The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 24, 2002
Kristin E. Holmes, Inquirer Staff Writer
In playing Sect: The Religious Party Game, the first person to land on enlightenment wins.
Players face a choice of 500 questions on the world’s religions, and creator Rick Weber of Mount Laurel says it’s fun.
The General Electric salesman contends that there is a good time to be had in sitting around a table and pondering who helped Jesus carry the cross or the number of times Muslims must pray during the day or what body of water has the West Bank.
“We’ve been through a lot of friends and family playing this game,” said Weber, who is Roman Catholic. “Nothing brings out the competitive nature like a good game of religion.”
The game, being released this month, is a byproduct of a weekly meeting called the Breakfast Club. Every Saturday, Weber and a half-dozen friends gather to eat and discuss current events. One post-Sept. 11 discussion was about Afghanistan and Islamic fundamentalism.
“I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know what the core principles of Islam are, and I would be willing to bet my friends don’t either,’ ” Weber said.
He soon began outlining the foundation of the Sect game, in which players travel around a board and answer questions in four categories: Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Potpourri (a combination of many other religions).
Players collect knowledge pieces when they answer questions correctly. The first one to make it to the center of the board – achieving enlightenment – wins.
Weber’s creation joins a growing list of religious board games on the market, manufacturers and representatives of game associations say.
In Kosherland, contestants spin a spinner to answer questions about kosher foods. In Race to the Kabah, players learn the 99 names of Allah in the Koran, making their way toward the sacred site in Mecca known as the Kabah. In Follow the Leader, players follow in the footsteps of Jesus, solving moral dilemmas.
The increase in religious board games is slow but steady, said Jonathan Albin of the Game Publishers Association, an organization of more than 350 manufacturers. Not only are more games being produced, but distribution is expanding as religious bookstores, catalogs, and a few secular toy stores stock the games.
“I think most parents are looking for good, wholesome activities for their families and their friends,” said Lew Herndon, chairman of the board of Talicor Inc., one of the nation’s largest makers of Christian games. “They want an opportunity to play a game that has content they feel comfortable with and hope there will be some educational aspect to it for their families.”
Talicor produces nine religious games, including a trivia game called Bible Baffle, as well as games based on VeggieTales, the popular Christian multimedia product line, and the Left Behind book series. In Redemption, players take the part of a biblical hero and set out to save lost souls.
Chicago’s Jewish Education Toys produces seven games including Kosherland, Magical Mitvah Park, and Quick Shtick.
“We want to help enrich Jewish pride and identity. Who knows where it could take them?” said Abe Blumberger, who started the company 18 years ago with his twin brother, Jacob.
Jewish and Christian games dominate the religious game market, said Laura Sheahen, who reviews religious games on Beliefnet.com, a religious Web site. There also are games based on Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, and other faith traditions.
Generally, religious board games borrow the structure and strategy from their secular counterparts. There is a game piece, a board, dice or a spinner, and cards, Sheahen said.
“Right now, I’m looking into a game called Exodus: The Game of Passover, and it has a spinner called the wheel of plagues,” Sheahen said.
Beliefnet began reviewing the games last year after noticing an increasing number of games in catalogs for religious merchandise. But the Web site’s staff is having difficulty finding games for the next round of reviews, Sheahen said.
Often, they are mom-and-pop productions of individuals who wanted something wholesome for their families to do.
Zahirah Abdul-Wakil, a Maryland graphic designer, created the bingolike Know Islam, Know Peace as a way to teach her children about Islam. In order to cover a block on your game card, you must explain Islamic historical figures, places and religious principles.
“The first year we used it in our home, and the second year I ended up reproducing copies to give to people for Muslim holiday the Eid [al-Fitr], which follows Ramadan,” Abdul-Wakil said.
Reaction was so enthusiastic, she and her husband began selling the game for $15.95 through catalogs by companies such as Astrolabe Islamic Media.
Abdul-Wakil has sold about 2,000 games this year, compared with 500 last year.
Abdul-Wakil researched Islam in reference books to come up with the concepts that players must explain. She asked several imams to review the game cards for accuracy.
In Mount Laurel, Weber took 10 months to come up with 500 questions and create Sect using $75,000 of his own money. He scoured magazines, newspapers, the Internet and books to write the questions. He asked his sister, who is a nun in the Society of the Holy Child of Jesus order, to review the Christian questions and an Internet rabbi to review the ones on Judaism.
“The more research I did, the more I discovered the common roots in many religions,” Weber said. “We live in a polarized world. It’s us vs. them. Maybe the game could educate people and help them see that ‘they’ are more like ‘us’ than we think.”
Weber maintains that the game – sold for $24.95 on www.sectgame.com – is also fun. The questions are mostly multiple choice, usually with a humorous alternative good for a laugh.
Many of those reviewed by Beliefnet are middling on the fun quotient.
“I would say the majority are not that fun,” Sheahen said. “They are kind of didactic and sometimes hard to figure out.”
Weber says Sect is fairly simple. You roll the die, move the game piece around a multicolored board, and answer a question from one of four categories – a question that could be one of those three posed earlier.
The answers: Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry the cross. Muslims must pray five times a day. The West Bank is on the Jordan River.