The Ungame, Christian Version: A Mini-Review

NOTE: Perhaps Jedediah, Naomi, Hannah, and I have all been living under individual rocks in some distant boulder field, and we are the only ones who have never heard of the Ungame. Perhaps everyone, including people who don’t identify themselves as Christians, know that a Christian edition of the Ungame exists–and perhaps, brilliant people that you are, you all know everything there is to know about even the most spiritual questions. Or perhaps not. If literally everyone knows about this game, why have I never seen it mentioned in the detail-oriented memoirs I read? Besides, this game is so helpful–so spiritually intense, even–that it merits being reviewed here. Brief Reviews as posted on this blog feature a readily-available product or service that, for whatever reason, I have found spiritually helpful. Last time, I reviewed Cibolo Mountain Coffee Drinks as an alternative to Starbucks, since Starbucks has begun supporting practices I find unbiblical. The Ungame is a bit different in that I find it edifying on its own merits.

18 December was a positive flurry of activity. Together, Hannah and I traveled from the Christian bookstore to Wal-Mart to Panera Bread in search of the prefect gifts and wrappings. Well, we didn’t exactly find those at Panera Bread, but we did manage to gift ourselves with a delicious grilled fontina sandwich and a bowl of cheese-filled tortellini… Anyway, most of the afternoon was spent in reading carefully through the Christian bookstore’s entire shelf of devotionals. I ask you, executives at mass merchandisers, where are all those beautiful books by Catherine Marshall that no Christian library should be without?

In the midst of all this browsing, Hannah pointed out to me the Ungame, a board game whose main object is to connect friends and families on a more personal level. On impulse I bought it, despite my uncertainty. First of all, this box claimed to be “The Ungame: Christian Version”. What did that mean? Usually, attempting to make something more Christian-oriented results in a gimmick rather than a genuine exercise in anything remotely related to prayer, worship, or fellowship. For another thing, we had far too many games already. Was the Ungame going to be relegated to the shelves in our storage cupboards where Monopoly and Scrabble had languished for years? And then, of course, there was that small problem of relatability. Was this game going to turn out to be too juvenile, designed for “ALL AGES” to the extent that we would be answering questions about our favorite colours and Sesame Street characters? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the game itself advertised something a bit more mentally and emotionally engaging for ages five and up, and I wasn’t sure whether it could actually deliver. Even as I brought the game to the cash register, I wondered what I was doing with such a light purchase when I could be buying, say, an expensive coffee maker for Naomi, who needed a good cup of decaffeinated Givalia far more than she needed to answer questions about her hopes and dreams.

To my relief and utter astonishment, those fears were unfounded. Naomi saw right through that wrapping, through the box and game pieces and board and cards, and right into my heart where a longing to get to know my loved-ones had carved out a jagged, gaping hole. Perhaps your family is like mine. Perhaps you need an icebreaker that goes beyond the traditional getting-to-know-you stunts for a business or youth group meeting. And perhaps those you’re serving will be like my family–expecting a light-hearted experience and ending up with a worship-filled forty-five minutes, for some of the suggested ways of connecting are that intense. For purposes of this review, I will be reviewing the Christian version of this game, but a mainstream version is also on the market.

First, why the unique title? Because the Ungame is one of bonding rather than competition. The object is simply to get around the game board for a specified length of time or number of rounds, all the while getting to know one another. No one wins or loses, per se. Unless, of course, your turn involves singing a worship song. Then, if everyone joins in, and you stay on your knees for three hours, then I suppose we can say that God used you to bring about a glorious moment. But still, no winning or losing–just a redirected experience!

The Ungame features a game board with three different types of spaces–“Ungame”, “Comment/Question”, and If…”. Players roll a dice and move the designated number of spaces. Hint: If you consistently roll primarily even numbers, you have a higher chance of landing on Ungame spaces–just the way the board was designed.

If a player lands on an Ungame space, he takes a card from one of the decks and answers the question on it in a paragraph or so. The mainstream game includes two decks of cards–a lighter, more humourous deck and a deeper deck that features questions like, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” and, “If your best friend were to write a book about you, what do you think it would be called?” and, “What is one thing that you would never do?”. The Christian version has a third deck with stirring, thought-provoking spiritual questions. I’ll return to it momentarily.

If a player lands on a comment/question space, he is invited to remark on a previous player’s answers to Ungame questions, ask a question of his own, share insights about his life with the group, or simply say whatever comes to mind. I actually took this a bit too literally when we were playing today. After several turns without having gotten an Ungame card, I exclaimed, “I’m never going to get a question–and, yes, that’s my comment!” The Christian version suggests that this might be a good time to pray for another player. Next time we play, I think I’ll expand the idea and have everyone join me in a worship song. Perhaps I’ll try to teach everyone that old Paul Wilbur favourite of mine, “In Your Presence, O God”.

