Game review: Commissioned is a cooperative, Christian-themed historical adventure

Posted April 20

An interesting historic, Christian-themed game by independent publisher Chara Games (read the interview with the designers below) has players taking on the role of Christ's apostles just after his death and resurrection. The goal is to grow the church, collect the books of the New Testament and overcome persecution. Player's have been Commissioned to do the will of God. Let the good works begin!

In the game Commissioned, two to six players work cooperatively for 60 to 90 minutes to meet the goals of a specific scenario. It might be to build churches across the land or have a concentration of members in a certain area. There are five different scenarios in the game to keep things fresh. It adds variety and replay value.

Players begin by selecting one of six apostles. There is Peter, James, John, Barnabas, Andrew and Paul. Each apostle has a different starting deck of cards that allows players to take actions during the game. Additional cards are purchased and added to the decks throughout the game, allowing a player to customize and grow stronger by game's end. Gamers call this game mechanic deck-building.

The board is a map of the Middle East, Europe and Africa showing many of the key cities that were involved in the spread of Christianity. The board is double-sided and one side or the other is used depending on the scenario. The maps are similar to those that might be found in many Bible study courses.

One player is designated the elder for a single turn and gets to make the decisions for the group. A cool wooden staff token is included in the game and given to the player representing the elder for that turn. To begin, all players draw a hand of six cards from their deck to see what actions will be available.

First the elder for the turn draws a trial card. These are bad events that happen such as a grain shortage, being cast into a prison or even an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The effects are immediate. Apostles must be able to endure trials to succeed.

Next players select one or two cards from their hand of six and place them face up on their playmat for all to see. However during card selection an eight-sided die is rolled to determine if players can discuss card selection with each other. Sometimes the roll of the die will indicate silence among the apostles and all cards must be selected without coordination. For a cooperative game, this is devastating, so hopefully the apostles are blessed by the heavens.

The elder for that turn then takes a look at all the cards played by all the apostle players and selects two to play. Some cards allow increased movement, the ability to add new missionary pieces to the board, additional membership in the churches and much more. This is one of the main actions of the game where most of the work gets done, but only the elder gets to do it.

The next thing to do is movement. Unless another card or power breaks the rules, only two moves are allowed. Pieces that can be moved on the board include apostles, missionaries and church members. Apostles and missionaries can move alone or with other pieces to establish a church in a new area, but church members can't travel alone unless they are moving to an area that already contains an established church. If movement or trial cards ever take all of the pieces out of the area where a church was established, that church is extinguished. If that happens five times, all players lose.

After movement, if any area has three or more pieces of any kind, it will grow in size by adding one church member from the supply. This is a strategic part of the game and players should make sure churches always have the potential to grow.

In the next phase, the players take the cards that were played or discarded from their player boards and look at how many purchase points they contain. These points can be used to purchase cards from four different decks in the supply costing one to four purchase points. The higher the value of the card purchased, the more powerful the effect of the card. For example, level-four cards represent the early miracles of the church and can be extremely powerful.

When the goals on the mission scenario card are accomplished, the game ends with a victory for the apostle players. The game can also end in a loss if the deck of trial cards is exhausted or five different churches get extinguished completely (all pieces in that area are eliminated).

Some criticism about the game is the way players are partially inactive until their turn comes up to be the elder. Sometimes play can drag on or feel the same turn after turn. Also, it would have been wonderul to have some interesting artwork on the cards in the game instead of just graphic symbols.

A positive thing about the game is the fact that the designers had the courage to create a Christian-themed game. And it actually has some strategic depth and is fun to play. Components are of excellent quality. The double-sided board is a great value and the individual player boards are wonderful. Gameplay mechanics are unique and a stellar themed reference guide included in the game gives historical background on the journeys of the apostles and adds flavor to the game.

Among Christian-themed games in the market, Commissioned is king. Throw it into the entire market of available games and it loses some of its luster. The game is cool because of its unique theme, mechanics and cooperative nature. This game is educational, insightful and great for families. If the theme sounds interesting, definitely check it out at CharaGames.com

Questions and answers with Patrick and Katherine Lysaght, owners of Chara Games and designers of Commissioned.

Please talk about Chara Games?

For us, board games are all about intentionally investing in relationships with the people around your table. Whether it is with a stranger, friend or family member, board games create a special atmosphere and experience. That is why our mission is to build games that create joy by developing relationships with God and people. It's actually where our name comes from. "Chara" is biblical Greek for enduring joy. We are Christians and longtime gamers who believe there is room to explore Christian themes through board gaming in a way that both strengthens Christians and engages non-Christians in a non-threatening way.

Was it hard to get a Christain-themed board game published?

