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The story behind Sabobatage | The first boba card game in the U.S.

A near-death experience was the catalyst to a card game that pays homage to bubble tea and the Asian American experience
Credit: Eric Chen

DAVIS, Calif. — Laughter. Dessert. Play. It's life's simple pleasures that entrepreneur, Eric Chen lives for. The Bay Area native and UC Davis graduate is the creator of Sabobatage, the first Boba card game in the United States.

Between sips of tea and explaining the rules to friends, are little moments that almost never happened. 

"So, I had gotten into this crazy car accident," Chen begins to explain.

Five years ago, Eric's friend fell asleep at the wheel. The car crashed into a tree.

"The seatbelt had pulled on my stomach so hard that my intestines had ruptured," Chen said. 

With no memory of the crash, he woke up from emergency surgery to a year-long recovery. He battled complications of internal bleeding that sent him in and out of the hospital.

"You're kind of just sitting alone in your hospital bed with your thoughts," he said.

In those moments, Chen decided to shuffle his priorities and ditch the corporate world as a Silicon Valley sales manager to answer a question that kept him up in the hospital bed.

"How can you live the most fulfilling life that you can, in this short amount of time?

He played a new hand, becoming a serial entrepreneur, and creating products that bring people together.

"To me, the fulfilling part is just being able to have more time, more time to hang out with people," Chen said. 

When the pandemic shut off those connections, he craved the sweet feeling of togetherness, like memories of college and kicking back with friends at the Old Tea House in Davis.

"The Old Tea House is one of the O.G. Boba shops," Chen said. "This is probably one of the only shops when I was here during university"

Boba, or bubble tea, is essentially a dessert drink consisting of tea, milk, and toppings. The staple being, chewy tapioca pearls.

The beverage originated in Taiwan but has exploded into America's mainstream over the past decade. Now, you can find a tea shop on nearly every block in Davis's downtown core.

Chen saw an opportunity to share a taste of Asian American culture in a card game. 

"There really wasn't a lot of Asian representation in terms of like film, and so to me, this is just the start of something that we could create and bridge that gap between Asian and being American," Chen said.

The designs of the cards drawing on his childhood. The name of the game, 'Sabobatage,' is a play on sabotage. Tea shop owners race to build drink sets, and certain play cards can sabotage their efforts.  

"This in itself gives people that chance to sit down, grab a drink, play games with your friends and share that laughter and create these memories," he said.

Sabobatage will start shipping next month after a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $150,000 in a month. You can learn more at Bobacardgame.com.

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