Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Unboxing: The Mahabharata

A few days ago, Jocelyn and I got our hands on a board game that was tucked in the back of a shop beneath some other things. There were only two copies of it, and they seemed to have been forgotten there. Always interested in new board games, we took a look at it. A strange white box greeted us and the game's cover promised something new and exciting; the Mahabharata, it read, India's Epic: experience an ancient legendary adventure.

Always a sucker for strange new board games, we of course bit. Our collection grows apace and this felt like a good addition. The Mahabharata smelled faintly of Indian spices and had clearly been made by hand by someone who felt the epic had not gotten the treatment in the public eye that it deserved. When we got home, we opened it up immediately to have a look at its contents.
Coins, cards, and the board
The game plays like a much more complicated version of Monopoly. In order to win, one player must assemble a number of coins, eight virtues, a conch or flag, and one of the astra, or holy weapons. Play proceeds around the board by use of dice and at each square one will find instructions on how to proceed when landing upon it.

Most of the squares belong to Pandava or Kaurava warriors, who's support you can get by landing on them. Once you have a Pandava or Kaurava, you're locked into fighting for that side; landing on a warrior of the opposite persuasion leads to a battle using the dice.

There are two side-paths from the main board which allow you to capture yourself an astra or the conch (or flag) you need for victory. The first is the path of Pursuit to find the weapon, which takes one into the center of the board to search for the sacred weapon. You can fail here, and be bounced back to the main board. The second is the path of Exile, which cannot end until you have fought and either won or been defeated by one of the challenges there. Upon winning, you receive the conch, and upon failing you must wait and continue your path of Exile.

The Astra, more of the board
The game is quite fun, if long and a little silly with just two people. I accumulated a veritable army of Pandava along my route, taking all but three of those warriors and simply carrying them from place to place with me. There is an extremely strong element of chance; get caught in the Court of Yama and you have to wait three turns to reincarnate unless you roll a certain relationship on the dice (one doubled makes the other).

On the left is the path of Exile
The book, also, seems to be strangely put together. Instead of describing the actions of the squares in numerical order, it divides them by type based on their mythological meanings (Devas, Kings, Pandava/Kaurava, etc.) This makes it very hard to look up anything, and indeed some things certainly do bear repeated looking up such as the "fraction fights" on the paths of Pursuit and Exile wherein the player rolls two dice and makes an improper fraction and then does the same for his enemy; the highest number wins (eg, 5/3rds, 6/1, etc.)

We wound up being very close at the end, save that Jocelyn had acquired one of the astra early and thus she completed the requirements of the game first. Afterwards, we discovered a handy reference sheet that does list the squares in order.

The game can take a little long, as you aren't guaranteed to get the astra or the conch on the first try and you can make a circuit of the board without getting a chance to go into Exile or on the Pursuit. However, I would (and intend to) play it again! The little booklet contains the epic of the Mahabharata as well as instructions on how to order more copies of the game from the fellow who made it. Definitely a strange, but interesting find.

Jocelyn cutting out cards

Jocelyn realizing I'm taking pictures

Jocelyn realizing these are going online

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