17.6.07

THE ETERNAL CAMPAIGN. I, too, am not yet ready to deal with the 2008 Presidential campaign, although the main press have been scheduling debates and booking hopefuls for the Sunday talk shows. I regret to inform you, dear readers, that the campaign season is likely to get even longer, if a new simulation, Vatican: The Board Game, provides any guidance. A retired colleague from History produced this game, which I read about in the print edition of Northern Now, to enhance history classes dealing with the papacy. It apparently has some value as a social game, and it's available in local stores. Chicago Sun-Times religion writer Cathleen Falsani played the game.

The Vatican game, released last week by the College of DuPage Press, is something of a hybrid of Monopoly, Risk and Clue -- with a bit of theological Chutes-and-Ladders thrown in for good measure.

Authored by Stephen Haliczer, a retired historian from Northern Illinois University who specializes in Catholic history (the Inquisition in particular), the game follows six cardinals through their early careers as they build their reputations, the death of a pope, and the conclave to elect his successor.

It's complicated, clever and a lot more fun than it sounds.

There are three phases of the game. In the first, the cardinals have to accumulate the administrative offices to become serious candidates for the papacy. Thus, one must adopt the ways of the REMF in order to command. But, as the Roman Catholic Church has existed with essentially the same organizational structure for, oh, 1600 years give or take, and, as Up the Organization author Robert Townsend notes, there are only four layers of management (priest, bishop, archbishop, Curia) between a parishioner and the Pope, the disturbing hypothesis that the ways of the REMF are the efficient ways must be taken seriously!

In this first phase, cardinals repeatedly circle the board. The Monopoly-like element arises at each corner, where the cardinal gets to apply for an office. Here a snakes-and-ladders-like die roll determines those offices, but cardinals can trade offices up. Once all players have achieved sufficient offices to be serious contenders for the papacy (the Holy Spirit may determine who the Pope will be, but God clearly helps Thofe who Seek Office in Rome) the old Pope dies, and only then do the players discover how old their cardinals are, and their state of health.

In the second phase, each cardinal must take a position on a variety of issues. The game suggests U.S. culture-war themes (female clergy, homosexual clergy, priestly celibacy) play a large role in the selection of a Pope, although candidates do have to take positions on matters involving other Christian denominations as well as non-Christian faiths, and global capitalism. And here, an amendment to the game inspired by Diplomacy suggests itself. Although cardinals bring a stock of votes to the conclave, in the third phase, the determination of the Pope is entirely in the cards.

After four ballots in the papal conclave -- the last phase of the Vatican game -- Nanko-Fernandez (a k a "Pope Carmen") pulled ahead of me with 99 points, just one shy of claiming the pontificate.

But then ... divine intervention brought the conclave proceedings and what had become a rather boisterous game, to an abrupt halt, when Nairn (who had been trailing with 63 votes) read his fifth conclave card:

"The Holy Spirit intervenes in your favor by appearing to certain cardinals who have been wavering in their support for you. +40 votes."

The Diplomacy variant (which has the potential to really extend the game, or to break up friendships) goes something like this: During the second phase, each cardinal has to take a position. Each other cardinal can rate that cardinal for being sympathetic to what he (or she, we're playing a game here) views as in the best interest of the church. Before each round of voting, each player can negotiate with each other player to assess the strength or weakness of that player's adherence to a position. Before the vote cards are dealt for each round, each cardinal can recommend that his supporters consider the merits of some other candidate. To simulate the vagaries of dealing with people, a die roll (perhaps adjusted by age, for example if a 75-year old cardinal speaks well of a younger candidate, a roll of 6 gives the endorsee half of the cardinal's pre-voting support, but if it's a 65-year old cardinal, that 6 flips only 1/3 of the votes.) That would add the spice the Diplomacy instructions promise. "Deciding whom to trust is part of the game."

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