Imagine if you could fight as the great warrior Arjuna, launching an attack with your Gandiva bow? And imagine if your friend, taking on the role of Karna, could counter-attack with his own bow, Vijay?
Now you both can.
It all came about when back in 2012, high school friends and huge gaming fans Varun Devanathan and Huren Sivaraj met to catch up.
Reminiscing about the old B.R. Chopra Mahabharat TV serial they used to watch in the 1980s, Huren hoped his one-year-old son Arjun would grow up with the spiritual epic Mahabharata just like he did.
Varun, an avid player of video games and strategic card games, suggested, “The way to get kids nowadays into the Mahabharata is to turn it into a game!” He paused. “…And we should make it!”
The Legend of Vyas card set, with dice and damage counters
Neither Varun nor Huren are game designers – Varun, 29, is a software engineer, and Huren is a doctor. But they harnessed their combined gaming experience and love of India’s ancient epics and got to work creating a CCG, or Collectible Card Game, based on the Mahabharata.
In just under a year, they had designed and tested Legend of Vyas and commissioned its artwork. They then set up their own company called Vansh Games, and in August 2015 they launched their first card set.
Legend of Vyas is inspired by other CCGs like Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. And like them, it aims to have multiple boxed sets that players can collect and create their own decks of cards from, allowing them to devise their own strategies.
“For the first volume, which is out now, we decided to start with Arjuna and Karna, because a lot of the Mahabharata story is about the distinction between them,” says Varun. “They’re both brave, great warriors, but Lord Krishna guides one rather than the other. And much of the background story and philosophy is about why He does that.”
The Better Bowman: Arjuna vs Karna comes in a stylish box that looks like it’s been slashed with a sword blade. Inside, there’s 94 cards, 50 damage counters, and three dice – not cube-shaped but rectangular, just like the ones you saw Shakuni throwing in the Mahabharata movies or serials.
For now, with only one set, the game can be played by just two players. Each player picks a warrior. They then “build their deck” by selecting 30 cards from the eight different types including warriors, weapons, spells, astras, advisors, and formations. Many of the cards can be used by either player, while some are specific – for instance, only Arjuna can use his Gandiva bow, and only Karna can use his Kavacha and Kundala armor and earrings.
Some cards reveal interesting pieces of the Mahabharata story. Arjuna can play “The Lord Puts His Foot Down” as a spell, so that Krishna saves him from Karna’s astra by sinking his chariot into the ground. Arjuna can also play “Indra’s Sleight,” so that his demigod father deceives Karna into giving up his divine armor.
Other fun weapons and artefacts include Agniastra, Pashupatastra, and Flag of Hanuman. Players can even send an Apsara to distract a warrior!
The Arjuna card, illustrated by Anirudh Sainath
Besides Arjuna and Karna there are also other characters who can assist them, including Kritavarma, Kripacharya, and Arjuna’s sons Abhimanyu and Uttara. Each card is illustrated by digital artist Anirudh Sainath with stunning depictions of the characters and weapons that really bring players into the game.
Players start out with 40 health points, and use weapons, warriors and astras to attack and decrease their opponent’s health points. When a player knocks their opponents’ health down to zero, they win.
A typical game lasts between 15 and 25 minutes – and because decks are self-built, each game is completely different. Players can build strategic skills and learn which cards they need to win.
According to Varun, the elaborate gameplay has proven to be a little challenging for non-gamers who have simply come because of their interest in Indian culture. But a very visual and easy to understand graphic supplement to the Rule Book, available on legendofvyas.com, is sure to make the somewhat steep learning curve more accessible.
Looking to the future, Varun and Huren want to flesh out the entire huge Mahabharata universe. Next up is a Bhima and Duryodhana set, which will be funded by a Kickstarter project that will launch this April. This set, which is planned for release by July, will include other characters like Bhima’s son Ghatotkacha and the warrior Satyaki.
Beyond that, further sets will include remaining Pandavas Yudhistira, Nakula and Sahadeva, Queen Draupadi, the devious Shakuni, warrior gurus Bhisma and Dronacharya and all other “big ticket” characters. Players will be able to collect them all and pit any character against any other in 2 v 2 or even all the way up to 5 v 5 games.
“We will have a team play element, as well as a battlefield of Kuruskhetra playing mat,” says Varun. “That will allow players to defend other characters and rearrange their armies into different vyuhas or formations – a unique element of this game compared to other CCGs like Hearthsone or Magic.”
Varun and Huren are not ISKCON devotees, and so they refer to the Mahabharata as “mythology” and elements of their presentation may differ from ISKCON’s. In addition, the way that any character can be pitted against each other even if they didn’t clash in the original story might feel a bit odd. For instance, you could potentially have Bhima fight Arjuna, or Bhishma fight Shakuni.
This card gives the player ‘Sanjaya’s vision’
However, the makers clearly have a lot of affection and respect for an epic they grew up with, and the more creative elements of gameplay are simply a lot of fun.
Varun and Huren are also showing their dedication to the Mahabharata by setting up a Wiki website that will provide in-depth information on the characters and story elements of the game, allowing gamers to learn a lot more about the sacred epic.
Currently, Legend of Vyas is aimed at the “gaming generation” of 14 to 30-year-olds. Both ISKCON devotees and members of the Indian community in this generation are likely to be very excited at the prospect of bringing the stories they grew up with to life. But Varun feels that with a bit more visibility, Legend of Vyas could also appeal to the gamer crowd, who are currently showing a big upsurge of interest in non-traditionally Western themes and stories.
“We want to give people a unique way to experience the Mahabharat,” he says. “Because the story is so rich and profound. And while the philosophy is not something I think we can try to push through a game, at least if we can open the availability of the story to people, they can then seek the original text out and delve into it on their own.”
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The first installment of Legend of Vyas, “The Better Bowman: Arjuna Vs Karna” is available for $30 at https://legendofvyas.myshopify.com/
For a detailed guide on how to play the game, visit http://www.legendofvyas.com/.
May 15, 2022
Sunanda Das, Temple of the Vedic Planetarium