I’ve recently begun designing a new game called (tentatively) Aloha ‘Aina. Players take on a leadership role in one of several disconnected Hawaiian secessionist factions after the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands around the start of the 20th Century by the US. The central mechanic involves drafting meeples, or “Dissidents” into the player’s factions in order to build up their strength so they can storm US military strongholds with the goal of eventually retaking Iolani Palace and reinstating Queen Lilioukalani as the rightful Queen of Hawaii.

As I’ve begun to develop this idea, I’ve encountered my ignorance about this historical period, which has hindered the development. I’ve thus decided to invest my time and my effort into educating myself about the historical event of Hawaiian annexation. It’s been an enlightening process.

In my effort, I’ve begun to read a book called Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism by Noenoe K. Silva. Silva presents a historical account of foreign presence and control in and over the nation of Hawaii as told by native Hawaiian scholars who were living at the time. Her presentation of this alternative (to the pro-US story I have been told) perspective has shed light on the complicated emotional effects that colonialism has had on native Hawaiians. It’s an interesting and at times heartbreaking read.

But, I’ve begun to digest this perspective, because it’s part of the story I’m hoping to tell with Aloha ‘Aina. I recently watched a presentation called Victory Points Suck by Scott Westerberg at SHUX 18. He argues that good storytelling is missing in a lot of board game designs, and that designers should focus their effort not just on creating compelling mechanisms and interesting themes, but on telling good stories. As my game has come together, I’ve found myself trying to apply this idea, focusing in on the story that I’m telling more so than I have before. The story in Aloha ‘Aina is one of struggle and patriotism and anti-empiricism. It’s about heart and tradition and the love that the Hawaiian people have for their home.

But, to get there, I have to do my homework. Reading this and other books, hearing stories from the people affected, and being honest about the reality of American imperialism will hopefully inform my storytelling. I hope Aloha ‘Aina can be an interesting game, but I especially hope that it will be a good and honest story that honors the people who died fighting for what they believed in. Their story is the story I want to tell.