game process and explained to them what open source is and how it is actually a part of many people’s daily lives, such as The Mask Map and Bus Tracking App. Through this event, OCF and FNF not only got to introduce the basic ideas of open source to high school students, but also managed to better understand how much high school students know about open source, further helping OCF and FNF adjust the teaching guide of the board game. On top of that, an all-girls’ high school was chosen as one of the trial play places, OCF and FNF wished to break the stereotype of girls usually not being good at technology. It was also rewarding to see students engaging themselves in the game and raising questions constantly.

Trial play at Taichung Girls' High School

Trial play session with high school students at Taichung Girls’ High School


FNF and OCF also demonstrated this game at the Global Assembly of World Movement for Democracy in Taipei last October. Some players expressed that the game would also help to train players on how to form a team and manage the resources they have in order to finish a project together.

Open Source as the Default Setting: Players Can Co-create the Game

In the spirit of openness, the Open StarTer Village board game itself will also be open-source, which means anyone can recreate and “fork” the game if they properly follow its license requirement (CC BY-NC 4.0, by OCF and sponsored by FNF). You can download the file of the game in ai and pdf file formats by clicking the hyper links, and read OCF’s guide for people who want to fork the Open StarTer Village board game to recreate it.  So far, OCF has received several requests to borrow the game for courses or clubs in university. The board game can serve as a first step into the open-tech community for people who are interested in open-source issues but don’t know how or where to start an open-source project. With the teaching guide included in the set, teachers can even incorporate the game into their classes.

OCF and FNF hope to use Open StarTer Village to raise people’s awareness about the concepts of open technology and enhance digital participation, further strengthening democratic values. With this fun board game, open source would hopefully no longer be a topic that students or the general public find difficult and irrelevant.