Religious Board Games Round Three



By Ellen Leventry and Laura Sheahen

April 2003--Little did we suspect, back in spring 2001, that Beliefnet's reviews
of religious board games
would strike such a chord among people
seeking family fun with a sacred spin. Herewith, then, is the third round of
reviews. Find out how we scored the games' educational merit, appearance,
and entertainment value on a scale of one to ten.

Exodus: The Game of Passover
Jewish
For Ages: 8 and up
Where to Buy: www.holigames.com or Judaica stores
Object: Correctly answer questions about Jewish history and culture to move your Star of David playing piece around the board. Gather pieces from the Seder plate and avoid plagues while wending your way to the Promised Land.
Education: 9.2 Look & Feel: 9.3 Entertainment: 8
It's not often that we hear our panelists proclaiming, "The Wheel of Plagues rocks!", but this biblical board game elicited so many fervent shout-outs that it clearly tops our list for great gaming. "Moses didn't get to see it, but I will!" crowed one enthusiastic reviewer after rolling the exact number she needed to land on the winning Promised Land square.

Most popular was the wheel that players spin to see which ancient pestilences will afflict their teammates and themselves. True, some bemoaned the fact that plagues hit everyone--"He gets vermin and I have to move back?"-- and others felt the Wheel could have been "more gruesome." But the only real critique of "Exodus" was that many of the (tricky) trivia questions seemed to be restatements of previous ones. That said, our panelists feel that this attractively designed game "is perfect for everyone in the Abrahamic faiths and beyond" and "like the Seder itself, involves a little of the bitter and the sweet." Make an exodus to your nearest toy store now; do not pass over this game!


Scattergories--Bible Edition
Christian
For Ages: 12 and up
Where to Buy: Talicor, Amazon.com, or most toy stores
Object: Quickly answer questions like "things associated with Solomon" and "animals named in the Bible" and score points if your answers are different from other players'.
Education: 4 Look & Feel: 6 Entertainment: 5
Focusing on the letter of scripture, this game asks players to roll an alphabet die and base their answers on a key letter. Hence, when a "G" was rolled, a minister's daughter scored points by naming a "metal in the Bible"--gold--and a "gift of the Holy Spirit"--glossolalia.

The other Christian players, who obviously weren't paying attention in Vacation Bible School, complained bitterly that "since no 'right' answers are offered, it is possible to play many rounds and learn nothing--though if you played it with a Bible expert, you might learn from them." They also were annoyed by the game's "really irritating timer." Even the preacher's kid admitted the game was "a little arcane in terms of the biblical knowledge you need to play it well." As with "Bible Outburst" and "Redemption," reviewed earlier, some games are best left to those with high-level biblical smarts, like Rod and Todd Flanders.


Divinity
Roman Catholic
For Ages: 10 and up
Where to Buy: www.CatholicChild.com
Object: Work your way from Alpha to Omega by reciting prayers, singing church songs, summarizing Bible stories, and answering theological questions like "When is the Lord's Prayer prayed during Mass?"
Education: 9 Look & Feel: 9 Entertainment: 7
A Beliefnet first! "Divinity" is the only game reviewed by our panel of experts to have the imprimatur:- the Catholic Church's official seal of approval. Our panelists admired the eye-catching stained-glass design of this Monopolyesque game, whose trivia questions are indexed to the Catholic Catechism by paragraph number.

However, a Catholic panelist was disappointed that there was only one square devoted to the "Love of Neighbor" category, while a Protestant reviewer who'd already used up the Our Father and Hail Mary warns that "non-Catholic players won't have an appropriate arsenal of prayers for the 'Prayer' squares."

Though the instructions were easy to follow, our reviewers wondered why the die was constantly referred to as the "cube." Perhaps the makers don't wish to be associated with another type of gaming? On the whole, our reviewers found the game to be "doctrinally sound," "well thought out," and "good for RCIA [the educational classes non-Catholics attend before joining the church]."


