Over the past nine months, a team of educators, designers and illustrators have been working on a game that they hope will change what it means to be a child in Egypt.  Out to challenge perspectives on conventional learning methods, the team behind Baladna is keen to break the boundaries between playtime and learning time.

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Locally produced, Baladna is a general knowledge game for children and teens that aims to stimulate minds and bridge cultural, social and geographical barriers, while helping children connect with their local identities.  Players explore the cultural diversity of Egypt by travelling around the country on the board; along the way, they are introduced to various developmental concepts, and answer questions about geography, language, people, food, animals, environment, music, traditions, crafts, monuments, and resources in each area.  Children are also quizzed about the challenges that face each area.

“The game is in Arabic because that is part of the package.  The game is about us – the people around us, the food that we eat – and part of “us” is language.  Language is the thing that holds everything together, so it only makes sense that we make the game in Arabic.  We might translate it in a few months if we have the funds, but we want the default version to be in Arabic,” says Ali Azmy, Educational Product Developer at Weladna Lifestyle Brand.

Last year, Weladna launched the first edition of the game; over the last nine months, the team has invested over 1,000 hours in aggregating and validating content, creating dynamic game design and illustrations, followed by rounds of testing and feedback.  For the team, an important part of creating the game is to prove that it is possible to design and manufacture an Egyptian game that is both high quality and educational.

“The game was totally different a year ago.  There is not one similar question – the framing is different, the board is different, the dynamic itself is different.  When we played it with kids we found that some things weren’t working, so what we have now is version 2.0,” says Azmy.

The board game caters to children aged 9 to 15 and uses different techniques to encourage critical thinking and develop artistic skills like drawing or acting.  The team is currently finalizing the game based on the feedback received during their testing phase.  In July, the team ran a crowd-funding campaign to finance the production of the game.

“We chose to crowd-fund because we believe in the collective power of the crowd – in giving life to the products we want to see our kids playing.  Together we need to seed a new way of educating our future selves.  It is in our hands to collectively transform toy store shelves, one product at a time,” says Azmy.

In July and August, the team raised close to USD 17,000 through their online and offline crowdfunding campaign.  In addition to raising funds, the campaign has given the team the opportunity to connect with other educators and individuals that have a common vision for children in Egypt.

“We are planning an event to thank our contributors, but the exciting part is bringing all these people who have a common vision together.  We think this is a very good opportunity to connect with potential collaborators.  We want to overcome this unhealthy competition and begin working together,” says Azmy.

And while the team is aware that creating an app or online game has the potential to reach a larger audience, they are still negotiating whether they will have an online version of the game.

“We are torn about launching it online because, on the one hand, we don’t want to encourage kids to spend more time playing with tablets and electronic devices.  On the other hand, a tech application will reach kids faster since they are already online,” says Azmy.  “So far, we’ve found that either the price of developing it is too high or the quality is low.  Also, financing it will be difficult because we don’t want to have sponsors.  We have a lot of ideas, but we still haven’t found the right partnership to go online.”

Baladna can be pre-ordered online, and will be sold directly at Hedaya, Shorouk bookstores, Diwan and Virgin Megastores.

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