Five years ago, board game enthusiast Riddhi Dalal, an executive at a chartered accountancy firm, and her friends were thrown out of Starbucks for being too loud.
They were busy playing an animated game of cards. “It is illegal to play card games in a public space. We were also shouting loudly. The manager walked up and said, ‘I am afraid the other patrons are feeling uncomfortable and I am going to have to ask you to leave’,” recalls Dalal (25).
It was the first time she realised the dearth of public spaces for indoor sit-down gaming. In November 2015, she opened Mumbai’s first board gaming café: Creeda, near Excelsior Cinema, Fort.
“I went to a board game convention in the city in April 2015. I saw a few hundred people from different age groups and backgrounds come together. I knew then that I wanted to open a café dedicated to board games,” says Dalal.
Since its launch, Creeda has attracted a rising number of board game aficionados from colleges as well as the corporate sector. Working professionals unwinding over a game is a common sight here. With more than 200 games to choose from — including party games like Taboo and strategy games like Tera Mystica — the café attracts 15 to 20 new customers every day.
Also read: Top 10 board games to have on your shelf
Over the past year, tabletop gaming in Mumbai has evolved from a niche hobby to a mainstream obsession. Television shows like The Big Bang Theory helped significantly, and the once-geeky board games are now the coolest things to have on your shelf. Moreover, the games bring people together over weekends and spur them to join clubs such as Table Top India (TTI, a non-profit gaming club formed last year, which hosts monthly gaming conventions across Mumbai).
With TTI gearing up for its monthly convention from April 27, bar chains like Doolally Taproom and Hoppipola opening their doors to attract enthusiasts, and giants like Funskool launching adult board games, the trend is here to stay.
Setting the board
Traditionally, India has not been a big market for indoor gaming. In fact, the Indian gaming market accounts for a mere 0.5 per cent of the global share, according to Jeswant R, senior VP — sales and marketing, Funskool India. “Before our economy opened up in 1991, we had limited exposure to the variety available in the west. [A lot of] board games never featured in the childhood of individuals who are in the 40-plus age group today,” says Jeswant.
The generations born after 1970 were the first to be introduced to modern board games as we know it. And Monopoly was one of the earliest entrants. In fact, it remains the most purchased game in the country till date.
“Young parents, who first discovered board games as kids, now want their children to experience the same. In the process of scouting toy stores, they are exposed to a wide range of adult board games. As a result, over the last five years, the sales for board games in India have gone up by 10 to 15 per cent as per our 2014-15 annual market research,” says Jeswant.
He credits urban India’s rising disposable income for the increase in sales. For instance, for a Mumbaikar from an upper middle class income group, buying a box of Monopoly’s e-banking version, priced at Rs1,500, is not a big deal. So, as board game purchases in the US and UK rose between 25 to 40 per cent between 2010 and 2013 (as reported by The Guardian), India, too, is slowly catching up. So much so that Funskool is launching Telestration, an illustration-based adult strategy game, next month.
And while board games present a welcome respite from our internet-driven lives, the internet is also responsible for its comeback. Websites like amazon.com have shortened the gap between manufacturers and the consumers of board games. Internationally popular board games such as Settlers of Catan are now easily available to Indian enthusiasts.
Dinner and a game
Taking advantage, café and bars in Mumbai have warmed up to the idea of introducing board games. Hoppipola, a restaurant and bar chain, incorporated multiplayer games such as Jenga and Snakes and Ladders in their décor. And Doolally has shelves dedicated to multi-genre board games. You could even earn a free beer for donating one of your old games. Just don’t bring the Jumanji box.
“We have everything from Ludo and Scrabble to Love Letter (a card-based strategy game). The idea is to provide entertainment that lasts for a few hours, so patrons can spend more time with us,” says Priyanka Menon, marketing executive, Doolally. The marketing benefits of that are fairly obvious.
Doolally’s Andheri outlet is a case in point. It had a slow beginning (compared to the Bandra outlet), until they tied up with a TTI to host weekend gaming events since November last year. Their sales have increased 13 per cent since. “Patrons bring their friends. Word of mouth goes out and more customers come in. We have created a regular customer base through these gaming events. They come even on weekdays and spend a few hours playing,” says Menon.
On the other hand, Creeda’s economic model depends not as much on food and beverage sales as on promoting their board game collection. So, you can pay Rs120 to Rs150 for an hour or Rs300 to Rs500 for the entire day, and play as many board games as you like. They also have designated Game Gurus, to guide customers through new games and to play with newcomers.
The human touch
An important factor in the board game resurgence is the chance to engage with people in person rather than through a screen. “It acts as a challenging exercise for your brain and allows you to intimately socialise,” says Mihir Vora, 39, a restaurateur and co-founder of Board Games Bash, a city-based gaming club, established in 2010.
Not surprising then that BGB’s February convention pulled around 90 people and the group as a whole boasts of 1,700 members. “At times, people come with inhibitions about whether they will fit in or not. But, you see, board games are the easiest way to break the ice,” says Vora.
At a time when video games dominate our lives, board games might just be the perfect foil to simpler-but-exciting times. Game on!
Table Top India will host its monthly board gaming event titled March of the Meeples, on April 27, 12pm to 8pm
Where: YWCA, JP Road,near Azad Nagar Metro Station, Andheri (W)
Tickets: Rs300 onward on meraevents.com/event/March-of-the-Meeples