After extensive surveys, market research and insights through consumer interviews, a team of game enthusiasts, creative experts and designers got together to make a board game that is truly rooted in India’s ancient past. Bharata 600 BC, seeks to infuse skills like strategy, collaboration, decision-making with an immersive experience of India’s political and cultural history at the time of the Mahajanapadas.
The game design was done by Cristina Maiorescu and Sumit Sinha, the artwork by Ishan Trivedi, the art direction and design by Pallavi Nopany. All of this could not have been possible without the mathematician (Ph.D.) and lead playtester was Palak Jain. The core team of Go India Games tells us about their experience of creating Bharata 600 BC and more
Tell us a little bit about Bharata 600 BC and how did you conceptualize this strategy game?
Bharata 600 BC is a strategy board game set in the context of ancient India, covering its vast geographical expanse. Historically accurate, it offers an immersive experience into the era of the 16 Mahajanapadas (Great Kingdoms). Players assume the role of various Mahajanapada rulers. They get to lead their armies, manage their resources, and expand their kingdoms. At the same time, they have to protect their territories from rivals and natural disasters.
We started working on the game in early 2018, with the idea to create a high-production-value Indian board game, 100% locally made in India. We ran interviews with over 10,000 Indian consumers to understand their preferences in terms of theme, level of game complexity, patterns and styles of play, and much more. A lot of mathematics was involved.
We wanted the game to be accessible to a much larger audience than the core board game player, so the research part played an important role in understanding what people really wished for. After much analyses and working around various combinations, that would function the best in a game, we gave Bharata 600 BC its current form – set in the era of the end of the Vedic period in India and the rise of the 16 Mahajanapadas
What are the different play styles and strategies that players can opt for? Why did you choose a multi-style format?
First of all, we wanted to create a game for the Indian public. It was important for us to address their wishes ahead of ours. As a game designer, you can get easily trapped in designing something for yourself or for a very niche audience rather than for the larger public. This is not what we set out to achieve. Our approach was 100% consumer-centric. Therefore, we chose to listen and implement what consumers wanted Bharata 600 BC to be.
Our research told us that consumers wanted a game where they do not have to be locked in from the start in a certain playstyle or a pre-decided asymmetric/symmetric player powers. They wanted to make these decisions by themselves, at the start and during the gameplay. At the start of the game, they can also opt for asymmetric player powers or symmetric ones, depending on their own playstyles and how they want to compete or balance the game. This freedom of choice is extremely rare in common board games, as usually, games come pre-defined as symmetrical or asymmetrical.
In Bharata 600 BC, players can also opt-in or out of a combat strategy, an objective-based strategy, a competitive or collaborative approach. For example, they can battle each other or on the contrary, build their kingdoms far away from conflict with an opponent. Or, they can decide to accomplish goals (game objectives) rather than follow a direct-combat strategy, etc.
Though originally Bharata 600 BC was designed as one game, we realized that certain player groups preferred to have two variants—a Basic game and an Advanced game (with a few extra components and their respective rules). Offering two game variants in one box helped us cater to different player needs—such as differences in the game duration, simplicity in the setup and learning curve, complexity in the number of components, and other subtleties.
What were the processes and considerations involved while designing the game? If you could tell us a bit about the historical sources referred to for the same?
We were committed to having all the game components designed, inspired by, and made in India. All 550+ components in a game of Bharata 600 BC are 100% manufactured in India.
The wood components are made in Channapatna. Every wood component is handmade by local artisans, using a wood carving and lacquering technique from 18th century India. The carved wood pieces are then dyed with natural colors extracted from vegetables. This makes Bharata 600 BC an eco-friendly board game as well. We do not use plastic components.
The board map, where the game is laid down, is a historically accurate representation of India in 600 BC. The game coins have the identical markings used on the silver punch-marked coins of that era. In fact, the printing process of the coins uses similar techniques as the ones used in metal to create the punch-marked coins. Elements of the game, such as black pottery—The Northern Black Polished Ware culture—and their positioning on the map, corresponding to the actual objects of the era and their archaeological findings. The fortifications illustrated on the map have been designed based on historical documents, from the construction material used to the wall structures. We also referenced characters from Indian epics and Puranas to illustrate different qualities of our Ability cards. For example, Dhanvantri (the Indian god of medicine) has been fictionalized further—for the Resilient ability card that has the power to wipe out the disease.
All the characters’ features, clothing, weapons, decor, etc. are based on extensive historical research. For this, we had to read many history books and documents to understand the dress of the time, materials in use, jewellery, even the dyes available to color the garments of those times. We take many things for granted now, such as paper, but in 600 BC paper was not invented. An army character was wearing a finger protector, and we read up to understand how that could have been designed. What the bow was made of - wood and bone, what the chariot looked like, how the sailboats really looked like, and what kind of textiles were in use. A paper by Priyal Thakkar called Fashion History of India provided initial guidance for designing the clothes. A lot of other history books helped in triangulating the entire setup. Just like in a historical movie, for one to completely feel the story, there is a lot of work done on the set and the costumes.
This accuracy is what makes the game immersive. The idea is for people to feel like they are a part of that historical moment.
Board games, as a source of recreation and learning, have been prevalent in India since ancient times. Yet we see a renewed interest in India-inspired and origin games only now. What can be done to popularize native games within the country and globally?
The Indian board game market is relatively small compared to Europe or North America. But it has shown growth, especially during the past three years.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his belief that India has the talent and ability to become a toy hub for the entire world and called upon startups to work towards realizing this potential while being "vocal about local". This month, MyGov India's 'Aatmanirbhar Toys Innovation Challenge' welcomes Indians to participate and design toy-based games, inspired by Indian tradition, culture, heritage, mythological stories, and characters. Initiatives like these support and encourage the creation of native games and toys. We believe that the industry will see significant growth in the next couple of years.
Indian games can and have already entered the global markets. It is totally possible to have popular Indian games on global markets soon, and there is a lot of talent in India to make it happen. Just like our mythology, our films, our music, our textiles, there is a way to influence the west with our beauty, through games. We hope that it sets a trend for games made in and inspired by India, as we chart our way to becoming a superpower through our cultural influence on the world.
Games like Bharata 600 BC are here to support and encourage the gaming culture in India. After all, board games are a great way to connect at a human level, with friends and family.
How does Bharata 600 BC serve as a means of learning history and enhance cognitive abilities?
By developing a board game based on India—there is a certain cultural soft power that we could influence. In the board games we played as children, such as Monopoly, or the dolls we played with—Barbie, there was a subliminal cultural message, making us believe that it was aspirational to own a property on Leicester square, or to have blonde hair and blue eyes.
Indian-origin games are here to create a different type of demand. Many of them are challenging the player to move away from the dice/luck type of games towards more strategic/decision-based games. Bharata 600 BC does not have a dice, for example. This game has Indian characters set in India at a period when ideas around republics, polity, warfare, social order and more importantly state formation were taking shape. It is a representation of what our ancient societies looked like and how they engaged with one another.
Representation is our soft power. We need board games inspired by our history and culture, that represent us and who we are.
Some of your upcoming games and plans to enter international competitions?
At the moment, our entire focus is on Bharata 600 BC. The market response has been incredibly good and we are unable to produce as much as we sell. We got sold out on all our sales channels in late December and our upcoming mid-January stock has already sold in pre-orders before it even reached us. We are working hard to increase production to cope up with the demand. Once we bring Bharata 600 BC to that level, we will start working on the next game.
In terms of international competitions, there is a lot of potential for Bharata 600 BC in categories such as artwork and production. We will be exploring these. In general, there is a lot of potential for this game and we have only touched the tip of the iceberg.