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Subject: A strange but intriguing experience rss

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Jeffery Bass
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What's this? Why, it's the Hiller Flying Platform! It flew in 1955.
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This is a preliminary review of Blasphemy by Pinstripe Publishing. I saw this game demoed at KublaCon in San Francisco and I purchased a copy. I've played only twice, so please keep in mind that my experience with the game is somewhat limited.

In this game, 2-4 players each take the role of a would-be Jesus. The goal is for the winning player to survive long enough to be crucified before anyone else. At the game's end, the crucified winner is, by default, the real Jesus and the others are revealed, by losing, to be false messiahs. While there is nothing in this game that is overtly offensive, such as an in-your-face ridicule of the tenets of the religion or any outright disrespect toward the main character of the faith, the mere fact that this subject material is used *at all*, as raw material for a board game, and with a whimsical tone, is probably enough to provoke offense in some people. I won't address those issues, here. Instead, I will simply illuminate the game mechanics as best I can.

Basics
The game is relatively simple in execution with a turn-based, roll-and-move mechanism very similar to Talisman. During play, cards are collected which provide certain useful effects for each player's respective Jesus. There aren't many difficult issues of hand management, though, as there is no limit to how many cards you can collect. You simply pick up as many of them as you can and use them as often as possible. Along the way, players collect "Faith", the currency of the game, which must be accumulated and hoarded in large supply to survive the end-game.


Components
The game designers get mostly high marks for components. Right off the bat, the game comes in an unusually long and skinny box, 33-inches long and only 7-inches wide. The game board is made of a high quality game felt which is unrolled to reveal a beautiful and colorful tableau. The board represents in graphic form the narrative of the life of each player's Jesus. I suppose the plotted movement-path is similar to Knizia's Lord of the Rings cooperative game. Or the Game of Life, for that matter. Anyway, using the roll of an enormous six-sided die (called the Holy Roller), each player will move along the game track which is at times linear and other times looping and multi-branching. Beginning on the banks of the Jordan River, each Jesus will get baptized by John the Baptist, wander in the wilderness, begin their ministry in up to 10 different cities, eventually journey to Jerusalem, participate in the Last Supper, suffer in Gethsemane then march to the Cross. The scripted nature of this activity as a game element reminded me very much of moving the Fellowship in War of the Ring. Imagine the Mordor game track leading to the Cracks of Doom, but with 200-300 spaces instead of just six or seven, and you have the idea of this game's layout. Each differently colored Jesus is a sculpted miniature, which I assume were mass purchased from a supplier of religious icons. These are straight-forward, no-fooling Jesus figurines.

Baptist
Players begin in the Baptist section and spend some time chasing John the Baptist around trying to get baptized. When a player's Jesus occupies the same space as John the Baptist, a card is drawn to see if the player gets baptized or not. There is a 63% chance they will, based on the available card effects. Fortunate players will escape this section quickly and get a head start on their "career" while others flounder around with unlucky die rolls trying to get their Jesus into action. Along the way, players will collect and invest in "Faith", the game's currency, which they will need in large supply to survive to the end-game. This is the same predicament, but framed in reverse, as Frodo experiences in War of The Ring when he strives to enter Mordor with a minimum of Corruption. In Blasphemy, rather than trying to minimize a growing supply of Corruption, players struggle to manage a dwindling supply of Faith. The same effect.

Wilderness
Once players have gotten duly baptized, they journey through the Wilderness. This phase of the game is important because this is where players accumulate very powerful Vision cards which they use later, during their Ministry, to grow a legion of followers, a task that must be undertaken to increase each Jesus's supply of Faith. Somewhat problematic in the two games I played, at least one player managed to emerge from the Wilderness without a sufficient supply of Vision cards. These players were crippled for the rest of the game, as there is no real way to recover from this deficit other than to be thrown at the mercy of random card draws. The most useful Vision card is Win Followers, of which there is a 24% supply. So, most of the Vision cards are of lesser utility.

