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Forget Ludo: Board games are tackling power and politics

Aishwarya Iyer

How would you contest an election? What would be at the top of your manifesto? Could you really negotiate a corrupt nexus and manage to get things done, and stay clean yourself?

A bunch of new political board games offer to let you try your hand at being the neta – with space for debates, strategising, even campaigning and fund-raising.

The games typically involve between three and eight players and have been designed by a range of independent game developers as well as filmmakers and journalists. In most, you need consensus to move forward, so players must form coalitions and collaborate. Here’s a look at the political games you can play.

Shasn

Taking its title from the Hindi word for governance, this five-person game lets you be a politician contesting an election. Only one can win, but for the game to move forward, you all collaborate by voting for each other.

In a reflection of the real world, the game starts with four key resources — funds, media, trust, and clout — distributed unequally.

Each round involves answering policy questions. Each answer is put to a vote. The person with the most votes can use those votes to acquire more clout, funds, media or trust.

The aim is to eventually trade some of those assets to acquire votebanks (represented by cards). Get the biggest votebank to win.

Designed by co-founder and media tech specialist at Memesys Culture Lab, Zain Memon, the original plan was to make the game in digital format. “But I wanted youngsters to engage and have discussions,” he says. “They already have enough screen time, and what we don’t have enough of in India is debates and engagement in politics.”

The Poll

All the shenanigans of our national elections, but in a fast, fun board game. You control your political party, as does every player. You put together a manifesto, form alliances, manage your budget, and make sure the voting public chooses you. Oh, and you can also use fake news and black money in your campaign. You only move forward if you have consensus, so you have to play nice.

“These days, around the world, politics is so polarised,” says Abeer Kapoor, 27, a political journalist with Hardnews Magazine in Delhi, who created the game. In it, each player is contesting an election, and must campaign, pick allies and conspire against rivals. “I wanted young people to have conversations around politics, actively analyse and brainstorm about ways to overcome a political obstacle,” Kapoor says. “And maybe recognise that politics doesn’t have to be dirty and convoluted and someone else’s problem.”

Coup

This is your chance to impersonate the mafia and bluff your way to power. The objective, using cards, coins and your lying skills, is to destroy the political influence of your opponents, and force them into exile.

Coup is what experts call a micro-game. The rounds move quickly, and you’re done in a few minutes. So players end up going a few more rounds. Here’s where the fun starts. “A meta-game quickly starts to develop,” says a reviewer on Boardgamegeek.com. “The choices and decisions of players from one round will be brought up in future rounds.” You’re not just testing one bluff, you’re working out an opponent’s patterns and tells.

Think of it as a mix of poker and bluff. You’re not playing the game, you’re playing your opponent. So keep a neutral face.

Go Retro

Military strategy makes for interesting board games too. Check out these classics.

Risk

Players conquer each other’s territories, mount alliances and surprise attacks. A roll of the dice can determine defeat or victory. Eliminate all opponents and occupy the most territory to win. So take big risks.

Diplomacy

You’re one of seven European powers that struggled for supremacy before WWI. Capture power centres using persuasion and diplomacy. Capture 18 of the 34 territories on the board to win. Players have to strategise and plot against each other to move forward. Betrayal, oddly, plays a big part, so choose wisely.      

                (HT Media)

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