Quick Look: Ancano: an adventure board game for Anger Management
Designer: Lan Lan Yoga (Lan Lan and Team)
Artists: Adelina and Team
Publisher: Lan Lan Yoga
Year Published: On Kickstarter August 2021
Anger can be a touchy subject for some of us. It can nevertheless be said that sometimes people can let their emotions get the better of them, which can ultimately lead to us taking actions that we later regret.
Ancano is a game on “anger management” that aims to tackle problems related to anger at an early age, before we carry over bad habits into our adult life.
The game’s creator, Lan, grew up under the harsh rigors of Asian educational systems, where high pressure mandates and expectations to succeed at all costs were a constant force at work in her life from an early age (as were the associated stress and frustration that would later ensue). Later in life, the fast paced results-oriented nature of a job in North America would continue to hammer down on Lan until nearly reaching a breaking point and needed a release.
Ultimately, Lan found her “inner peace” through meditation and yoga, and wishes to share a game that aims to take problems associated with anger and frustration in treating them at their source—which can often be our very own self and how we perceive the world!
Readers may know that I have spent many years of my life working with children, but they may not know that before this period, I was en route to a graduate program in psychology for counseling. As I advanced in my academics, I gradually started to realize that as much of a difference I wanted to make, many individuals I would be seeing would be being compelled to see me (either via courts, employers, school administrations, etc ) and therefore not coming of their own volition.
And while people seeing me in such a role would inevitably have problems of various sorts, the fact that they were largely going to be seeing me on a compulsory level made it clear to me that most of the people didn’t see a problem with their behavior at all. And this is the key—much as what is acknowledged in AA meetings can apply for this statement, but the first step to making a change is recognizing that you have a problem.
Now I am not saying that everyone has a problem with emotions such as anger, etc, but it has generally been my experience that adults are especially resistant to change or anything that challenges their self perception. So consequently, if a board game was designed to tackle issues such as “anger” for adults, those with the biggest problems would most likely simply walk away from the opportunity to at least self-reflect.
So as such, Ancano (pronounced like a combination of “Anger” and “Volcano), is geared towards teaching children to recognize the signs they are getting angry and frustrated so they can take a proactive stance against letting their emotions control them and making a bad situation worse. The point is not that you do not get angry—as there are indeed some happenings that appropriately require anger—but how we deal with it is what is important.
I could not play this game without thinking of a classic Far Side comic by Gary Larson that perfectly highlights this game from a psychological level. In it, you see bull in a therapy session, and his counselor is stating to the bull that he is going to try one more time to hold up a red cape to the bull and have the bull count to ten without getting angry.
There are many, many models for behavior in psychology, and there is not one that is universally applicable given we are all different people but in a classic “Behavioristic” model, people are nothing more than stimulus-response machines, much like a bull in real life. Show it a red cape, and it immediately makes them aggressive, losing sight of all “reasoning” even to the point of its death at the hands of a matador in an arena, all because it is so consumed with rage.
A “cognitive” model approach to psychology is much like the therapist in the cartoon having the bull count to 10. It introduces an element of “thought”, slipping an idea into our head to modify the behavior that causes us trouble.
At its heart, Ancano is very much akin to classical cognitive approaches to learning and behavior—getting us to recognize and proactively deal with emotions that can leave us feeling depleted at the end of our day if we do not learn to manage them.
Meant for younger ages, the actual gameplay and board to Ancano almost feels like “Candy Land” from a visual standpoint.
Players will roll a six-sided die to determine movement on their turn, moving ever closer to the “Finish” line at the beach, where the first person to get there wins. On each turn, they will land on either a square (activity cards) stars (adventure cards) or circle (discovery card) spaces.
Whatever space you land on, you draw that type of card. Activity Cards usually consist of some sort of action a player must do, and these usually consist of the aforementioned behavior modification techniques one may do to calm down—meditative counting to 3 slowly while breathing, or showing an item in the vicinity that reminds them of anger. Adventure Cards can have an activity, but also might have game effects such as moving back or forward spaces. Both Activity and Adventure cards are generally performed exclusively by the person who drew them.
