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The Creators of Board Game ‘SHASN- AZADI’: ‘There Are Real Leadership Skills That Translate from The Game World to The Real World’

Makers Anand Gandhi and Zain Memon share their thoughts on the sequel to ‘SHASN’

David Britto Sep 29, 2021

The makers of ‘SHASN- AZADI’ Anand Gandhi (left) and Zain Memon.

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We recently caught up with Indian producer Anand Gandhi and game creator Zain Memon (of production house Memesys Culture Lab) to talk about the sequel to their new political board game SHASN- AZADI which follows 2018’s SHASN – The Political Strategy Board Game. Read excerpts below:

I want to first ask about what led to the making of the first game SHASN – The Political Strategy Board Game. And, what were your interests in board games and politics and history that drove you to combine the two?

Memon: In 2018, we realized that our political discourse was broken. People were either politically apathetic or completely polarised. We set out to create something that could change this – engage people in politics in a fun and meaningful way.

As a production house, we are also medium agnostic in the process of creation. We first identify the most important stories that we want to tell and then figure out the best medium to facilitate that story. That’s how SHASN took the form of a board game – a medium that not only delivers thrilling gameplay but also has the potential to create profound, shared, social experiences.

With SHASN, we wanted to create a cultural Trojan Horse – a piece of entertainment that is exciting and inviting – but also delivers ideas and insights without players even realizing it. Players step into the cutthroat, adrenaline-pumping world of politics over two hours of gameplay, and end up leaving with a little more clarity about how our systems and politicians function.

Coming to the sequel, how different is SHASN: AZADI from its predecessor?

Memon: SHASN is a purely competitive zero-sum game where politicians face off against each other to come out on top at the polls. AZADI on the other hand is a semi-cooperative game where players are revolutionaries fighting together to free their nation from the grip of an oppressive imperial power before they can contest elections. 

While SHASN examines our current political systems, AZADI takes a closer look at how we got here. With AZADI, we doubled down on everything that made SHASN tick while taking it one step further. AZADI builds upon the core mechanics of SHASN like managing resources, influencing voters, capturing areas, while adding many new layers of cooperation, intrigue, and rebellion. If players are able to liberate their country and gain Azadi (freedom), they then compete against their former allies to lead their newly freed nation. 

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AZADI contains four different campaigns through the ages – American Revolution 1776, Russian Revolution 1917, South Asian Independence 1947, and Egyptian Revolution 2011. For SHASN players, AZADI will be a challenging, thrilling expansion to their political experience. However, AZADI can be played standalone for players who are new to the SHASN-verse. 

One of the factors of creating a strategic political board game was for a young audience to engage with politics. How important is it for the youth to have a vested interest in politics?

Gandhi: It is crucial for young people to engage with and tune into our political discourse. Democracy only works when the stakeholders involved actively participate in it. There is also this fallacious idea that you can somehow be apolitical while being a part of society. Everything you do is political. From the food you eat to the clothes you wear to the content you consume; you are participating in the complex web of interwoven systems that comprises politics. 

By being more invested in politics, we can make more informed decisions and begin shaping these systems into a more productive future. It is thus essential for politics to be inviting and less daunting for young people, who are often put off by the seeming baggage that comes with it. SHASN is an effort in this regard. Even though the game poses tough, real-world policy questions, it does so in the context of fun mechanics and facilitates healthy conversations in the safe space of a board game.

From what I’ve read and looked over about the game, there are also leadership qualities to be gained from it. Do you feel so too?

Gandhi: SHASN puts you in the shoes of political leaders who must do whatever it takes to win a heated election. As politicians, players must manage resources wisely, constantly negotiate with fellow politicians, and influence them to further their own self-interest.

SHASN has a very strong social strategy element to it – players must learn to manage people and deploy diplomacy and strong-arming in equal measure. Players must also constantly navigate electoral setbacks, subterfuge from their opponents, and the changing news landscape. Adapting and preserving through adversity is another hallmark of the SHASN experience. These are real leadership skills that translate from the game world to the real world rather easily.

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Can you tell me about the crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and what was achieved with it?

Memon: As first-time board game creators, operating out of a country with little standing in the board game industry the odds were against us when we decided to release SHASN on Kickstarter. However, it went on to become a great success, and by the end of the campaign, we had raised over $500,000. Kickstarter is also a lot more than just a marketplace – the backers there are tastemakers and culture makers – always on the lookout for the next big idea, which can help realize fully. We were fortunate to have this community welcome us with open arms. Over the course of the campaign, we also engaged our community through games, contests, and real-world impact, including writing letters to their representatives. SHASN went on to become the largest ever crowdfunding campaign out of India.

Are there more games of this kind or even other themes that are in the works? And also, what’s next for each of you?

Memon: We currently have eight game designers in our team, and several more games in the pipeline. The vision is to build games across genres, for all ages, and make India the next powerhouse in the global tabletop industry. After AZADI, we are going to release the following: Zikr – a game where you build your own religion, Elaan – an episodic heist game about retrieving stolen Indian artifacts, and Nomo Sapiens – a post-apocalyptic platformer. 

Gandhi: I’m currently working on a high fantasy epic across multiple media formats. I’m also developing a new horror series titled Wildebeest, along with Emergence – my most ambitious project yet.

Click here to check out ‘SHASN- AZADIon Kickstarter.

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