Chaim Kivelevitz is emphatic that you don’t need any specialized knowledge of Judaism to play “Cholent, The Game!” — just a sense of Yiddishkeit, so you enjoy its flavor.
Then how come I lost so thoroughly the first time I played?
From what he told me about the game a year ago, when it was still in the planning stages, I thought I’d ace it. Not so this past Friday, when he came to demonstrate the finished product.
No matter how parsimoniously I used my “gelt” cards to buy ingredients for the recipe that I drew, or how strategically I brought in my “chevra” buddies to gain an advantage in the race to finish my dish, I kept going broke.
Turns out, Kivelevitz explained as he trounced me, it pays to be bold — to splash some cash — to get ahead in the card game the 28-year-old Elizabeth-based lawyer dreamed up with two buddies from his childhood in Chicago.
The game, produced under their business name, Epicure Games, came out this summer, joining a relatively limited array of Jewish games on the market. It is available in a few stores that stock Judaica and Jewish literature, and it is on Amazon.com, selling for around $20.
Like cholent, the traditional Shabbat stew, it took a long time for the three partners — Kivelevitz, Benjy Kaplan, and Kenny Rosenberg — to concoct the right ingredients. Family and friends were brought to the table to help adjust the seasoning, with many rounds of testing.
“You have to get the level of challenge just right — not too hard and not too easy — or it won’t be fun,” Kivelevitz said.
It took the trio many more months to find financing for the graphic design, printing, packaging, and marketing. Artist Aharon Charnov gave the game its homey, humorous image, with warm, “stew-ish” colors and funky cartoon characters. They found a reputable printer in China.
“It’s really a pity, but there’s no way you can get something like this printed in this country,” Kivelevitz said. “It’s just way too expensive.”
I have to admit I had fun, even as I lost round after round. And while my bidding skills might be lacking, and my culinary knowledge is slim when it comes to cholent, knowing what a schnorer and a macher and mishpacha are added to the enjoyment, and to my expectation that I should be able to master this thing.
The only word Kivelevitz had to explain to me was meraglim — Hebrew for “spies.” But for players with a limited Jewish vocabulary, he pointed out, a glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish words is included with the rules — along with a couple of cholent recipes for good measure.
Kivelevitz said they are open to comments and suggestions that might get woven into later versions. What gets him though are the players who quibble about the rules, insisting on the correctness of their own interpretation. He said, “I tell them, ‘Hey, I invented this game. I should know how it works!’”