Board Games' Higher Calling

Some of today's lesser-known board games are simply "divine."

Instead of buying up Boardwalk in "Monopoly" or climbing Gumdrop Mountain in "Candyland," players are saving lost souls in "Redemption" and wading through gefilte fish in "Kosherland."

There's a whole set of religious-themed board games on the market today that are growing in popularity.

Some are spin-offs of classic favorites like the "Bingo"-style "Know Islam, Know Peace" and the "Trivial Pursuit"-like "Bible Baffle." Others, like "Redemption," are original, and still others, like "Bible Man," are based on theatrical or movie characters.

"Our sales have grown dramatically over the years," said Lew Herndon, chairman of the board of Talicor Inc., one of the largest makers of Christian games in the country.

Herndon declined to disclose figures but said hundreds of thousands of people buy Talicor's holy games each year.

In Talicor's "Redemption," players take the part of a Biblical hero like Moses and go about saving lost souls. The company's "Bible Man" is based on a spiritual superhero who fights evildoers. And "The Overboard Adventure Game," based on Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, takes players along on Jonah's adventures.

Christianity isn't the only religion to be infused into family-friendly games. There are lines of Jewish, Islamic and Hindu games, too.

Jewish Educational Toys makes "Kosherland" and "Torah Slides and Ladders," inspired by "Candyland" and "Chutes and Ladders," respectively.

"It's Jewish, as opposed to a game like 'Monopoly' that has nothing to do with being Jewish," said Lonny Rosen, an employee at Little Israel in Sunrise, Fla., which sells Judaic products. Rosen said there's been an increase in sales of the games.

Astrolabe Islamic Media makes games for Muslim children such as "Race to the Kabah," which resembles "Trivial Pursuit." Players must learn the 99 names of Allah as written in the Quran, while they make their way toward the sacred Mecca building known as the Kabah. The company also sells Arabic flash cards, Islam-themed puzzles and mosque building block sets.

A spokesman for Hasbro, which owns game giants Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers, said he understands why religious versions of old favorites have taken off.

"Games are a great socializing device," said public relations director Mark Morris. "And they're a wonderful way to reinforce ideas that your group might believe in."

Games have also been proven an effective teaching and learning tool, he said.

"Way back in the 1860s, Milton Bradley understood that kids learn when they're having fun," Morris said of the man who invented many of today's enduring board games.

Still, some people are skeptical about the concept of religious board games.

"I don't believe in pushing religion like that," said Jim Smith, 40, a self-proclaimed Christian from Indianapolis, Ind. "When you buy stuff like that, it's more or less pushing it on your kids."

Smith said he'd buy the games if his teenaged children asked for them, but said his strict religious upbringing inspired him to give his daughters and stepsons more choices.

"I don't want to force them but I won't keep something from them either," he said.

Tina Barden, a 30-something Catholic from Long Island, N.Y., said she wouldn't be purchasing any Christian-themed games for her nieces and nephews, either.

"I think that borders almost on ridiculousness," she said. "In a way, it almost trivializes it. It's people making money off something that deserves more serious consideration. It doesn't sit well with me."

Talicor's Herndon said many parents who buy religious games for their family do it to counteract what their kids see on television.

"A lot of Christians are not really happy with the message that's coming across TV and in the various media to their children," he said. "They want to provide good, wholesome products for their children to play with."