Making the Canon Game

Making the Canon Game November 25, 2015

When Mike Kok shared a classroom handout which included the criteria for inclusion in the New Testament canon back in August, I created a draft post, to remind myself to come back to the canon game that I talked about wanting to make. Ultimately, the issue of catholicity or general widespread use matters most; apostolicity doesn’t depend on the name on the work but the case made for accepting the name on a work, or assuming one that isn’t there; orthodoxy can be a circular consideration, inasmuch as one can find ways of offering an orthodox interpretation of a text, or conversely, allow a text to determine what is or is not orthodoxy; and age may or may not be ascertainable, but in the case of some works in both Christian testaments, they are later than they purport.

And so now what I need are game mechanics that can reflect this. I imagine that there will be many cards that are duplicates, just as individuals and communities will focus lots of attention on some texts while others will get less attention. The aim will be to have one’s own cards agree as closely as possible with a canonical list which results from players’ combined effort at consensus. Should that result from giving cards of which one has duplicates to a stack in the center? The number of such cards in that pile, as each player places them there, could provide the points that one gets for each such card that one has in one’s hand at the end. Or we could approach that aspect another way, and have players put their cards down at the end, and the cards which everyone has are considered canonical and give points accordingly, while points are deducted for each card that one has which others do not.

The game could also be made more complex, but also more educationally useful, if the works represented on cards also have descriptors – not necessarily the same ones on each card even if it is for the same piece of literature. Each card could have one element that can be used in favor of the work, and one that could be used to argue against it. Each player can decide whether to discard cards and argue against their canonicity, or keep some and place at least one in a canon pile – or better, a group of piles – in the center, and then defend its canonicity, hoping that it will make the final list. But then we need a way that other players can argue against its canonical status are remove it from the center. Perhaps center cards could be reinforced in their canonical status by other players placing their version of the same card on top of it, and a player can also remove a card through the risky move of swapping one in their hand for one in a canon pile.

It isn’t necessarily hard to come up with a card game, and even to make it fun. The challenge is to do so in a way that can also teach something about the process of canon-formation in Judaism and/or Christianity.

Do readers of this blog have any suggestions on how the mechanics of a canon card game might work?



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  • Keith Lohse

    What about worker placement mixed with drafting. Use a board and central deck of cards, each round flip 6 or so cards and each player places a meeple on the card they want to join the “canon”. The card with the most meeples joins the “canon” pile and scores points. The rest are discarded.
    Have some special power spots on the board that people can claim with a meeple. that would let you, say, veto a card for the round. You can make the powers thematic . Making it more educational about the process and getting people to discuss and defend their choice may be tough. But it has a bidding feel to it that might facilitate the discussion.

  • Ian

    So is this what you’re suggesting:

    The goal of the game is to score the most points.

    Each card represents a text. Each text has a score.

    At the end of the game, players have to play a set of cards into their ‘Canon’. Any card played by at least X players scores for all those players. Any card played by fewer players scores against them.

    The game is played in rounds. Each round, each player takes turns to suggest a text and why it should be included, or not. After Y such rounds, the game ends and the cards are scored.

    Something like that?

    It sounds like it could work. Some thoughts:

    * There is little strategy. It might be good to force each player to play one card from their hand at the end of each round (or choose not to), but not allow that to be changed, and limit the number of rounds. That way players have to decide when or if to canonise books. If they wait too long, there bible will be small and their score low.

    * The same text could have a different score for different players. Thus each player might have a particular ‘favourite’, they want to see canonised, which in turn is the high risk option if it looks like it might not get in.

    * The game can be very consensual, at the moment. It might make it more compelling if some players actively didn’t want other cards played, so maybe someone has a card for book Z with a note that says they score -W points if book V is canonised. Then they have an active reason to prevent it.

    * Strikes me as a game that could really not work, depending on the numbers on cards. It would need a lot of playtesting, to be fun and robust, I’d say.