Smart moves: the business of board games

Graphic: Sanjay Tambe  

Most Mumbaikars have been there: Day after day, watching the sky turn purple from pink, or hoping you don’t run out of lithium batteries while playing another mind-numbing game on your phone.

Nature to digital, all have been a dampener, and another night of playing foosball over a drink is not that exciting either. “Salvage your situation and get right to Creeda,” says Riddhi Dalal, who has opened an exclusive board game café in South Mumbai, the city’s first. The café has over 200 titles mainly imported from Europe, US and Canada, and attracts children, adults and geeks.

But given that modern age has layered us with multimedia digital experiences, are we willing to trade a few hours with analog indulgences?

Industry data shows that table-top games, which include board games, card and dice games, have grown slowly in India for the past five years at a 10-12% compounded annual growth rate.

According to estimates, India’s table-top game market forms just 10% of the retail toy market, which stands at $400 million.

The biggest challenge to the industry comes from reducing attention spans. Both Funskool and Mattel, India’s two large toy companies, say sales of board games have been sluggish as compared to other toys. “Sociological challenges like nuclear families and low attention span are the biggest impediments. The average attention time span for a child is 20 minutes,” says

Funskool’s marketing manager, Phillip Royappan. Funskool is addressing this with games of short-to medium-playing time, like Concept, a 40-minute game that won the 2014 Jeu de l’annee, a French award for the best parlour games played indoors.

The company has also collaborated with French publisher Asmodee and brought in high-end board games starting at Rs 3,000. Hypermarkets and modern retail formats, which contribute 35% of total board game sales, are facilitating this as they largely keep branded games, even as mom-and-pop stores are hosting mass-selling, low-priced products with 60% contribution to the sales basket.


Still, those who want to introduce new games to the market find it tough to break consumer behaviour. Seema Chawla, marketing head, Mattel says, “A tactile experience is what Indian consumers want.

They are wary until they see and feel the product. Hence, we have in-store activations, especially in summer when our sales are high.”

The value-conscious Indian buyer also tends to turn towards popular games. Says Rashmi Ruia, a mother of two, “If I have to gift a game then I’d rather pick an E-banking Monopoly or Junior Scrabble. I am sure I can’t go wrong with them.”

The consumer’s comfort with known brands is perhaps why companies continue to take out legacy games like Pictionary and Scrabble. Monopoly has celebrated 80 years and continues to keep up with its innovations.This year will see new versions like Star Wars Monopoly after the success of Star Wars Ludo.

A global release of Captain America Monopoly is also on the cards. “The game has to evolve. It’s not just a cosmetic change. Rules are different and tweaked and this helps to keep the game alive,” explains Phillip of Funskool, which holds its Indian licensing rights.

On the other hand, Mattel is keen to throw in four to six variants of its popular card game UNO and within the next three months, plans to release two versions. These would have global enigmatic characters like Disney’s Frozen among others.

“Consumers are willing to pay a premium for the characters they love. Our Barbie Uno comes at a 30% premium and these characters can command that,” says Seema Chawla, head of Marketing India, Mattel Inc.

The iconic Pictionary isn’t far behind with a white-board-based version being launched this year.


Toy and game companies anticipate that fun games will help break the consumer’s comfort zone. Up until now, departmental stores were organising demonstrations but solo gaming cafes are now being looked upon as giving the segment a new lease of life.

Creeda’s Riddhi, who is familiar with global gaming culture, says, “We have brought some entry-level games in the market that are popular internationally. We are importing and retailing some as well at the cafe. "

Qwirkle, for example, is a tile-based game for 2-4 players that uses shapes and colours and shares some characteristics of Scrabble. It has a following worldwide as it is a family game that does not involve heavy strategy. It won the 2011 Spiel des Jahres Game of the Year award among others.

Card against Humanity, on the other hand, is a wicked fun party game that uses mature-content phrases and is suitable to be played with friends only.

Namrata Shah, a new convert in a growing congregation of tabletop gamers at Creeda, loves playing Pandemic, a strategy game.

“I get to meet new people with a similar interest, and strangers funnily enough are not strangers any more at this quaint café,” she says.

Keerthiga Sharma, an employee of Advaita Legal, a tax litigation firm, says, “It’s refreshing. We play Anomia or Love Letters, if we are two or four of us.” Hers is among the corporate firms who are taking on the indoor setting of a game and fries to break the ice with colleagues off site.

Says Chawla, “People could gravitate towards more advanced games and products won’t be purchased on nostalgia or impulse then. The industry, however, is nascent and we have room for growth.”

So while companies innovate and strategise on bringing new games into the market, Mumbaikars can test their word prowess and skills on war strategies and more. It’s time to tickle your brain.

(The writer is a freelance journalist)

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 2:31:21 AM |

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