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board games: B-schools, corporates resort to board games as a training strategy



At IIM Ahmedabad, associate professor Subhadip Roy recently set the students in his design-based marketing strategy course an unusual assignment: to design a board game. For a corporate training session at omnichannel beauty retailer Nykaa, IIM Udaipur associate professor Shobhit Aggarwal chose the same medium – a board game he’d co-created.

Modern strategy board games, popular with a section of millennials and Gen Z, are starting to move out of living rooms and cafes to B-schools and corporate conference rooms. Faculty and corporate trainers use strategy games as learning tools to impart a specific skill or teach a particular aspect, instead of more staid methods like case studies. “Participants prefer it because it’s more fun and the retention of learnings is far higher,” says Aggarwal, who also teaches a course at IIM titled “management games”, covering skills like negotiation, decision-making and team work using board games.

Phalgun Polepalli, co-founder of board game publisher and designer Mozaic Games, says board games can be an important tool for a company to achieve a certain objective. For instance, at the end of early stage venture fund 3one4 Capital’s annual meeting with portfolio companies and investors, participants got a customised board game called “Startosphere”. The customised game is co-created by Mozaic and 3one4’s co-founder Siddharth Pai, who’s a board game enthusiast himself. Players had to take their startup from “1 to 100”, which would involve raising capital, expanding into new markets and, importantly, give investors an exit. “The game teaches you the average life of an entrepreneur – the upticks, down rounds, exits and write-offs. People enjoyed it,” says Pai. “We are considering taking it to a wider audience at the right time.”

“If I look at DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) as a concept, I can help students understand it by playing parts of an existing game or designing one that can be used in an industry context,” says Abhishek Behl, assistant professor, Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon. A board game he is currently using to teach is Cartographers, which he says helps students understand concepts like spatial thinking. “I’m not making them good game designers, I’m only making them understand a concept. The game is only a tool in the process.”

In B-schools, one reason for this experiment is the decreasing attention span of students. “The amount of patience required to read (a case study) has been affected, of late. Board games are a fun way of learning and allows everyone to be engaged,” says Roy. Aggarwal adds, “When I was a student, about 80% of the class would read case studies. Today we’re lucky if 40% read it.” After the students play, Aggarwal conducts a debrief session analysing what worked for the winners and what could be done differently. “Through this, all the learnings of the topic come out.”

Similarly, for corporate training, it’s a method that’s more interactive and engaging. Companies reach out with the outcome they have in mind and facilitators customise board games keeping that in mind. “They use it as a tool to fit what they want to do,” says Prashant Maheshwari, co-founder of board game conference Meeplecon who has conducted sessions with customised board games for companies in pharmaceutical and fintech sectors, among others.

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