Commissioned is our proof of concept. After designing it, we attempted to license it to multiple publishers. They all enjoyed the way the game played, but felt that there was no market for a game with a religious theme. Several of them offered to publish a version of the game set in a different period of history with a secular theme, but we felt strongly that there is a market of people waiting for a high-quality game that explores the first century church. Over the course of several months, God brought people into our lives that met practical needs we didn’t even knew we had. Eventually, it became obvious to us that we needed to start a company to bridge the board gaming and church communities we know and love. We spent all of 2015 planning, executing and fulfilling the Kickstarter campaign for Commissioned. Now, the game is available for sale (online and retail stores), and we are looking forward to offering some new titles in 2016.

The game's name "Commissioned" is interesting. How did you decide on it?

Since we are a military family, the term “commissioned” has several levels of meaning for us. At its root, the word means to be assigned a specific duty, instruction or command. Individual Christians are commissioned to live their lives as witnesses of the one who saved them. Jesus Christ specifically commissioned the church to spread the good news of his salvation to the ends of the earth. That particular task has become know as the Great Commission. The name of the game plays off of all of these meanings.

Are there any interesting stories concerning the creation and design of the game Commissioned?

Probably the most interesting story from the design process happened in February 2014. We had been working on the prototype for about a month. It was functioning, but it was downright boring. Players were drawing and resolving good and bad event cards. It was way too repetitive, with long inactive periods between turns. One afternoon we were discussing the design gridlock when Kat said, “Hold on, I am about to explode your brain. What if we make this a deck-building game?” BOOM. It took Pat about 10 minutes to sort through the rubble, but the idea was golden, and faith decks were born. The result was constant player involvement, interesting decisions, and a new way to prevent one player from over-controlling a cooperative game. This is a great example of how our design process works. Pat does most of the detail-oriented, nitty-gritty work of designing. Right about the time his brain gets stuck, Kat rolls in with a fresh perspective and a new idea that gets the process moving again.

What is your favorite aspect of the game?

Pat: I particularly like the tension the game creates within the mind of the player. Do I use this good card now to help the team, or do I save it so I can get an even more powerful faith card into my deck? Two good options. The game hangs in the balance. For me it represents the very real tension between a Christian’s personal walk, and their involvement in the body of Christ. Sometimes I need to give everything I have so the church can accomplish it’s work. Sometimes, I am called to step back and let others contribute so God can grow my faith for future works.

Kat: I love experiencing the story of the early church. Specifically, watching God’s overcoming grace transform the world through the early church’s activity. The last scenario, “To The Ends of the Earth” really captures this. Seeing the gospel spread to India, Ethiopia, Russia, and England in less than 150 years despite intense persecution is flat out amazing. It is a tremendous legacy of faith for Christians, and it changed the course of history.

How is the game doing so far?

This is an interesting question to answer. The short answer is “respectable.” If you include the Kickstarter copies that were pre-ordered, we have shipped roughly 1,500 copies of Commissioned so far. As a brand new, relatively unknown publisher, this is a good start. It means we will be looking into doing a second print run. The interesting fact is that roughly 1,200 of those copies have shipped to the secular board game market. Getting Commissioned into the Christian retail market is proving much more difficult than expected. Whenever we go to a church group or homeschool convention, we get all kinds of attention, but the reality is that there is not a single place we can go to let people know Commissioned is available. Since Christian stores have not been in the habit of carrying quality board games for adults, they don’t necessarily know how to sell Commissioned to their customers. We think there is a tremendous potential market for games like Commissioned, but it is going to take some time (maybe years) to overcome some of the industry barriers.

Can you share any ideas about upcoming titles from Chara Games?

We have three projects in various stages right now. In the fall, we announced an upcoming social-deduction style card game about living in an underground church. The game is called “Unauthorized,” and is currently under art development. We hope to release some samples on our website soon. The game is played in teams with players trying to influence each other toward either the state or the church. The interesting wrinkle is that your loyalty shifts as your cards change. The next prototype will be our project for 2017, and it is too early to comment on. The third game we are hoping will be our first game designed by an outside team. I would love to tell you more, but the licensing contract is still pending. We hope to get more news on this out in the next few weeks. In any event, we will most likely be running a Kickstarter campaign or two this summer. Keep your eyes posted on our website or Facebook page for more information.

Anything else you would like to share?

We hope that if people are looking for information on how to design a game, or have questions on how games can be used in educational or fellowship settings, we hope they will contact us through our website: www.CharaGames.com.

Where can someone find out more about the game and purchase a copy?

Here again, our website and Facebook page are the best way to find us. We have links to videos, reviews, and our Amazon store where you can order a copy right now. Also, for interested readers there is a robust BoardGameGeek page on Commissioned with lots of interesting information about Commissioned. Thanks again for taking the time to review Commissioned. We hope it continues to bring joy to the people around your table, and to your readers.

Email: rmorgenegg@deseretnews.com


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