It’s been almost a year since I played ‘Shasn’ for the first time. A political strategy board game — then called ‘Manifesto’ — I played it in one of the playtest sessions in Mumbai organised by Memesys Culture Lab, which has created the game. Zain Memon (creator of the game and co-founder of Memesys) and his team of developers took us through every detail, the overall design, explained the rules, helped through and recorded reactions of people playing the game as people went brain deep into it.
It’s a 3-5 player game, where each player steps in a politician’s shoes and answers some tough ethical questions. Answering these questions earn them a combination of ‘in-game resources’: campaign funds, street clout, media attention and public trust. The resources then help them choose policies, influence voters, gather power and form a majority. The game ends when a majority has been formed in every zone. The player with the most majority voters wins.
I remember walking in knowing little about it but then ended up playing the game for almost five hours with strangers. I raved about it to my friends about how the game redefines our engagement with politics. It’s now available for purchase on Kickstarter where it got funded completely in less than twenty four hours. Currently, it has crossed 350% of its goal, with about 1077 backers as I type this, and it’s still got eighteen days for its fruition. I spoke to Memon and Anand Gandhi (Producer and Mentor on the project) about the crowdfunding campaign and to know more about the game.
On being asked why the board game format was chosen and not Virtual Reality, something Memesys has developed and worked through over the years, Memon said, “We wanted to create a tool of media base that allow people to have a political conversation more easily.” Gandhi added, “While all of us are great lovers of media tech and where new method of human expression can lead us, we continuously wondered and one question kept popping up was what about social expression of media?…We wanted to create something that is profoundly rich in its community experience, in its social experience and that’s how board game became ideal method of doing that.”
We wanted to create something that is profoundly rich in its community experience, in its social experience and that’s how board game became ideal method of doing that.”
An Insignificant Man, Memesys’ documentary based on the formation and rise of the Aam Aadmi Party, was weaved from an extensive footage of about 700 hours shot over a couple of years. It also became the reference point for Shasn. “Working on the AAP documentary, my team and I experienced first-hand how politics works,” Zain said. “The idea was to put learning of one medium of storytelling into other while also learning the new medium in its entirety,” added Gandhi, who along with Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla (directors of An Insignificant Man) are the producers and mentors for the game.
The game, based on real life situations, is structured in a way that there is no right and wrong. The questions are open ended and there are four ideologies at play: The Capitalist, The Idealist, The Supremo and The Showman. So you play, you make policy decisions and then those decisions are ought to fall under one of the four ideologies. When I played the game, I lost miserably because I started as an Idealist, but as the game progressed, I started thinking differently, making decisions that took me closer to influencing voters. “The game doesn’t favour any one ideology”, I was told; as a result the whole experience became increasingly intense, it constantly keeps you on your toes.
When I played the game, I lost miserably because I started as an Idealist, but as the game progressed, I started thinking differently, making decisions that took me closer to influencing voters. “The game doesn’t favour any one ideology”, I was told
The game pushes you to make choices that are not ideologically consistent with what you believe in and what you stand for and in this scenario. The game stimulates, as Gandhi put it, ‘realpolitik’, where politicians find themselves in a place where they have to lie, cheat, and say things that they don’t stand for.
Started on the blueprint of Indian elections, the version that I played has now branched out to four versions available on Kickstarter: USA 2020 campaign, India 2020 campaign, The Future of Humanity : Earth 2040 campaign and Fall of the Republic : Rome 40 BCE. Set in completely different contexts and time, the game offers a unique set of questions and challenges based on research backed by scientists and futurists.
Talking about the past version of the game, Gandhi said, “The moment you play the past version, you realize how far we have come. You realize the things we take for granted have taken years of debate and decades of rebellion and of individuals standing up against the force of the time to make what was fair and what was just to become a part of the policy. Should Slavery be abolished? Should women be given voting rights? You get to be in a position as to how people must have felt while making those decisions.” He said they hoped the game prompts “people to have a true cultural dialogue”.
The games are priced between Rs 4,000 and Rs 6,099. Only available on Kickstarter, for more information, please visit www.buyshasn.com