I was asked by Scripture Union to come along to their North of England meet up of local mission partners and run a repeating 20 session talking about boardgames. It was very ad hoc and I talked generally about what I do using board games and answered questions from those who attended about how they can be used. I provided everyone with a document covering a bit about what I do, why boardgame ministry is a growing thing and a list of games with the links they can make to scripture. That’s what this post contains! So with no further ado here is the handout I created for it:
Board Games as Ministry
Who am I?
I’m Stephen Taylor and I’ve been a massive geek for many years. As a kid and teenager I was really into wargaming, roleplaying and board gaming which continued as I went into university. After uni initially I was a teacher, and I saw that a lot of kids who weren’t sporty or arty didn’t really have anything they could do together and would often struggle with being lonely and not having many friends. So I started running ‘geek’ clubs after school that were massively successful, in the 3 schools I ran them I had over 10% of the schools population on the attendance register.
When I started my role as Family Support Worker at Bispham All Hallows I knew I wanted to set this outreach up, based on the fact it had been so successful in schools. Scripture Union helped me to do so, providing the funding to get started. It also helped that there were a couple of church games clubs set up around the north of England, particularly the dice.cafe in Clitheroe which was set up by Rev. Andy Gray who I work very closely with.
Your Turn received a Good News Grant of £1000 and started in September 2017, meeting monthly. It started with just 8 attendees and has grown now to over 30 regulars including some who see it as the highlight of their month, a couple of families who have started coming to our messy church services and one couple who are having their child baptised with us later this month. There’s also one man who comes along who is in a wheelchair, and up until he came along to Your Turn he had spent 4 years housebound and scared to go out to events on his own. He loves board games and felt that a club at a church would be a safe, welcoming place to come. Since then he has attended multiple events at church and has gained a lot of confidence in himself.
Off the back of my work with Your Turn I have received funding from a local children’s and community centre to run a family game morning during holidays aimed at 2-11s. It has been quite successful so far in the 4 sessions we’ve run, with the largest having over 20 children attend. I run a club in a primary school and one in a secondary school. Both were excited at the prospect of it providing something for those children who struggle to connect with others. I also assist local churches who want to set up gaming events – Dolphinholme St Marks, Anchorsholme All Saints and South Shore St Marys so far, and will be running a holiday club based around games for another local church in the next year.
I run a website called www.gamesforall.net where I write up about games both video and board to help parents and youth workers understand what kids are talking about and give questions to help players explore their character and faith through the games.
Why Gaming Events?
Gaming events can actively help to combat loneliness especially amongst children, teenagers and young adults. They have the bonus of being particularly appealing to boys without being excluding of girls, so appeals to both genders. Also, they are truly intergenerational, I cannot think of any other activity where an unrelated 80-year-old and a 11-year-old would not only willingly sit together for 3 hours, but genuinely enjoy themselves whilst doing so and build a lasting relationship through it. It’s incredibly good for people with additional needs, particularly those relating to social skills and learning difficulties. They connect with games incredibly well because of the structured social interaction that gaming provides. It’s also a ‘geeks thing’, and geeks aren’t known in general for their social skills (massive generalisation there but you get my point) so it reaches people who don’t feel comfortable in other outreach events we provide – Christians in sports and sports ministry, and celebrations/church events.
Gaming allows people to naturally open up about themselves, to engage in conversation together, to build real and lasting friendships. Through these relationships those attending will become comfortable in a church building and comfortable talking about God. These conversations can plant the seeds and then lead into further discussions and activities where the games used for Your Turn can be further used to explore the Gospel – I am in the process of creating and testing a holiday club with a similar format to messy church/explore together but where discussion questions are used to link the experience in the board game to core Christian values.
Why Board Games?
Gaming, particularly boarding and tabletop gaming is going through a ‘Golden Age’ of sorts at the moment. The interest has been steadily rising over the past 5 years as evidenced by Google Trends:
There are many ‘board game cafes’ opening across the country (Edinburgh’s Game Hub, Oxford’s Thirsty Meeples, London’s Draughts to name a few of the better-known ones) where people come together to meet new people and play tabletop games again google trend data demonstrates the increasing interest:
The UK Games Expo was large enough this year to hire out 2 halls of the NEC in Birmingham, attracting 39000 attendees and next year they plan on hiring out yet another hall to cope with the growing number of people interested.
On the back of all this there are quite a few different Facebook groups and online forums looking at using games as part of ministry, I first stumbled across a large outreach based in America called Innroads Ministreries which are a charity of board game missionaries and are amazing people, and 2 of the largest game reviewers in the world – Tom Vasel and Sam Healey from the dice tower – are American pastors and run services at conventions and the Dice Steeple podcast.
In the UK I am part of a group of over 70 other ministers/leaders who are in the process of, or already have set up Gaming Mission Groups. If you add me on Facebook @SteTaylorGamer I can invite you to the group as it is closed to public access.
