There's a lot of talk about game-changing in Christian circles right now. The Evangelical Alliance's New Year's message centred around the phrase, and it's also the theme of this year's Spring Harvest. But you may be scratching your head, and wondering how exactly one does such a thing. Fortunately for you, I have discovered a delightfully literal answer.
Have you had just about as much Cranium as you can take? Finally had your fill of Catan (or of those odd people who won't stop going on about it)? Then allow me to transport you to a world that you may not have known existed: the world of Christian board games. That's right, if you're concerned that bringing Cluedo, Connect 4 and Snakes and Ladders into your home may be opening a dangerous doorway to the occult, you can protect your kids with this range of products which put the 'fun' back into 'fundamentalist Christianity.'
You can probably see what they've done here. But if you're a Christian worried about the damaging influence of consumerism, you might consider replacing your tired old Monopoly set with this beautifully presented "Biblical game of fun and faith." The 'Go' square is replaced by 'in the beginning', while the old income tax spaces rather worryingly become the 'Abyss'. The manufacturers claim this is a game "where co-operation and not accumulation is the key; where you can only win by assisting fellow players." Brilliantly, you have to be the first player to build a church (rather than a hotel) in one of the biblical cities to win.
2. Life of Christ
This probably fits in the 'worthytainment' bracket which I may have just invented. A quiz game based around the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ, it features "over 1,400 non-intimidating multiple choice questions", because the last thing you want to feel while enjoying a board game is a sense of intimidation. In the official description, the manufacturers describe Life of Christ as an "inspired game"; whether they're claiming actual divine inspiration, or just saying they created it on a really good day at the office, isn't quite clear.
3. Solomon's Temple
One of the most ultimately disastrous episodes in the history of God's people is celebrated in this lavish two-player, two-board game. Each player has to try to build and then furnish their own 'Solomon's Temple'... but the journey is far from simple. "Your people continually fall into sin, and you must stop work on the temple to offer up sacrifices on their behalf" according to the box, although we'll assume that doesn't mean you actually have to go off and kill your pet rabbit mid-game.
4. The BibleMan Board Game
Now we're talking. One of the giants of the Christian sub-culture is back with his own board game – and it's a corker. Do your kids love the Avengers? Do you wish they loved the Bible just as much? Well, now they will with the BibleMan game! You take part in "a mission to rescue children that have been tricked by enemies of God." The first player to rescue six children, deliver them to church, and then get back to the BibleMan cave is the winner. Also, the whole thing takes place in the fictional town of Shatzville. Genuinely.
5. Family Choices – Proverbs Edition
"Families! Play this game together and know where you are spiritually!" So claims the marketing for this scruple-based discussion game which helps families to talk through their life and faith together. A typical problem: "Dad says no tattoos, but how would he ever know unless Megan shows him? Shouldn't she be able to make her own decisions? It's her body, isn't it?" This might seem like a completely insurmountable issue – but thankfully the game can draw on the Book of Proverbs to give you all the answers you need. Oh, and Megan has blatantly already got that tattoo.
6. Left Behind the Movie Game
It so often returns to this. Not content with dominating bookshelves and bargain DVD bins, the LaHaye and Jenkins End Times juggernaut rumbles into town with another spin-off, this time a game based on the original movie version of Left Behind (sadly Nicholas Cage is not involved). A two-part game set either side of the rapture, it's innovative mainly because the switch between the two game modes happens without warning. Like many of the games on this list, the focus is on working with, rather than against other players – in this case by forming a 'Tribulation Force' to fight 'Carpathia.' Is it bad that this is the one I'm most desperate to play?
7. Redemption - City of Bondage
Stop that sniggering at the back, this is serious stuff. "Traveling through the dark and desolate City of Bondage, Biblical Heroes are challenged to rescue the Lost Souls being held by the Evil Hordes who have overthrown the city." If that isn't the setup for a fun family games night, I don't know what is. I'm not entirely sure what the link with the Bible is; Egypt maybe? Babylon? There's a Bible verse on the front, so I'm sure it's all perfectly sound.
8. The Journeys of Paul
Tired of losing Risk to that guy who always hides out building a mega-army in Australia? Then replace it with this map-based New Testament odyssey, which casts players as missionaries who, like Paul, are attempting to set up a series of churches – not an empire, mind – in key cities across the ancient world. The box claims that no Bible knowledge is needed and no trivia is involved, and that's good news considering it already it looks more complicated than an Ikea kitchen kit.
9. The American Bible Challenge
The most mainstream product on the list, this looks like it would fit in perfectly in a Bible-belt branch of Target alongside Pie-Face and Buckaroo. Based around a US TV show, "play consists of teams traveling around the board and answering questions, spelling out famous Biblical words, acting things out and even organising the books of the Bible." The guys on the cover, presumably household names in the States, look like arch enemies in a really good-natured cop show. I bet they know their Bibles too.
10. Walking to Jesus
A product that claims to be "the first Christian Motivation Family Game in the world" is really talking itself up, but give 'Walking to Jesus' a chance. I *think* it's a volcano-based(?) journey addressing the biggest moral questions that face Christian families, with some totally rad graphic design thrown in for good measure. I could be completely wrong. The box contains 20 'Divine Grace cards', 12 pawns and a 'motivation story "Road of a Christian"'. Sounds like fun, right?
11. Bible Taboo
One of a whole number of 'Bible' versions of popular games (Cranium and Outburst are other examples) where the questions or challenges are all based around the Christian faith. Not a game about the less culturally palatable parts of the Bible, where players must collect clobber passages and hit their friends over the head with them.
12. Veggietales: Don't Sink in the Sink
Not so much a Christian board game as a board game involving Christian vegetables, this flimsily-constructed race game is quick to point out that "no water is required!" Or more accurately, "water will destroy this!" It's aimed specifically at younger players, and just in case you missed the memo first time around, involves "tons of waterless fun." No water. Understood?
13. Bible Scrabble
Like Bible Taboo above, this is essentially a repackaging of a traditional product for the Christian market. Coming with the non-competitive tagline "every word's a winner", it replaces the double and triple-letter score icons with religious images which turn out to mean... double and triple-letter score. The temptation to spell out rude words while playing this must be almost unbearable.
14. The Christian Game: Which Way?
This slightly more home-brewed offering gives players three exciting goals. "1. Learn about Jesus. 2. Know right from wrong. 3. See if you can become saved." Hopefully the answer to that final question is a resounding 'yes', otherwise Christian Today definitely does not recommend this product. Design and illustration on this comes from 'MJS Creations', which, I confess bears my own initials...
15. Bible or Not?
This is getting out of hand now but I'm finding it difficult to stop. Finally then, there's Bible or Not, a youth group ice-breaker which has inventively been turned into a whole board game. Can you tell whether a quote is from popular culture or from the Bible? Would you want to do that over and over again for several hours with your post-Sunday-lunch family members? If so, this is definitely for you!
So there you have it – and I've only just scratched the surface. Does your family games shelf need a clear-out? Have you been looking for inspiration for your tired old youth group resource cupboard? Then you are most welcome.