How would Jesus play board games?

I love board games.  I have for my entire life.  The more strategic, the better.  I’m not sure whether it’s because my family and friends consist of nerds, boring adults in their 30s, or Mormons, but they all play along with my obsession.

(Pictured: my game shelves as of 2 months ago.  They’ve grown since then.)


I dream of making a pilgrimage to the annual BoardGameGeek Convention.  In lieu of that, I’ve established a bonus religious ritual: Sunday nights are games nights.  Nothing says “love thy neighbor” like subversively thwarting them at Ticket to Ride, PowerGrid, or Avalon.

Recently, while extending invitations between Sacrament Meeting and Sunday School for yet another Sunday evening of strategic conquest, a stray thought surfaced.  How would Jesus play board games?

I remember a primary lesson that has always captured my imagination.  The teacher encouraged us to be helpful and kind in our families, because we never know when Jesus might walk in and crash Sunday dinner.    Jesus would be sad if we hadn’t picked up our toys even though mommy had asked, or if we were fighting with our siblings.

Sibling bickery isn’t really a concern anymore — but fierce sibling rivalry is.  If Jesus walked into my house on a Sunday night now, we wouldn’t be discussing the Kingdom of God, we’d be playing Kingdom Builder.

How would Jesus react to a cheerful invitation to join the fray?

We often remark that Jesus must have a sense of humor, and presumably he’s the perfect guest.  So I’m assuming Jesus pulls up a chair and accepts.

My game nights usually start with a warm-up card game.  My Catholic fiancé suggests a round of poker.  Oh dear.  Apparently he’s missed the Mormon memo.  The stakes are only “loser has to do the dishes” vs. “winner gets dessert first,” but will Jesus deign to play?  What’s the current doctrinal status of condemning games of chance?  Are face cards still verboten?  Is only “gambling” involving actual money evil?

Thankfully the crisis is averted.  Some friends brought their kid with them to game night.  He bounds up the stairs, squeals with glee, and jumps on Jesus’s knee.

“Suffer the children, to choose a game,” Jesus smiles.

“Monopoly!!!!” shouts the kid.  (They always pick Monopoly.  Sigh.)

A hush falls across the room.  Does condemnation of games of chance extend to –any– game involving rolled dice or shuffled cards?  Everyone knows Monopoly is more about luck than skill.

But Jesus agrees.  As the game is set up, he chooses the humble, abandoned thimble.  “For the last shall be first, and the first shall be last,” Jesus mutters, glaring at my battleship.

The mad dash to acquire and develop property commences.  Soon, one player lands on a hotel and is faced with imminent bankruptcy.  Jesus chastises the remaining players.  “Ye have not succored the poor and needy.”

Then, unexpectedly, Jesus gathers up everyone’s cash and deeds, and places them in front of himself.  “I hereby establish Monopoly: United Order Edition, and reveal under you the Law of Consecration.  Bring all thy property unto the storehouse…”

Wait.  Did Jesus just win?  Or did we all tie?  I’m confused.

The kid scampers off to avoid bedtime, so I pull out Settlers of Catan — the universal gateway game.

I watch Jesus carefully as he selects starting settlements at the intersection of pasture, grain, and ocean.  (He is, after all, the good shepherd, the bread of life, and the fisher of men.)  What will Jesus, the perfectly merciful do?  Will he give away all of his wheat to anyone who asks, sparing no thought for his own victory points?

Thankfully, no.  Apparently Jesus has a competitive streak.  And honestly, such infinitely kind play would have been annoying.  It reminds me of an afternoon my brother and I (aged 10 and 9) played Pirateer with my mother.  We kept capturing her ships.  We concluded mom either lacked strategy or had a weird puritanical hangup about pirate-tanical violence.  After my brother accused her of being boring, she claimed she had played that way intentionally so as to not bruise our young egos.  We scoffed.  Our egos didn’t need protecting, we were just better than mom at games.  With a gleam in her eye, she challenged us to a rematch.  And promptly crushed both of us.  My respect for my mother grew three sizes that day.

Jesus deserves even greater respect — and he is no respecter of persons.  And so Jesus plays Settlers as the perfectly just.  I don’t know whether he knows every dice roll and player move in advance, but he never takes advantage of that foreknowledge (if he has it).  Instead, after building road upon road, and city upon city, he executes a series of perfect rule manipulation.  In a flurry of action Jesus deploys a soldier, robs my brick, builds a settlement to cut off my longest road, and proclaims victory.

Hmmm.  After that stinging defeat, perhaps a cooperative game will work better?  So I pull Pandemic off the shelf.  The whole table is globetrotting, trying to find a cure, when we collectively realize we’re likely doomed.  It’s Jesus’s turn next.  We await the whims of fate, the sting of death.  Instead Jesus declares that his kingdom is not of this game, waves his hand, and blesses the entire world to be healed of plague.

* * *

I have no idea if my foolish imaginings about the theology of board games bear any semblance to reality, but it would be a delightful spiritual adventure to find out.   So Jesus — my house, this Sunday, 7pm?  I want to see how you handle Sheriff of Nottingham’s contraband (maybe by turning water into wine?).  I’ll make snickerdoodles.


