Religion Today

By JAY LINDSAY
The Associated Press
Thursday, December 21, 2006; 12:00 PM

BOSTON -- The "crazy, crazy Jewish fun" of Kosherland looks a lot like the board game Candy Land, except gefilte fishing substitutes for visits to the Ice Cream Sea.

In Catholic-opoly, like Monopoly, the job is to bankrupt your opponents. The difference is it's done "in a nice, fun way."

And role-playing can get pretty realistic with the Biblical Action Figure of Job, which comes complete with boils.

The market for religious board games and toys like these is tiny, and a bit quirky. But sales numbers indicate demand is growing as families demand wholesome entertainment, selections expand and the Internet gives greater access to retailers.

Abe Blumberger of Jewish Educational Toys said people are much more willing to buy religious toys since he helped create Kosherland in 1985. His game is now offered on UrbanOutfitters.com.

"I think there's a recognition there's a small niche out there," Blumberger said.

Statistics on sales of religious games are hard to find. However, retail sales of inspirational gifts and merchandise, which includes religious toys and games, were an estimated $1.9 billion in 2005, an 11.8 percent increase from the previous year, according to an April report by Packaged Facts, the publishing arm of MarketResearch.com.

The report projected 26.3 percent growth to $2.4 billion in sales in the gifts and merchandise sector by 2010.

The games and toys cover a variety of faiths, from Islam to Mormonism, and include Risk-style games such as Missionary Conquest and talking plush dolls, including the smiling and sneaker-wearing Pray-With-Me-Mantis.

In the Muslim "Race to the Kabah," players advance by learning the meaning of the 99 names of Allah. Kosherland teaches about Jewish dietary law, requiring, for instance, that players move backward if they mix milk with meat. In the Mormon game Mortality, good decisions help a player acquire "testimonies," which strengthen his faith and help him endure life's trials.

Many of the games were made by people with little or no toymaking experience who were inspired by deep religious conviction and an idea that wouldn't let go.

Cliff Rockwood of Tyngsborough, developed "Holy Huggables" because he wanted a doll for his daughter that reflected his family's spiritual values. Using informal gatherings with friends as market research, he and his wife developed talking Esther, Moses and Jesus dolls, and have sold "tens of thousands," though Rockwood declined to be more specific.


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© 2006 The Associated Press
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