Freshmen are always struck by the two Platonic dialogues which they read for Humanities at the end of their first semester: after all, these dialogues present what is to most students an entirely new view of Socrates, one they’re a bit alarmed by. “I have to admit,” freshman Amme Loprednav of California said, “many of us were scandalized by the Phaedrus and the Symposium. And maybe even more scandalized by those of our classmates who weren’t scandalized. All in all, it might even have been more disturbing than the Bacchae.” But, Amme says, she and her friends are managing to bring something good even out of the dialogue about Socrates and a boy sitting under a tree and flirting. “As soon as I read Socrates’ fable about the immortal life cycle of the soul, all I could think about was what a good board game it would make. I hardly noticed any of the rest of the dialogue, and I’m afraid I kind of failed the quiz. But it was all worth it, because of the game we’re inventing.”
Knowing how popular board games are around here, I asked Amme if she could give us a little preview description of her project. She agreed, saying that over break she and a few friends are throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the design process. And since this is undoubtedly even more useless than grades, in the spirit of the college, they made sure to prioritize this even above their studying and finals. “I say it again,” Amme reassured me the day before grades were announced, “it was all worth it.” The design process isn’t fully finished, but Amme said she could give me an overview. “It’s all in Plato, after all. So, this is pretty much a mashup of the game of Life, but also 3d chess (without the personal agency, of course), a bit of Seven Wonders, and a whole lot of Chutes and Ladders, except just the Chutes part.” The three-layered game board looks rather like the Capitol Building. The base (the underworld) and middle layer (earth) are cardboard squares, and above them, supported on four pillars, is a clear plastic upper level (the heavens) with a dome in the middle and a wall around the sides, so that only some of the dome is visible. After, by Amme’s approximation, only 2 hours of setting up the board and all the small pieces of scenery on it, the game starts with players choosing which god they will follow around the heavenly circuit. “But it’s difficult to imagine why someone would follow any god except Zeus,” Amme says. “So maybe people will draw cards to find out which god they’ll follow. Or maybe, in the spirit of integration, and to let players stretch a bit between setting up the game and actually playing it, there will be a race/tackle component here where players race to a marker, and how they finish determines their circle and the god they follow.” As in Plato, the players’ fates will be decided by which heavenly circle they find themselves in. Only the player following Zeus will be really safe, certain to remain in the heavens for the rest of the game, able to look over the wall to the… table beyond. “We’re not quite sure how to keep this player un-bored for the rest of the game,” Amme says. “It’s a little hard figuring out how to replicate the Beatific Vision of the Hypouranion Plain with small bits of cardboard and plastic.”
For the next several hours, the game proceeds as described in the Phaedrus. Relaxingly, there is rarely any element of personal choice, except when the soul being reincarnated chooses whether to become an animal or a human—if, of course, it was ever high enough in the celestial circles that it caught a glimpse of what lay beyond the wall. The game ends when all players are either restored to the celestial circles and the vision beyond the wall, or locked in an animal for the rest of eternity. The winner is the player who reached the circle of Zeus first. “We still have to iron out a few kinks—like we’re not sure how any soul can move upward in the game,” Amme says, “and it’s a little difficult to imagine any group of players, after their first time playing this game, being surprised and gratified by the winning soul being the one who hasn’t done anything since the beginning of the game. But I can’t overstate how hopeful I am that this will become WCC’s own home-grown classic board game.”
The game is due to be published by Universal Platonic Gamehouse by the end of 2025. I asked Amme how she feels about the possibility of her game becoming famous. “Well, I’m a bit conflicted,” Amme said. “Because if it fizzles, of course that’s bad (though at the same time it’s good, because it would make the game more useless and thus more liberal). If, however, the game is successful, on one hand it could make Plato more popular. But on the other hand, it could make Plato more popular. And despite what it’s done for me, I’m just not convinced that we need more poor, innocent, unsuspecting people lured into reading the Phaedrus, like my classmates and I were.”
Although a final title has not yet been set for the board game, Hypouranion Plain and Cyclical Eternal Life are under consideration.