  1. Michael says:

    I actually wonder about this a lot, probably too much.

  2. How wonderful.

    My atheist friends are fond of affectionately referring to Jesus as my magic sky friend (not particularly original of them), because they know I too think about things like this. If Jesus came to my house these days of a Sunday evening, we’d be talking favorite My Little Ponies (His would totally be Fluttershy, though He loves them all), and the-miracle-of-the-making-the-baby-sleep-through-the-night (Oh please. oh please, Lord.)

    It would be awesome.

  3. Jason K. says:

    What I want to know is how Jesus reacts when, in a round of our own Sunday evening favorite, Ticket to Ride, someone else builds in one of those bottlenecks and completely wrecks his route.

  4. Ha ha ha. Monopoly: united order edition. I’m dying.
    My Grandma always told me face cards were evil but I grew up playing them and a little evil wasn’t going to stop me. After years and years of disdain for the card games we played she admitted that they probably weren’t that bad since they brought so much family togetherness. A year before she died we got her to play a game of 5 crowns with us. She lost by a land slide but was a good sport about it. Somehow, that’s how I picture Jesus (Mormon Jesus anyway) playing games.
    As I side note, there was a time in elementary school when me and a few friends would play black Jack for dimes after school. Then, one of the friend’s dad became an apostle and she wouldn’t play anymore after that.

  5. Carolyn says:

    @Jason: My top question on Ticket to Ride is Jesus’s mission strategy. All the missions? Only missions he can complete in pairs? Long missions? Short missions? Would he –ever– intentionally block or thwart someone else’s mission?

  6. Jesus would never let anyone suffer through playing Monopoly. “No child, if old games of capitalist conquest is your heart”s desire I would suggest Rail Barron or maybe Acquire.”

    The I would guess he would conjure out of his bag a new game, the perfect game – balanced, deep, efficient, and interactive where every turn has consequence but no one is excluded too early. Maybe a cosmos builder theme called Kolob or a cooperative game, Loaves and Fishes?

    He would of course end with a EIGK Draft 4 player Agricola.

  7. jaxjensen says:

    When playing games with Jesus, are you allowed to bet him your soul and then intentionally lose?

  8. Jason K. says:

    And what happens if Jesus draws tickets that he can’t make? And what if you prevent him from making them by ending the game precipitously? Will resolving the cosmic implications of these questions require a Third Vatican Council?

  9. I’m reeeeeally curious about how He would handle asymmetrical games like Fury of Dracula, or something like Coup. Both require a certain degree of ruthlessness, perhaps even deviousness, to really succeed at (especially if he’s playing as Dracula!).

    Also, can even He beat Robinson Crusoe?

  10. Carolyn says:

    If Jesus knows all things, does that mean we won’t have to explain any rules to him, ever? Has Jesus already played and mastered all games?

  11. Apparently dissing Monopoly gets one”s comment stuck in moderation :)

  12. DaDof10 says:

    Hurray to all my fellow board game lovers! I love all the mentions of board games that are not the mainstream/mass market. I just feel less alone than I did before. Did anybody else scan the shelves of board games to see how many they could identify?

  13. The first time we played Sheriff of Nottingham I used the strategy of always telling the truth. It worked beautifully as everyone assumed I was more likely to lie with each round. I massacred everyone. Could Jesus win without ever lying? Or would everyone just assume he was always telling the truth so he could do whatever he wants?

  14. Carolyn says:

    ^^^ That strategy works beautifully until everyone who has played has played a lot. And then they discover just how valuable contraband is, and suddenly tons of expected-value-of-contraband-vs-bribes calculations start getting done, and it gets brilliant.

  15. Michael H says:

    How would Jesus play ultimate frisbee? How would Jesus sing in an a capella group?

  16. I may have to play that one more. I always love some good expected value calculations.

  17. RockiesGma says:

    Board games were rainy day games at my house, so we were out playing the “real” games outside until dark or unrelenting downpours had our moms calling us inside. When I was little I often wondered if Jesus would bat a thousand and always wanted him on my team in the neighborhood. (Note that I never once thought of it as me being on his team.) Then when I grew up and matured (cough, cough) I wanted him to be with the Phillies as I got married and started a family. I figured his curve ball and slider would be perfection every pitch and with his batting a thousand the Phils would forever be World Champs! Glory that. (Heaven forbid Jesus ever be a Yankee!)

    Wouldn’t He be fun at Bunko??

  18. I love board games. What an incredible piece of writing and such a grand imagination.

  19. Aussie Mormon says:

    Does twister count as a board game?

  20. Jason K. says:

    Now *that* is a choice mental image…

  21. If Jesus comes to my house, I hope he plays Monopoly with my son so I don’t have to. Or has he already done that and I’m playing these games for nothing? I get confused.

  22. The only game Jesus plays is the game of Life.

  23. Great collection. :) I love board games. :)

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