Chairman of the board

A board game will be released soon, based on the life of St Ignatius of Loyola. Notable for its high production quality and memorable artwork, it is the brainchild of a Melbourne-based Polish Jesuit, Fr Mariusz Han SJ.

 SHOWING THE WAY TO GOD 

By David McMahon, Communications Manager, Society of Jesus in Australia

It’s pre-dawn and an Adelaide-bound passenger at the Qantas domestic terminal in Melbourne has an utterly innocuous object in his luggage that would instantly pique the interest of fellow travellers if revealed, but it has to stay under wraps for at least another couple of days.

On this freezing winter morning, Fr Mariusz Han SJ has woken to his alarm at 4am. He readily admits to a fellow traveller that he would have been happy to have had a bit more slumber, but his eyes light up instantly when he talks about his creation – his second board game that is carefully packed in his suitcase. Called ‘Ignatius Loyola: Knight and Pilgrim’ and based on the life of the founder of the Jesuit order, it is a double-sided, three-level game that will soon be available in separate Polish and English editions.

Two days later, he gets the chance to present the game to a group of about 40 people at a conference being held in the Adelaide suburb of Urrbrae. It’s lunchtime and as any marketing expert will tell you, it’s highly unsound logic to try and present a new concept to a group of people who are actually getting out of their chairs and heading to lunch. The one thing worse than a quick elevator pitch is to be making that pitch to people who have just had their lunch delayed.

This could be a tough gig.

But everyone sits down again. Fr Mariusz begins talking about the game as he holds up the board, displaying first one side and then the other. He talks briefly and sincerely about its creation and how the game is played. Time is ticking. Stomachs are rumbling. But he is succinct and to the point and he has the attention of everyone in the room. “Before we go to lunch,” he says softly, “I’d really like to play you a brief video clip about the game.”

The conference convenor has a few seconds of technical difficulty before playing the clip. When it’s over, the audience breaks into loud and spontaneous applause. Fr Mariusz has a smile on his face. People get up from their chairs but instead of heading straight to the dining room, the majority of delegates go straight to a nearby table where the board game is displayed. Their reactions are immediately rewarding – and absolutely tactile. Some pick up cards, others admire the range of artwork on the board. Fr Mariusz fields a range of questions.

Lunch temporarily forgotten, many ask the conference convenor if they can share the video on their own social channels.

The pitch has gone well, to say the least.

Fr Mariusz Han SJ presenting the board game. Photo: David McMahon.

It’s been roughly two years since Fr Mariusz had the initial idea. The notion of the board game came to him during the pandemic and his initial instinct was to create something around the Battle of Pamplona, which took place in 1521. But during a phone call to his brother Tomasz in Poland, he was strongly dissuaded from focusing solely on the battle during which Ignatius of Loyola was wounded. 

Instead, the brothers decided that it would be best to use a much broader lens. “So after that conversation,” says Fr Mariusz, “I came around to the idea of a game that would acquaint us with a difficult period in history and reinforce the abiding spirituality of St Ignatius.” 

Choosing the artist to create the many design elements and artwork for the game was another chapter in trans-continental cooperation. Just as the time difference between the brothers’ home cities varied between eight to ten hours, providing only a small window of opportunity for real-time conversations about the direction of the game, this was mirrored in the choice of an artist. Fr Mariusz eventually chose Daniel Wlodarski, a Polish-based illustrator of books, because the design style and attention to detail dovetailed neatly with what he was looking for.  

Even from thousands of kilometres away, creative collaboration can bring its own challenges. In one instance, the sword belonging to Ignatius of Loyola brings an interesting discussion. “The artist completed the drawing and the sword was in a particular position, drawn from a specific perspective. It was a very good piece of art, but I explained that if we were to adhere to reality, the sword would have been in a different position. It meant that we had to set aside more time for the artwork to be adjusted, but that attention to detail is really necessary.”

