All play means something – cultural theorist Johan Huizinga
Several infectious diseases have broken out and people are working together to try and stop them from spreading. Meanwhile, in 1930s Germany, one person among a group of liberals and fascists is Secret Hitler. In another corner, there is a parade on with characters from Alice in Wonderland . Nearby, people are trying to recover treasures from ruins under the sea, sharing one submarine and a single tank of air.
It sounds like an unusual, action-packed day, but, in fact, it is just another Tabletop Thursday at Lahe Lahe, Indiranagar. This is where the ReRoll collective organises a meet-up for people interested in playing board games every week.
“There are only around 50 people today,” says Karthik Balakrishnan, one of the organisers, as squeals of excitement punctuate the chatter. “On an average, we get 70 to 80 people.”
Initially, the meet-ups were small. “In 2016, another organiser, Mithun Balraj, and I started by inviting friends to a café to play. We struggled to get even 15 people then,” he says.
ReRoll is now run by five others, apart from Karthik and Mithun — Asma Tajuddin, Punjit Sharma, Sreechand Tavva, Hiemanshu Sharma and Pranay Jajodia, and on May 30 this year, they will be holding Tabletop Thursday No. 140.
- Strategy games: Scythe, Terraforming Mars, Pandemic
- Party games: Codenames, Spyfall, Decrypto
- Family games: Ticket to Ride, Splendor, Deep Sea Adventure
- War games: Pax Romana, Fortress Europa, Paths of Glory
- Abstract games: Tsuro, Sagrada, Hive
The organisers, whose professions range from software engineer to lawyer, don’t get time to play themselves. They are there to facilitate, explain the rules, and essentially get people into board gaming. Between them, they own about 200 games.
“The idea is to foster a community space, says Karthik, while Asma adds, “We are here to bridge the gap between people who want to play but don’t know how to go about it. As part of the group, you get to meet different people; it breaks that insular pattern.”
Apart from ReRoll, the other major meet-up group in the city is Victory Point. People communicate on Whatsapp or Telegram and the two groups have around 500 members, respectively. There are also area-specific groups such as Binnamangala group for Indiranagar as well as pan-India groups such as Meeple Market where people can sell their games, usually at a discounted rate, and PNP India which stands for Print and Play.
Victory Point was started in February 2018, by Nishanth Shankar, Kuldeep Vijayadevan and Janardhan Pashupati. Rohith, with his friend Vignesh Rajendran, were introduced to board games around the same time and soon they became administrators as well. Initially, the meet-ups were on Saturdays at Dialogues Café in Koramangala, and in February 2019, they started meet-ups on Tuesdays which now alternates between Koramangala, JP Nagar and Whitefield.
“Earlier we would get 25 to 30 people on a Saturday. Now, the number has gone up to around 100,” says Rohith.
However, he adds there is still scope for growth. “Our motive is to explain and expand the board gaming culture. Right now, we are having a board game design competition where around 20 teams have sent in their entries. The best team will have the opportunity to get their game published. We also do corporate and school events and are thinking of introducing it in colleges too.”
Vasudev Chatterjee, who works as a machine learning engineer, says, “I have coming to ReRoll every week for the last couple of months. I also play at the meet-up organised by Victory Point.”
On this particular Thursday, Vasudev played Coup, Cash and Guns, Secret Hitler and Splendor.
He says, “I love Splendor. Each new round of the game creates a different permutation of the cards and so it has something new to offer each time.”
Sathya Kamath, an architect and regular at ReRoll, says, “There is a huge variety of games out there. They range from 10-minute ones to those that take three hours and some that even continue over weeks. Some are straightforward, some strategy-based, some competitive or deceptive.I feel every game brings out a different skill set and enhances existing skills such as communication, cognition or discernment.”
Board game culture is still not as huge as it is in North America and Europe but it certainly is growing in India, particularly Bengaluru. Karthik says, “We were early getting in on the trend. The community itself is well connected. A lot of it happens through word-of-mouth and social media.”
- BGG or boardgamegeek.com: one-stop resource for all board-game-related queries
- Tabletop game: A term for card and board games i.e. played on a table
- Meeple: A small figure used as a playing piece, having a stylised human form
- Ludology: the study of games, the act of playing them, and the players and cultures surrounding them
Karthik and Rohith Dabbiru, administrator of Victory Point, say Bengaluru has the most active board game scene in the country. Next comes Mumbai, which has several cafés where people can play board games, and then come cities such as Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Chandigarh.
According to Rohith, Bengaluru has the biggest board gaming community because: “First, there are a lot of young people and IT professionals. There isn’t much to do in the city apart from partying or going to malls and, of course, traffic is also a problem. Board gaming is a great alternative, where they can have fun and meet people. Also, since the games are very expensive to purchase for oneself, you get to experience them at a low price by joining these groups. The way the community has grown is crazy.”
(Find ReRoll and Victory Point on Facebook and Instagram.)