What is a wargame? (Answer…DON’T ASK).
I recently acquired a new game. From designer R. Ben Madison and White Dog Games in 2020 comes The Mission: Early Christianity from the Crucifixion to the Crusades – A Solitaire Boardgame. In many ways this “game” is not in my wheelhouse because it comes with two strikes; the game mechanism is solitaire-by-design and the topic is religion. A bit to my surprise, I found The Mission to be a very engaging game design and topic.
Wargame or Boardgame?
For very personal reasons, I hesitate to call any game about religion a “wargame.” When I was looking at the sales material about The Mission I noted the solitaire game mechanisms are built upon the venerable States of Siege game engine—very much a wargame. But then the subtitle of The Mission calls itself, “A Solitaire Boardgame” so I found some comfort. Once I got the box and read more I found this discussion on the box back:
Beginners and experienced players will find this an intriguing, and very different kind of game. While certainly a war of ideas, it is still very much a war game, where victory depends upon managing scarce resources (including Holy Relics!) and making shrewd strategic decisions to benefit the Church. The Mission is a power-politics overview of the Early Church form its beginnings through the Crusades, but one that never loses sight of the importance of church-building and pastoral ministry.The Mission, box back
Now, I read my history books and I understand there were holy wars throughout time immortal, but is the creation of the Church a war? A challenging viewpoint from designer R. Ben Madison. My experience with a few R. Ben Madison designs taught me that he often has a viewpoint and is not afraid to wear it on his shoulder. This is especially the case in his very strong pro-British viewpoints in Mrs. Thatcher’s War or Don’t Tread on Me. Would he do the same here and show irreverence at the history of the Church?
Alas, designer R. Ben Madison in The Mission uses the States of Siege game engine to deliver a unique and thought-provoking view of the rise of early Christianity. While playing The Mission I never actually felt like I was in a wargame, even when combat was involved. Instead, I strongly felt the resource-management, almost engine-building aspects of the game. At the same time, it inspired me to seek out more knowledge and build understanding.
Much of The Mission is actually presented without real commentary. The game turn track—called the Acts Track—relates historical events and there is some historical commentary in the rule book. While playing the game I found myself actually looking for more information than was provided. What exactly were those Heresies? Further, while your “mission” in The Mission is to grow the Church, in many ways you are “along for the ride” as events will happen with or without your actions. The actions you do take won’t really stop/start the rise the Church, but they will influence the degrees of success (or failure) on the rise.
One commentator, Dan Thurot at Space Biff, states, “The Mission is too preoccupied with being playable.” In this case I don’t mind that emphasis, as it lets me play a “game” of religion without too much commentary.
Get Used to Different
Religion and myself have an on-again, off-again relationship. I was strong as a youth, fell out as a young adult, was luke-warm for some years, and recently have tried again. Playing The Mission has supported my return to religion, if for no other reason than it has inspired me to learn more. Playing games to learn about and better understand the world is one of the major reasons I continue in this hobby (and why Eurogames—so often just game mechanisms with thin themes pasted on—usually fail to attract or keep my attention). What I really enjoy about The Mission is how it can “teach without preach;” i.e. it gives me a relatable pathway to learning without throwing it in my face.
The Mission is going to be on the table for a bit as I experience it more. In this case a slow-play is quite welcome as the game becomes a vehicle to learning and not just a pass-the-time entertainer. R. Ben Madison in The Mission has given me a very different wargame that takes some getting used to, but is impressive in its ability to deliver an experience far beyond the simple gameplay on the table.
Feature image courtesy teepublic.com