When Christina Maiorescu went to a toy store to buy India-centric games for her family three years ago, she only found Scrabble and Monopoly.
“I thought it was important to have access to games that Indians could relate to and that represented their culture,” she says.
And that’s why she made Bharata 600 BC. The immersive strategy game, set in ancient India during the era of the 16 Mahajanapadas (Great Realms), allows players to choose personality traits, build realms, manage resources such as iron and wood, to wage war and to protect their territories from rivals and natural disasters.
The game has 554 components, including beautifully handcrafted wooden parts made by artisans in Channapatna, the city of Karnataka famous for its wooden toys.
India’s toy market, worth around $ 1.5 billion, is dominated by imported toys and games, according to Invest India, the National Investment Promotion and Facilitation Agency.
But initiatives are underway to remedy this. The Indian government launched Toycathon this year, with the aim of encouraging the production of games in India. Designers were invited to submit ideas drawn from Indian mythology, stories, history and national heroes, in a national competition, with cash prizes.
The most recent Indian board game to grab everyone’s attention is Shasn, which emphasizes political strategy. He raised over $ 500,000 through crowdfunding alone. Created by Zain Memon and published by Memesys Culture Lab, Shasn, which stands for governance, involves each actor playing the role of a politician contesting an election. It allows players to explore different political ideologies and political decisions, and compete for power, as well as experience the politics of India, US, UK, Empire Roman and even “The Future”.
Maiorescu is also part of a growing race of game designers in India who are trying to change the status quo, tapping into the country’s rich geopolitical and cultural resources. And the good news is that these games are in demand.
Board games have always been popular in India, which hosts several game nights in cafes and bars, and even hosts a trade fair called Meeplecon, which attracts thousands of people every year. And, due to the pandemic, many have started playing board games at home with family and friends. This has led to a surge in demand.
“A lot of people thought I was getting into something that had neither potential nor money,” Maiorescu explains. “But I was determined to make a game that was 100% Indian, from its conception to its theme and to its manufacture. We carried out an in-depth survey of over 10,000 people, researched the history of India. , tried to understand the market and the different aspects of making a game, then prototyped and tested it before finally releasing it.
“The game has found a great response, and we are looking to expand our capacity as we are currently only able to craft 500 coins per month.” Maiorescu is now working with designers and websites to launch more Indian themed games.
Dice Toy Labs in Bengaluru, founded by Phalgun Polepalli and his wife, Shwetha Badarinath, makes ageless games. The company has launched more than 18 in recent years, such as Chariots of Chandragupta and Yudhbhoomi.
Indus 2500 BCE, based on the Indus Valley Civilization, was launched during the pandemic. The object of the game is to build a civilization from scratch. “In the last six months we’ve seen an 800% increase in sales, boosted by the pandemic, no doubt,” says Polepalli, who worked in IT before becoming a game designer.
“The main reason for the rise in popularity of board games is the urban Indian, especially millennials who have traveled or lived abroad, found a huge offline gaming culture and wanted to do the same. in India.
“When we started three years ago, there wasn’t even a single Indian board game publisher. Even making a pair of dice was a challenge. Now we have a rich community of people working with and playing board games. We work with designers who create games, which are then marketed by us; we also design our own and test them with the gaming community before launching them.
At the annual fair in Essen, Germany, a board game paradise, Polepalli says more than 5,000 are launched each year, and not a single one has been Indian. “There are many possibilities to create Indian games that can tell stories, educate and entertain, and use the aesthetics and art of the country. Board games can teach cognitive skills such as problem solving and strategic thinking, and also help people bond. with family and friends. “
Tacite Games, run by Sindhu Murthy Kulkarni and her husband, Kiran Kulkarni, recently launched a board game called Hampi and the Sun Jewel, based on the Unesco World Heritage site of Hampi in Karnataka, “once, l ‘one of the richest cities in India,’ says Kulkarni, who left the corporate design world to create puzzles based on Indian cultural themes for children.
“It’s an extremely intensive process to design and publish a board game, from the arrival of the theme to illustration and design. It involves the efforts of many people, from mathematical modelers to graphic designers and artists. The problem in India is that we don’t have an organized infrastructure to make games like in the West, nor an established supply chain. But everyone we worked with was eager to learn and curious.
Polepalli says: “Indian board games are the future, with their long lifespan and ability to weave in the rich tapestry of Indian history, culture and art into an awe-inspiring history that can engage young and old.
But it will be a waiting game until we see how popular they all become.
Update: July 23, 2021, 5:01 am