Religious Board Games

Religious Board Games

By Ellen Leventry and Laura Sheahen

May 2001--Tired of the same old rounds of Monopoly or Uno? Looking for rainy-day
activities with a higher purpose? Believe it or not, there's a host of
religious and spiritually-minded board games out there to choose from.

In spring 2001, Beliefnet's panel of experts played and rated eight
games, from Islamic bingo to Hindu chutes and ladders. We then ranked the
games based on education (did you learn anything about the religion?),
look-and-feel (zowie! that's a cool looking game!), and entertainment value
(dang, that was neat!). Here's how we rated games that combine faith
and fun.

Go Goddess Girl! Tween Talk
For Ages: 8 and up
Where to Buy:
Object: Tween Talk gets tweens (not quite a teen, but not a kid either) in touch with their girl power. After sharing personal stories and collecting "go goddess beads" to make a bracelet, you discover which ancient goddess you are most like.
Education: 4.7 Look & Feel: 7.9 Entertainment: 8.3
This is the Xena Warrior Princess of board games: It's vaguely Pagan and horribly inaccurate historically, but it packs an entertaining punch. "You didn't learn a whole lot about paganism," said one player, "but a whole lot about each other!" After flicking a Twister-like spinner, players pick color-coded cards that challenge them to share their feelings. Challenges range from defining "Girl Power" to asking the other players what they think spirit is ("gaia," the game informs us, is the "goddess of the spirit"). Comments from our players included "fun," "happy," "nonjudgmental," and "gigglefest." One drawback: the "arbitrary nature of selecting the goddess you are most like." As the instructions remind us, however, we're all goddesses, no matter what!

Left Behind: The Game
Evangelical Protestant
For Ages: 8 and up
Where to Buy: Talicor
Object: Bring about the Rapture and defeat the Antichrist by fielding Bible trivia and truth-or-dare questions or by performing "tribulation" tasks. In a theologically provocative twist, players roll dice both for themselves and for the Antichrist.
Education: 2.5 Look & Feel: 7 Entertainment: 7.5
"How is it that rolling for Satan could be so boring?" lamented one player. Despite the popularity of the "Left Behind" books, few players felt its end-times scenario translated well to a game board. Protestant players found the game "surprisingly secular" and an "interesting trivialization of major principles of Christianity"--"there was some Bible trivia, but no solid religion." A non-Christian felt it was "kind of weird that the Antichrist was chasing us around, and all we could do was run and bribe him [with tokens]." Players also felt the board included too many spaces where nothing happens--and too few hellfire spaces, where players are put to the test.

Communion of Saints
Roman Catholic
For Ages: 8 and up
Where to Buy:
Object: Get to heaven by passing through sin, sacrament, and grace spaces, landing on a "death" square with no accumulated "guilt and punishment" tokens.
Education: 5.2 Look & Feel: 6.5 Entertainment: 6
"Doctrinaire," "scary" pre-Vatican II feel of the game put off Catholic and non-Catholic players alike (note: all were born after Vatican II). "There's a surreal sort of moral arithmetic that makes life out to be a spiritual balance sheet. You get credit for pietistic exercises like praying the rosary, or for acts of kindness like 'giving someone the last piece of pie.' You lose credit if you 'deliberately daydream during Mass.'" Players were surprised at how close a death square was at every turn, even in the very early stages of the game. As one player poetically noted, "the grace and sin cards would have more of an impact if we didn't die so quickly." Another agreed, saying, "I wanted to sin and go to hell just so the game would last longer." Despite this, a few players said they "learned about saints I hadn't heard of" and felt it was "pretty fun" and "colorful."

Evangelical Protestant
For Ages: 8 and up
Where to Buy: Talicor
Object: Rescue Lost Souls from the City of Bondage and reach the Well of Living Water by taking on a Bible hero persona like Rebekah or Paul. On the way, battle evil forces and draw blessing cards ("shoes of peace," "balm of Gilead").
Education: 1 Look & Feel: 4.3 Entertainment: 2.3
A game Rod and Todd Flanders of "The Simpsons" might play. The impressive game cards (each with detailed art scenes like "Locust From the Pit" or "Angel Food") set the stage for a high-stakes adventure that goes to the heart of evangelical Christianity: Do you have sufficient virtue and strength to overcome evil outside forces? Unfortunately, a Protestant player pointed out that the game is at points an all-too-accurate portrayal of the history of religion: "It was confusing and caused fights." Indeed, our five players were unable to figure out the rules during a half-hour of play. The role-playing and mathematical aspects of the game, in which a Bible hero must figure out whether he has enough blue (for faith) and green (for wisdom) crosses to defeat a Level 3 evil force, caused the most confusion. But at least one player felt that "if you took the time and effort to figure out the rules, it could be awesome--and a cool way to learn about Bible villains like Belshazzar or the 'Prophets of Baal.'"

