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Friday, December 15, 2023

Good Games for a Joyful Christmas

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Good Games for a Joyful Christmas

Just as our bodies need sleep to recover our strength and fulfill our daily duties, our souls also need rest. One of the most pleasant forms of obtaining such rest is through play. When cultivated in a manner appropriate to Christian life, games can not only be refreshing but also educational. Aware of the importance of such forms of relaxation, Saint Thomas Aquinas dedicated an entire article to them in the Summa Theologica (II-II, Q. 168, art. 2). Here, he outlines the three basic rules for the proper formation of Christian discernment regarding games:

“The first and chief is that the pleasure in question should not be sought in indecent or injurious deeds or words. (...) Another thing to be observed is that one lose not the balance of one’s mind altogether. (...) Thirdly, we must be careful, as in all other human actions, to conform ourselves to persons, time, and place, and take due account of other circumstances, so that our fun ‘befit the hour and the man,’ as Tully says.”[i]

Respecting these principles, we can then enjoy the hours of merriment offered by those well-chosen games. Even more so now, during the sacred Christmas holiday season, the winter vacation encourages us to engage in various activities aimed at enhancing our joy. In the following, I suggest a few games – some simpler, others more sophisticated – that truly can provide rest for our souls.

The Settlers of Catan (or, simple, Catan)

In such dark times, maybe we would like, at least sometimes, to settle on a remote island where we can be protected from the noises of a crepuscular world. If this idea is only rarely achievable, we have a provisional solution: to play Catan.Catan

Taking place on an island, this wonderful board game turns those who play it into settlers who have to solve the problems inherent in such a project. A player has to find resources and use them wisely. At the same time, as in the real fallen world, you have to be careful; robbers can be found even in a peaceful game.

Although it involves a certain dose of hazard due to the dice it is played with, Catan demands the players’ intelligence and their ability to invest their resources correctly.


I know that almost everyone has heard about Scrabble, but not everyone plays it. If this is your case, it is time to do something! If you wonder why I insist so categorically, I have to admit: as both a professor and a father of seven Scrabble is one of my favorite games. So, I can only be subjective when I talk about this game. And subjectively, I say that objectively speaking, Scrabble is one of the most educative games ever created. Why so?Scrabble

As a type of crossword game, Scrabble encourages any player to enlarge their vocabulary and linguistic knowledge. Performance is directly related to this sort of knowledge. Especially in these times when spoken language is severely damaged by shortcuts and vulgarities, Scrabble can be wisely used to develop a rich vocabulary. I am sure that this is a game for both writers and their readers. William Shakespeare, Gilbert Keith Chesterton or Joseph Conrad would have played Scrabble with great delight.

The rules are easy to learn, based on the value attributed to the letters. But what really matters is poetry. If you can find in your memory as many words as a poet needs to create a great piece of art, you will be the best. If not already a master, strive to read and learn as much as possible. Your efforts will be rewarded by your ability to practice the art of conversation with mastery. And this is something as rare as it is precious.


Sometimes, you may have wondered if there is a game as complex and deep as chess. If the answer is positive, the game being referred to cannot be other than Go. Created in China more than two thousand years ago, this game is similar to chess in the confrontation of two distinct armies, one black and the other white, each trying to conquer as much territory as possible on the board.Go

Compared to chess, the major difference comes from its vast complexity: while there are strategic principles to be followed, there are no rigid openings, as in chess. Practically speaking, Go is a game of infinite possibilities.

Another significant point: it can be learned even faster than chess. All those who want to learn and deepen their understanding of the game can read the excellent booklet The Way to Go, written by Karl Baker and made available to the public on the American Go Association website. If so, what would stop you from playing Go?


If you would like to explore the world, there is no better training than City-Country-River, a pen and paper game that will make you curious to know more about the world we are living in.river

The rules are simple: one player silently enumerates the alphabet, and another player stops them at an arbitrary time. The players need to write a word for each category that begins with the selected letter. Besides cities, countries, and rivers, one may add plants, mountains, animals, names, etc. As soon as one player writes out all the categories, they yell “stop.” The terms are then compared. If two or more players have the same word in one of the categories, they receive 5 points. If the name is unique, they receive 10 points.

For the next round, they choose another letter as before. The player with the highest number of points wins the game.


Having roots in the French game L’Attaque and the American Basilinda, this strategy and guessing game is said to have been played by Russians before World War I. The first commercial version of this game was named Salvo.battleship

Battleship is played on 10x10 grids (paper or board). Each player has a fleet of ships which they secretly arrange on their grid. The types and numbers of ships can vary according to the rules, but each player has the same number and form of ships. For example, one player has 4 boats (each boat needs 2 squares), 2 submarines (3 squares), 2 battleships (4 squares), and one carrier (5 squares).

In each round, the players announce a target square and mark the spot on the grid (e.g., B3, D5, E9). The opponent responds with “hit” or “miss.” If a player hits all squares of a ship, the opponent responds with “sunk.” The first player to sink all rival ships wins the game. The boys will be delighted!


Although French newspapers had some form of Number Place puzzles in the 19th century, the modern Sudoku as we know it today was designed by a retired architect from Indiana. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the widespread popularity of his game, which gained traction in 1986 through Nikoli, a Japanese puzzle company. Number Place received a new name, Sudoku, meaning “single number.”Sudoku

This logic game challenges the player to fill the 9x9 grid with numbers from 1 to 9 so that each line, row, and 3x3 subgrid contains all digits from 1 to 9. The puzzle already provides some numbers, and the player has to fill in the rest.

There are other variations of Sudoku, like Killer Sudoku, Alphabetical Sudoku, Wordoku, Quadratum Latinum (with Roman numbers), etc.

Dots and Boxes

You left on a trip and did not have enough space for your favorite board game? No problem. There are myriad ways to spend your time with a pen and a piece of paper. Maybe even two pens.Dots boxes

Dots and Boxes require two pens or more, depending on the number of players. It is a logic and strategic game that challenges one’s focus and attention.

To play Dots and Boxes, you need a square of dots on a page. The players take turns with a different color pen, creating lines between dots. When a player forms a square with their line, they may put a distinct symbol (x and o), their initials, or any other sign in that square, scoring one point. They may draw another extra line. The game continues until all the lines between the dots have been drawn. The player with the most points wins the game.


As in the case of Scrabble, I insist: play chess! Definitely, in my family, it is one of the favorite games. Indeed, some will say that there is no game on earth as popular as chess. Others will emphasize the ambitions that such a game can awaken in the hearts of immature or imprudent players. In any case, created in India thousands of years ago, the game named Chaturanga is the ancestor of chess. This amazing game unfolds under the eyes of both players and kibitzers, revealing the fight between two armies in which each tries to capture the other’s king.chess

The rules of chess can be learned by a five-year-old child in one hour. But to learn the strategy and tactics of the game, twenty years do not seem to be enough. Simultaneously, any serious player has the opportunity to learn something even more important: boys/men can learn to lose like gentlemen, while girls/women can learn to lose like ladies. Nothing is as important as learning how to lose elegantly.

That being said, enjoy your games!

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[i] Here is the article from Summa Theologica  – “Whether there can be a virtue about games?” – written by Saint Thomas:

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Last modified on Friday, December 15, 2023
Robert Lazu Kmita | Remnant Columnist, Romania

A Catholic father of seven and a grandfather of two, Robert Lazu Kmita is a writer with a PhD in Philosophy. His first novel, The Island without Seasons, was published by Os Justi Press in 2023.