Ministry
Each Jesus eventually emerges from the Wilderness into a world of interconnected biblical cities, such as Jericho, Nazareth, Capernaum, etc., where the bulk of the game's time will be spent trying to invest in a future supply of Faith by first visiting Markets, Synagogues, the Countryside and the Sea of Gallilee in order to develop followers. When a player scores a success in attracting followers, they do not receive an immediate benefit, but later in the game these followers will be "cashed in" to receive a bonus of Faith currency, which is increased by various multipliers. Statistically, the worst performing areas are the Countryside sections which yield the highest percentage of negative results (i.e. losing Faith, losing a turn, etc.), while the best areas seem to be the Synagogues. To keep a player who is in the lead from running away with the game, there are also three very powerful cards in the Vision deck which, when played by a Jesus lucky enough to possess one, completely erase the accumulated followers of every Jesus on the board. Essentially a game reset. The rules suggest these cards be considered as optional. They are similar in effect to the "Raiders" in Talisman.

Jerusalem
When a player thinks his Jesus has attracted enough followers to make a break for the Cross, he "cashes in" his followers for Faith, then transitions to the Jerusalem section of the board. Here the player's Jesus marches a linear path through various Faith-reducing encounters, such as the Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane. In the games I played, it was usually possible to determine at this point whether a player had enough Faith left to survive until the final end game. The problem is that the Jerusalem section represents a point of no return: You cannot go back to the Ministry section to shore up your Faith if you run low. If your Faith is exhausted in Jerusalem, you are eliminated from the game and the other players continue.

The Cross
Having survived the Jerusalem experience, the player's Jesus experiences the Passover and gets arrested by the Romans. The player rolls the die. If it's a "3", his Jesus has been released from prison and will not be crucified. And the player therefore loses the game! So, at this point you have a 16.6% chance to lose on one die roll. If you survive, you march the final series of spaces on the game track, one space at a time, while losing Faith every step of the way. On the penultimate step, you must Cast Lots, by calling the number first before rolling the die. If this die is any other result, you lose Faith and must attempt a new Cast Lots phase next turn, losing 2 Faith with each failure. According to the rules: "If the exact number you called is rolled, Jesus is crucified. Hoist Jesus onto the Cross. You win the game!" One of the more prominent game components is a 5-inch wooden cross which sits upright, and empty, for the entire game at the end of the movement track. There is a little stand on the Cross for your Jesus figure to be placed in proper position for the winning event, the Crucifixion.

Conclusion
The subject matter of this game will be a stumbling block to many people. In terms of game mechanisms and the game experience these were some of the good points and bad points from my two games:

Plusses
- Nice components. Especially the felt game board.
- Whimsical but tasteful (mostly)
- Suspenseful
- Not too long (about 2 hours)

Minuses
- Card components physically OK but lacking in graphic appeal (i.e. completely blank, white background with black text.) This is a bit of an inconsistency considering how gorgeous the board is.
- All of the usual problems with roll-and-move mechanism (limited choices) and ample opportunity for a few unlucky die rolls to put a player hopelessly behind the others.
- Occasionally hard to interpret the rules. This isn't helped by the fact that there are six separate rules pamphlets, one for each section of the board. It is a bit lugubrious to have to hang on to these six documents, thumbing through one while dropping the others, instead of referring to a single rule booklet.
- The giant Holy Roller die would often career across the board, its powerful momentum scattering tiles and Jesuses like rag dolls. Not sure the big die adds much. Just use a normal die.

As a clever foray into a borderline taboo subject area that manages to provide some interesting moments, I give the game a 6.5. In terms of game mechanics and satisfaction level, I think it is similar to Talisman, for good or bad. The challenge is in finding the right people to play the game with you! This game will most likely be of interest to those who collect boardgames and who keep an eye out for an occasional offering that pushes the envelope in one form or another. This one does.
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j b Goodwin

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Re: Blasphemy: A strange but intriguing experience
SkyGazer wrote:
While there is nothing in this game that is "over the line" in bad taste...


