Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Simple Game Review: Fleecing the Flock

The basic layout of the board
For Christmas, I got a very unique gift: the 1989 Tongue-In-Cheek Productions board game Fleecing the Flock. If the title, taken after the phrase inspired by Ezekiel 34 on the abuse of God's people by corrupt religious leaders, suggests anything, the object of the game is to profit as a spiritual leader. Yes, that's get to take on the role of televangelist and profit off of your congregants, trying to bankrupt the other televangelists doing the same thing. The goal is to be the last televangelist standing, basking in your wealth!

The playing pieces, at the starting place
The game is for two to four players, although the rules permit people to form teams of two players or more each. Yes that's right, if you have a few couples over at your place, you can have them team up. Get your wife involved, and you two can play a version of Paul and Jan Crouch, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, or Jimmy and Tammy Faye Baker (though hopefully without the divorce and scandal). Each player or team uses a color-coded collection plate, which corresponds to one of the four corners of the board. Each corner has spaces marked "Ministry Property," which belong to the respective player (more on these later).

Before you begin, there's the money. Oh yes, money, like in real life televangelism, is oh-so-important...and there's a lot of it when you start out. The lowest bill is $50,000, with the highest bill being a cool $10-million. At first, you might think the amount given you is excessive (eg., you start with a mere twenty $50,000 bills), but as the game progresses, you'll realize just why you need so much - the money goes fast, depending on how many people are playing, and what happens throughout the game.

My assets thus far in the game: three TV Stations, three
Recording Companies, and three Theme Parks
After deciding who goes first, you roll the dice, and go that amount of spaces. Simply enough. As you go through the board, you'll land on various "assets" that you can purchase towards your ministry. These are: TV Stations, Theme Parks, Corporate Jets, Recording Companies, Stretch Limos, and (so you can guilt trip your critics) Missions. When you land on the spots representing each, you have the option to purchase the piece for each. The goal is to collect three of each, after which you can place them on your three Ministry Property spaces, one each. First, you'll need to collect three TV Stations (which resemble yellow Sorry pieces), then you'll be able, after purchasing three of each, to place the various other assets on the board. So, for example, if you have three TV stations on the board, and you purchase three of the red Corporate Jet pieces, you can place those rings on each of your TV Stations.

In addition to the spaces marked for each individual asset, there are three groups of cards you can pick up if you land on their respective space (a bit like the Chance cards in Monopoly). These cards are: Angel cards, Devil cards, and God's Will cards. Fitting to the subject matter, Angel cards are bad things happening to you, Devil cards are good things, and God's Will cards can be either good or bad.

The middle of the board, with the tree types of cards
As you can tell, the game is bit like a religious version of Life and Monopoly. Fittingly enough, the goal of getting the various assets is, once you have them on the board, people have to pay you "trespasser fees" whenever they land on your Ministry Property. Each individual asset ramps up the amount of the fee: for example, TV stations are $3-million each, Stretch Limos $500,000 each, etc. So let's say an opposing televangelist lands on one of your Ministry Property spaces, and you have a TV Station there with a Recording Company and a Theme Park - the other player owes you $4.5-million. Remember when I said the huge amount of money you got at the beginning would be important? Yup. Again, just like in real life, you'll be throwing money around and treating half a million as if it were chump change. Of course, you'll need to learn to conserve money yourself, least you end up paying trespasser fees to the opponents.

A guide to the trespassing fees
If you want to avoid your opponents, and you happen to land on the yellow Decision spaces, you can choose to instead traverse through the middle of the board and try your luck there. You might have to pay a few penalties, you might get a bad card, or you might get lucky and win $10-million. Worst case scenario, you'll land on the Repent space and end up paying $10-million, entering a scandal worse than Todd Bentley cheating on his handicapped wife. Still, on a good round, you'll still end up paying much less than what you would have paid if you landed on one of your opponents' spaces.

The ultimate goal of the game, as said at the beginning, is to bankrupt the other players. If someone is unable to pay either a trespassing fee or any other penalty in the game, they aren't able to sell possessions like you in Monopoly - they're gone, and out of the game. The bank owns the assets, and if someone lands on it, they have to pay the trespassing fees like normal, but now to the bank. Whoever is left standing after the last player goes broke is the winner. Games can actually go by pretty quickly, with people getting knocked out within thirty minutes of playing - in other words, if the pace of Monopoly bores you, Fleecing the Flock might be more up your alley.

One of the Devil cards gets me some money
If it isn't obvious by now (or the name of the company didn't give it away), the game is played entirely for laughs. The rules are designed and labeled after the Ten Commandments. You can land on a space marked Telethon to collect money. The Angel, Devil, and God's Will cards feature comedic events and scandals that range from your pledges being lost in the mail to being found in a hot tub with another woman. The accumulation of assets can get insane over time, as you'll find yourself with a couple of limos, a couple of jets, and a few of your own theme parks. It is interesting that Tongue-In-Cheek Productions included the purchase of theme parks, given this game came about twelve years before the Holy Land Experience opened (it was bought six years later by Trinity Broadcasting Network). The unfortunate thing is, while an updated set of cards would be interesting to see, this game is still as fitting today as it was back in the late 1980's.

The rule book, done in the style of the Ten Commandments
Here I should remind my readers that heresy, in and of itself, isn't funny. If you want to know how serious it is, remember that people go to hell for it. However, this doesn't mean we can't laugh at the ridiculousness of false teachers and their activities, in the same manner that Elijah mocked the priests of Baal (1 Ki 18:27). Of course, we should remember that people out there are giving away money which they need for food and medicine to televangelists and Prosperity Gospel preachers - that isn't something to laugh at. However, the absurdity of the notion that Prosperity Gospel preachers can be in scandal after scandal, exposure after exposure, and still be able to earn a ton of money, is something to laugh at. I don't think there's anything wrong with playing this game, laughing at the goofy cards and the ability to buy corporate jet after corporate jet, and then take a moment to realize, "Wait...there's a basis for all this." It also attacks the fact that so many people still take Prosperity teachers so seriously. I am reminded, in some way, of an interview with Mel Brooks shortly after the first Producers film came out: he was asked why he, a Jew, would make a comedy about Hitler, and he replied, "The greatest revenge you can give that man is to make people laugh at him." Similarly, a good way to make people aware of the errors of the Prosperity Gospel is to show just how truly absurd their leaders are.

Granted, I think I should note here, as a warning to my Christian readers, that I believe Tongue-In-Cheek Productions was a secular company. Some of the cards have scandals that are described in a crude manner, or might make you a little bit nervous to read aloud with kids around. There's nothing R-rated or outright profane, but the game does capture the sexual scandals of various Prosperity preachers in an exaggerated fashion. I also couldn't help but notice, halfway through game play, that we were cheering every time we landed on a Devil card. If you can understand the game is a satire of what truly is demonic theology and is not meant to glorify Satan, you can probably overlook the fact that you'll end up cheering "Yes! Devil card!" every now and then.

All that being said, Fleecing the Flock is a very fun game. From what I can see, it's currently out of print, but there are still couples for sale in various parts of the internet (and perhaps, if you're lucky, your local game store). If you can afford to get a copy and you want something to play while watching the latest TBN telethon, why not give it a shot?
Get to the phones! Send in your faith seed!