From cards that call out social prejudice to Snakes and Ladders with karmic philosophy, these India-centric board games made their debut during the pandemic
Caprisoned elephants, turbanned rajahs, shining swords, a quiver full of arrows, messenger pigeons and the glorious promise of war — you don’t need a magic carpet to travel back in time. Bharata 600 BC, a board game, will take you back to ancient India where many a kingdom’s fate was sealed by behind-the-scenes puppet masters.
Conceptualised by Cristina Maiorescu, ideated by Pallavi Nopany and illustrated by Ishan Trivedi, Bharata 600 BC takes players through a time in India where territories were enlarged via alliances, trade or battle. Played on a board that depicts the map of India in 600 BC, it shows the country at the end of the Vedic period, when 16 independent kingdoms were in power. Each player is assigned a kingdom and has to expand territory as the game progresses. Players choose their leadership persona and are then granted abilities to complement their personality.
As an entrepreneur with a tight schedule, Cristina realised that board games helped her unwind as well as spend quality time with her family and friends. “I became interested in board games and soon realised that while many of them cater to children, not many are designed for adults.”
Together with art director Pallavi Nopany and illustrator Ishan Trivedi, Bharata slowly took shape, but before it could reach fruition, the pandemic threw a spanner in the works. The initial prototype of Bharata 600 BC was also tweaked to get to its current avatar with two difficulty levels — easy and complex — both in the same package.
“I wanted it to be quite illustrative in a storytelling kind of way, even though it is a game of war,” says Pallavi Nopany.
Considering that 600 BC was ancient history in every sense of the word, a lot of research was required to ensure the era was portrayed right. From jewellery, motifs on clothing and the number of sails on a ship to historic architecture, fortifications and the arms used by warriors of yore, the team left no detail unattended. It took around 11 months to finalise the art work.
“I was convinced I wanted to create a board game which was 100% Indian in design and was locally produced,” says Cristina. It took her almost a year to find a paper manufacturer who could not only provide quality paper, but also customise packaging.
“We also worked with Channapatna artisans for an eco-friendly product. Every single wooden component is crafted individually by hand,” she adds.
With over 500 pieces crafted from wood and lac and coloured with vegetable dye, Bharata proved to be a godsend for the artisans in Channapatna whose orders had dried up during the lockdown.
Bharata 600 BC is available from ₹3800 on online shopping platforms.
‘Malayali aano? (Are you a Malayali?)’. Those in the know will attest to the universality of this question heard anywhere from grocery stores and gourmet tastings to airports and intimate soirées.
This rather innocuous question has the capacity to offend or welcome you, into the embrace of a clan for whom geography has no boundaries. Fit the magnitude of those emotions into a board game and you get Malayali Aano, in which players compete for the honour of being a ‘Thani Malayali’ or a traditional Malayali.
The lockdown creation of two friends — Rosemary Jacob and Sona Harris — Malayali Aano was born from the way Malayalis the world over communicate. “It’s pure joy when you meet another Malayali anywhere, which is how we came up with the name. We realised no other community in India interacts in that manner,” says Rosemary.
The card game needs a minimum of four players, and has around 100 questions and 400 possible answers revolving around Malayali pop culture, movies, food, personalities and local jargon. Pick a card, answer the game master and the most ‘Malayali’ reply wins custody of the question card. The player at the end of the game with the biggest pile of cards wins.
“The trivia, jargon and slang that have entered the language and become part of almost every Malayali conversation always fascinated me. A board game seemed the best platform to harness all that content,” says Sona.
There is more to the game than just nostalgia and humour. Roughly based on the concept of Cards Against Humanity which has an open creative licence, Malayali Aano broaches taboo topics, making it easier to throw light on subjects that have been swept under the carpet for generations.
“We’ve included ‘judge-y dialogues’ we hear from our parents, grandparents and others as well as millennial slang,” says Rosemary, adding, “We’ve also put in a lot of ‘cringe content,’ — the misogynistic, ageist, sexist, casteist things people have been saying without realising how offensive it is.”
“With humour, people are able to take it lightly and have a conversation about it rather than a debate or argument,” says Rosemary. Gender inequality, patriarchy, religious identity and political affiliations are all grist to the Malayali Aano mill.
The cards are printed in Malayalam and ‘Manglish’ (Malayalam written in English) to make it easier for those not fluent in reading the script. The game can also be enjoyed by non-Malayalis with a decent understanding of Kerala culture. Shashi Tharoor, LuLu shopping mall, parotta and beef, neighbouring ‘paandis’ — all make an appearance in the game that came out in October. A glossary of terms used in the cards has also been included in the box.
Malayali Aano is available on www.malayaliaano.com for ₹1,899.
Did you know the game of Snakes and Ladders originated in India? Its original form was slightly different from the one popular today. A DIY game of Snakes and Ladders put together by Kavade and Curious Fly, launched in December, highlight this version of the game.
“Called gyan chaupar or paramapada sopanapatam, the original version of the game had 72 squares though versions with 132 and 380 squares are known to have existed. We decided to make something that would recreate the cultural elements from that time in history,” says Sreeranjini GS of Kavade, a store for traditional games in Bengaluru.
For Sreeranjani and her team, the purpose of coming out with this form of the game was three-fold. “First, we wanted to bring about an awareness of our roots. Most of us don’t know the game was conceptualised in India, stemming from our faith in karma — bad deeds will bring you down in life while good ones will take you higher,” says Sreeranjini.
The second purpose was to shine a light on traditional Indian folk art. “We had a Kalamkari artist and a Gond artist design two different outlines for the game, in their distinctive styles,” says Sreeranjini.
Both versions of the board are made in a jigsaw puzzle format using eco-friendly material, and have to be assembled before they are painted or coloured in. Apart from the board, the DIY kit includes dice, pawns, tiles to make your own ladders and snake templates to personalise the look of your board.
“The third aspect we have tried to bring in is to make the game a lot more engaging than just five minutes. Once the board is ready, players place the snakes and ladders wherever they wish, but with an understanding of the negative and positive outcomes of life. Karma or the cycle of birth and death used to come alive on the game board. When you have crossed over all that, then you attain salvation. That is the meaning of paramapada sopanapatam, or steps to salvation. It was rather intense and not really a child’s game,” adds Sreeranjini.
This DIY version of Snakes and Ladders can be bought at www.kavade.org, Unfactory and GoNative for ₹ 880.