I have always been a fan of board games. Ever since I was a kid and strategy board games that too. Fascination for this format got kindled the first time I came across a business world game at a neighbours place. Those plastic chips that served as money tokens in still etched in memory from that first brush with board games. I was also so young when this incident happened that Rekha and her friend did not allow me me to join them for the game even.
Soon after I added board games also to my list of collections — aside of books of course. Books always used to be my first love — right from the Balarama’s and the Amar Chithra Katha’s that I got hooked on to in my early primary school years. So by the time I got to my teenage, I found myself having Business World, Game of Life, Monopoly and Scotland Yard in my stash along with my Secret Seven’s, Famous Five’s, Hardy Boy’s, Nancy Drew’s etc.
While Monopoly is one of the most popular games and staple games in and around our circles here in India, its one which I never really developed a fascination for. Scotland Yard on the other hand got my juices flowing. I’ll have to admit though my my fascination for Scotland Yard was disproportional to the number of boards of that game I have played. One game I really got fascinated but never really got around to buying was Battleship. I remember playing this game at a distant relative’s place and feeling how exotic those boxes were.
After those teenage years came a protracted phase of no board games. (Interestingly, there was a protracted phase of no books even). This I believe could be attributed to the age factor — you tend to get hooked on a lot more to outdoor games and video games in that age. While it was few more years away from NFS and Age of Empires becoming the rage, Contra & Maria had made their appearance by then and was soon to be followed by Road Rash, Call of Duty, Mortal Combat, FIFA etc. Predating all these titles was Prince of Persia — that one magnificent beauty of a game, and our good old Bricks. Cat was among the first games I played during my pre-KG years alongside Bricks on the Amstard PC that we had at home. This segment would not be complete without a reference to that. Not a lot of people I realised later had come across this. Was one spectacular game and truly deserved a lot more popularity.
Coming to think of it, there really are a host of competing interests vying for your attention during your teen years. So the decline or near absence in interest in those growing up years in books, board games et al is understandable and can be attributed to these several competing interests. Part of the reason though can be attributed to either availability or awareness of board games titles that can provide the levels of complexity and challenge that is required at a higher age level. In our common accepted knowledge, board games were for kids. When we mention board games, the imagery that pops up in most people’s mind is Snakes N Ladders, Ludo, Scrabble etc. The ones who have played or even heard of Game of Life, Scotland Yard etc, you were leagues ahead of your peers in terms of board game exposure.
So beyond these titles, my interest also waned. And while at several points in time I attempted to rekindle it again, it was not to be. While the fascination remained as such in my mind, the playing experience did not quite match up — and would be peter off after a round or two. Tried different titles also but none of them matched even in game play experience to these titles. So naturally card games took over its place when table top games reappeared in my life — countless hours of hostel time went in 28 wars.
So for a lot number of years, it was a perfect null phase for board games. Books as well as I had mentioned. I can’t think of a single instance of a board game or a single book that I have read in 5 years of my hostel life and 4 years of my engineering college life. And as far as board games go, it took several more years to end that lean patch. (Ending the lean patch with books happened a lot earlier though).
One of the first books that I read soon after I broke out of the lean patch with books was Rich Dad Poor Dad. (Lean patch was broken with Future Shock). In that book, the author talks about a board game named Cashflow. It piqued my interest and wanted to explore it. This was soon after engineering and the cost turned out to be prohibitive — a title would cost around 200 USD. Few more years down the line, around when I was working in consulting with PwC is when I finally bought this game title. By then, I had more discretionary income and I also came across a 50% off offer which triggered the purchase. The game arrived and I revelled in it. It was a really good and really absorbing game. While most of the game elements were the ones that I was exposed to in those previous titles I have played, the gameplay experience was definitively several notches higher. Suffice to say, even after shelling out 100 USD for a game, I ended up not developing post purchase dissonance.
It was around the same time I discovered this website boardgamegeeks. That was the first instance that I realised that and got exposed to many many more titles out there. Hundreds and thousands of titles. Most of the titles that topped their respective categories I had not even heard of. Having said that, my knowledge was limited to the gameplay experiences I have been exposed to so far, so the only action this discovery and realisation resulted in was this website getting clipped to my Evernote.
