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Tabletop Game / SHASN

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SHASN (Sanskrit for "governance, rule, regime" or "throne, seat of power") is a Political Strategy Board Game created by Zain Memon and published by the Indian studio Memesys Lab in 2021, following a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2019. It puts the players in the shoes of politicians trying to win an election by securing majority votes across several interconnected regions.

The base game is not further themed, but to actually play it, players must select one of the five (currently published) campaign settings: "India 2019-20", "USA 2019-20", "Earth 2040", "Rome 40 BCE", or "UK 2019-20". Each setting comes with a deck of 100+ "ideology cards", containing yes-or-no questions pertinent to its public policies. At the start of their turn, each player must answer a question from the deck, with their answer mapping onto one of four core ideologiesnote , earning them some political capitalnote  and a corresponding ideology point. Collecting more points of the same ideology grants a player extra capital and unlocks ideology-specific special abilities. The players can then spend their political capital to place voter pegs onto the board, and the game ends once a majority is formed in every region, with victory going to the player with the most majority votes.

An Expansion Pack titled SHASN: AZADI (Persian for "freedom") went to Kickstarter in September 2021 and is currently slated for release in early 2023. It shifts the narrative focus from politicians to rebels and revolutionaries trying to overthrow an oppressive imperial regime, with more cooperative gameplay mechanics added. Four new, AZADI-exlusive settings have been announced: "South Asian Independence 1947", "American Revolution 1776", "Egyptian Revolution 2011", and "Russian Revolution 1917".

The game contains examples of following tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: "The Future of Humanity: Earth 2040 Campaign" is set about twenty years after the game's release, representing the author's best guess at what political issues will occupy humanity at that time.
  • Alignment-Based Endings: An optional mini-expansion adds a deck of cards to be read at the game's conclusion, which project the mid-term consequences of the election based on the winner's two most prevalent ideologies.
  • Anti-Hoarding: You cannot hold more than 12 political capital tokens at the same time. If you ever go over the limit, you must immediately discard the excess back to the bank. There is no limit on voter pegs or Conspiracy cards, however.
  • Artistic License – Politics: The designers freely admit in their notes that no real-world democratic system works like the one in the game, that the Ideologues do not map neatly onto real Political Ideologiesnote , and that gerrymandering doesn't actually move voters across districts. However, the point of the game is not to simulate any real political systems, but rather to provide a detached space for players to engage with sensitive political questions playfully, without the emotional baggage they come with in real life.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The Ideologues and their corresponding political capital tokens are strongly color-coded: the Capitalist and Funds are green, the Supremo and Clout are red, the Showstopper and Media is blue, the Idealist and Trust are yellow. Also, each player mat and their respective voter pegs have their own non-primary color.
  • Counter-Attack: Any Conspiracy card with the Reverse effect can be played out of turn to change the target of another conspiracy to its own player.
  • The Conspiracy: Many, but not all of the Conspiracy cards are themed as semi-legal or outright illegal schemes used by Corrupt Politicians to gain extra resources or to sabotage the opposition.
  • Content Warnings: Some ideology cards come with "mature/sensitive themes" and "trigger warning" labels to warn players about potentially unwanted topics. Players are free to remove all such cards from the deck at the start of a round.
  • Corrupt Politician: Unless you go full Idealist, refuse to use Conspiracies, and never have to draw Headlines, it is very hard to avoid doing some shady things during gameplay. That said, apart from some Headlines, there are hardly any downsides to this kind of corruption.
  • Election Day Episode: Basically, every round of the game is a separate election season.
  • Expansion Pack: SHASN: AZADI adds five new campaigns to the base game, as well as shifting its gameplay.
  • First-Player Advantage Mitigation: During the setup, the player who will go first receives only 1 resource token, the second player 2, the third 3, and so on. This is to mitigate the advantage the first player has in picking where to place their voter pegs on an empty board, with efficient placement getting increasingly difficult the more pegs are on it.
  • Gender Flip: Of the default Ideologues, the Capitalist and the Idealist are female and the Supremo and the Showstopper are male, but the flip side of every player mat contains alternative designs of respective opposite genders.
  • Gender-Inclusive Writing: During the Kickstarter campaign, the media Ideologue was called "Showman", but this was changed to "Showstopper" in the final game to avoid gendering them.
  • Karma Meter: The ideology cards you answer are put under your player mat with the side corresponding to your choice up. The combined total of your ideology cards determines your current ideological mix, so you can be, for instance, level 5 Supremo, level 3 Capitalist, and level 2 Showstopper. The points of the political compass are free trade (Capitalist), identity politics (Supremo), personal showmanship (Showstopper), and people's happiness (Idealist).
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Unlike most contemporary board games, SHASN features a black and white box with simple geometric shapes on it.
  • Mystical 108: There are exactly 108 ideology cards per campaign deck, and given that the game was created in India, this wasn't a random choice.
  • Political Strategy Game: SHASN is a Campaign Sim and allows players to dynamically shift their ideology. On their turn, each player draws an "ideology card" with a setting-appropriate public policy question, with their answer determining their ideological standing and which resources they receive. The game has four types of political capitalnote  and four corresponding ideologiesnote . Resources can be used to secure votes in one of nine regions on the board, or to purchase Conspiracy cards to sabotage other players. Having certain levels in any ideology, meanwhile, unlocks powerful special abilities. The goal of the game is to secure majority votes in the most regions: when majority is formed in all nine, the game ends and the player with the most majority voters wins. One unique twist is Gerrymandering, which allows a player who has the most voters in a region to arbitrarily shift voters (their own or the others'!) across all neighboring regions. Players can trade resources and Conspiracy cards at any time during their turn.
  • Prestige Class: In addition to the four base Ideologues and their powers, the optional mini-expansion "Elites" adds 13 unique powers that can be unlocked by having very specific combinations of ideology cards (typically, at least 3 cards of two different ideologies and no cards of a third; the Renegade Elite power, however, is unlocked by having at least three ideologies at level 2 but none at level 3).
  • Rabble Rouser: The Showstopper is all about their personal popularity — it doesn't matter what others say, as long as they are talking about them. As a result, they will say the most outrageous things to ride the wave of popularity to victory.
  • Random Event: The "current issues" type random events come in two flavors: the ideology cards drawn once per player turn from a shuffled deck represent minor issues with mostly beneficial effects for the player, while the Headline cards are drawn when a player's voter is placed into one of the Volatile Areas on the board and have a range of positive and negative effects.
  • Resources Management Gameplay: The four types of political capital is the lifeblood of gameplay, and there is very little a player can do if they run out of them. Basically, the only gameplay action that does not cost any resources is gerrymandering.
  • Sliding Scale of Cooperation vs. Competition: The base game is a Free-for-All bordering on Dynamic Alliances, as only one player can win in the end (with extra rules for breaking ties) but non-binding agreements and trading between players are encouraged. Early versions of the game featured an explicit Coalition mechanic, where players could form party blocs to secure joint majorities, but it didn't make it to the final game. The AZADI expansion aims to shift the gameplay more towards the cooperative end of the scale.
  • Special Attack: Each Ideologue has two special active abilities, unlocked upon collecting three and five ideology cards of the respective suit. While only the Supremo's level 3 ability can be classified as an attack (stealing capital from other players), all four level 5 abilities specifically target other players' voters and can even be used to break their majorities. Beyond these abilities, the Conspiracy cards are equally available to all ideologies and frequently target other players for a variety of effects.