I have a confession to make: I love board games.
Okay, that’s kind of obvious since I am one of the people who writes board game reviews for this site. And I have another confession as well: on top of that loving board games, I am addicted to backing them on Kickstarter. It’s bad, but as of writing this I have backed a total of 88 games. Two of them I just backed today.
Speaking of the two I just backed, one of them is what brings me here today. I was going through my weekly emails from game publishers and Kickstarter and other random come-back-our-project emails. That’s when something caught my eye. Now, a lot of things catch my eye, but this one was different. It was a Christian game, for a change–well, an expansion. And if a game gets an expansion, that normally means the base game was welll-recieved and successful.
Now here is the thing about Christian games: they, um, all tend to kind of really suck. So I was skeptical about this one. However, after looking up some reviews from reviewers that are well respected in the gaming world, such as Dan King from Gameboy Geek and Sam Healey, formerly of The Dice Tower; and after my interview with Patrick, the designer and owner of the company; I am all in. Here is my interview and I hope you will join us for this kickstarter.
Andrew Miller: Tell us about yourself and your faith.
Patrick Lysaght: Hello, my name is Patrick Lysaght. I am a Christian, husband, father of 4, and a board gamer. As a member of the U.S. Military, I have lived in many different places and attended many different types of churches, but would describe myself as a non-denominational Protestant. I grew up in a Christian home and did everything you can do in a church (choir, youth groups, etc), but didn’t start actively pursuing my faith until college. At that point, I began to really read the Bible for the first time. This forced me to wrestle with the person and claims of Jesus. I have been following Him ever since. I have been privileged to do a little formal academic study of Christianity as a part of my Master’s Degree. My wife and I have had the opportunity to serve in several churches as small group study leaders and youth ministry volunteers.
AM: How did you get into board gaming?
PL: I grew up playing war games with my brother in the long winters of New England. In 2004, a ministry friend introduced me to Settlers of Catan. This opened my eyes to the whole world of modern games for adults. These games prioritize meaningful decisions over random chance, and became a tool for us to quickly develop friends after a military move. Find a church, invite some people over for dinner & games, then voila instant community. As our kids have grown, these games have allowed us to build relationships with them in unique ways.
AM: When did you realize you wanted to design games / did it feel like a calling or a whim?
PL: Games for us have always been about building relationships with family and friends. I started designing to try to create a game that different members of my extended family would like. That was a secular game, and it was on a whim. In the process of attempting to get that game published, I stumbled into the rapidly growing American board gaming subculture in 2013. This is a community of millions with major conventions in all 50 states. Every year over 3,000 new games are released, and the industry generates close to $4 Billion (with a B). What I found in the midst of these 25-45 year olds was a hunger for community and relationships. I also discovered the complete lack of any Christian presence in the industry. That was when I approached my wife about specifically designing a game using the rule systems of modern board games to explore topics of interest to Christians. This was a calling, not a whim. This is why we started Chara Games with the mission to build games that create Joy by developing relationships with God and people.
AM: Why Christian-centric games specifically?
PL: Secular games, as you would expect, run the spectrum in terms of complexity, length, and subject matter. They can be competitive, cooperative, or create direct conflict. When we started Chara Games, the only Christian games were either trivia-based, or popular secular games with Bible characters pasted on them. In short, Christian games were terrible. Almost universally. We decided we wanted to make high quality games capable of doing two things at the same time. First, a player of any faith background (or none) could sit down at a table and have fun playing the game. Second, a Christian player would be able to engage the theme or subject of the game at a deeper level, and potentially learn something through play. No other companies would consider making games because they did not anticipate a financial market large enough to support the games. We know. We asked more than 20 different major board game companies. So, God led us to start Chara Games, and He has met us at the point of greatest need ever since!
AM: So much Christian media is made primarily for other Christians and becomes somewhat unpalatable for outsiders. How do you design Christian games that are appealing to non-Christians?
PL: This is a critical question. Remember that play is a voluntary investment of a player’s time for purposes of recreation. Most Christian games are actually educational tools, and players smell that “bait-and-switch” coming a mile away. We have found the key to making a great game about a Christian topic is to ensure that the player has multiple, meaningful decisions to make throughout the game that actually impact the outcome of play. If you build a game with a “right answer” you haven’t actually given a player a real choice. For example, our flagship game “Commissioned” explores the history of the early Church by immersing players into the historical circumstances of the first century (complete with Government oppression, religious persecution, and natural disasters), and then challenges players to try to accomplish what the early Church actually did. This is used as a setting. It does not dictate how the player needs to think about the early Church, it simply poses the strategic challenge and invites the players to respond. As they play, the players will encounter literally hundreds of Biblical events and concepts, but the approach allows them to engage with these themes at their desired level. We even incorporated a theme appendix with the Scriptural and historical information behind all of the cards. We find this approach honors the free will God gave to secular gamers while still building space for Christian gamers to dive deeply into the legacy passed on by the early Church.
AM: How do you take material that can be sacred or sensitive and make it “fun” in a respectful way?