The next inflection point happened in 2015. I was in Bangalore and one of my colleagues from Startup Village, Meera, mentioned to me about this board game place in Koramangala and that I should totally check it out. It’s fairly evident that I have been talking about my love for board games although I pretty much had only this Cashflow game to show for it (disproportionate fascination remember). And this reference from her is what led me to check out Dice N Dine. Run by an IIM grad who realised that a corporate career was not one of the things he wanted to get good at, this place was a board game lover’s paradise. The promoter is a board game lover and it shows. Walls filled with board games, some 200+ titles if not more and all carefully curated by the promoter himself. A proper board game cafe and not one of those cafes with a few board games. They recommend titles based on the your group and also help you pick up the game.
Around the time I had discovered boardgamegeek website, I had stumbled on some online platform that lets you play Settlers of Catan. After getting hooked on to the game, I did try to create a physical version of it with cardboard and straws and all. Not because of my interest in putting this together but only since the title was not available in any of our stores. Given my poor craftsmanship, it was a shoddy implementation but the point here was to highly my efforts that demonstrated keen interest. A board game is fun only when you have the nice high quality pieces as well. So 6 years after my attempted shoddy implementation to play a physical version of Settlers of Catan, I first ended up playing the actual physical board game version with people physically hovering the board at Dice N Dine.
I tasted blood. The first visit saw me being there for close to 6 hours straight. The very next day, I gathered few more people, hit the place as soon as it opened and stayed on till it closed at around 1am in the night — easily 12 hours plus of continuous board game time. Ended up doing that with another group the next day also. These two days can be treated as my proper initiation to the world of board games. As as I conveyed earlier, my personal preference is towards strategy board games. In those two days, I got introduced to Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Acquire, Cash N Guns etc and started getting acquainted to various styles of game play. For instance, almost all the game I have been exposed to till then had dices as a standard component ie a high element of chance. Games like ticket to ride and acquire did not even have dices — I never even knew that board games were even possible without dices. It’s indeed possible and how.
So with this renewed vigour, I started researching online and started listing out titles one by one. And since almost all of these titles were not available in Indian stores, I resorted to finding out friends of mine travelling from US & Europe to help carry one or two pieces with them every time they travelled to India. This activity that spanned a bit over a year has resulting in me having a stash of over 20 titles. Countless hours of amazing and absorbing game time has gone in ever since the first title arrived. These days, when people travel, when they wish to get me something they ping and ask which board game and not which brand of alcohol.
Since rediscovery my joy of board games, I have been spreading the joy to circles within my friends and family as well. Now my sister, my mom, my nephew & niece, my good friend Sandeep, my colleagues from Startup Village and fellow partners in crime at Rethink Gokul & Roopa, my uncle Sabu, colleagues from MobME days Vishnu & Sanjay, my colleagues at Rethink Arya & Aby, founders & talent from our collective I have worked with — Nikhil, Rohil, Johns, Jibin, Anoop Nayak, Arvind Sanjeev, Sethu, Fausya, Saleeh, Yadu etc, our volunteers with Rethink all have taken to board games and some of them have spawned their own respective board game circles as well.
Just a few days back Vishnu ended up tagging me on Twitter after they had an engrossing session of Power Grid, which in turn served as a trigger to write this post. A quick note on PowerGrid — its a master piece. One of the most tastefully designed and well balanced games I have come across till game.
Wonderful world of strategy board games
For those looking at where to start, my guidance for gateway games would be Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne. Acquire and Power Grid can then follow. And should anyone wish to get themselves initiated into all this by joining in for a few rounds of games, just reach me and we can explore how it can be facilitated. After working on Breakfast Club the past couple years, I have already professed a keen interest in building out an equivalent for Board Games (Board game club?). And as a trivia, Saleeh has already earmarked a table in his new office for board games so we can always gather there.
I do have a lot more thoughts surrounding board games — and strategy board games that too. But for now, I’ll just leave it at that. Closing with the strong advocacy that anyone who hasn’t tried it yet and is even mildly interested, you should absolutely check out board games. Every child and every adult needs and deserves to be introduced to this fascinatingly amazing world.