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It’s time to play covid-19

Indian creators are coming up with board games to educate people on social distancing

Fight Against Corona can be downloaded on the Table Top Games website.
Fight Against Corona can be downloaded on the Table Top Games website.

As the coronavirus outbreak began in India in February, Phalgun Polepalli couldn’t understand why people were taking it so lightly. “I could see it among my own family, friends and cousins," says the 39-year-old. “Some were like, nothing can happen to us Indians. We have already been exposed to so many things."

Polepalli, founder of DICE Toy Labs, a Bengaluru-based board-game studio, is part of a WhatsApp group called The Game Design Lab. Started two years ago, the 35-member group brings together board-game designers and enthusiasts from across India. As the number of covid-19 cases started increasing, they discussed the need to raise awareness. The best way, they decided, would be interactive dissemination of information, through board games that are free and easily accessible.

Over the last two weeks, The Game Design Lab members have come up with four games on the theme of social distancing. These use the “print and play" model, so all a user needs is a dice, tokens and a printout of the design.

Social Distancing, designed by Polepalli, is set in a virus-infected workplace. The players, who role-play as co-workers, have to manoeuvre their way, take the right precautions and escape infection. Available for download on the DICE Toy Labs’ Facebook page, Polepalli says the game has found hundreds of players, many of whom wait eagerly for new tweaks to their experience every day. He is now planning to launch two sequels—set in a mall and a school.

Seemant Kumar, a games developer from Gurugram and founder of Table Top Games, says he designed his game with children in mind. “I didn’t want children to get bored and itch to step out of their houses."

In Fight Against Corona, like the popular board-game Life, the special blocks you land on have instructions on them. An “Infected" block means you go for hospitalization. If you go to a “Restaurant" or a “Conference" block, you are directed to a path that requires you to wash your hands—a roll of dice may land on a block that gives you an infection. “If you have fun with these things, the learning curve is much faster," says Kumar.

Available on the Table Top Games website, the game has had 6,860 downloads in the first two weeks. Kumar too is planning a sequel, tentatively called Wor(l)d against Corona.

Arvindh Sunder, the Bengaluru-based founder of experience design company Put the Player First, also channelled his personal experiences to design his gameplay. “I was at a Toastmasters contest (a global public speak competition) a few weeks ago and was very uncertain whether I should shake hands or do a namaste," he laughs.

In Catch Me If You Can, the game he designed last month, the player navigates a 8x8 grid—similar to a chessboard—to reach the “safe zone" without getting infected. En route, the player risks landing on the colour-coded safe and unsafe blocks. “Poor hygiene" or “gathering in groups" reduces one’s movement range by one block while “washing hands" or “not touching your face" increases it. “It’s like a cat-and-mouse game," he says. “The virus is Tom, you are Jerry. Using a combination of luck and skill, games can easily double up as an education tool in these times of a pandemic."

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