Board Games, much more than just Snakes and Ladders

Settlers of Catan
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One of the hottest trends to catch the frenzy of the country right now is mobile games, which have seen a surge since the rise in smartphones availability over the last three years. With more than 300 small and big time developers currently in the ecosystem, and more such who are finding their footing in the industry that is estimated to grow to be worth Rs 2,620 crore by 2019 according FICCI KPMG report 2015. While this is an exciting period to be on the digital side of things, there is also an industry away from this hullabaloo which is slowly but steadily gaining traction amongst the youth is the board games.

One would easily argue that board games are child’s play and what does one have to do with games like Snakes and Ladder, Ludo or a Pictionary. But the board games don’t end there; they have been a form of entertainment for adults too. Casual games like Taboo, Scrabble and even RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, Settlers of Catan and Game of Thrones all have been known to be popular among social circles and have become classics in their own right.

Not as popular as its other sibling, board games don’t share the same status which is enjoyed by mobile games or video games but has a niche following. And there are a few people who have been flag bearers for board games in India, with many of them taking their passion to a different level altogether. We caught up with some of the professionals and promoters to know about what the state of the board games in the country is and what gets non-players to get their first dice rolling.

Board Games Faces

The Faces

Crimzon Studio founder and director Amit Ghadge has been the hand behind many successful comics and board game art for international board games like Last Starfleet and Storm the Castle.

Rishabh Shah Co-founder of BlahGames, which distributes and supplies board games, started the venture as a passion for board games with his partner Mohit. They found a genuine need gap for board game lovers and wish to fill that void.

Deepak Muraleedharan, graphic designer and game designer by profession recently started a game company dedicated to board and card games called Curious Kingdom. He is currently working on a couple of games one of which is dedicated towards specially abled kids to help them learn.

Kushal Shah runs one of the popular groups for board gamers called The Tabletop Nerds. The group organizes regular board game meet ups for enthusiasts and also for the ones who are interested in learning about it.

What’s all the fuss about?

Amit: Our country is not much familiar with Board games, and we don’t have a culture where dedicated time and money is spent on them; one of the major reasons is the shipping fees. But the good part is that we have many small board game clubs where likeminded people and enthusiasts come together.

Kushal: If we consider the Indian scenario, games like Monopoly, Business, Life and UNO are still popular in India. Once in a while people sit down for a game for random fun but not as a serious board gaming passion. There are very few people who know that there is a whole new world of board games apart from the usual ones. Recently a game called Stock-Market gained a lot of popularity and it was a really nice game considering Indian standards.

Rishabh: Board games knowledge in India is primarily limited to the likes of Monopoly, Snakes & Ladders, Scrabble, Pictionary etc. with a lot of Indian variants like Business jumping in. More recently games like Taboo, Risk have also enjoyed some level of popularity in the urban areas.

Deepak: Board games have always been there for years starting from the oldest being Chess to Monopoly, and every generation has played them once in their life, but this does not convert into a trend or a hobby like in other countries, where board games are played dedicatedly. One of the reasons there are less number of Indian made games is the lack of publishers, game designers and investors; but more than that there is no market. I think mobile games are making a big impact in India, more game companies are popping up every day and gaming has become a culture now.

Hurdles along the way

Visibility can be one of the factors, but knowledge is the biggest hindrance when it comes to board games. People here have forever associated board games to be child’s play and video games to be a waste of time. But this is changing, small groups promoting board games have popped up across the country allowing board game enthusiasts to explore different board games and meet like minded people.

Rishabh: One of the things stopping board games to amass large popularity is probably the relatively higher pricing than people here are used to paying for games and the societal association of board games with children. Some of the board games which have done very well are Settlers of Catan which is what is considered to be the best gateway game, i.e. a game which first time gamers can easily play and understand. Other titles include known and easily associated names like Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and Civilization (from the very popular computer game).

Deepak: The lack of publishers, game designers and investors are one reason but more than that no market, it’s the same issue for comics in India. People don’t like to spend that much money on board games, board game is an expensive hobby and it’s a onetime thing, but the value of human interaction is priceless. When it comes to manufactures there are so many of them in India and many publishers outside are printing their games in India because of low cost. Shipping charges for outside games are also a big issue, because the games are being manufactured in China and France, board game enthusiasts have to cough up huge sums of money to get their hands on some famous board games.

Amit: Things are definitely looking brighter as more and more people are getting interested in games not only in terms of playing but also developing and designing them. Games like Risk, Pandemic, Ticket to ride, Dead of Winter, 7 Wonders, Settlers of Catan are a few to name which are doing good.

