Thank you for taking some time to talk.
Can you give us a brief history of yourself and where Chara Games came from?
Sure thing! I (Pat) grew up in Connecticut, and my wife (Kat) is from Southern California. We met at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. We have been married for almost 15 years, have 4 children ages 10 and under, and are currently living in South Korea. Being a military family, we use games to make new friends as we move from place to place. We will find a church, invite people over for dinner and a game, and build instant social connections in a new city. After a while, we started to wonder why no one had designed games with all the fun interaction, strategy, and amazing art found in modern board games about Christian concepts. So, we set out to try it. Commissioned was the result. Once we had the game, we learned the real reason. No existing board game company was willing to risk engaging religious themes regardless of how good the actual game is. After receiving some clear guidance, we started Chara Games. Our mission is to build games that create joy by developing relationships between God and people. We feel very strongly that games can play both a discipleship role enhancing a Christian’s understanding of some aspect of their faith, and an outreach role breaking down barriers between Christians and non-Christians to enable relationship-driven engagement with the world around us.
How important is a Christian theme when it comes to titles by Chara Games? Is it just about general fun or are you hoping each game delivers a message?
All of our games will engage a Christian concept or idea from an approach that can be fun to people of all faith backgrounds. So far we have: Commissioned exploring the fear, faith, and wonder present in the early church; 3 Seeds examining the importance of stewardship of your time, money, & labor; and UNAUTHORIZED highlighting the faith, uncertainty, and courage of the underground church throughout history and today. We hope that our games serve as conversation starters. The gameplay and art offer up concepts the players can engage with at many different levels based on their own desires. The game sets the stage, the players have the freedom to explore the space.
There are many “Christian Games” out there but yours found more success with what would be called the “Hobby Gamers”, the people that play and buy games regularly, what is the difference between your games and other typical Christian games? Why did you decide to make something so different, and where did the ideas for your games come from?
Most “Christian Games” are actually games which have been repackaged with a Christian theme. Think, Bible Scattergories. Personally, we think that treating the Christian concept as an afterthought creates a game experience that is disjointed and awkward. Also, most of these games are trivia or classic role-and-move mechanics which do not appeal to Hobby Gamers. Our games strive to create cohesive game experiences by combining a unique theme, with innovative mechanics, and interesting components. This approach means that Chara Games are quality games first. I think Hobby Gamers are very sensitive to this. As for our ideas, come from our experiences in both the church and gaming communities. We try to identify interesting ideas or stories to tell that would resonate in both circles.
What kind of reception have your games had with non-christians?
Commissioned released in January 2016 after a successful Kickstarter in 2015. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We sold out the first printing (2,000 copies) through primarily secular retail channels. It has actually been much harder to reach the Christian audience than the secular audience. Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention Sam Healey from the Dice Tower. He has been a vocal supporter of Commissioned from the beginning, and has helped it reach a larger gaming audience than we could have otherwise! 3 Seeds just released in Nov, and it slowly spreading. It is a very different kind of game, but seems to be getting a good response from the players who participate in our ongoing demos. UNAUTHORIZED just launched on Kickstarter[February], and is going amazingly well. Probably more important to us is how many times we hear from non-Christians who were very hesitant to sit down to a game about church history, and came away pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoyed the game. I think this is the highest praise we could ever receive, and it means we are doing our job!
What goes into making a game and getting it to the masses?
Typically a game takes 2-3 years to go from initial idea to published title. The game will pass through the concept, prototype, development, art, printing, shipping, and marketing/retail stages. Initially, the process moves pretty quickly. An idea can become a prototype in a day. Each subsequent stage tends to take longer. The prototype will take about 6 months to stabilize into a solid, consistent play experience. This stage requires you to play the game over and over (100-200 times) to explore the unexpected nooks and crannies of the design. Once the game is playing well, development distills the essence of the game by cutting away anything from the design that does not add to the core experience envisioned by the designer. Development is a painful process, and usually progresses in parallel with the creation of publishing quality artwork. Typically, the art and development stages end by the 18 month point. Now the game is ready for printing. For independent publishers like us, this means running a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise the financial capital to finance the production and shipping. Kickstarter also provides an initial way to market the game prior to release. Then the game is printed and shipped to Kickstarter backers, distributors, and stores. From this point, the focus shifts to marketing in order to let the target communities (in our case the Church and Gaming communities) know the new game is available for sale. It is a lot, but we have developed relationships over the last few years in order to help us through each of the stages.
It does sound like you have put a lot of work into making some great games. They are games that are both fun to play but can also be useful to teach. What are your hopes and goals for the games as you release them?
Great question! We truly hope that our games will enable people to have fun, build relationships, and deepen their faith. Of course, our games cannot have these effects if they are sitting on a store shelf so one of our biggest hopes is that people will learn our games exist. This is why interviews like this, social media, and marketing is so important!
Does this make the design process more challenging compared to that of a typical “secular” game?