Zeus and Hera
Greek mythology
For Ages: 12 and up
Where to Buy: gamesinabox.com
Object: Divine husband and wife struggle for allies and ultimate control of Olympus.
Education: 1 Look & Feel: 7 Entertainment: 2
In our zeal to review products related to underpromoted reconstructionist religions, we expected great things from this two-person card game. Alas, the gods of Olympus smote us hard. The game's "deeply obscure and stunningly complex instructions" taught "even rudiments of mythology as an afterthought." After a solid half-hour devoted to the 11-page manual, our reviewers remained perplexed about the exact mechanics of the game.

Though reviewers admired the game's colorful, handsomely designed cards, one player felt she learned little "except that a harpy is a smelly bird that steals babies." Opined one dissatisfied player: "Perhaps this is why Greek gods no longer have much of a following."


The Book of Mormon Board Game
Latter-day Saints
For Ages: 12 and up
Where to Buy: 3SwansPublishing.com
Object: Answering multiple-choice questions taken from the Book of Mormon, work your way from Jerusalem to a hill in New York State where the angel Moroni left gold plates inscribed with sacred writings.
Education: 6 Look & Feel: 2 Entertainment: 3
Our non-LDS players felt as disoriented as the lost tribes of Israel when attempting to tackle The Book of Mormon Board Game. "Thank God for small blessings," commented one player wryly, as many of our reviewers were only able to move by drawing "Blessing Cards" and not by answering actual questions. While a Protestant panelist familiar with the faith was able to work her way forward, she agreed with the other participants that the questions were very long and involved--and slowed game play.

Mormon gamesters, while less confused, found the game to be problematic for other reasons. They remarked on its "conservative" tone, as evidenced in arcane references and "penalty cards" like "You delight in wars and bloodshed with no desire to be reclaimed to the truth--move back four spaces and lose a turn." They also objected to the game's grainy amateur graphics. However, Mormons looking for an intense rainy-day activity--one developed by a former BYU professor, yet--could do worse.


Hierarchy, the Game of Angels
Catholic Christian
For Ages: 4 and up
Where to Buy: www.CatholicChild.com
Object: Move through the board's 'choirs' (levels of angels), gathering "grace tokens" and answering questions like "To what group of people did the angels announce the birth of Christ?" to earn your wings, harp, and halo on your way to heaven.
Education: 4.2 Look & Feel: 4.2 Entertainment: 5.5
Can angels take the form of plants? According to this game, yes. One Catholic player questioned the origin of Hierarchy's "pretty apocryphal facts," while other players called several questions "wacky." Panelists were surprised by the "circuitous path" through the celestial spheres: "It's a pain to have to visit all nine choirs." A non-Catholic said the game taught him that people must "go through hoops and obey the rules to get to heaven."

Players were relieved, however, that "grace is easy to come by" and enjoyed earning their wings by answering cards like "Finish the line 'Hark the herald ______.'" Theologically troubling mechanical note: the wooden angel game pieces, which are supposed to stand upright, tend to wobble and fall.


Snakes and Ladders for Muslim Children
Muslim
For Ages: 5 and up
Where to Buy: The Islamic Foundation (UK) or www.halalco.com
Object: Roll a die and land on squares like "reading and memorizing the Qur'an" to climb upwards towards "Happiness in Paradise," avoiding chutes like "treating people unkindly" or "mixing with bad children."
Education: 3 Look & Feel: 3.5 Entertainment: 7
"I keep getting so close to Paradise, and bam, there's another chute," groused one player who'd lost all the ground she'd gained--6 levels--simply by "not observing Islam at home." While the game seemed "harsh" and full of "lots of guilt trips" to some adult players, our six-year-old panelist found it to be the easiest to play of all the games. Players noted that "certain squares are visually ambiguous" and that it's sometimes hard to figure out which way to go on the board. A few non-Muslim players thought that, given recent tensions, the game makers might want to rethink the "fighting enemies of Islam" ladder.



April 2003
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