Boardgame devotees now have a game that trumps the luck factor and lets them experience the dark, unpredictable world of politics.
Shasn, Sanskrit for governance, which simulates elections, was launched in India and the US on July 15 by the Goa-based film studio Memesys Culture Lab.
For Zain Memon, the co-founder of Memesys, the launch marks the culmination of an idea that germinated in 2017, when his studio created the documentary An Insignificant Man, on the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party politician and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
“Working on the AAP documentary, my team and I experienced first-hand how politics works,” said Memon. “All along, we were thinking about ways to put out these learnings for a larger group of people. Finally, we thought of creating a board game that would make fighting elections seem real.”
The game exhorts players to step into the shoes of a politician and take an unambiguous stand on issues of national importance to capture hearts and votes.
Memon’s team at Memesys spent a year-and-a-half working on the game and has now put together four versions – Indian Elections 2019, USA 2019 Campaign, the Roman history and the Earth 2039 Campaign.
The games are priced between Rs 4,000 and Rs 6,099, depending on the base- or full-game version, and comes with a game board, player mats, resource tokens, voter pegs to register votes and vote bank cards, among other things.
Shasn is a four-person game. It starts off with each player answering a policy question: should goods and services tax be abolished? Should soldiers be allowed to express dissent publicly? Should gau-rakshak or cow protection day be a national holiday? Should cannabis use be legalised?
The response determines the political ideology that players get to adopt – idealist, showman, supremo or capitalist.
“Unlike a lot of existing board games, Shasn does not rely on luck,” explained Memon. “It moves forward based on a player’s socio-political beliefs. The questions are open-ended and not designed to support one ideology over the other.”
As in the real world, players have to deal with a fair dose of politicking.
They contest elections, form political alliances, plot against rivals, capture booths, and use money and social media to influence voters. They also have access to resources like campaign funds, media spotlight, street clout and public trust to advance in the game.
They may also have to manage moles in opposition camps or answer questions on their source of funding from other players. The politician who manages to garner maximum votes in the stipulated time of three hours is the winner.
Memesys Culture Lab has launched a video made by the Hungarian filmmaker, György Pálfi explaining how Shasn is played.
Shasn is finding early admirers and takers. The popular stand-up comic and political satirist Kunal Kamra took to Twitter to endorse the game.
He also urged followers to watch out for Shasn’s launch on the global crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.
Gaming enthusiasts too are upbeat about theme-based games like Shasn. “To be a successful means of entertainment, gaming has to create a compelling user experience,” said Paavan Nanda, co-founder at WinZO Games, an online game aggregator. “Game makers have to understand the needs of their target audience and create interactive gameplay for users.”
Shasn is not alone in using politics as a theme to generate curiosity around the Indian electoral system. Ahead of the 2019 general elections, journalist Abeer Kapoor had led the creation of The Poll: The Great Indian Election Game. The game simulated India’s national electoral process highlighting ugly tactics the political parties deploy to win elections.
With the latest addition, democracy, it seems, is getting more hands-on.
This article first appeared on Quartz.