The main substance of the game is the Discovery Card, which enables all players to participate in some sort of personal sharing or reflection. Any player may opt to share (or not share) about the situation the card calls for (a recent interaction that mad them mad, for example), and anyone who took part in the activity gets a Heart token, which can be used for various effects when enough have been accumulated.
-Expending 3 Heart tokens lets you either advance your player token one space forward, or move another player back
-Expending 6 tokens lets you swap positions with any other player on the board, or make one other player lose a turn.
And this is essentially all that can take place within the context of the game.
Thoughts and Impressions
Keep in mind that this game is a prototype coming to Kickstarter soon, and as such, the final form of the product may change in development.
When I recently chatted with Lan via e-mail, she summarized that the game is essentially about this :
“Who doesn’t have emotions? It’s ok! Just relax.”
And when playing with the family, I did indeed get the sense we are trying to create these types of discussions centered around this mantra—although if these exact words came up, it was usually at the direction of the adults who played this game, rather than something that came up directly on the cards themselves or from the children playing.
Here’s what came during our play experience:
My wife and I feel that the rules are good, but surprisingly for us , we find that we may need to house rule—something we virtually never do—to alter the objective of the game away from “winning”. And I am usually not one to say this, and I am all for competitive games and teaching children early on that sometimes they are going to lose, and am not usually in favor of rewarding virtually everything with a “participation trophy” or victory.
Yet Ancano seems more about the journey itself rather than winning, especially given that players have the option to participate in all other players’ Discovery challenges to earn Heart tokens. This is about a shared experience.
Moreover, the use of the heart tokens can be rather brutal for younger children, especially if another person manages to use them to trade places with them when they are getting close to the finish line at the beach.
I want to point out that while we had a lot of fun and even laughs and provoked some really good conversations that we had never really had before, playing the game until the game was almost over, we nevertheless encountered a problem.
And this is not an unusual problem given the age ranges at play, but something that you might find to be typical, but for our 6 year old, Ancano had the opposite effect of what the creator probably intended by actually making her angry to the point of crying when one of us used heart tokens swap positions with her right before she was able to cross the finish line. We ended up spending 10 minutes trying to calm her down, as she is still very much at the age of 6 where “winning is everything”, so we did have to reinforce using the pictures on the game board that it is more important that her character crosses the finish line than when she gets there—if she lets her anger control her, it would be like her piece getting stuck near the beginning of the board with all the lightning and snow storms depicted and not moving forward because of the anger, and consequently, not even finishing the game at all.
My wife and I talked about it, and find that if one is aiming to make this a game especially for younger children, you they may wish to control the objective and use of the Heart tokens. We thought that since the game seems to emphasize “sharing” experiences so much it may be a good idea could use different tiers of “winning” that involve all players (collect 15 hearts by the end of the game for a title of Ancano Queen, 10 Hearts for “Ancano Master”, etc. But that is just our thought.
Ancano does also remind me a lot of resources I have seen at use in the field of psychology , too, so I think anyone involved in counseling children could probably benefit from it.
You may find that the game has a small prerequisite knowledge of yoga poses—I know none of these, so had to depend on my wife to teach these, so it may also be handy to include some in the instructions.
The production quality is overall really good. While the standees are all cardboard, they are very thick and glossy, and the board itself is much, much better looking and built than the aforementioned Candy Land.
I might also recommend shrinking the size of the standees down a bit, or even maybe using a small 5mm cube as an alternative for players, as in this form , the standees are too large , and can cause a space to get cluttered if too many players land on it.
But ultimately, the final ability to score the game rests with the people who it is made for : children.
And my daughter did just come up to me now as I am writing this review just to tell me she loved playing it last night , and that she wants to do it again soon. We all had fun, and it was a great bonding experience that we do not get from just any game that is out there.
Thank you Lan for providing a copy of Ancano to review!
Check out Ancano and LAN LAN YOGA on:
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer