The game board looks like the map of Israel. On the west side, there are some high tech companies; in the south, near the Dead Sea, there is a medical center and a spa hotel.
The rules are similar to Monopoly: It is an economic strategy game, where players buy companies and try to build their fortune. But the game’s ups and downs are based on real events from Israeli history.
If a player pulls a card announcing the start of the Six Day War, he or she must sell their most valuable firm for half of what it’s worth, explains Russian game-maker Konstantin Zinkoff. The card announcing the end of the Six Day War, on the other hand, allows all the players to move up to the next level, he says.
“It’s exactly what happened at the time,” Zinkoff says. “How did the Six Day War affect the Israeli economy? It was a huge decline in foreign investment.”
The game, called “Jewish Luck,” (or “Jewish Happiness,” translated literally from Russian) was released in April thanks in part to a Russian online crowd-funding campaign that raised more than $3,000 for the project.
It is the first Russian-made board game about Israel. So far, about 300 of the games have been sold — mostly in Russia to Jewish community organizations, Jewish schools, and Israeli cultural centers, Zinkoff says. The game is intended for children over 10, although adults can also play it, he says.
“What better way to learn something than in a game?” says Zinkoff, who formerly worked as a counselor in Jewish summer camps in Russia, which is when he began inventing games. “First you learn the encyclopedic facts and then you can solidify the information while playing the game.”
While there have not until now been any Jewish board games made in Russia, a few other Russian-language Jewish board games do exist. For example, a company called “Shpillka” in Odessa, Ukraine, makes a bingo game that focuses on Jewish holidays, as well as a board game that is based on the collections of Odessa’s Jewish museum.
The idea to make a board game about Israel came to Zinkoff after he returned from a six-month trip to the Holy Land, excited to share what he had learned with other Russian Jews, he says.
In addition to the Six Day War, cards in the game invite players to learn about the first Zionist Congress, meet the Rothschild family (which gives players a 10 percent discount toward the purchase of a company), and learn about the origins of the classic falafel in pita, to name a few.
“One of the greatest challenges was to keep the balance in politics between the right and the left,” says Zinkoff, who wrote the cards together with his brother, Igor Zinkoff, who is now studying to become a rabbi. “The game doesn’t advocate any ideal. It’s neither left nor right, neither secular nor religious. A lot of it is written from a neutral factual standpoint. For this reason, it can be used to start a conversation, to discuss a subject.”
The colorful illustrations for “Jewish Luck” were all created professionally by a company in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
After making the game, Zinkoff moved to Israel with his wife and seven-year-old son.
He is planning to make an English version of “Jewish Luck” by the end of the year, and is also weighing the possibility of making another Russian-Jewish board game focusing on the history of the Ashkenazi Diaspora in Poland and Ukraine a few hundred years ago. In that game, the goal will be to gather the most people into your own community, Zinkoff says.
Zinkoff has also been in discussions with an Israeli company about a board game about Israeli settlements. The game would tell the story of the settlements, their history and development, says Zinkoff.
He admits loving gaming so much that on some evenings he plays three games in a row. Yet when asked about his favorite game, he is at a loss.
“I don’t have a favorite,” he said. “Probably chess, because I like strategy games. Chess is a very powerful game.”