Then, there are the “If…” spaces. These are a good way to express emotion in a non-threatening environment. “If you are feeling worried about something,” one space might say, “the go to Worry Wharf.” And, indeed, there is a space so marked and decorated several spaces away from that particular “If…” space. If you are feeling worried and hence place your playing piece at Worry Wharf, there are points of re-entry at your next turn. If you’re not feeling particularly worried, you stay on the “If…” space and go on with the game. At this point, you have the option of expressing what concerns you may have, or keeping them close–but it’s a lovely way to allow for periodic expression of emotion with or without elaboration.

When we began playing, we started with the deeper set of cards, the ones that come in most versions of this game. You see, the instructions for the Christian version are exactly what are included in the mainstream version, and the deck of Christian-themed cards was not listed. I discovered them accidentally, at which point we switched simply because the Christian cards were so profound and intriguing. Sample questions–and, no, I’m really not spoiling anything because there were so many: “Do you believe God still heals today?” “What does [Resurrection Day] mean to you?” “Describe three reasons why you believe in the existence of God.” “If you were asked to preach a sermon or give a message, on what topic would you speak?” “What is your favorite hymn or inspirational song, and why?”

Oh, so very, very beautiful! I talk about the things of the Lord all the time, but I never know whether anyone is listening–not really. This game compelled us all to stop and listen, even if only for an hour or so. For the first time, I learned that Naomi used to participate in prayer meetings that her youth group held in the hayloft of a barn, but that there was far more profound, intensive prayer than there was play or “ice-breaker games” or anything else. Once again, I heard Jedediah’s heart when he quoted Hebrews and described the ways in which He sensed God’s presence as a child, long before he gave his heart to the Lord. Hannah’s words were among the most touching, for she described for the first time the day when she was fully, completely immersed in His presence, surrounded by His manifest glory in such a way that she could only bow before Him. HALLELUJAH!

That hour was one of the most precious times of fellowship I have experienced within the past year-and-a-half. We prayed for each other, sang “In the Garden” under Hannah’s direction, comforted one another regarding spiritual valleys through which we had traveled, and praised His name together as each of us recounted what the Lord had done in our lives. We all needed it–perhaps more than we knew. The game I feared might be a gimmick was anything but. True, we could lighten the mood one of these days by choosing from a different set of cards, and we might–but, knowing me, I will probably still find a way to transform a simple question into a serious spiritual one. “Describe an embarrassing middle-school moment,” someone will ask, to which I will reply, “Well, there was the time when I was offered an opportunity to approach an assignment from a Biblical perspective but didn’t take it. I mean, I know that’s shame rather than embarrassment, but…” But that’s just how my mind works–for everyone else, you can make this game as serious or as light-hearted as you want.

Then, too, I can see this game being helpful in conflict resolution. How on earth? Well, I don’t know about you, but conflicts tend to involve the simultaneous raising of at least two voices in the sometimes-frustrated circles in which I move. Suppose we took out some of these cards when one of us we saw an argument on the horizon–not exclusively, since we wouldn’t want to link something as lovely and thought-provoking as the Ungame with stressful situations, but on occasion. Then, since no one is permitted to speak during each person’s turn, suppose we connected each Ungame question with the problem at hand, using the first deck for small difficulties, the more profound deck for larger but still carnal difficulties, and the Christian deck for spiritual challenges. Most of the questions on the cards are worded in such a way as to permit association with anything you want. Besides, breaking up a difficult discussion about relocating to a new city with, say, a card inquiring about your favourite quote, might make it easier to return to the problem at hand by providing a five-minute break. Then, too, when players reached comment/question spaces on the board, this would provide an opportunity for calm, constructive discussion, without any of the dual- or triple-voiced arguing that so often ensues. The Ungame would be the proverbial talking stick. Or am I simply too unconventional for my own good when it comes to using common objects for something other than their intended purposes?

In any case, I know what the Ungame provided for me and my loved-ones–the chance for positive communication, an opportunity to discuss the things of the Lord, and the privilege of demonstrating our love to one another in ways we might not have thought of ourselves as we fought our way through the current of our impossible schedules. It caused us to re-evaluate some of our own priorities, beliefs about the things of God, and reasons for thinking and feeling the way we do in everyday life. My point is not really that every household needs the Ungame–I know I’ve made it sound like that. My point is that no household should be without communication. The Ungame is a light, or at least somewhat light, starting point is you’re like we were and don’t know where to begin.

And if you already have it? Then, my beloved reader, I leave you with three questions you can write on some of the blank cards provided

Fun Question: If you had to be confined for a year in one building without ever going outdoors, but had unlimited access to food, media, family and friends, etc., in which building would you choose to live?

Serious Question: What social convention or value do you follow or embrace, but wish you didn’t?

Christian Question: Which part of the armor of God means the most to you on a consistent basis?

And, since I thoroughly enjoy communication with my readers–despite the fact that my screen-reader doesn’t allow me to show it very often–I would love to read everyone’s answers in the comments…

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