Board Game Genres

Favourable Genres

Among the genres that have picked up in the country are the strategy and semi-co-operative games like the Settlers of Catan and Dungeons and Dragons. Not to forget the party games and the educational ones. One of the major head turners was MadRat Games, which raised a whopping $1 million from Flipkart founders and bunch of other investors. MadRat Games, company founded by three former IITians focuses on making board games, puzzles and toys.

Deepak: Educational board games are doing extremely well, MadRat is one example and maybe Flintobox, but I don’t think they are doing board games yet. The main reason I think is the physical parts, children love physical objects. I am doing a research to introduce board games to children with autism and learning disability, games that are dedicated to them. I think board games can make a big difference in their life than digital games.

One other genres I think catching up is Party games, with small filler card games we can make family get togethers, kitty parties and family meet ups, more fun and engaging.

All other genres have prominence according to age but I think these two are growing fast and I don’t think heavy, meaty board games will penetrate the Indian market because of their price but small quick card games will make a change.

Rishabh: The genres doing well in general are themed games and gateway games for the obvious reasons of high association and easy gameplay. However there has also been a fair amount of interest shown in Dungeon crawler games like Descent and Dungeons and Dragons (which is also a role playing game/RPG).

Board Games Availability

Accessibility in the country

Board games are not available in the country apart from big malls or e-commerce sites. Even the games being imported from outside make them expensive (Games like Lord of the Rings card game and Star Wars: The Card game being in the Rs 3000-4000 bracket) is one of the barriers for this gaming industry.

Rishabh: The games are all imported. Distributors like us import the games and stock popular titles to supply to retail chains like Hamleys, Crossword and Landmark as well as to bigger local toy stores. There are a few board game e-stores like ours but marketplaces with their ready set of audiences tend to be a more popular choice for a seller to reach his audience especially for a niche product like board games.

Kushal: All these games are available online through websites like Amazon, eBay and Flipkart but we need to shell out a huge amount for it. Cost includes shipping, handling, tax, import duty and other overheads because of which the game cost almost doubles.

Deepak: I bought all my games online, from different websites like Blahgames and Flipkart. If you are a parent Flipkart is okay for educational children games but if you want the real action one must rely on other websites. So many cool games are coming through Kickstarter nowadays, but again the shipping charge these games have is very huge, sometimes even $59 or more.

Amit: There are different online platforms like Amazon and Flipkart where these games are available other than that we have Blahgames which is a dedicated online store with a good collection of Board games.

Board Gamers

Introducing a non-player

Also, making a non-board gamer sit and play a board game is very difficult which makes board games a little left out among all the other form of gaming entertainment. One may even argue that one of the reasons for the lack of knowledge about it is also the difficulty in availability.

Deepak: My main tactic is to let them play a party fun game with me, that always works! The idea is to introduce people to consume games of smaller duration (say 10 to 30 minute) and gradually progress to more complex games. And because it’s fun they will enjoy it and there is a whole genre called gateway games to introduce non gamers to board games. We at Curious Kingdom are coming up with a Bollywood themed party game to market soon.

Kushal: I myself operate a small board game group by the name of The Tabletop Nerds. I see to it that individuals at least try out a game and then form an opinion about board games. Till now, I have been quite successful and people are coming forward, requesting for more board gaming sessions. And because of its word of mouth publicity, it is creating awareness for the board games within their friends and family.

Amit: It’s very important to understand what kind of genre does the person likes to play; there are different genres of games which are simple to understand and keeps you interested. Once they are hooked to that then you introduce them to more complex and difficult games. I bet once you start playing, you are addicted to it for a lifetime :-)

Rishabh: The easiest way to get into board games is to play it. The rules for most of the gateway games are easy enough to be learned within 15 minutes even on your own. If you’re not feeling adventurous enough you can ask to join in on game sessions hosted by board game groups in most major cities. Such groups have new players, mostly strangers joining in every session. Worst case scenario you lose miserably and make a new set of friends. Best case scenario, you have beginners luck and you win the game as well! I would personally recommend starting with Settlers of Catan for the simple reason that it has sold millions of copies worldwide till date and has a comprehensive support system online and offline should you need it.

Rishabh even mentions that, “There is no risk per se considering that this is a nascent market with enough room for everyone to grow. More competition means wider reach and that more people actually know about the product. Where they buy it from ultimately will be decided on a combination of convenience, price and trust. That said there is always a risk of the publishers entering the market themselves like Funskool/Mattel which cannot be avoided in the long run.”

Indigenous board game publishers and designers are very few in number with most publishers copying an existing hit title to create a variant of the same. Recently however there are a few game designers/producers who are churning out Indian themed games with enough quality and gameplay to compete at a global level, the most recent example being Mahayodha which took the crowdfunding route to gain the initial funding as well as a more global set of players who too are interested in what India has to offer.

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