Kathmandu’s heritage is a game

In a new board game, even if players lose they win by learning about Nepali history

Many Nepalis grew up playing Snakes and Ladders, a board game made popular by its simplicity. At the throw of a dice, a player got to ride up ladders, or make a long descent down a snake.

Now, Kathmandu-based Kazi Studios has launched a board game inspired by Snakes and Ladders and Ludo, but with a Nepali flavour. The game, Samrajya (Empire) follows Prithvi Narayan Shah's journey to take over Kathmandu Valley through Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Patan and finally Bhaktapur.

Replicated in 100 squares of a board, the journey is filled with twists and turns. Players can find themselves trapped in gufa (cave) shortcuts  or if they are lucky, catch a ride on a horse or chariot. Busy jatras such as Baag Bhairav and Bisket might make you skip a turn. The board has five bases: Baidya Khana, Bhatti, Hanuman Dhoka Jail, Bangla Mukhi and Aausadhi Pasal, all popular landmarks in Kathmandu Valley.

These days when adults and children often spend most of their awake hours on mobiles, playing Samrajya promises quality family time, and laughter with friends. Kreeti Shakya, who founded Kazi Studios with Manish Shrestha says, "As board game lovers ourselves, we wanted Samrajya to be a social game that  fostered more face-to-face interaction between Nepalis.” If sales of the board game are anything to go by, it is working.

What elevates Samrajya's fun quotient is the beautiful design and illustrations of temples, ghosts, chariots. Shakya says design was a key element of the project: "We have been brought up with great heritage, culture and traditions that have a lot of design elements in them, which is why we chose to have high production values and world class design.”

Kazi Studios spent over seven months producing Samrajya  and its latest board game Jatra, with most of that time devoted to creating a perfect design. "With the graphics, we wanted to provide something Nepali and unique and associated with our culture but also with a modern touch," Shakya explains.

The new game, Jatra, targets children. The backdrop is the folktale of Gai Jatra, where the queen is sad, and depending on the cards they draw, players need to do different activities to cheer up the queen. They might be asked to create stories based on items on a card or to find objects in the vibrant board replete with diverse characters, from people to animals.

"As children make stories and engage in activities through a fun game, it could really boost their creativity," Shrestha says.

With the success of Samrajya, Kazi Studios has launched Kazi Play dedicated especially to games. It has also created brand Allare, (wanderer) which offers 17 high-end handicraft products inspired from some element of Nepali culture, like bookmarks inspired by Newari building lattice and earrings shaped by damaru (traditional drum).

Beyond design, the company provides technical services in hardware, data visualisation, web designing and the Internet of Things (IOT). After Samrajya was released, the company discovered that many Nepalis living abroad bought the game for their children because it helped them link to the mother country. "We found out that kids were asking their grandparents about ancient cities, about what juju dhau (yoghurt from Bhaktapur) and other cultural elements were,” Shakya explains.

So, even if you lose in Samrajya, you win because you learn about Nepal’s heritage.

Samrajya, Rs1200

Jatra, Rs1400

Available at Local Project Nepal and Alchi Store, Jhamsikhel

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