SHASN: New board game by Anand Gandhi's Memesys Culture Lab aims to put you in the shoes of politicians
Our society has never been more politically charged. Everyone has a better idea on what a political party should do but what if you actually have to make these tough decisions and each step of yours has consequences? Created by Memesys Culture Lab, SHASN, Sanskrit word for governance, is a political board game that involves every player to assume the role of a politician who is in the middle of an election campaign. During the game, the players compete with each other to bring alive their own vision of the world. But, it ain’t that easy. The game would demand the players to take a stand on pressing contemporary issues and answer some tough political and ethical questions. Each answer will earn a combination of the 4 in-game resources - campaign funds, media attention, street clout, and public trust.
As the game goes on sale on Kickstarter, we speak to the creators Anand Gandhi, the filmmaker behind Tumbbad, and Zain Memon, who also heads Asia’s largest virtual reality lab, about the game and what compelled them to create it.
Q: Tell us about SHASN? How do we play this game? Please explain.
Zain: It is a political strategy board game that closely mirrors our real-world politics through fun, action-packed gameplay. Players get to experience the journey of an actual politician as they choose policies, influence voters and gather power.
Anand: It is also an attempt to make politics thrilling and engaging for everybody. We identified the processes of our real-world democracy and adapted the urgent discourse around our policies to a fun, intuitive, gamified environment.
Q: What inspired you to work on a political strategy board game? To what extent is it drawn from your experience of interacting with AAP while making ‘The Insignificant Man’? Is it heavily influenced by world politics as well?
A: Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla spent two years trailing various political parties for their film, ‘An Insignificant Man’. Through the course of making the film, all of us had intimate access to the inner workings of a political party. We built upon these learnings and used our love for games to create a gripping political simulation.
Z: It is a spiritual successor to ‘An Insignificant Man’ in the sense that it elaborates on the same political inquiries into the nature of power and the inevitable tug-of-war between idealism and politics. SHASN is an abstract representation of political systems around the world, and has been heavily informed by global politics, including the USA.
Q: We noticed that there are four campaigns - USA 2020, India 2020, Earth 2040 and Rome 40 BCE. Please explain why you designed these four campaigns?
Z: We designed SHASN to be an engine of political discourse that can operate in diverse political landscapes, to entertain and inform players. Our ‘USA 2020’ and ‘India 2020’ Campaigns cover the politics of the world’s most powerful democracy, and the largest, respectively. Our ‘Fall of The Republic: Rome 40 BCE’ Campaign allows players to experience the challenges of early democracy, while ‘The Future of Humanity: Earth 2040’ Campaign investigates the future that awaits us.
A: These campaigns are designed to illustrate the challenges of governance across time periods and geographies. From Rome, to contemporary India and USA, to a futuristic simulation of our planet, we examine what it takes to succeed as a politician in each of these unique contexts.
Q: How long did it take you to design this game?
Z: The game was conceived in January 2018. After six weeks of ideation and tinkering, we had a first version ready. We playtested with hundreds of people over the next couple of months and made substantial revisions to the mechanics. The board itself has gone through over 20 versions, and we’ve completely lost count on the number of revisions for some of the other mechanics. We took months to just balance the game, and make sure that no strategy or ideology in the game was weaker or stronger than the others. We crunched the numbers from over thousands of playtests to make sure that the core engine of the game was robust, fair and at the same time, invisible. The visual design of the game has been evolving continuously over the course of its life. I am sure we will keep tweaking it till the moment we hit print.
Q: What’s the objective of this game? Will this game help us understand politics better?
Z: The vision for the game is twofold - we wanted people to learn more about the processes and pitfalls of our political system, and we wanted to kickstart a more nuanced political discourse in the country. To achieve this, we adopted the incredibly fun medium of a board game.
A: We also wanted to shed some light on the processes and behaviours of real word politicians. By getting players to make the same tough decisions, and experience the same moral dilemmas as actual politicos, SHASN helps players better understand their politicians and become more vigilant citizens.
Q: What are you up to next?
Z: Right now our focus is making and delivering the best possible political strategy board game with SHASN. Stay tuned though, more games are coming in the future!