PL: This is both essential and challenging, especially when you think about all the different streams of faith traditions that find their roots in the early Church. Step one is to take a giant dose of humility. This is God’s story to tell, not ours. Step two is to identify what is the core truth that absolutely must be handled correctly, and what falls into freedom issues where well-meaning Christians who love God can explore a challenging topic through civil dialogue. Step three is to try to minimize the presence of Step two items in the design. These kinds of conflicts tend to confuse secular gamers, and distract from the intended play experience. Step four, we cannot overstate the importance of testing a design with people of a wide variety of faith beliefs (Christian and not). In this process, you will uncover the “hot spots” where your design either incorrectly represents something, or omits something critical. Step five, work and rework on the graphic layout of the design. You will need to show it to that same variety of people to make sure that both the overall art approach and the items represented do not distract from the truths being communicated through the game’s experience.
AM: Being a Christian in the board gaming community, have you ever experienced resistance from the rest of the community?
PL: Actually, Chara Games receives way more critical (and downright hostile) feedback from inside Christian circles than from the secular board gaming community. Secular gamers play games to have fun and build community. If they don’t want to encounter Christian topics, they normally just avoid us. It is very rare for someone intent on seeking entertainment through play to focus on attacking a game they don’t like. Christians, unfortunately, don’t seem to have that same grace. At an industry level, we have encountered some game companies and distributors who will not carry our games because of their religious content, but these examples are the very small minority.
AM: What was your inspiration for Commissioned? Why not, for instance, something about the Gospels, or the Old Testament?
PL: I had just finished a class in early Church history, and my wife had just finished a Bible study on Acts. We set out to tell some of the stories we had learned in our studies that did not seem to be as well known in most American churches. When it comes to church history, we thought adults, teens, and families would prefer to learn through play instead of lecture or incredibly thick academic writing. As it turns out, another company called “FunHill Games” has since released several titles dealing with the Old Testament and now with the Disciples.
AM: Give us your best elevator pitch for the base game, and what does the expansion add?
PL: Commissioned is a 2-6 player, 1 hour, historically themed cooperative game. Players take on the role of the Apostles, and work together using unique Faith decks to overcome the Trial deck full of the natural disasters, religious persecution, and government oppression the early Church actually faced in the first 150 years of Church history.
The Call expansion adds 2 new scenarios, 2 new Apostles, a solo play mode, and a Chains module. The Call explores conflict inside the early church as early Christians worked through the challenges of living out their new faith.
AM: How did you know you wanted to do an expansion, and how did you figure out what to add?
PL: We always knew there was more story to tell in and through Commissioned. As we set out to design The Call, we really focused in on dealing with the reality that early Christians (just like us) were broken people with hurts, hangups, and habits of their own to address. The New Testament is full of stories about churches and individuals inside the Church not acting well. This would have created both a leadership challenge and a mission distraction for the Apostles to address. The Call’s new scenarios, trials, Apostles, and Chains translate these concepts into the game space for players to confront.
AM: Why Kickstarter, why not retail?
PL: Our games are actually available through both Amazon and local specialty game stores. That being said, we use Kickstarter because our small company can not afford the significant initial printing costs. Games need to be printed in 2,000 unit runs. This requires thousands of dollars for printing, shipping, and warehousing. The Kickstarter system allows our backers to get our games before they are available in stores at the same time as it enables us to create the games in the first place. Additionally, sales through Amazon and stores reduce the actual funds collected by our company by 50% due to industry distribution standards. Supporting us through Kickstarter ensures that Chara Games will continue to design, publish, and sell high-quality games addressing Christian topics.
AM: The review process is always nerve-wracking, and I’m sure it was even moreso given the theme of the game. How did you decide which reviewers to reach out to?
PL: Since 2014, Chara Games has been able to build relationships across the board game industry. We are privileged to have met and befriended some of the industry’s biggest names in reviewing. While they do not unanimously approve of our games, they do recognize that we produce high-quality games. This allows us to get a fair hearing. Additionally, we have a slowly expanding fan-base of people who make review videos. It helps to have some people you know really understand what your company is trying to do!
AM: Where can we find your other games?
PL: Commissioned, 3 Seeds, UNAUTHORIZED, & Soul of the Empire are normally available through Amazon and in local game stores. Right now, however, these games are only available through our Kickstarter campaign for The Call.
AM: Our readers want more! Where can they find you online?
PL: We would love to speak with them and answer any additional questions they might have! They can reach us at:
AM: Any last thoughts, plugs, goals, or prayer requests?
PL: We just want to say thank you for letting us talk about what God is doing through our company. We hope your readers will check out The Call on Kickstarter (Click here) and ask us some more questions!
There you have it! At the time of writing this the campaign has raised $23,717 which means the digital version on TableTop Simulator Will be available to all backers. The next goal is $35,000 which means that the game can go to more game stores and be seen by more people. I hope you join us! If you have any questions post them on the Kickstarter and Patrick will answer them. The last day to back is November 20th.