Chinese gaming giant Tencent announced this year’s winning indie games from its Game Without Borders Game Awards (GWB) in mid-August. In its fourth year, the Award is organized by GWB, Tencent’s indie game incubator, and grants cash prizes (up to $72,982) and other benefits to promising Chinese indie game developers. 

Developed by small teams, indie games tend to be less profit-oriented because some developers make them out of passion. Nonetheless, some Chinese indie games can become a hit, such as horror titles like Paper Dolls and Firework, which contain traditional Chinese horror story elements. 

The Award selected 21 titles this year. TechNode highlights five notable games from the list. None of the five titles has an approved gaming license, but Chinese players still have a chance to play them via Steam on desktop. 

Yi Xian: The Cultivation Card Game

Gold Award in card game

The title is an online deck-building game that allows players to become “ancient Chinese gods” as they progress in the game. 

The game is designed with ancient Chinese styles and fictional characters. Previously, a famous Chinese card game called Legends of the Three Kingdoms became a big hit for referencing the Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a war period towards the end of the Han dynasty (A.D. 220 to 280). The Yi Xian game is a new attempt to explore different storylines from ancient China. 

Players need to build a new deck from scratch in every game. Decks can be strengthened by changing cards, with the goal of building more powerful routines to defeat opponents and win. The gameplay looks like a combination of auto chess and traditional card games – while it is based on cards, it also includes strategic aspects similar to auto chess, like eliminating players through selection or competition to enhance the gaming experience in multiplayer. 

Hangzhou-based Mo Ri Studio (our translation) developed the game, which also won the Award for games with the most business potential. 

The game also has a notable publisher, GameraGame, which has introduced many well-known gaming titles that have previously excited the gaming community, including Firework and Dyson Sphere Program, two famous indie games. The title has closed its public testing. Tencent told TechNode that the game is coming to Steam in the fourth quarter of this year. 

Murders on the Yangtze River

Silver Award in puzzle game

Murders on the Yangtze River is a detective game set at the end of the Qing dynasty (1912) and developed by OMEGames Studio. Players will find out the hidden truths by solving fictional cases.

The gameplay seems similar to its rivals. Players must find clues and solve riddles to figure out the whole picture of the story. The game art incorporated Chinese artistic style, with characters designed using ink painting.

OMEGames Studio is owned by a Beijing-based gaming firm, Beijing Unifly Culture Innovation, which was founded in 2012. The studio starts developing games in 2019. The title is the studio’s first piece, according to the studio’s page on multiple gaming platforms. The game title launched a demo in July, according to its Steam page. Tencent told TechNode that the title would launch in the first quarter of 2023.

Nobody – The Turnaround

Silver Award in roleplaying game

Nobody – The Turnaround is a roleplaying game that challenges players trying to survive in cut-throat city lives. Players will navigate the game as a newcomer to a metropolis, attempting to make a living. 

According to its official introduction, the game is “set in a parallel world that echoes modern society.” It challenges players to manage resources and time in difficult situations. It also quantifies the main character’s health and emotion, with both requiring complex strategies to maintain good condition.

Developed by a lesser-known team at U.Ground Game Studio, founded in 2020 in Chengdu, the game is their first title and was announced in 2021. The game will also come to Steam in the autumn of this year, according to Tencent.

Mercury Abbey

Bronze Award in puzzle game

Mercury Abbey is another puzzle-solving game. Its pixel art design and anthropomorphic animals might set it apart — a combination that is popular among people who like animation, comics, and games.

Players can roleplay two characters in the title to unravel the secrets behind the nursery by collecting clues and solving puzzles. The pixelated look offers a unique texture and feel. The game is also dialog-heavy, with much of the plot driven by the narrative. 

Founded in 2020, the game’s developer YiTi Games was based in Chengdu. The developer launched a demo of this title in April and will officially introduce it sometime in 2023, according to Tencent. Mercury Abbey is also the developer’s first game listed on Steam. Like Yixian, it is also published by GameraGame.

Five Dimensions

Nomination in puzzle game

Five Dimensions is a puzzle-solving game with simple plots. The core gameplay is designed around the use of highlights and shadows to explore different dimensions on the screen. Players can manipulate the lighting and view angles to control the dimension changes and advance through the game.

The art style uses doodles and sketch looks, using a primarily monochromatic color scheme with a bright yellow accent. 

The developing team comprises six members from top Chinese universities like Tsinghua University and the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The title is in a private testing phase and is estimated to launch on Steam in December of 2023, Tencent told TechNode.

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Ward Zhou is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. He covers stories about industry of digital content, hardware, and anything geek. Reach him via ward.zhou[a] or Twitter @zhounanyu.