In a time when many of our young people are connecting solely through their online personas, sitting in their rooms and talking to a screen; there is a need for opportunities for face to face social interaction. Some find that through sports clubs, uniformed organisations and/or youth clubs. But many feel socially isolated, suffering whilst labelled as ‘geeks’ or ‘nerds’ – game nights provide them with somewhere they feel comfortable to come and be themselves. Tabletop and board gaming requires face to face interaction and conversation and can bring people together as a group.
What Games to use?
The beauty of board game ministry is that all (or at least the majority of) games will have some link to God’s Word.
It can be glaringly obvious in things like Kings of Israel – a game trying to save the people of Israel from sin and certain destruction and other Christian games that are out there;
Some games require co-operative play, working together towards a common goal helping one another out and being good neighbours;
Others may contain objects linked to our faith – Patchwork by Mayfair games has only one free piece – and it is cross shaped – and gives 3 points towards victory!
Others may not have an obvious link but will allow you to explore the ideas of sin and virtue using the game as a springboard to the conversation – you played an ‘evil’ character? How did that make you feel? Did you feel you could trust anyone? Would you want to feel that way all the time? etc.
It can also work with classic games that everyone will have around the house – Monopoly can be used to talk about the unforgiving servant, or even the parable of the builders as its using buildings in it. Jenga is awesome for the parable of the builders and can very visually show how sin can cause us to feel stressed and like we’re going to collapse. Cluedo can be used to talk about how difficult it can be to discern God’s will or how easy it is for people to hide their true intentions.
Suggested list (limited only to the games I bought with SU’s Good News Fund, otherwise it would be far too massive!):
- One Night Ultimate Series – there are quite a few variations of this game, Werewolf, Vampire, Alien, Supervillain. They are all hidden role games, the aim is for the Villagers to identify the monsters amongst them, the monsters have to try and remain hidden. I have used this to talk about how easily Herod remained hidden.
- Camel Up – in this game you have to predict the outcome of camel races. It can be a little close to gambling, but it is great for talking about the old testament as most people will have travelled by camel, and it can be used to talk about how humans can’t know exactly what’s going to happen next but God does.
- Pandemic – in this game you are working as a team trying to stop 4 diseases that are ravaging the Earth. It links into healing and can be used to talk about the spread of sin.
- SmallWorld – a lot like risk, you try to control as much territory you can, and when you run out of units to use you can retire them and start to grow a new civilisation, but all the civilisations you grow give victory points to you. It can be used to talk about the eternity of God, that no matter how many civilisations come and go, God will always be there and will always be honoured.
- Ticket to Ride:Europe – You claim train tracks between stations all across Europe, aiming to complete as many tickets as possible for points. You can talk about missionary work, spreading God’s word across the world.
- Settlers of Catan – You are playing as new settlers on an island competing to build your settlement the fastest. It’s perfect for talking about Kingdom building.
- Hanabi – you work as a group to put on a firework display by placing down sets of cards, but you aren’t allowed to look at your own hand, and can only give limited hints to each other. Ties well with 12 Corinthians and how we’re all the body of Christ.
- Forbidden Island – work together to collect the treasures off the island before it sinks. Links with any stories about water, linking with walking on water, Noah etc.
- Kingdomino – a bit like dominoes but everyone has their own kingdmon that they are going to build in a 5×5 square. Definitely links to kingdom building.
- King of Tokyo – the most popular game at my groups – yahtzee but with giant monsters. Theres a lot of pushing your luck and deciding whens best to run away. As its based on combat it can be used to talk about Israel’s armies. It can also be used to talk about standing firm in your beliefs, as to win you need to choose to stay in even when things seemed stacked against you.
- Rhino Hero Super Battle – oversized super heroes copete to reach the top of the tower first, but their weight may make it topple down. You build a tower and try not to be the one to knock it down. Clearly links to the parable of the builders.
- Takenoko – build a Japanese garden for a giant panda to live in, growing bamboo and feeding the panda, collecting points until the emporer visits. Links in with parable of the sower and how we need to be fed with Scripture regularly.
- CodeNames – work together to figure out the codenames of agents around the world using just a single word and a number, but be careful not to accidentally pick the assassin. It can link to the early church and how difficult it was to find other Christians.
- 7 Wonders – build your civilisation over 3 ages, aiming to be the most successful civilisation. Many of the civilisations link to the Bible, Egypt, Rome, Greece, Babylon etc. so you can talk about the history of the Bible.
- Kayanak – ice fishing polar bears, a very fun and interactive game. Links into the miraculous catch really well.
- Ice Cool – flicking penguins around a board trying to collect fish – can talk about feeding the 5000 and jesus with the fisherman with it.
- Loony Quest – draw your path on acetate before placing it over the map and seeing if you were correct. Really good for talking about taking our own path vs taking God’s path.