Chicken Soup for the Kids' Soul
For Ages: 8 and up
Where to Buy: Toy stores nationwide
Object: In an "Adventure of Sharing, Friendship and Laughter," players must be the first to collect all 6 "Life's Ingredients" cards (Happiness, Joy, Faith, Hope, Love, and Peace) by sharing stories about yourself and acting out scenarios.
Education: 3 Look & Feel: 5 Entertainment: 6.8
You could wait all day and this pot o' chicken soup wouldn't come to a boil. "Humorous," "vaguely moral," and "representing the 'Chicken Soup' religion well," players roll a die to circle the board and enact or answer challenges, such as "Pretend to be a chicken laying an egg. If the group guesses what you are doing, take a life's ingredients card." Common complaints of the multifaith test group were that the game had too many elements and that the rules were unclear: One of the die seemed to have no purpose. We weren't sure if it was a recommendation or not when one player commented, "The UN ambassadors should play it once a month."

For Ages: 4-7
Where to Buy: Judaica stores nationwide
Object: Be the first player to get back to the kosher home, by moving pieces up a Candyland-like board and following directions on various spaces, which may include saying prayers.
Education: 3.3 Look & Feel: 3.9 Entertainment: 3.1
This "Beginner's Game for a Jewish Child" turned out to be not-so-kosher with one of our Jewish reviewers: "The game teaches prayers, but it uses the sacred Hebrew word for G*d that should be reserved for someone actually praying." While it's admirable to teach children the correct prayers to say when eating bread, our reviewer said that "Adoshem"--the word used in place of the sacred name of God for songs, teachings, or games--"should have been used." Another Jewish panelist, though, felt it was a "fun way to reinforce the rules of kashruth [being kosher]." Non-Jews enjoyed learning about not mixing meat and milk and that "gefilte fish swim," but all agreed that older kids would soon get bored. Mechanical note: Spinner is hard to read.

For Ages: Adults
Where to Buy: Inner Traditions
Object: Reach cosmic consciousness by moving up pathways of spiritual advancement and down snakes of spiritual decline (avoiding squares like "envy" and "ignorance").
Education: 10 Look & Feel: 6 Entertainment: 3
While the chutes and ladders aspect is fun, non-Hindus found Leela to be too "complex" and "scholarly" for their tastes. Most players found the 133-page instruction book, which touches on subjects like the Theater of Karma and the Fundamentals of Being, daunting. Our Hindu reviewers agree that the game "is highly intellectual and would easily drive away anyone without a strong grounding in Hinduism." That said, they found it "interesting to learn about the evolutionary steps of the soul." The quickest way to win "is to land on the 'Spiritual Devotion' square, which points directly to a winning square, the lesson being that bhakti [a personal relationship between a devotee and the divine] is the ultimate path to God."

Secular Humanist
For Ages: 8 and up
Where to Buy: GoRu Products
Object: Billed as "the fun way to learn right from wrong," the object is to "negotiate the paths of right and wrong becoming the first player to collect six gold stars and one or more right paths before collecting three black marks."
Education: 1.3 Look & Feel: 3 Entertainment: 1.5
Talk about a crisis of conscience! Our highly educated panel had so much difficulty figuring out the rules and the basic gist of the game that they were still struggling to figure out how to play when the allotted game time ended. Starting with your piece at a Conscience checkpoint, players must move through six zones (violence, charity, drugs, character, and education) on the "right" or "wrong" paths based on positive or negative rolls of the dice. The only game to garner an actual negative rating (-1) from one reviewer, the overwhelming feeling of the group was that the game was at once too complicated and too simplistic: "matters of conscience are much more complicated than 'right or wrong.'" As one morally upstanding player said, "This game should be renamed, 'Unconscious.'"

Know Islam, Know Peace
For Ages: 5-10
Where to Buy: IslamiCity
Object: Win this bingo-style game by correctly defining terms about Islamic principles and subjects like salat or the Qur'an.
Education: 6.7 Look & Feel: 6.9 Entertainment: 7.3
Our reviewers found this to be one of the easiest to play and most educational games. Non-Muslims felt "the game addressed deep theological concepts," though "if you have no prior knowledge, you can't play well--but you do learn when you read the card later." One player said, "I learned that there are lots of similarities between Islam and Christianity"; another said, "I learned things like that there are two angels watching me, one to report my good deeds and one my bad." Muslim players liked the game's concept, and said that the definitions provided were thorough and accurate. However, they felt that adults wouldn't be challenged, though they agreed that the game is particularly good for youngsters just learning about Islam. Overall opinions ranged from "sort of dull" to "fun."

May 2001