Published: 05th March 2021
Elections with Shasn: This board game allows people to talk politics, minus hostility and violence
Shasn recreates the scenario of an electoral campaign where people work against each other to win politically and take a stand by making a tough ethical choice
When a group of people talk politics at the dinner table, there are two possible outcomes: a full-blown fight or an uncomfortable silence. Game designer Zain Memon wanted neither, but wanted to bring people together anyway. Having co-founded Memesys Culture Lab, he has introduced a number of games into the market. But two years ago, he created Shasn, a political strategy game that pits players against each other in the form of a political campaign.
"Shasn was born as a continuation of the conversation on how you can get people to engage in politics in an exciting, fun way," says Zain, "The dramatic pedagogy or experience of something very real is something we wanted to translate into entertainment. In time, I wanted people to talk politics. How people normally react to politics is not helpful to anyone and we need to engage them in a way that is constructive. So I asked myself: how do I get people on a table and encourage them to learn something and have fun being vocal?"
NO DICE: The game was introduced in 2019 as a small project
So he built a board game. The game begins when players take a stand by making a tough ethical choice when they answer a difficult political question. Then, they scheme and adapt through conspiracy cards to sabotage their 'enemies' or opposing players. The game unfolds when each player attempts to influence and gerrymander (manipulate electoral boundaries) voters and captures various areas. Packed with a privilege tracker as well, the game is able to mirror the additional benefits some players may get as a benefit of their birth.
Back in 2019, Shasn was supposed to be a small project which actually spiraled out of control. Zain explains, "Within the first month, we completed the rudimentary steps and put it out there simply as something we built. We invited people to come and try playing it with us. A lot of people showed up in the first month. At one point, around 20 people were trying it out and telling us what worked, what didn't and what really engaged them. So we realised that it was more than just a small experiment but something that could shape the industry."
Zain and his team reached out to board game traders around the world. Having been a gamer his entire life, he believed that it was time the zest for board games were brought back to India, outside of the occasional game of Monopoly or Life. As a collector himself, he engaged with game creators from around the world who helped him shape and market the product. Through an open call on Kickstarter, they raised $650,000 which helped pre-launch the game. Although COVID put a pause on its development, the product began shipping worldwide officially in January this year.
He says, "We wanted to build a board game which would get people to sit around and create a safe space where they could suspend their disbelief. The world in Shasn is the real world but my opinions on the table are what I'm going to do to win a game and not necessarily what I believe in. And this is a time when we should be able to make that distinction between people and their values. I hope a round of Shasn will help them see it that way."