Game development

In our congregation, we decided we need to pay more attention to resources that can support the curriculums. We want resources that are fun for kids, don’t feel like weekday school, don’t require any teacher preparation, and support the learning that takes place in the regular curriculums.

Like, for example, board games and card games. We already use a couple of board games in our Sunday school: (1) Wildcraft, a cooperative board game that teaches about herbs, supports some of our ecology courses; and (2) Moksha Patam, a board game that simulates karma, rebirth, etc., supports one of our world religions curriculums.

Ideally, we’d like to have one relevant board game per quarter per age group that we can give to teachers. And while we were talking this over in the curriculum review committee, I started dreaming up a card game about Moses leading the Israelites to freedom across the wilderness. Then I had a day of study leave today, so I could prototype this game, provisionally called: “Exodus, The Card Game.”

The game borrows its basic structure from the classic card game Mille Bornes (if you don’t know Milles Bornes, it will be easier to understand this blog post if you first read the Wikipedia article).

Although I’m borrowing the basic structure of the game from Mille Bornes, there are significant differences. Mostly, Exodus is a faster-paced game, more suited to the short time allotted to Sunday school classes. And I had to make other changes to fit the narrative of the book of Exodus — I wanted to make sure that as you play you get some sense of the narrative of Exodus…such as the fact that G-d released fiery serpents that attacked the Israelites, but then G-d told Moses to make a brass serpent that would heal serpents bites (Num. 21:6-8). Before researching this game, I didn’t even remember about the fiery serpents. It’s a pretty strange thing to include in the narrative, and one of my learning goals (and part of my theological interpretation) for Exodus, The Card Game is to help kids understand that the story of Exodus is pretty weird. It’s not trying to be an accurate historical account, nor is it some kind of scientific explanation — rather, it is a narrative filled with fantastical elements that reveal G-d’s character.

My other big learning goal and theological component for the game is, not surprisingly, to give some understanding of G-d’s character. First and foremost, G-d is not all kittens-and-rainbows, as for example when G-d sends the fiery serpents to bite the Israelites. Second, G-d does not follow human logic and is ultimately unknowable by humans; this is symbolized for the Israelites in part by spelling G-d’s name without vowels: “YHWH” (this idiosyncratic spelling is retained in the game in the English name for G-d). Third, while G-d is not omnibenevolent, G-d does want justice for humans and for the land; this theological interpretation of G-d’s character is communicated by the social justice flavor of the G-d Given Right Cards. A lesser fourth point is that G-d’s power do have some limits to them; G-d is not wholly omnipotent. So it is the game tries to help the players get a small sense of G-d’s character.

Above: Sample cards from the prototype deck

More details about the game below. If I ever put the game into production, I’ll let you know how you can get a copy….

Update 4/14/18: Major revisions to game rules and narrative now complete. Both images updated. I won’t revise this post any more; any future rules revisions will be incorporated into the production game (if it’s ever put into production). Continue reading “Game development”

This is what chaos looks like

Today was the first day of Peace Camp at the San Jose UU Church. One of the things we did today was to play non-competitive games (of course). All kids who live here on the Peninsula seem to know a game they call Chaos Tag. This quickly became the favorite Peace Camp game. It’s fast, frenetic, it takes skill to play well but it can be played with pleasure by mixed age groups, from 5 to adults — a perfect game for a peace camp.

This is what Chaos Tag looks like:

BlogJun1614

I’m interested in the fact that this game is such a big part of of kids’ folklore here on the Peninsula. Every kid I’ve met from San Jose to Atherton seems to know and and love this game, and they’ll play for hours. (However, when I worked at the Berkeley UU church a decade ago, I don’t remember kids ever playing Chaos Tag; and one of the young adults on Peace Camp staff who grew up in the East Bay knew the game with slightly different rules under the name “Everybody’s It.”) I’m fascinated with the way this non-competitive game has sunk so deeply into Peninsula kids’ culture — how much they enjoy it, how hard and how long they play.

Sometimes education is a matter of finding out that the kids are already doing the right thing, and then telling them to do more of it.

 

(Note on the photo above: We do have media releases for the kids in Peace Camp, but nevertheless I deliberately blurred facial features in the photo above to preserve anonymity.)

Moksha Patam

Moksha Patam is the classic board game from India (on which “Chutes and Ladders” is based). This game symbolizes the journey through life, and presents Hindu ideas of reincarnation, various virtues, etc.

Back in 2010, Sudha, a blogger living in Mumbai, wrote an excellent post on “Param Pada Sopanam,” another name for the same basic game, saying in part:

“Traditionally, Parama Pada Sopanam is played on the night of Vaikuntha Ekadashi (the 11th day after the new moon in the Tamil month of Margazhi). Many Hindus believe that the door to Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Vishnu, will be wide open to welcome the devout and the faithful. Hindus also believe that dying on Vaikuntha Ekadashi will take them directly to the abode of Vishnu, liberating them from the cycle of rebirth. On this day, the devout stay up all night fasting and praying and playing the game helps them pass the time till dawn, when the fast is broken.”

For more cultural background on the game, read the entire post here.

