Board beyond relief

I realized that I mentioned board games in my last post but never ended up getting to it, so a quick followup was in order. I have always had an unhealthy obsession with board games. Having grown up learning chess at a very early age from my grandmother (She called the Rook “Elefend” and the Queen “Kyoon”), I soon developed a taste for turn based dice games, after realizing that cheating at chess, what with “Elefends” taking liberties with the straightness of their movements and bishops deviating slightly from their diagonals, just to win against my grandmother wasn’t really fun anymore, especially when I realized that she was letting me cheat and get away with it.

The first really sophisticated and downright addictive turn based game I was introduced to was a relic from the 1940s called Wembley. It was a full fledged simulation of the FA cup from that era. You managed teams, bought star players and calculated probabilities with a unique set of 6 loaded dice (3 favourable ones for home games, and 3 unfavourable ones for away games) to coax one of your teams to victory in the grand final at Wembley. This game kept us thoroughly engrossed through Chennai summers, sometimes to the point where we would get through about 4 or 5 games in a single day.

Having the bar set this high rather early, we found the Indian board game market rather disappointing. The very best games hardly ever made it here, and Wembley was starting to get a little repetitive. That was when we decided to design our own board games. Actually, “design” would be a rather specious thing to say. We mostly “adapted” good board games and set them in a local context. For instance, we created a Ranji Trophy version of Wembley, although the notion of buying and selling cricketers was unheard of in the late 80s.

I have always wondered what were the rules of the dice game the Pandavas played with the Kauravas. The original texts are rather obscure on this particular point. I mean, it couldn’t be a simple “Let-both-players-roll-and-the-highest-number-wins” sort of yawn-inducing game right? Surely, that cannot be spectator friendly. After all, we are told that the entire court was watching. So surely, there was some underlying board involved? What was it? Snakes and Ladders? Ha! Son of Dharma, your 3 leads you into the Snake infested forest while my 4 leads me to the Ladder to Draupadi. Was it some early form of Monopoly? Did Yudhisthira lose Draupadi at the Hotel on Hastinapura Avenue or the 4 houses on Indraprastha Place? Did Shakuni win the 400 gold coin Bank error in his favour? Did Yudi get assessed  for  “Street Repairs” on Chance after he built 3 houses on Dwarka Street? I don’t know.


On the subject of Monopoly, yet another game that I spent many an hour on, I quickly realized that playing by the official rule book made the game rather one-sided pretty quickly, sort of like how Tamil audiences in the 90s could predict, to the accurate nanosecond, when Goundamani was going to beat Senthil. Monopoly gets too predictable too quickly.

Perhaps I overestimate the number of board game geeks in this city, but should there not be a Madras edition of Monopoly? At least this gentleman and me seem to think so.  Perhaps it should be named Saravana Stores, after the nearest synonym for the original name. But I’d like to introduce some serious changes in the game play, to make it more Madras specific and in general more competitive.

First off, Free Parking has got to go. TANSTAFP (There aint no such thing….) . That dysfunctional location will be replaced with a Chance like set of cards that deal with various Chennai traffic motifs such as:

  • Pay Rs 200 towards end of month collection drive bribe to constable
  • Pay Rs 100 fine for having wrong kind of license plate.
  • Music system stolen from car. Rs 200
  • Miss a turn – Stay stuck here because the CM’s motorcade has blocked all roads

Those 4 boring railroads will be replaced by

  • MRTS
  • MTC
  • Madras Autos
  • Call Taxis

And each of them will have their own set of rules. Opponents landing on “Madras autos”,  for instance, will pay an “over-the-meter” rent, in other words, 25 multipled by whatever they rolled on their die + 1 (if one is playing during day time) and + 4 (if one is playing at night). If you land at the MRTS square, you need to pay rent only if there is a blue moon visible through the window. Yes, the train frequency is pretty rare, after all.

Chance cards will include Madras staples such as

  • Pay Rs 400 for whitewashing P James Magic Show graffiti from your wall
  • Rs 100 – Medical expenses incurred due to questionable fish fry at Elliots beach
  • Pay 200 for post-deepavali garbage cleaning operations

Water works and Electric company will be replaced with Saravanan Thanni Lorry Inc and TNEB. Owning the Thanni lorry, you can strategically deprive certain areas of water and lower their rents. People landing on TNEB will miss one turn in addition to paying the rent because hey,have you ever stood in a TNEB queue?