Filmmaker Anand Gandhi recalls how he was pleasantly surprised when almost a year ago he was presented with the first draft of Shasn, a political strategy board game, at his culture lab Memesys in Goa. “I was taken aback when Zain Memon, the creator of the game, put Shasn in front of me and I experienced it for the first time in its entirety. Strategy games, such as Settlers of Catan, follow the same basic principles of ludology and chaupad. In any dice rolling game, a lot is left to fate but that is not the case with Shasn. It seems like a new game every time you play,” says Gandhi, who is the executive producer of the game, along with filmmakers Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla.
Having made his film directorial debut with the short film Right Here, Right Now in 2003, Gandhi’s first feature-length film Ship of Theseus premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Established in 2015, Memesys has produced the documentary An Insignificant Man (on Arvind Kejriwal) and virtual reality documentaries such as Yeh Ballet, directed by Ranka, and Submerged by Nishtha Jain. Shasn is the first game produced by the lab. “We had just finished An Insignificant Man and our team had spent more than three years understanding the political system but as a consumer, a film or literature was not my preferred choice of medium to converse about politics. I have been a gamer since the age of three, so a game seemed like an obvious choice,” says Memon, 29.
Released on July 16, Shasn is available on Kickstarter. In the three to five player board game, all the players are politicians contesting in an upcoming election. The game has nine zones etched on the board. The aim is to get majority votes and win the election. The process involves the players/politicians answering tough policy questions, which reflects their chosen political personality — the capitalist, the supremo, the idealist or the showman. They are rewarded with various resources, such as media, clout, trust and funds that can be used to influence the voters or sabotage the opponents. “The idea was to get the focus back on policy. Today politics is reduced to just politicians and their personalities. We have stopped talking to people who have opposing views on policies,” says Memon, who’s a ludologist and one of the founding members of the lab.
The choice of a board game — in a world driven by virtual game play — might come across as surprising, but Memom notes, “the idea was also to get people to come together and talk face-to-face”. For Gandhi, Shasn is a way to take forward his conversation with the society at large. “We started this idea exchange with Ship Of Theseus and continued it with An Insignificant Man, Tumbadd and our VR enterprise. We wanted to offer an immersive experience that was thought-provoking,” he says.
The team at Memesys developed Shasn, priced at USD 60, after about 1330 play tests conducted all over the world and with inputs from foreign journalists, a futurist, a Roman history expert and a statistical expert.“We have four versions of it: India 2020, USA 2020, Republic Rome 40 BC and Future Earth. We have simulations in the game which otherwise would take an entire lecture series in civics and political theory to understand,” adds Memon. The questions range from “Will you make a public appearance in an LGBTQ+ Pride march in support?” to “Should the government be able to read all your private messages for national security?”.
Gandhi hopes that the game can be a catalyst for the young, who have largely alienated themselves from public affairs and politics. With two feature films and two shows slated for release next year, Gandhi promises, “There’s a lot in the pipeline.
We want our content to be richer, deeper and rigorous.”