From scrabble to carrom, if it’s a board game, there’s an app for it. Lakshmi Krupa finds out why these games are so popular in the ‘touch’ world

When we were kids, summer holidays didn’t just mean meals with cousins, uncles and aunts, munching raw mangoes with chilli and salt and long siestas during on hot afternoons. They also meant hours spent rolling the dice wishing for that ‘one’, while playing paramapadam, trying to pocket that elusive red coin during a game of carrom and wondering which younger cousin could be made the ‘banker’ in a game of business. Waiting for uncles and aunts from the U.S. or Europe along to visit with the latest board game as a gift was just as exciting.

Universal favourites

For today’s kids though, there is no need for this agonising wait. Thanks to tablets and smartphones, several popular board games are now available worldwide simultaneously. In a way, the tablet market has also opened the door to adults to play board games, taking their appeal to a whole new level. Word games, especially those such as Scrabble and Words with Friends, are universal favourites.

Harishankar Narayanan, CEO and managing director, Smackall Games, a Chennai-based mobile game developing firm that offers customised mobile games to international brands, advertising companies and publishers, says, “Board games, in some ways, are restricting. To begin with, one needs to invest some money in every game. You buy a chessboard if you want to play a game of chess. But, a few days later, if you want to play another game, you have to buy that one too. With digital gaming, however, you use one device for different games.”

Harishankar explains that the digital version of these games costs much lesser than the board. “There are hundreds of versions of chess on the Internet today and anyone can use them,” he adds.

These games also help old friends stay in touch and improve one’s gaming skills. Apoorva Satish, a 20-year-old Electronic Media graduate from the city, says, “I play chess and carrom on a mobile touchphone. I started enjoying these games when I realised that the mobile/computer is a very difficult opponent. It’s not easy to beat the computer in any game. That’s challenging! I like to outsmart my smartphone!”

Not just in terms of skill but also because of its ‘ease’ factor, the touch format scores over the physical game. “Today, most games of world-class quality are available to everyone unlike board games which take a long time to come to India. This way, kids of the present generation are open to a world-class market,” Harishankar adds. Due to this, even local players are forced to produce quality content to compete in the market. “We were forced to improve the quality of our programming,” he adds.

Smackall, like many Indian companies, focusses on casual games aimed at kids and elders alike. “Whenever these people can spare the time, they like to unwind with a small game. That’s our focus area,” he says.

City-based consultant Kenny Roger Moise, says, “I bought my first touch phone two months ago and find that games are a great way to get a grip of the format. I was clumsy in the beginning. But, playing several games has helped me understand the phone better too. I can click on the right icons now without having my phone do something else! And of course, it’s a great stress-buster. But this isn’t to say I prefer these to board games. With my board, I don’t have to worry about charging it. Also, I think what' so unique about every board game is the physical involvement. That’s what’s missing when it comes to a phone. It’s the only aspect of it that’s not so ‘smart’, he adds.

It is also learnt that several manufacturers of board games are now moving towards the children’s toys segment as sales drop for board games. All hope, however, is not lost, we are assured. K. John Baby, CEO, Funskool says, “All board games, in addition to providing amusement and fun, help develop mental abilities * (memory, arithmetic, general knowledge and emotional development) and inculcate value such as sharing and accepting success with humility and failure with grace. Board games can even be therapeutic. Some of them help develop diplomatic and collaborative skills. iPads and touch formats do not provide many of these benefits to players.” It is also true that most games on iPad and touch formats can be played by an individual and the fun of group play is lost. John adds, “We do not think the touch format can replace traditional board games. Further, India is a developing country and the penetration of board games is limited to the metros and major cities and a large chunk of the population is yet to play them. Hence, there is a big market waiting to be tapped. In India, first-generation youngsters who played board games are now parents. They understand the benefits of board games and will recommend them to their children.”