Dave Johnson

The Bodhana Group

May 5th, 2017

Last September, I was anxious to get out and do something with the boys, since I’d been cooped up in the hospital on and off during the fall. I fished around online and found a board game convention in Harrisburg called, “Save Against Fear.” If you don’t know, our family are absolute board game wackos. Our board game library is larger than our DVD collection, and not a Monopoly or Scrabble game to be found among them. Many people outside of geek culture are unaware of the new board game revolution. It’s been a growing “thing” over the last ten years, but in 2018, there are about 1,600 new strategy board games scheduled for release. Game Cafe’s are springing up all over the country, such as our favorite dig, The Game Table Cafe in Mechanicsburg, PA. You pay a small entry fee to stay as long as you like and play games from their massive collection – somewhere around 500 board and deck building games. They sell fantastic food and many brand new versions of the free-to-play games. Near-nightly tournaments and Role Playing Game (RPG) groups meet there as well.

Understand that these aren’t your grandmom’s roll-the-dice-and-move-your-token games. Most games involve multiple strategies, complex rule systems, and can take anywhere from an hour to several years to finish. Look up Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride for an introduction to this new style of board game. Catan has sold over 18 million copies at this point. RPG’s extend far beyond the 80’s classic Dungeon’s and Dragons. That strategy system has been used to create games in which players simulate corporate takeovers, plan cities, ghost-hunt, cooperate to survive post-apocalyptic life, pioneer space, manage farms, re-imagine the building of governments, and anything else you can imagine. CNBC recently reacted to this Renaissance, as it’s being called: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/22/millennials-the-board-games-revival-catan-pandemic.html

We love this stuff. We played these games a lot while I was in the hospital, but we play them at home as well. Our particular favorites over the last year have been:

Imhotep – you’re a contractor in ancient Egypt, trying to contribute the most material to the building of various monuments (pyramids, temples, etc.). Hatch your plan to ship building blocks down the Nile to the building sites, while forcing your rivals to launch their boats before they’re fully loaded, or send them where they don’t want them to go. It almost takes longer to score this game at the end than to play it.

Buck Legacy – a steampunk re-imagining of the My Little Pony world, in which players choose D&D style characters to combat demons and other nasties, using Tesla powered weapons and magical hats.

Rebellion – a $100 game in a massive box, gifted to us by a dear friend while I was in the hospital. The rulebook is 46 pages long, with a companion “quick guide” that’s about 10 pages. The board takes up most of our picnic table, and can last about 5-6 hours. Based on the early Rebellion in the Star Wars movies, the Rebel player uses diplomacy and sabotage to thwart the Empire player’s military production, while the Empire player attempts to subjugate neutral planets, hoping to locate the hidden rebel base. A great way to hurt your brain on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The Red Dragon Inn – the hang out place between those epic adventures. Players use character-specific cards to out-drink and rip off their companions through a combination of hilarious ticks, bribes, gambling games, and passive aggressive accidents involving daggers, traps, and poisons.

The Castles of Mad King Ludwig – based on the historical king who couldn’t stop adding room to his castles. Players force one another to keep adding rooms to their castles, where doorways and room types have to match or can cause the player to lose points. Rooms cost money too – and the economy keeps changing.

Rumis – 3D, competitive Tetris

High Noon Saloon – A Spaghetti Western, saloon brawl complete with cast iron skillets, flying chairs, and firearms.

Biotix – Sabotage other lab assistant’s petri dishes with bacteria tokens that cause chain reactions around the table, to come out on top with the most viable combination of bug-a-boos.

The boys and I are also in the middle of a massive RPG campaign in the new Star Wars Age of Rebellion (not related to the Rebellion board game) RPG with some friends, in which we’ve discreetly taken over a secret Imperial outpost and are using its communication system to set up hit-and-run scenarios for our small hacker/sniper team. Brennan and I recently started competing in a tactical Star Wars game called Imperial Assault, like chess, but with each piece on the board granted multiple movement and action options.

SO – we’re gaming geeks. The Save Against Fear Game-Con that we wandered into that weekend turned out to be a fundraiser for a non-profit organization called The Bodhana Group (Bodhana – “Enlightening”). I got to hang out with one of the founders, Jack, and share my transplant/hospital experience, and how gaming was such an important escape and coping mechanism during that time. Also turns out, The Bodhana Group is a Therapeutic Gaming group. From their website: “The Bodhana Group advocates the use of tabletop gaming as a directed therapeutic and clinical practice that can benefit personal growth as well as enhance social and educational services to individuals and families. Basically, we believe that the inherent benefit one gets from playing games can be focused and utilized to make one better. Better at math or reading. Better at socializing or emotional expression. Better at coping skills. Better at life.”

They use the endless variety of games available to enhance learning, cognition, develop social and coping skills in schools, retirement communities, and special needs programs…

“What about hospitals?” I ask. “Children’s Cancer Wards, long-term care ICU situations, chemo and dialysis patients?”

Jack thinks for a minute. “Why are we not doing that?” he asked in bewilderment.

“Because you were waiting for me to come along,” I tell him.

Since then, we’ve been working hard on a new program called Beds and Boards, for people in situations like mine and Perry’s, as well as for kids who are bedridden or groups in children’s units and other long-term treatment situations. We’ve made some progress in presenting the program to several local hospitals, and we’re trying to deal with some of the more difficult obstacles like privacy, training, and budgeting, but we’re determined to see it happen. For me, this is just one more thing that Perry and I talked about for months as we played games together at Hershey Med. I’ve been tagging along with them to other efforts, like the presentation last week for parents and teachers of elementary kids struggling with social integration due to autism and other factors, and their Meeples and Peoples event at the Harrisburg Mall last weekend.

The best part is that the boys and myself have been asked to undertake the writing of a proprietary RPG world to be used in therapeutic gaming sessions for Bodhana, a project that will span most of next year, and involve a lot of talented creative people.

If you’re local, definitely come to the Save Against Fear conference this year – also at Harrisburg Mall. It’s going to be huge, and filled with lots of fun and great people. Check out the promo below.



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