Weave sari patterns via a new board game set in Kanchipuram
With its peacock hues and gleaming finish, it even looks like a Kanchipuram sari. Ettana: The Looms of Kanchi, a new board game by entrepreneur Madhumita Mani of Mad4Fun and illustrator Darshini Sundar, lets players explore the life of a weaver.
The strategy game can be played by two, three or four people. Each must use rolls of the dice, design cards, action cards and tokens of yarn to progress and weave their handloom designs. Each design card is based on patterns from Kanchipuram saris.
Points are measured in annas; you must win eight annas, the erstwhile equivalent of half a rupee, to win. Ettu anna, the Tamil term for eight annas, also gives the game its name. “Most people today do not know what a loom is. Through the game, we hope people learn a little about textile design creation, says Mani, 30. “From a game perspective, it’s a classic abstract strategy game, which we hope will encourage people to play again and again.”
Mani says she fell in love with novelty board games while on a trip to the US in 2015. “Some friends introduced my husband and me to Settlers of Catan (a board game where players trade and collect resources to build settlements).” That led to Seafarers (where you explore uncharted isles), Cities & Knights (where you build settlements, trade and prosper), and Traders & Barbarians (a game that combines the aims of survival and commerce).
In lockdown, Mani, a homemaker and Commerce graduate currently living in Zurich, decided to tap into the growing market in India for desi board games and create one of her own. For her first game, she decided to draw on her roots and her childhood in Chennai for a strategy board game steeped in south Indian history and linked to the region’s rich tradition of handloom weaving. She began working on Ettana in March 2020. In June, she set up Mad4Fun.
A common friend put her in touch with the Bengaluru-based graphic designer Sundar, 31, who would be the other half of this effort. Sundar doesn’t play board games any more but does have a degree in textile design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and studied textile design with a focus on sustainable production at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, London.
“I liked everything about this project — the concept, the freedom to explore a new area, and the people I was collaborating with,” Sundar says. “The theme was definitely grandeur. In an Indian context, grandeur and the peacock go hand in hand. So we went with peacock hues, motifs associated with peacocks, and borrowed buta (small embellishment patterns) and larger border patterns from Kanchipuram saris.”
In Ettana, then, each player starts with two tokens, a design card and an action card. Cylindrical pegs in different colours placed on the board represent yarns. These have to be moved about, swapped and can also be stolen, as players try to arrange their pegs to match the designs on their design card. The aim is to earn, use or steal enough pegs, tokens and cards to complete your pattern.
Action cards enable a player to spend fewer tokens to perform a transaction such as buying a new design card or performing a swap of two yarns. So players need to strategise on what kind of trades or actions make sense.
Friends and family were generous with time and feedback. “For instance, we created a lot of colour variations for each aspect of the game, the yarns, the tiles, the tokens. The feedback told us that would make it easier to understand and play,” Sundar says. Other changes included the addition of theft (players can steal cards or tokens from each other, enabled by specific action cards). “This helped in overall balance of play,” says Mani, “and brings in a different kind of fun.”
(Ettana is priced at ₹2,900 and can be pre-ordered on mad4fungames.com. It is due for launch in July)