Friday, September 15, 2017

Unauthorized - A Game of Influence and Deduction (A Homeschool Coffee Break Review)

What would it be like to live in a country where the Christian church had to operate underground? That's hard for most of us to wrap our brains around, but we were recently given the challenge of considering that question in a fun way - believe it or not! - by reviewing Unauthorized, a game from Chara Games.

Chara Games

Chara Games is a familiar name to Crew members, as many of them have reviewed their games in the past. The company was founded in 2014 for the purpose of designing and publishing games with Christian themes. They believe that tabletop games afford opportunities to have fun and build relationships, and their games are designed to explore Christian topics in a way that is respectful of all faith backgrounds. In other words, the games have a Christian theme, but do not tell players what to think or believe. But with the subject raised in a game setting, players might be encouraged to think more deeply or start conversations about the topics.


The newest game from Chara is called Unauthorized.  It's a social deduction and role play game built around the theme of the underground church. Each player is given a role and uses their unique power to sway the experience cards of other players in the effort to grow or to stamp out an underground church. The church wins if a majority of the players are loyal to the church, and at least one of their members is not in prison. The state wins if the church doesn't! The game's play represents the uncertainty and courage of Christians in underground churches in countries where faith really is considered 'unauthorized.'

The game is designed for six to twelve players, twelve years old and up, and should take about half an hour to play. It includes twelve double-sided role cards, 97 Experience cards, three reference cards, and a detailed rule book.

Seen below, the Role cards assign a character to each player. Depending on how many players are in the game, there will be one or two Pastors, one or two Police, and the rest of the players will be Neutrals. The game always starts with an equal number of Pastor and Police roles.


The loyalty of the Neutral players is determined by the Experience cards they hold. If they have more red cards, they are loyal to the State, and if more green cards, they are loyal to the Church. There are some Wild cards, so the player can determine which way they are swayed. Play begins with each player holding their Experience cards in their hand so that the loyalty of Neutral players is not known to others. As play proceeds, Experience cards are laid on the table but loyalties can certainly still change based on the cards each player still holds in their hand, and the influence of other players.


How to play: Well, that's what the rule book is for, and I don't think I can adequately recreate the complete instructions, but I will try to give an overview of how the game is played.

To start the game, the Role cards are shuffled and dealt one to each player. They are double sided, so each player chooses a side of the card (basically for which picture they prefer, since the role and power on each side are the same) to lay face up in front of them. Following is a picture of our game ready to play with six players. You can see we'd placed our two reference cards in the middle of the table. These cards are provided as handy reminders for the Order of Play so you don't have to refer to the booklet every round.

With roles assigned, it's now time to deal the Experience cards. The Police player(s) gets seven red (State) cards, and the Pastor(s) gets seven green (Church) cards. The Neutral players will have seven Experience cards dealt randomly to them. The players all hold their Experience cards in their hand so other players cannot see them until they have been laid face up with the Role card during the course of play. For the Neutral players, the Experience cards bias them toward the church or the state, or allow them to choose a loyalty in the case of the Wild cards. Once played, however, the loyalty of a wild card is fixed, while those in a player's hand can still go either way.

Here is our Police player and his starting set of Experience cards.

And our Pastor player with her set of Experience cards.

And one of our Neutral players with her set of Experience cards.
As you may be able to see with the cards displayed, this player has three green Church cards and two red State cards, so she is loyal to the Church. However she also has two Wild cards, which she may choose to play as either loyalty, so if she decides to play both of them as red cards, her loyalty will be swayed towards the State instead.

There are four rounds of play, with specific actions. In Round 1, all players play two cards face up. In Round 2, players pass a card to the player on the left and play one card face up. In Round 3, pass to the right and play one face up. And in Round 4, pass one card to any other player and play one face up. After these card actions that begin each round, each player has an individual action as play moves to the left from the dealer. Each player can choose to use the Role Power stated on their Role Card, 'spy' on another player's cards, apply for parole if they are in prison, or conduct an execution if they are the Police. By passing cards to other players or by using their Role Powers, players attempt to sway the loyalties of other players.

At the end of the final round, players that still have wild cards in their hand must choose how to play them before anyone reveals their final loyalty. So everyone plays their final cards simultaneously. If, at the end of the game, the church has a majority of the players and at least one of them is not in prison, the church wins. Executed players don't count at the end either! If the church doesn't have a majority, or if there is a tie, or if all the church-loyal players are in prison, the state wins.

The rules state that the game is for 6-12 players, so when we had only five of us available, one person volunteered to play two roles. Obviously it's better to have at least six different people playing, because of the spying and influencing aspects of the game. When I was playing two roles, for example, I chose to "speak to a neighbor" which means to view the cards in their hand. And the neighbor I chose was my other role! We found that this game was better - more entertaining, and more suspenseful with more players. The odds seem to fall in the State's favor when there are fewer players, and having more than one Pastor gives the Church a better chance as well. I would guess that that is true in some sense in the real world underground church as well. Hmmm . . . 

That leads well into our thoughts on the purpose and best setting for this game. Because it involves a lot of strategic and predictive thinking, it's not the kind of game that is easily played while carrying on unrelated conversations over the game table, or while being interrupted multiple times by needing to get food or look after little ones. So I don't think it would be the best choice for a family game night or party where there will be a lot of interruptions or where people will want to do a lot of visiting while playing games. However, I think this would be a great game for a youth group or a Bible Study group, when the purpose is to introduce the topic of the underground church and martyrs in other parts of the world. It certainly got our family talking a bit more about this subject as we were learning how to play and trying the game with various numbers of players and all of that. The day-to-day risks of Christians in countries where the church truly is "unauthorized" and the dedication of those Christians to their Savior no matter the peril is not something to take lightly, but I believe it is a subject that western Christians need to address as we do our part to pray for and support our brothers and sisters around the world who do not have the freedom to worship that we enjoy. At times it felt a little incongruous to act silly and be laughing as we were playing this game, but that's how we made it a fun family game atmosphere. We generated a lot of laughter while playing by acting in character by using exaggerated accents and other goofy things. 

After several games played, we decided that the 'fun quotient' of this game is what the players make of it. You can follow the rules and play very seriously and if your intent is to have focused play and to win the game, and to generate some conversation about persecution and hardship in Communist countries, and that, in our view, is the best purpose for the game. Or, you can do as we did, with some over-the-top bad acting and silly dramatization, and play the game with a lighter touch - and you'll still likely generate those kinds of conversations.  

What we liked best:
  • not too difficult to play, although it takes a bit of effort to learn
  • an opportunity to introduce a difficult and serious topic in a easy-going way. Play the game and the subject of the persecuted church will likely wind up being discussed naturally as players start to realize that for some Christians, this is not a game!

What I need to mention:
  • you'll need at least six players, and if you have more that's even better. We found that it just didn't work that well to have fewer players, even when doubling up roles.
  • You'll need to devote some time and attention to learning how to play, because each round is different and each player's role cards dictate different actions. The reference cards are there to help, but we found that it took a couple rounds with the same players before we had the hang of it.

Our bottom line: This is a well thought-out and complex game, best played with at least six teens or adults that can focus on the game. The fun quotient is dependent on the personalities of the people playing the game - acting in character, with an accent or whatever, and adding dramatic effects. On its own, it's a thought provoking and serious game.


Would you and your family like to "join the struggle"? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website:
Learn more about the Unauthorized game:

Pricing: Unauthorized is available through Amazon for $14.99. See the Chara Games website for links and further information.

Recommended Ages: 12 years and up

You can follow Chara Games on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Visit the Homeschool Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews.

Unauthorized {Chara Games Reviews}

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