In Poland, the importance of board games is widely recognised by all age groups. Fr Mariusz shows us one that is probably the most famous of all games in his birth country. Called ‘Wojtek the Bear’, it is based on the true story of a bear who became a World War II cult hero to Polish troops, an army talisman who was eventually honoured by being included in a Polish regimental emblem and whose life was narrated in this Time magazine story.

“Thousands of people play this game during tournaments,” Fr Mariusz explains. “Parents take their children hundreds of kilometres to participate in these events, with age-group category winners receiving special prizes.” He takes out his phone to show us a video clip of a hall crowded with participants and of prize winners holding their trophies.

“If we can recreate that kind of atmosphere with ‘St Ignatius: Knight and Pilgrim’, that would be amazing. I do not specifically regard this as ‘my game’ because in fact It has been published with the help of Jesuits in Poland and Australia, as well as lay people in both countries. Many people have made this possible.

The Polish version of the board game, ’Ignatius Loyola: Knight and Pilgrim.’ Photo: Australian Jesuits.

“Central to the creation of the game are these issues: Can an event from five hundred years ago, pertaining to only one person, have an influence on our present-day decisions and resolutions? Could the wound sustained by the young knight, Inigo, in the battle for Pamplona really have an impact on the destinies of people in modern times? Could the strange interaction of events between Heaven and Earth, the Cross and the Sword, really decide the shape of the Church and its mission?

“On a much broader scale, there are three core questions. First, what would be the impact on the Christian community if it lacked that one small but precious book – ‘Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola’? Second, what would the world be like if the Society of Jesus had not appeared in its history? And third, under what banner would the subsequent Millennium greet us without its intercession?

“The timing of this project has an additional perspective, because in 2022 we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the canonization of St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. As a conclusion to the Jubilee Year, we made significant progress towards completing this double-sided board game. This game is not only an adventure, but also serves as a reflection on the essence of historical and religious problems for which we are not necessarily prepared.

“On the first board, you progress towards the final goal of life’s adventure, which is Heaven. Visiting each of the towns along the way, you learn about the life of St Ignatius. With him, you experience a variety of adventures and earn the required points. Players are confronted with questions testing the level of their religious knowledge and encompassing discussion topics about the modern world. However, the winner is not the one who reaches the end first but the one who earns the most points, called ‘AMDG’. These are the first letters of the Latin motto by which Ignatius lived: ‘Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam’, namely, ‘For the greater glory of God’.

Ignatius Loyola: Knight and Pilgrim board game. Graphic: Australian Jesuits.

“The second side is reserved for ‘connoisseurs’ and is a bit more complex. Based on the central concept of ‘Wojtek the Bear’, you travel through the towns where St Ignatius lived and worked, and you are the winner if you collect the most complete sets of cards.

“The game is intended to interest people in Ignatian spirituality, helping them to become truly free and happy through prayerfulness, that is, reflection in daily courageous action. I also see it as a way to connect youth to Ignatian spirituality, helping them to become truly free and happy through prayerfulness, that is, reflection in daily courageous action. As the Church renews its focus on today’s youth, I would be humbled if the game teaches people about Ignatian charism and values.”

On the way back to Melbourne from the conference, I am booked on the same flight as Fr Mariusz. The weather on the south-east coast of Australia has been cold and rainy, and so it’s no surprise as a flight to Sydney, where the passengers wait at the boarding gate adjacent to ours, is delayed once and then again, to the exasperation of many travellers. It’s almost three hours since the sun set, but the terminal is full.

Much later, as hindsight kicks in, I reflect that this was actually a perfect opportunity lost. All we had to do was take out the board game, introduce it to the hundreds of people around us, and invite them to take turns playing. Just imagine the marketing impact this would have had on pre-launch sales, with dozens of posts on social media. There would have been images and video clips on every social channel with the same theme – how the game ‘St Ignatius: Knight and Pilgrim’ lifted the spirits of travellers of all ages at a busy airport, where the collective patience of contemporary travellers had already been repeatedly frayed.

To order your copy of the game, please contact Fr Mariusz Han SJ on office@jezuici.org.au or mariuszhan@gmail.com. The game’s official website is loyola-knight-pilgrim.com ( English version ). 

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