In August 2008, 15 Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B), students spent a fortnight trying to think like eight-year-olds. They met groups of children, spoke to parents, in search of one answer—how to design a board game that children will love.
Offered as an elective subject in the third semester of the graduate degree programmes, the Game Design course has attracted students from a variety of backgrounds. It has also drawn the attention of game-maker Funskool, which has chosen six of the prototypes designed by the students to manufacture and market.
All aboard: The colourful, simple Gotcha! (top) will appeal to younger kids as well; and Sixteen Fixteen (above) will get you thinking.
“The standard thinking about design doesn’t work with making [board] games because you’re not starting with a problem. You have to go with a gut feeling,” says professor Uday Athavankar of the Industrial Design Centre at IIT-B, the “ringmaster” of the 15-day course. “We chose board games because they’re a very interesting social process.”
The games are pastiches of both familiar set-ups and innovative game rules, something Athavankar says he emphasized. “We wanted all kinds of games—from what you could play on a train journey to long vacation-time ones.”
Four of the selected prototypes hit the market in late December 2008. Here is our take on each.
Going Around in Circles
2 players, Rs499, Ages 8+
Does anyone remember Brainvita? It was a near-iconic, single-player board game with green marbles—which, at the peak of its popularity, you also got free with Bournvita. The brilliance of the game was in creating a hectic tension in the player’s progress before stymieing him with a mid-game crisis, forcing the player to realize the importance of early decisions.
Chakraview is a mix of Brainvita and chess, with shades of Chinese checkers thrown in. It’s an intriguing concept that, like Brainvita, makes for very interesting and furious starts, with the real impact of early strategy only shining through later in the game, thus rewarding both forward thinking and careful planning.
Poorly written instructions make for a slightly steep initial learning curve. Though the depth of the game is ultimately satisfying, early plays sometimes seem unfair to the players who, faced with a mid-game stalemate, are forced to make a bad move.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
2 players, Rs499, Ages 6+
Triplets mixes tic-tac-toe and the knight from chess. Players, controlling a line of units, take turns to move each piece the way you’d move the knight (in the shape of the letter ‘L’) in chess. The idea is to make straight or diagonal lines of three, like you do in tic-tac-toe. It’s a bizarre concept that, surprisingly, works. However, once a player figures out a strategy, he will not be too keen to give it another go.
The rules are simple, but without any sort of direct confrontation between the players (the most you can do is obstruct the other’s moves, but that’s rarely done) or feeding off each other’s strategies, it too often feels like you’re playing alone.
2-4 players, Rs499, Ages 8+
Sixteen Fixteen, which is...wait for it, Tetris crossed with a two-dimensional Rubik’s cube, is probably the most cerebral game of the set. It’s complicated, yes, but ultimately the most rewarding.
Each player starts with a grid of four 4x4 squares, which they have to fill with blocks of varying shapes drawn randomly from a bag. While attempting to create squares, players also have to make them uniform in colour (there are limited blocks of each of the four colours), which leads to a lot of juggling and shifting of blocks between a player’s four square blocks.
Mix ’n’ match: Chakraview is three games in one.
In early playthroughs, there was frustration at the lack of progress but the sense of satisfaction on completion is rewarding. There are some glaring problems, all of which are unrelated to the game. The pieces look tacky, and the board not exciting. The rules are poorly explained. This initial frustration may be a deal breaker for many, but Sixteen Fixteen is a grower—a bit of patience, and perseverance, and you might find a deeply satisfying game.
2-4 players, Rs499, Ages 8+
Gotcha plays like a PG-rated version of Cluedo crossed with Uno. It’s a fun, albeit short, game that’s excellent in 15-minute sessions, especially with three or more players.
It has a cheerily daft setting—where guessing the other player’s profession leads to their defeat, and the winner is the one whose job is still undiscovered.
Players are given a profession card (like Farmer or Astronaut, all of which are brightly coloured, nicely illustrated) in the beginning, and must play hands of five other “attribute” cards and collect attributes (such as the farmer’s plough, the chef’s recipe) of their own profession while keeping its identity a secret.
The penalty for a wrong guess is steep, so there’s lots of scheming and underhand plotting. The instruction sheet, while still dubious, is moderately understandable. Younger kids will want to give this a shot as well.
Photographs by Ramesh Pathania / Mint