Christianity: Beyond Bingo

Except for Bingo and the Roman soldiers who cast lots for the robe of Jesus, games have never had much to do with religion. Until now. Family-game players who have tired of refighting the battle of Gettysburg and advancing to “Go (Collect $200)” can now trek right along with St. Paul or race each other through the Christian calendar.

In a spiritually adventurous mood, the Avalon Hill Co. of Baltimore, manufacturers of a variety of games, brought the religious games out before last Christmas. One, called Journeys of St. Paul, retraces the apostle’s odyssey from the road to Damascus, where he was converted, to Rome. By rolling dice, a player advances a statuette of Paul to the same cities in which the disciple had preached. For example, snake eyes, or a roll of two, can carry Paul from Thessalonica to Beroea, cities he visited during his second missionary journey. The object of the game is to be the first to get Paul to Rome —even though, once there, the winner can consider himself beheaded, as, according to tradition, Paul was.

The other Avalon game, entitled Year of the Lord, is based on the seasons of the Christian calendar. Or, as the instructions feverishly explain, “The church goes through the whole life of Christ once a year. This makes a swell racetrack for a game, through Advent into Christmas, off again to Epiphany, around the corner to Holy Week and Easter, and finally, circle the board to Pentecost.”

Who Is Barabbas? Selling bigger is the Ten Commandments Bible Game, by Cadaco, Inc., of Chicago. Equipment includes a board map of the Holy Land, cards quoting the Commandments, and disks representing pieces of silver and harvest baskets of grain, fish, olives and grapes. To win, a player must collect all Ten Commandments by completing various Good Samaritan acts. Cadaco has sold about 600,000 of the games. And then there is Bible Bowling, in which marbles are rolled down a miniature bowling alley into holes. Depending on what hole the marble lands in, a card ‘is selected by the bowler, who must answer a biblical question to score points. Sample card: “For six pins on your first ball, who is Barabbas?”

Thomas Shaw, a Lutheran and Avalon’s marketing director, piously posits that “religion is in such a state that people will welcome anything to get back to the Bible.” Cadaco’s executive vice president, Douglas Bolton, believes that “during times of national stress, there is an upsurge in quasi-religious activities.” At any rate, the possibilities of additional religious games are intriguing. There might be Inquisition, for instance, in which the loser would go directly to hell and bypass purgatory. Or, in a more contemporary vein, there might be Vatican Council (“Don’t Cross Ottaviani”) or Encyclical (“Congratulations! You have planned your family well and are entitled to one bonus baby!”).

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