I have taught Sunday school, led youth group, or been a camp counselor now for fourteen years. I also love to play games. That means that during that time I have played more than my fair share of “Christian” board and card games. By and large these games are terrible. Many of these are religious version of mass market games, such as Apples to Apples: Bible Edition. I think in nearly every case I have experienced, the Christianized version of a game is actually less fun and less compelling than the original version. It has also been my experience that these Christian games are not all that edifying. They tend to be religious themed diversions much more than teaching tools that are fun. In the realm of Christian education and in gaming there is a gap. There is not a game that managed to teach the subject matter competently and still be a fun, engaging game on its own merit. Jared Beiswenger is seeking to bridge this gap with his game Verses. Verses is a game that tries to teach the important spiritual discipline of memorizing scripture. . . “without actually having to memorize scripture.”
In this game there is a common deck made up of two types of cards. Verse cards are mostly blank and list a scripture citation on them. The other cards contain the text of the various scriptures on the verse cards. Depending on the number of players a certain number of cards will be dealt to each player and a certain number will be put face up in the center of the table.
This game does not have a traditional turn structure, but is instead played in real time. Players are attempting to find matches for the verse cards with the text cards. At any time players may discard a card from their hand to the center of the table and then either take another card in the center or draw a card from the deck. The use of bibles to look up the scripture citations is very much encouraged, and unless playing with Bible Jedi it is more less a requirement.
When a player makes a match, how they proceed is up to them. They may announce a match and then read the scripture out loud. Doing this will be worth one point. The player may also attempt to quickly memorize the scripture and then recite it from memory. Depending how long the scripture is this can be worth from two to five points. It is up to the group to decide how merciful or judging they will be in counting the scripture if the reciter does not get it exactly word for word.
If at any point it is discovered that a player made a bad match, then the person who discovered it may take one of those cards and the offender will get a -2 point card. The number of players determines what the point threshold is, and the first person to reach that number wins.
I am very pleased that as a game this delivers on being fun and engaging. The use of a real time structure is unique and it really turns up the excitement in the game play. This game has a frantic race feel to it. The idea behind this game is very unique, but it is also relatively simple. This means that this game is both accessible to brand new players but it will keep the interest of players over multiple plays. This game has a quick play time as well, and this helps foster a “let’s do it again” response.
I am also pleased that this game fulfills its objective of being educational. This game naturally teaches the skill of navigating a bible and looking up references. This is a much needed skill in churches today. I have gotten blank stares from youth and adults when I ask them to turn to something like Hosea 3:1. This game also does begin to teach the various scriptures included in it. This becomes more obvious when a group plays the game multiple times in a row. After a few plays, the players begin to recognize certain passages from previous games.
There is a bit of a logistics problem in playing this game. One potential strategy that a player can employ is to look up a single scripture reference and then rapidly discard and draw through the deck to try and find it. The rules do not prohibit this, and it creates a bit of a mess on the table as the game quickly devolves into a big pile of cards. It is worth noting when I played this with teens who did not play a lot of games, they did not even think of this. When I played with adults who play a lot of games, this was what they immediately did.
Another drawback to the game is that this does suffer a bit from the trivia game problem. In trivia games the person who knows the subject material the best has a much higher chance of winning. That is true here. If there is a player whose understanding and familiarity with the bible is greater than all of the other players, then they will likely dominate the game.
These first two points reveals what might be the biggest flaw of the game. It does not fully stand on its own as a game. In the context of a Sunday school, confirmation class, or bible study it works well. However, this is not a game that I could bring to my weekly gaming meet up. More so than most games, this requires a very specific audience.
This game succeeds at what it sought out to do. This game has a place and fills a niche in many a church classrooms. It is a game that teaches a vital skill in Christian education and it does so in an engaging and entertaining way. This is a game that will not come out at most family game nights, but it was not meant to. Sunday school teachers, youth ministers, and other Christian educators should get and use this valuable resource. Verses is only available through the website drivethrucards and can be purchases for a reasonable $6.50 plus shipping.