A new Bible-based board game challenges players' knowledge of Scripture in a fun, challenging and even morally formative 'pilgrimage to paradise'. A sort of Christian 'snakes and ladders', is this the game your kids (or you) have been waiting for?
The box of The Gospel Journey Board Game (£29.95) asks its audience: 'How far away is paradise?' If that makes this game, aimed at children aged upward of 14, sound heavy, don't be fooled: there's a light and friendly touch here, even if eternity is at stake.
Imagine essentially a Monopoly-style board where, instead of acquiring pricy properties, you see events and figures from the life of Jesus. As you roll the dice and progress around the board, you're met with different quiz questions on the Bible. Get them right, and you proceed to paradise: a pleasant Eden in the middle of the board where a cute Lion and Lamb await you at the gates.
The game, from Redemptorist Publications, certainly has a Catholic vibe to it, though it's intended as an 'ecumenical' project, Christian Today was told, something to educate and entertain growing Christians of any denomination. In theory children as young as eight years old can actually enjoy the game, but they'd better have been reading their Bibles. Some of the questions (there are more than 400) on the 'journey' will flummox even mature believers. Was Peter married? In Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard, at what hour did the final labourers arrive? Who buried John the Baptist? One for the real ecclesiastical buffs: which cathedral in Europe claims to have the relics of the Wise Men?
And I thought I had a Christian upbringing. There might be some tough cookies, and some only Catholics will get (can you give the traditional names of the Virgin Mary's parents?) but the upshot is the kids playing will probably learn a lot here.
There are blessings and curses hidden along the journey as well, with 'penalty' or 'reward' cards setting you forwards or backwards depending on how your dice roll. The reward cards are clearly geared towards moral formation among young people: 'You spent time with a friend struggling with maths, go one step forward to paradise.' Other rewards also cite giving money to charity, being kind on social media or it being your birthday. One for the particularly pious: 'You kept your Lenten observations. Move two steps to paradise'.
The 'penalty' cards are obviously the reverse. You take steps back due to bullying, dropping litter or not saying your prayers this week. Perhaps most amusingly, and yet dark at the same time: 'You deliberately killed a butterfly. Go back two steps.'
The board is colourfully illustrated and professionally put together with pleasant images that include racially diverse figures and a not-quite-white Jesus. Designed for schools, church groups or families, one can imagine good laughs and educational entertainment around the Gospel Journey board. Expansion packs to help younger audiences may be on the way too.
My inner Protestant is somewhat apprehensive about the potential for legalism: the game runs the risk of suggesting that faith is simply about having the right biblical knowledge and do-gooding deeds, and then paradise awaits. It might feel like more works and law than faith and grace. I'm sure that's not the heart behind the game, and perhaps one needn't be so theologically serious about children's entertainment, but it is a question worth asking when teaching faith to the young.
Most Christians know the real-life path to paradise isn't as simple as a board game, but it's good to have well-made entertainment that gets folks talking about the often-daunting questions of God, scripture and eternity.
'The Gospel Journey Board Game' is available now.
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