This is Faith in Play #24: The Christian Veneer, for November 2019.
My attention was called to a crowdfunding effort for a Christian-themed game. This was long enough ago that I expect, or at least hope, that nothing I say will impact the success of that funding effort, because it really looks like it might be a good game and I hope they succeed in bringing it to print. However, it was presented to me through a Christian gaming forum, and the tag line was
Be the first of the wise men to reach the Christ child in Bethlehem. A new Christmas game tradition.
It was being produced by a company named Christian Haven, which is confusing because it appears that that actually is the name of the senior designer on the project, and not a clever idea for a name for a company that produces Christian games.
My gut reaction to that blurb was, how is it not a remake of Parcheesi?
In fairness, that’s a bad reaction on two fronts. First, just because a game draws strongly on the design of another game doesn’t mean the new version is not as good or better than the old. I spent many hours in past decades enjoying the game Sorry, which is essentially just Parcheesi with cards and a few other quirks; Trouble is also Parcheesi, but with the Pop-o-Matic® dice thing (a great idea for kids’ games because you can’t easily lose the dice). Another version of Parcheesi could be a fine game, and shouldn’t be discounted simply for being a bit derivative.
It’s a bad reaction on the other front because the game is a lot more complicated than merely a remake of Parcheesi. There appears to be the potential for intricate strategy, the involvement of random complications, and the necessity for resource management. Its resemblance to the classic board game is minimal.
Yet my problem is whether it is a “Christian” game.
Perhaps I am too hasty. Nothing on the funding page claims that this is a “Christian” game; it is billed as a “Christmas” game. Christian Haven can’t help having been given that name. On the other hand, one of the mechanics involves answering trivia questions, and half of these are Bible-based (the other half based on “history”). It is clearly a game for Christians. That of course does not make it a Christian game—there are many things marketed to and for Christians which in themselves are not “Christian” and which are sometimes even a bit dubious in their values. I could raise issues with any game, but I have fewer complaints about this one than I have with Monopoly.
I am thrown back to that unanswerable question: what would make a game “Christian?” I proposed a design for an activity I called a Christian Game a couple years ago, and one of my readers teased that only I would call an exercise in Biblical exegesis a “game.” I’ve commented before that I don’t have a definition of “game” that would include everything I would include and nothing I would exclude, and that only complicates the matter. Yet I find it difficult to label anything “Christian” beyond people and groups of people and their interactions. That in itself suggests that there ought to be something like a Christian game. However, I’ve been Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild for about two decades now, and the only use of that phrase I can genuinely defend is that it identifies any game played in a Christian way by Christians. You can’t put that in a box. A Christian theme and a Bible trivia mechanic make a game that will appeal to Christians and not to others, but that’s just a coating on a game. If it were about Muslim pilgrims racing to Mecca and had Koran trivia cards, it would be the same game for a different audience; that version would no more be a Muslim game than this one is a Christian one, because the game has not changed, only the veneer.
Again, none of this is passing judgment on whether the game in question is a good game. It probably is. I just don’t think it’s necessarily a Christian game, and wouldn’t want it marketed as such.
Editor’s note: The name of the game in question is Stella Nova: Journey of the Magi.