Wow. That statement itself is a bit mind-boggling.
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Steve R Bullock
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SkyGazer wrote:
There is a little stand on the Cross for your Jesus figure to be placed in proper position for the winning event, the Crucifixion.


Wow...pretty sweet! If it would include the soundtrack to "Life of Brian" I would buy it!
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Karl Fritz
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SkyGazer wrote:

Basics
The game is relatively simple in execution....


"execution" Nice way to start out! Was this intentional?
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justin easley
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SkyGazer wrote:
According to the rules: "If the exact number you called is rolled, Jesus is crucified. Hoist Jesus onto the Cross. You win the game!"


regardless of your theological beliefs...dying on the cross wouldn't translate into your character being the true Jesus and thus the winner...shouldn't the winning condition be if your Jesus was the one that rose from the dead?

this game is already broken.
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Chris Kice
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gameInformant wrote:
SkyGazer wrote:
According to the rules: "If the exact number you called is rolled, Jesus is crucified. Hoist Jesus onto the Cross. You win the game!"


regardless of your theological beliefs...dying on the cross wouldn't translate into your character being the true Jesus and thus the winner...shouldn't the winning condition be if your Jesus was the one that rose from the dead?


You are just trying to become a religious figure, not the Son of God "real" Jesus. At least, that's how we played it - as posers shooting for eternal fame and not eternal heavenly glory.

This game was probably my biggest surprise of GenCon 2008. What's even more interesting is that you actually have to be somewhat versed in the story of Jesus's life to get a lot of the subtle humor. (At one point, you roll to see if Pontius Pilot lets you go which causes you to automatically lose the game [since you can't get crucified]. Those of us that did go to Sunday School had to explain it to one of the players.) While many may find the humor in bad taste, it ends up teaching people about the life of Jesus.
 
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Josh Stein
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Nekura wrote:

This game was probably my biggest surprise of GenCon 2008. What's even more interesting is that you actually have to be somewhat versed in the story of Jesus's life to get a lot of the subtle humor. (At one point, you roll to see if Pontius Pilot lets you go which causes you to automatically lose the game [since you can't get crucified]. Those of us that did go to Sunday School had to explain it to one of the players.) While many may find the humor in bad taste, it ends up teaching people about the life of Jesus.


I concur that playing this game with someone who is knowledgeable about the bible really helps. I picked this up at GenCon '08 and a group of four of us sat down to play it for the first time in the general gaming area. One of the players had been through years of religious training, so was able to explain some of the subtle humor to the rest of us - we had more than a few good chuckles.

And on another note, of all the games we played this year at the Con, this one - by far - garnered the most attention. NUMEROUS people stopped by to watch, laugh and (one in particular) frown at this game.
 
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Matt Smith
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2097 wrote:
Where's the choices? Seems like all script and no meaningful choices, or did I miss something?

I just played this twice at WinterCon last weekend. There aren't many choices in the game, but there are a few:

1. How long to spend in the wilderness. You have four opportunities to leave the wilderness early. Normally you want to stay in the wilderness as long as possible to collect more vision cards, but if you're running behind, you may want to start your ministry earlier, so you can attract some followers before someone else makes a run for Jerusalem.

2. When to spend your "reaction" vision cards in the ministry section. Cards like Divine Intervention and Convert Followers should be used wisely to keep yourself in the game.

3. How much faith is enough faith to make a break for Jerusalem. This is a push your luck decision, but at least it's a decision.

4. Where to send John when you can't land on him. Often this doesn't matter, but occasionally it does.

I think that's about in in the choices department. This isn't a strategy game, it's a thematic experience game. You play it for the different story that unfolds for each would-be messiah, not for the deep, strategic decisions that you make. I found the game to be light and fun, a good game to end a long day of gaming when my brain is hurting. Besides, who can't laugh at a donkey breakdown?
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Blake Curry
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I dig this game, but it never hits the table. It's just too complicated so I never want to try and teach it to anyone, and by now I have all these other games that the people that do know it would rather get to.
 
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