For many people the words “Christian board game” will be enough to drive them off. Honestly I can’t say I blame them, given some of the questionable quality of Christian media that is out there. But here we have Commissioned, the first published game from Patrick and Kathering Lysaght, and there is much to recommend it. It handles its narrative earnestly, but with a smart sense of what will and won’t work in a board game design. And besides that it’s just a solid game experience.
Commissioned takes on the story of the early church, and the players work cooperatively to plant congregations around the board. There are a few different scenarios, but for most of them the idea remains the same. The players will win if they are able to plant enough churches, either one in every territory on the board, or a church in certain cities with a couple other conditions fulfilled. The start player will select cards that have been offered by all of the players. Each card gives one possible action, so it’s one of those rare cooperative games that actually requires the presence of other minds besides your own. Each player represents one of the apostles, and they need to hit the road quickly because unless they find some missionaries to help they need to plant all of the churches themselves.
One of the coolest touches in this game is the way it handles the vagaries of travel and communication in the First Century Roman Empire. Nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly than the d8 players roll at the beginning of every action round to see if they were able to contact each other. If the roll is low enough the players must conduct the round without talking, which proved harder than I thought it would be. There’s a great feeling of helplessness as you put out the cards you hope the starting player will choose, and silently send prayers that he will pick the right ones and see that move you saw. Besides that, travelling around the Mediterranean can be kind of a hassle, which feels just about right. It takes coordination to get the apostles in the right place at the right time, and to move church members between territories so that an outbreak of persecution won’t erase a church from a territory completely.
Besides the movement on the board, there is also a very low-key deckbuilding mechanic that allows the players to unlock stronger actions as the game goes on. I was a little suspicious of this element early on, but it was actually a pleasant surprise. First of all, while there is some pruning that can be done to your deck (mostly from the Apostle John), there isn’t a constant need to trim out lower-powered cards from your deck. The early cards have their uses well into the game. Secondly, the game pulls cards from the decks as the players spend cards to write the books of the New Testament. It requires the player to manage their hands smartly, because there are only so many of those cards and you need to write everything from Matthew to Revelation by the end of the game. If anything, it’s a little too low-key, since by the end of the game the deckbuilding fades into the background and becomes something of an afterthought. But I’d rather have it be understated anyway, since the world generally does not need more deckbuilding.
Thankfully all of this is handled with a light mechanical touch. There is never a point where the decisions feel overwrought or boggling, but neither is it a game of obvious choices. This is the first game from Chara Games, and unlike a lot of independent designs, there is definitely a sense that this game has been pared down to get it as accessible as possible. The only downside is that there is just enough process in every round that it can be easy to forget to flip a card here or roll a die here, which can throw off the game. It’s nothing serious, but it does feel like there is just a little too much upkeep, especially when everything else feels pretty polished.
Smartly, Commissioned chooses to treat this particular story as a historical event rather than a Sunday School lesson. Make no mistake, this is obviously a Christian game, but it’s not a preachy one. Most of the components have little more than a scripture reference on them, along with a title and some nice Euro icons. There is a second rule booklet that explains the significance of each of the cards, so those who are interested can dig in as deep as they’d like. I also like that this is a German-style game that tackles a specific historical period beyond just Renaissance trading. Usually this kind of thing is reserved for meatier titles from GMT, but Commissioned shows that it’s possible to do a solid historical board game and still make it suitable for casual game nights.
Given that Commissioned is a more causal game, it might feel just a bit mild for more advanced gamers. For my own part I find it more pleasant than genuinely terrific. But that’s an indictment of my own preferences more than this game. The truth is it’s a solid design, not earth-shattering but well-implemented. It’s a great game for church game nights, and for families looking for something new. Besides that it has the advantage of being unlike just about anything else I’ve seen