A Board Game for the Faithful

Published December 11, 2007, issue of December 14, 2007.
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You roll the eight-sided die and land on the “Blow the shofar and roll again” space; the next roll puts you on a “question card” space, and you’re asked, “Which Hebrew letter would be on a shield or mezuzah holder?”

Would you know the answer? Would your kids?

Erik Newton of Campbell, Calif., hopes you would, or at least that you’d play “Given” — a board game that he and his family invented as an outgrowth of their weekly Sabbath quizzes — and learn the right answer.

Players start the game in Egypt and must wend their way through the Middle East, donating money and time on their way to the finish line in Jerusalem. Along the way, they learn about Judaism by answering questions and doing tzedakah — charitable tasks that require moving a few spaces backward. Answers to the questions can be found in a Jewish fact book that comes with the game.

“It creates affinity, affiliation and pride in being Jewish,” said Newton, 41, a high-tech marketing veteran who married a Japanese woman and wanted their two sons — Kaz, 11, and Riki, 14 — to embrace their Jewish heritage. “It’s easier to be part of things that you feel you like and enjoy, so the game is a playful, interesting way to look at 5,000 years of history.”

“It gives people a very strong base in which to say, ‘Yeah, I’m Jewish, and happy to be,’” he said. “There’s no culture like us. We’re all lucky to be part of it, but we need to do something to hang on to it.”

And Newton said that making tzedakah an integral part of the game’s play has had a distinct influence on the way that his kids live their lives: The more you play, the more “you start thinking about scoring yourself in real life.”

“My kids play a big role in this game; I wanted to create a family business they could participate in,” he said. And so Kaz and Riki spend about one to two hours assembling each game set — gluing the offset-printed game board onto specially produced cardboard backing; scrubbing and applying stickers to the stone game pieces; bagging cards, and so on.

The Newtons are donating their profits to charity, and they are seeking an institutional sponsor so that they can lower their price from the current $29.99 plus shipping. “Given” was launched in mid-2007 and is coming to the end of its first run of 160 game sets; Newton said his family hopes to move about 800 sets next year, with an updated fact book and cards, but those won’t be assembled by hand anymore.

“The first editions we expect to be collectors’ items,” he said. “The boys have told me they’re going to be working on this game for the rest of their lives, so 50 years from now, we’ll be on version 15, I guess.” For more information, go to www.givengame.org.

Josh Richman covers politics and legal affairs for California’s Oakland Tribune and Bay Area News Group.


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