The added challenge we face is designing games with two very different types of players in mind. One set require a robust, deep engagement with the theme in order to create the opportunity to mature their thinking about a specific topic. The other set of players need an immersive play experience which does not dictate to them how they should think about a subject. Nobody wants to be pigeon-holed or taught how to think, especially by a game! Our challenge is to arrange the mechanics, theme, and art in a way that allows the players to engage the game at the level of their choosing, enjoy the gameplay, and create interactions that allow the group of players to have fun together.
Are there obstacles for Christians within the game industry?
We have discovered a couple different kind of obstacles. In the board game industry publishers were very hesitant to include anything with religious overtones. This is why we founded our company in the first place. Beyond that, we have had some European companies refuse to work with us simply because our games include religious content. In terms of engaging with the gamers themselves, the vast majority of people have been very welcoming to us regardless of their personal beliefs. The biggest obstacles so far, however, are found in the Christian retail community. This community is heavily populated with independent owners so it is very hard to effectively communicate to a significant percentage of them. When we do manage to speak with them, they do not see the value in carrying board and card games geared toward teens and adults. It simply is not a need they are used to filling, so they have trouble envisioning demand.
What ways might the Church and Christians use board games for ministry?
There are internal and external uses for games in churches. Internally, games can be used to trigger discussions about important topics and build fellowship across generational lines. It may be hard to get your youth group to sit down around a table with adults in their 60s and 70s, but throw a game down on the table and the picture changes instantly. Want to learn church history? Would you rather sit in a lecture, or play through the challenges facing the early church and by overcoming them learn the legacy of faith they passed on? I know what I would choose! Good luck getting a 14 year old to stay awake and off their cell phone in the church history lecture…
Externally, games can transform the church’s space into welcoming environment for people who would never darken the door of a sanctuary. Mike Perna of Innroads is far better at explaining this than I am, but here is the short version. If you set up a weekly (or every other week) event for gamers of all kinds in your local area, provide some food, open tables, and have absolutely no religious overtones (prayers, messages, etc), you can build relationships with people who have largely been dismissed by society. In time, these relationships can open doors both for personal outreach and larger community involvement outside of your church walls. In essence, games can become the icebreaker between the members of your church and the members of your community.
What are some examples of group or people that are using games in their ministry that we could share with readers?
Here I would point you to Mike Perna of Innroads Ministries. You can link up with him on Facebook or at http://www.inroadsministries.com. Here is the quick blurb on his site: “As the tabletop gaming hobby is seeing unprecedented growth in popularity, the Church has been left in the wake. At best, we have been unaware of how to minister to this community. At worst, the Church has been actively antagonistic of gaming as we speak from a place of ignorance. InnRoads Ministries seeks to bring the gospel to geeks and gamers as well as equipping and educating the Church so that they can be authentic and effective ambassadors for Christ in the community. How do we plan to do this? Why we play games of course. Always remember, adventurer, that when you first enter a town – there is only one place you must go before all others. All great adventures start at the inn.” Mike has some great tools and guidelines to get any church started in the right direction, and he could use both some prayer cover and financial support in his ministry.
What games would you recommend that readers could enjoy with their friends and families?
This is a bit like asking a movie critic what is the best movie of all time. At this point, there is a hobby game to fit any group with pretty much any type of interest. It is more a matter of pairing the game to the people who want to play. That being said, I will throw out a couple of recommendations to get you started. For people who haven’t played a board game since Monopoly, start with “Ticket to Ride.” It is easy to learn, plays in an hour, and will show you that hobby games are more about player decisions than luck. Then I would recommend “Pandemic.” This is a cooperative game about saving the world from disease, and will really expand your definition of what board games are supposed to be. As for games with overt Christian themes, the big three right now are “Kingdom of Solomon,” “Kings of Israel,” and our own game “Commissioned.” These will have a higher learning curve, but videos are available to help you through this!
We are now awaiting the release of your latest game ‘UNAUTHORIZED’ which I had a chance to support on Kickstarter. The game looks and sounds amazing as do your other games. Do you have anything in the works that you can hint at following this release?
First, let me say that we are tremendously excited about the UNAUTHORIZED campaign. I am writing this on Day 2, and we are over 90% funded. This is a huge success for us! The campaign runs through March 9th, so if you get the chance we would love for you to check it out at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/charagames/unauthorized
(As of March 09, 2017 the Kickstarter campaign ended. They raised 373% of their goal)
Beyond UNAUTHORIZED, we are testing a potential expansion to Commissioned, examining some prototypes from outside designers for potential publication, and tinkering with a new design concept we are excited about but it way too early to discuss.
Thank you again for your time. All the best for your future and the future of Chara Games. We pray that God continues to use you and your games in some amazing ways.
Thanks for allowing us to answer your questions! We hope this interview allows your readers to explore the benefits of hobby games for themselves, their families, and their friends!