We’ve got some new favorite family board games–and they’re great at teaching you church history, too!
With thanks to Chara Games for sponsoring this post. This post contains some affiliate links.
Just before Christmas, Chara Games sent us a whole pile of their awesome board games to try it. We are HUGE board game fans. My big Christmas tradition that I insist on every year is that on Boxing Day, we all sit around and play board games.
Starting at Christmas, and over the last few months, whenever we’ve had people over we’ve sampled a whole bunch of the games, and we’ve worked our way through them. And I want to tell you about two that we especially like–Soul of the Empire and Commissioned.
Soul of the Empire–A Competitive Game Where You Can Win by Losing
This game has one of the coolest catches I’ve ever encountered: four of you are playing to take over the board. But all of you have different rules of combat that make it much trickier! Unlike a game like Risk, where you all play by the same rules, here your rules of engagement depend on who you are.
Four players can play Soul of the Empire:
Coalition–Down with the empire (Green)
The Coalition is comprised of the “barbaric” peoples from outside the Roman empire. They are ruthless in battle, as long as their rage is up, and they just want to see the empire burn. If they can thrust fast and deep at the heart of the empire, victory is theirs. But too many victories and their rage will go down as they grow content and lazy off of their plunder. A clever coalition player will be sure to plan some strategic losses to whip lackadasical troops back into a frenzy.
Jews–Where only the Holy Land matters (Blue)
Unlike the other players, the Jews couldn’t care less about the rest of the world. They’re just trying to stay in their little corner of the world, and not get killed. The problem? Everybody else likes that corner of the world, too! The Jews find strength in being a big fish in a small pond. They strive to have domination over the holy land, and can do so by inciting revolts (Grey), which become a second faction under their command! With those numbers, they could easily defend Israel from Romans and barbarians alike, if only it weren’t for those pesky Christians.
Christians–It only takes a little bit of yeast… (White)
The Christians are professional underdogs. While there is normally strength in numbers, the Romans and Jews fear the confounding strength of a lone martyr. Just as persecution of the early church helped the church spread, so too when Christians are persecuted, they spread. Christians win in battle against Jews and Romans by having a lower battle score (unlike every other faction), which takes the number of troops on each side into account. So if you come at them with too much force, you will likely not only lose the battle, but also see all of your men converted into fellow Christians. If they convert enough units, it’s game over. They must be wary though, for the more they gather in one place, the weaker and less effective they become. Furthermore, the Coalition cares little for their religion or politics, and will simply exterminate them with overwhelming force.
Romans– What’s wrong with the status quo? (Red)
The Romans have massive armies covering a vast nation. Overwhelming presence is the name of their game. At least, they would like it to be. They just want to stay in power by arresting the other factions, removing enemy units they defeat from play. If the Romans can arrest enough rabble-rousers, they win, but it’s no small task. Between fending off the Coalition’s attempts to seize the capital, trying to remain relevant in the holy land despite the Jewish revolts, and trying to keep Christians away from their populated areas, there is no shortage of fires to put out. Connor’s strategy was to try sequestering the Christians in the holy land (they came from the Jews, let them be the Jew’s concern) while striking out into Coalition lands to stem the barbarian tide.
I really enjoyed this one. Keith and Connor played a few scenarios just the two of them to get used to it, and then David and I joined in. It’s always a tricky balance to see whether or not you have enough pieces in any one square. Everyone needs lots of pieces to fight barbarians, but when fighting Christians, everyone wants to have as few as possible. So you have to try to guard yourself against other forces while simultaneously not getting too powerful. It’s a tricky balance! Think it sounds fun? Check out Soul of the Empire for yourself!
Commissioned–Can you spread the gospel throughout the world, plus write all the New Testament books of the Bible, and withstand trials?
- You spread the gospel by sending out missionaries, along with church members that you only get if your church grows.
- You write the books of the Bible by saving up prayers.
- You withstand trials through prayer and faith cards.
And you have to do all of them, all at the same time, if the gospel is to spread! Some families really enjoy strategy games where you play against each other (like Soul of the Empire). But Commissioned is a cooperative game. You either win together, or you lose together. If you’re a family that tends to get way too competitive, this may be a good alternative.
Each of you plays a particular apostle, who each has their own unique strength.
- James gives everybody extra missionary movements.
- Peter gives everybody extra faith–which means more miracles and more ability to withstand trials.
- Paul is able to get rid of any “mission stops” and is able to plow ahead, despite opposition.
- Andrew allows the church to grow, no matter what
- John weeds out false teachers–the stuff that isn’t necessary
- Barnabas stops attacks on church growth by encouraging others
Joanna’s family tried out Commissioned while she was visiting them in the States and they had a blast figuring out which person playing should match with each apostle. It really got them thinking about whose gifts matched up with which person.
Each turn the player draws some cards from his or her deck to use. Then there’s the cooperative part. You all “pray”–meaning that you choose a few cards to play, face down, without telling anyone else what those cards are. Then you turn them up, and the apostle whose turn it is chooses which moves to make that turn.
The cards you have in your hand at the end get traded in to increase your faith, where you can draw cards like these:
It’s a tough one to win. Once Keith and I played and we almost won–we were just missing writing one book of the Bible (here we are on our last turn; we got two more books written (the cards along the bottom) but we missed one. But there are little white churches on every space!
Last Sunday, when we played with Katie, we did everything except convert Philippi and Athens. And Philippi and Athens are kind of important.
What we’ve found is that you need all the apostles’ unique strengths. It’s really difficult to win without everybody’s giftings. And it really does teach you about how church history worked! In the game we played with Katie, we spent three turns unable to expand with our missionaries because we had different trials that were stopping our missionaries from movement (like worldly churches, or infighting).
Here our church can’t spread to Damascus and Lystra, so even though we have a huge church, it’s stuck.
But when persecution comes, all of a sudden we spread out and then missions became much easier.
What really makes a church grow is not having all of your people together in one place. Instead, it’s when they spread out that the church grows. When you focus only on your own church, and you don’t look at the people around you, the church loses its focus and dies. Check out Commissioned!
What we all discussed as a family after our Sunday game was that it truly was a miracle that the church spread as it did in the first century. So many things had to go completely right–and God was obviously in it. But it’s also true that everybody was vital to the process. God really did make us all with our own gifts, and the body needs every part to succeed. It’s a great one to play that also leads to interesting conversations and learning activities. And as you read the different trials that the early church went through, you start to get a glimpse of what some of these early missionary journeys were like.
I’ll be doing another blog post soon where I’ll talk about the game 3 Seeds and the game Unauthorized. But if you’re looking for some strategy games where it shows you what the early church had to contend with, and lets you live out the book of Acts, these are both excellent (and lots of fun!).
And they’re both very high quality, too. The boxes are super sturdy. The game boards are super sturdy. The cards are great. I was really impressed.
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