An increasing number of people interested in board games in India are discovering that there is a world beyond Ludo and Backgammon. The reason is that a number of board games coming out of Europe and the US, which are practically impossible to get in your neighbourhood stores, can now be bought from online sites such as OLX, HomeShop18, eBay.in, Amazon.com and specialized retailers such as Thinkgeek.com.

There is both a demand for, and awareness of, board games in India, says Umesh Hora, managing partner at The Mind Café in Gurgaon, Haryana, the first board-games café in India which opened in November. Hora says: “We’ve seen a lot of walk-in crowd from the day we started our café. People are coming because they are curious about what we are doing, or because they are already aware of the kinds of games we have and want to play them."

He adds: “On the day we opened, we thought we would have to teach people about the games. But some people came in, asked for Dominion, and started a game without any help. There are a lot of game enthusiasts, because people travel more these days, and are already exposed to games which you just don’t get in India."

Since The Mind Café is an international franchise, the headquarters in Singapore ships 10 new games to Hora every month, so they don’t have to deal with these issues. “While we’re not looking at retailing the games, if the demand continues then we will look at the option, as a sort of thank you to our regulars," he adds.

Until recently, there were no options for gamers unless they knew someone who lived abroad. Today, sites like eBay and OLX give access to second-hand buyers and sellers, while direct shipping from Amazon, or even sites such as ThinkGeek, lets you buy brand new board games, at a small premium.

Varun Sharma, a Chennai-based freelance video-game design consultant, says, “I grew up in the UK with my parents, and when we moved back to India around 15 years ago, we brought back a bunch of board games."

Tabled: Board games at The Mind Café, Gurgaon. Pradeep Gaur/Mint

The retail sector, however, is still sticking to the familiar games, and even though the board-games sections of stores such as Crossword and Landmark have grown, they are still mostly limited to familiar American board games, which usually depend a lot on chance and luck, compared with European-style games which tend to be more strategy-based.

While the biggest Indian sites such as Flipkart are not addressing this space yet, websites such as eBay.in and Olx.in, which allow anyone to place an ad, do have toys and games. The selection can be a little hit-and-miss—if you have something specific in mind, then these are probably not the best options. But if you are willing to browse, there are amazing finds to be made, such as a copy of Ticket to Ride in near-mint condition for just 1,500.

Anannya Baruah, 25, who has moved back to Assam after an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University, says: “Games like Risk are now available in India for 1,000. Importing them doubles the cost because of shipping. But even today, you can’t get most of these games in markets. European games like The Settlers of Catan involve a lot more strategy and planning. Maybe that is why people feel it isn’t worth bringing them to India, and we have to order them online instead."

The catch is that the online route, particularly for new games, is an expensive option. For example, the Discworld board game, which launched in mid-2011, promotes strategic planning mixed with rich lore and art, and is the kind of game most gamers would want. The price of the game is $35 (around 1,750), but it costs double that because of shipping. Bringing the game to Delhi from the UK costs almost 4,000 after shipping, via Amazon.com.

The same is true for Ticket to Ride, one of the most popular European-style board games, and winner of the Spiel des Jahres award. It’s a high-profile game, and buying it on Amazon costs around 4,000, at the cheapest shipping. If you want it sooner, the express delivery option (three-four days) will set you back by as much as 6,000. In comparison, buying from OLX or HomeShop18 can save 2,000-3,000.

Sites like eBay.in, OLX and Quikr all have listings for games, but it’s still hard to navigate these sites and find exactly what you want. Serendipity is a big part of the process. Landmark and Crossword didn’t always stock the European-style games. Most collectors, such as Baruah, get their games through friends and relatives who are travelling.

Listing sites such as OLX are not too useful for enthusiasts looking to build a collection, since finding something there depends on people selling their own games. Play-Asia and ThinkGeek are specialized sellers that have board-games sections; they usually offer both better deals and shipping options compared to Amazon.

While they are a good alternative, they don’t have the same range though as Amazon. But even if you’re willing to pay a premium for shipping on Amazon.com, they won’t sell some games.

Despite the costs, the growing popularity of events like Board Game Nights at Mocha and the launch of The Mind Café show that there is enthusiasm for board games beyond the ones a generation grew up with. Hora says: “Card games like Dominion are popular because they’re easy to learn and don’t take long. Otherwise, we’re also seeing a lot of interest in Ticket to Ride, and The Settlers of Catan. In general, we see a mix of young and old people, both well-informed people and those who haven’t played most of the games but are enthusiastic to try now. The mix is a positive sign to us that the interest in board games in India is going to rise."

gopal.s@livemint.com

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