Our national sport is field hockey and our national passion cricket. But with outdoor games outlawed of late, many are turning to games that can not only be played indoors, but also exercise the mind. Board games have kept many families occupied and sane through these tough times.
I’ve had a lifelong love affair with the gameverse. Most have played the usual Ludo and Snakes & Ladders as children. Some progressed to Monopoly and UNO. I was lucky that I had a family that introduced me to Scrabble and Chess when I was five and made me keen to discover other games all through life.
In the 80s, my grandma taught me the vintage, very British, Lexicon; somebody gifted us the fab French card game set around road races called Mille Bornes; while a travelling aunt brought us back the popular strategy game Risk. In primary school, I had simple games like Pay Day, which taught me the value of money (and perhaps got me hooked to shopping for groceries!), the detective game Cluedo and more complex ones like the electronically-enhanced Stop Thief! and Scotland Yard, where a team of cops try to catch a mysterious Mr X. I even had two friends from my building, brothers whose dad was a stock exchange broker, create their own stock market game way before similar ones hit the stores in India.
As we grew older and arcade games and sophisticated ones on the PC came into our lives in the early 1990s, we spent hours mastering these daily. I was partial to shooting, street-fighting and racing games in the arcade and side-scrolling platform adventures like The Lost Vikings and Disney’s Aladdin on the computer. While others were wowed by the antics of Super Mario, I enjoyed resource-allocating city-building games like Pharaoh. Meanwhile, fast-paced first-person shooters such as Wolfenstein were so popular that my aunt Pratima Sawe’s video gaming café in Girgaon (aptly called Happiness) had players waiting for hours to get a chance to play at one of the 20 stations! There were plenty of new games being launched and it was never a dull moment.
So, it’s not surprising that game nights and ‘play dates’ have continued into my adulthood. When I made new friends in my late 20s, our parents worried what exactly we were up to together every night. Hope it’s not drugs, I could see in their eyes. They found it hard to believe that the addiction was board games.
We’d finish work and then meet at coffee shops to play. We knew exactly where we’d be allowed to set up our boards and where we’d be chased away from. When the cafes closed at 1am, we’d play in five-star hotel lobbies. One night, we even played sitting on the steps of the Asiatic Society Library. We bought a lot of new games apart from the standard gateway ones like Pictionary and Taboo. Cranium, which tested a lot of different skills, was a particular favourite.
A few years later, I attended the first sessions of the Board Game Bash (started by fellow foodie and gamer Kumar Jhuremalani), where friends and strangers came together over this common love. Most of the games played in a restaurant once a month were party games that could engage the attention of several players. This brought me in touch with more gaming-crazy folks and we started meeting up at each other’s homes to play for hours. Apart from fun ones such as Scattergories (similar to our good ol’ Name, Place, Animal Thing) and Balderdash, we started exploring more serious ones such as Splendor and popular strategy Euro-style games like Catan and The Castles of Burgundy.
Fortunately, board game cafes became a thing about five-six years ago. Now, we could play in a safe, specialised environment where no one person has to take the trouble to host a horde of game enthusiasts. Like the Creeda gaming café near CST, where we bonded over the new titles young entrepreneur and gaming guru Riddhi Dalal stocked, became our favourite hangout. Many cafés came up as the gaming community grew and people were ready to spend serious moolah on their game-mania. So much so that there’s even been an annual board game convention in Mumbai called Meeplecon India, which has drawn thousands of visitors since 2017 (the pandemic ones excluded, of course). We tapped into digital game resources like Board Game Geek (boardgamegeek.com) for global gaming information and reviews, or the more local ones such as gamistaan.in that allowed us not only to buy games but also rent the ones we wanted to try.
Many board game manufacturers have also created licensed apps to enable mobile users to have all sorts of games, be it Codenames, Ticket to Ride or even Rummikub at one’s fingertips. And then, there are games created solely for smartphones that span every inclination from Cricket to Subway Surfer to Design Home and the now-banned PUBG. Not surprisingly, the mobile gaming market in India is apparently estimated at about 1 billion USD this year and growing.
Such digital options have been handy in lockdown, making it easy to transition from board games played face-to-face to going virtual with the same games and accessing even more, with just a click.
There are websites from across the world dedicated to giving the avid gaming community a ‘real-game feel’. Board Game Area (boardgamearena.com), Tabletopia (tabletopia.com), Yucata (yukata.de), Boite A Jeux (boiteajeux.net) Arkadium (arkadium.com) and more are multi-platform digital environments that collectively provide access to thousands of licensed board games and animated ones, offering months of entertainment that’s mostly free or at a nominal price.
Now, we do group video calls while we play online and it’s almost just as much fun as before.
(The columnist is an independent lifestyle journalist and bespoke Mumbai tour specialist. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @priyapathiyan and @thehungryhappyhippy on Facebook. She blogs on thehungryhappyhippy.com)