A World Beyond Scrabble: What Fans are Doing to Make Board Games Popular in India

A World Beyond Scrabble: What Fans are Doing to Make Board Games Popular in India

The first image that pops up in most people's minds when the phrase "board game" is mentioned are the likes of Scrabble or Snakes and Ladders. And who can blame them? It's these games that most people grew up with. However, there's a lot more to it as we found out.

A wide spectrum of board games exist, ranging from trading and resource management fare like Settlers of Catan, to complex role-playing board games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Some of these games are for kids, while others can be complex games that take forever to set up and even longer to play.

The one thing these games have in common is that unlike video games that can be played alone thanks to single-player modes, it's near impossible to play these by yourself. The social aspect and community are intrinsically woven into the very fabric of playing board games, so they're best when played with friends. To celebrate International TableTop Day - a celebration of board gaming around the world - the Mumbai Board Gamers are hosting a board game meetup on Saturday where anyone can come and play.


We found the club in the middle of a game of Dungeon Petz, and it isn't as complicated as it seems.

Fans can be worryingly dedicated, but most people you talk to haven't heard of games like Catan or Dominion. In India, Bollywood and cricket dominate all entertainment, and it's up to the community to bring awareness to the expansive world of tabletop games. One such community is Mumbai Board Gamers, which as the name suggests, is based out of Mumbai.

Founded by Prashant Maheshwari and Mohit Goel, it's a ragtag crew of people from different walks of life. Mumbai Board Gamers includes investment bankers and teachers, people from diverse backgrounds unified by their love for tabletop games. The group meets regularly, posting locations on Meetup. Or if you'd like to check out other meetups related to International TableTop Day in your area, you can find them here.

Finding people with a shared passion is only one part of the equation though. Getting the games can be daunting as well. Most games have to be imported, which means they often have to deal with duties and high shipping costs because board game boxes are big, and heavy. The Game of Thrones board game for instance weighs over 2kgs. It's price is $44.55 (approximately Rs. 2,750) but it costs almost Rs. 8,000 from an importer in Delhi.


"Imports are expensive but that's what we do. Or we ask friends abroad to get them for us when they come to Bombay," Aniceto Pereira, one of the organisers at Mumbai Board Gamers tells us. "Other than that, the game designers are a cool lot. They're very accessible and they understand the issues and that it's not a hobby that's usually taken up in India, it's something that can be brought up. They're happy with the visibility and helping out by sending us games."

For International TableTop Day, April 11, the group is hosting a board game meetup where everyone can come and play. The idea for Tabletop Day was over, conceptualised and popularised by Will Wheaton (of Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory) and Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural) on their Web series TableTop, in 2013. Though it's been just two years since its inception, International TableTop day has seen 3,000 events over all seven continents, across 80 countries. This year, the Mumbai Board Gamers plan to step it up a notch.

"Normally we have meet ups of ten people or so and our mega meetups have 25 people," says Periera. "This time we're getting 100 people which is great. These are just the newbies who will be playing for the first time and not the organisers. If we count the organisers as well, it goes up to 120 or so."

The focus for the club is to strike the right balance between accessibility for newcomers, and just enough of an incentive to keep the old faithful coming back.

"For us, the idea is to get people to play and into it. An introduction to the medium," says Pereira. "There are eight tables only for newbie friendly games. Three tables that are for gamers.


Settlers of Catan, one of the better games for entry level players.

To keep things interesting, the group is also hosting a Settlers of Catan tournament as well. Entries are limited to people who register before noon on Saturday, and the tournament takes place through the day. The winner will get a copy of Settlers of Catan.

"Catan is the right game to get people on, perhaps Hannabi as well," he says. "There's a whole bunch of them. But Catan is it because its got dice rolling, and trading mechanism that forces you to trade [with other players] because you cannot have everything. The mechanics are easy to understand and trading brings in a social aspect. Plus, there's an element of frenemies too. In the sense that you start off playing as best friends, but at the end of it all, we might just hate each other. It makes for interesting gaming sessions."

Entry into the event isn't free. To cover costs, people will have pay up Rs. 300. All earnings will get pooled back into the next event the club is planning. To some, it might seem like a lot for a chance to play a bunch of board games, but the reality is otherwise. For an event as niche as this, it's already sold out a day prior.


"Now we're going to do these tournaments regularly with the money from TableTop Day to pay for prizes. Whatever money comes in, goes back into the club. The Rs. 300 entry fee includes snacks, hall costs and other expenses," he says.

Mumbai Board Gamers International TableTop Day meetup is happening on Saturday (April 11) at YMCA, Colaba starting at 10AM. You can visit its meetup page for more details.

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