Pre-gaming Seder 2024
Sure, there are roughly 380 shopping days until next year’s seder nights (5784 will be a leap year), but when could be better than now to consider what might merit an upgrade in your Passover practice?
In that spirit, we’d like to highlight a couple of fascinating projects that came to our attention too late for this year’s Pesach planning.
The first is the creation of Fair Lawn-native Gabrielle Rabinowitz and her cousin, Ben Bisogno. (She now lives in Brooklyn; he’s in Japan.)
Both are players of role-playing games — that genre of entertainment best known for Dungeons and Dragons, which features improvisation and imagination within rules set out in rule books — possibly very long rule books. Ben has even written a few himself.
At a seder a few years ago, “We were chatting along and coming up with our alternate story: What if Miriam used her power of song to change Pharaoh’s heart?” Gabrielle said. “We were just riffing and being silly. It was the most fun I had had in a seder in a long time.”
That was the spark for “Ma Nishtana,” a Passover tabletop role-playing game where players tell their own version of the Exodus story.
It became their pandemic project, and after development and play-testing (including at family Zoom and then in-person seders), it was written, polished, illustrated, and launched with a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s now available for digital purchase at itch.io — a central hub for the TTRPG community, as the role players call themselves — and the cousins now are figuring out how to sell the full-color print editions after they send the promised copies to their supporters.
In the course of playing “Ma Nishtana,” you hit the main touchstones of the seder — cups of wine, dipping vegetables, charoset, and matzah — though the guidebook advises those who prefer a traditional seder to consider playing the game on another Passover occasion. Players choose one of six characters — Miriam, Moses, Zipporah, Aaron, Pharaoh, and his daughter Bityah — and then are guided to reenact scenes including Moses being fished out of the Nile and later confronting Pharaoh in the palace. But this is not simply a chance to reenact the Ten Commandments; the game asks its players to discuss some of the deeper questions raised by the Exodus story, such as “What makes it hard to leave?”
The game was written with an audience of role-playing novices in mind, but a frantic email Gabrielle received from her aunt led her to suggest that it might work best when led by someone with experience with such games — or at least someone who devotes some time to reading through the rule book in advance.
Another way of gaming seder night comes from the creative Jewish liturgists at YourBayit.org, which “builds and curates tools for spiritual life.”
Using the print-on-demand technology of thegamecrafter.com, Bayit Games has created several seder add-ons featuring custom-printed cards — the sort of hexagonal tiles used in games like Settlers of Catan.
One set features the 15 stations of the seder; another is about plagues, both biblical and modern; a third acts as a seder plate that “doesn’t need to take up so much space on the table.”
And of course, there are add-ons to gamify Chad Gadya.
Because these components are printed on demand, you have to allow several weeks for printing and shipping. So as we said, start your seder shopping now. Come Purim, it will be too late.