Do you know the names of the various Swiss courts, and their locations? This is just one of the endless facts I had to remember for my Swiss citizenship exam.
Many of my Swiss friends were surprised at the wealth of material about politics and culture which I was supposed to learn (much of which they were clueless about). Little did I know that someone else in Basel was faced with the same challenge: Hadi Barkat.
A Playful Learning Experience: Helvetiq
I first heard about Hadi from Dimitri who was researching the person behind his favorite board game, Helvetiq. Designed to help future Swiss citizens remember all that information in a playful way, Helvetiq consists of quiz questions about history, politics, culture, sports, economics and business in Switzerland.
Hadi: "Having lived in different places, I experienced that the more you know on your new home, the better you feel in it. With our games, we very much try to make it easier and more fun to learn these things.”
The first version of Helvetiq came out in French in 2008 and was a great success. The German, Italian and English versions followed a few months later. Interestingly, all of this started as a hobby!
Hadi was born in Algeria and has lived in the US, Denmark and now in Switzerland. He holds a degree in computer science from the Swiss Institute of Technology (EPFL) and has worked in venture capital. Despite this “digital” background, he discovered a passion in books and games, and so he founded Helvetiq (the firm) in 2007.
"We spend so much time behind computers and on smartphones – including myself,” he elaborates. “Playing with cards and game pieces, with friends and without distractions becomes a fabulous experience. It is something good for us."
An Interactive Interview
On a sunny spring morning, Hadi invited me to his open space office located at Stellwerk in Basel. This beautiful attic houses Helvetiq’s second office apart from Lausanne. The space is shared with other creative agencies.
Coming up with ever new ideas for board games is something that comes naturally for Hadi. “The ideas were there all along – all I had to do was implement them,” he explains. And in fact, there are many more ideas in the pipeline that are waiting to be published.
What better way to explain board games if not by actually playing them? I usually stay away from board games, but the games Hadi creates are different. Why? Because not only are they intelligent, they are also fun! Hadi: “While studying for my Swiss citizenship exam, I did not want to bury myself in books. I wanted to make it a social experience which involved my friends. So I had them play my first board game to help me remember all the facts..."
Playing games is exactly what we did. And guess what? I really enjoyed it! This was definitely the most original interview I have ever done...
I had lots of fun playing Hadi’s board games and looking back, I wish I had bought the Helvetiq game while preparing for my Swiss exam. I think it would have helped me remember a few more facts while having fun at the same time.
The games are visually captivating. The colors and illustrations just make you want to open the box and start to play. “We like to de-clutter and simplify. The game logos are designed such that we would place the box on a shelf or a coffee table at our own homes or offices,” says Hadi.
Something Else Instead - Support it on wemakeit!
I even got to participate in a game that has not been launched yet, and Hadi let me in on a new idea which will be funded through the Swiss crowdfunding platform wemakeit. Since "Something Else Instead" is the ultimate social game, the shape resembles a box of cigarettes...
Helvetiq also publishes books, both in print and in digital formats. The latest is a Beer Hiking Guide written by Monika Saxer who discovered numerous independent breweries on her hikes.
My recommendation: Go out and buy a few games from Helvetiq. There is something for everyone, and we all need to add a little fun into our digital lives, don’t you think?
- Helvetiq Website and Online Shop
- Bierwandern Website by Monika Saxer
- In case you were wondering, the answers to my initial question about Swiss courts: The Criminal Court in Bellinzona, the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne, the Federal Administrative Court in Bern