I first ran across Moksha Patam in the old Holidays and Holy Days curriculum. However, that was in another UU congregation, and in my current congregation, the Holidays and Holy Days curriculum is missing Moksha Patam. So I went looking for a version online.

I found that you can play online with up to four players here. I discovered that Kreeda, a games company based in India, makes a version under the name of “Param Pada Sopanam” (scroll down). However, as of this writing, they do not ship to the U.S.

So I made my own version, which we will use in the Sunday school here in Palo Alto. Below are two PDF files that can be printed out, trimmed, and made into a Moksha Patam playing surface.

Moksha Patam game board thumbnail 2

Moksha Patam game board umbnail 1

(N.B.: These links go to my curriculum Web site.)

The rules are the same as for “Chutes and Ladders,” or “Snakes and Ladders.”

Note that the squares at the heads of the snakes have the name of a Hindu demon — or the name of a person who is, in Hindu stories, bad or evil — these squares also have the name of a vice, or bad quality, in parentheses. Traditionally, landing on one of these squares would provide an opportunity to tell a little something about the demon or person — thus incorporating Hindu stories into the playing of the game.

I particularly like the fact that no skill is involved in playing this game — only random chance. Perhaps this implies that there is nothing we can do to escape the endless cycle of rebirths; it is all chance….

Update: After reading Erp’s comment below, I checked on Wikipedia, and discovered that game boards do vary in size. Wikipedia also points out that this game (under the name “Snakes and Ladders”) appears in Salman Rushdie’s book Midnight’s Children. Here’s what Rushdie says about the game, in the chapter titled “Snakes and Ladders”:

“The moment I was old enough to play board games, I fell in love with Snakes and Ladders. O perfect balance of rewards and penalties! O seemingly random choices made by tumbling dice! Clambering up ladders, slithering down snakes, I spent some of the happiest days of my life. …

“All games have morals; and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you hope to climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner, and for every snake a ladder will compensate. But it’s more than that; no mere carrot-and-stick affair; because implicit in the game is unchanging twoness of things, the duality of up against down, good against evil; the solid rationality of ladders balances the occult sinuosities of the serpent; in the opposition of staircase and cobra we can see, metaphorically, all conceivable oppositions, Alpha against Omega, father against mother; here is the war of Mary and Musa, and the polarities of knees and nose … [ellipsis in original] but I found very early in my life, that the game lacked one crucial dimension, that of ambiguity — because as events are about to show, it is also possible to slither down a ladder and climb to triumph of the venom of a snake …” — Midnight’s Children (New York: Random House, 2006), p. 160.

Non-competitive games

We’re running our Peace Experiments program, in which we try to give kids a positive experience of peacefulness through activities like meditation, stories, conversation, songs, learning to ride unicycles — and this week we’ll be playing non-competitive games.

Actually the games are not precisely non-cometitive. They can be very competitive, there’s just not a clear binary distinction between winner(s) and loser(s). Our society tends to train us to perceive the world in terms of winners and losers. So what happens when you mess with that perception, by playing games where winning and losing are redefined? That’s what we’ll be experimenting with this week.

Below are 9 different tag games, all of which mess with the binary distinction between winners and losers.

Continue reading “Non-competitive games”

Games sampler

A bunch of games for you to play, as presented at Pot of Gold Religious Education Conference today.

What are games? Games are FUN. Games have AN OUTCOME. Games are SOCIAL.

Some types of games useful in UU groups:
— Icebreaker and name games: for whenever you have a newcomer
— Classic kid games: for any age, just to have fun
— Fantasy games: unleashing fantasy and creativity
— Active games: get up and get moving
— Simulation or teaching games: learning by doing
— Theatre games: awareness of self, awareness of others
— Energy breaks: very short activities designed to regulate the group’s energy level

Every game-playing group of which I’ve been a part — from Sunday school classes with little kids to adult groups — usually has one or two games that they love best, and the group can play that game over and over again. My goal with every group is to try a bunch of games until I find at least one game we want to play over and over again. Of course I want to play lots of different games, but if there are one or two favorites, then when all other plans fail, we all know that at least we can play our favorite game. The games below marked “Fave Game” been a favorite game of at least one group I’ve led or been a part of.

Please note that rules of games are mutable — you may know one or more of these games with slightly different rules. The rules given here are rules that I know work, but you should change and adapt them as you wish.

Continue reading “Games sampler”

OWL dollars

We’re running the Our Whole Lives (OWL) comprehensive sexuality education program for grades 7-9 here in the Palo Alto congregation, and today we did the second session, which includes an activity known as the “Values Auction,” where the youth bid on values like being honest, living a good life, etc. The curriculum suggests that you use play money from a board game such as Monopoly — but you also need $300 in play twenties, which is more money than most board games give you. So I made some OWL dollars.

Since I’m sure other people running the OWL program run into the same problem, I figured I’d post the OWL dollars online here as a PDF. You print out the whole sheet, then trim each OWL dollar to exactly 2 inches by four and a quarter inches (it goes really quickly using a paper cutter). Each sheet has ten OWL dollars, so you need one and a half sheets per participant. It’s a big file, so it may take a while to open.

Sheet of 10 “OWL dollars” (3.9 MB PDF file)