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Gaming by design

Former FD man, Architect Jeff Allers, uses training to design games, help youths in Berlin, Germany

August 16, 2011
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer , Messenger News

When Jeff Allers went door to door to find a job after college, it wasn't such an easy thing.

He knocked on doors in Germany, and he didn't even know the language.

"I always wanted to work in Europe," said the 41-year-old Allers, son of Joleen and Terry Allers, of Fort Dodge. "I had no family. I had freedom. At the very least, it was a chance to explore the world."

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Sandy Mickelson
Jeff Allers and his wife, Suzanne, are staying in Fort Dodge with his parents, Terry and Joleen Allers, until later this week. The couple are playing the newest board game designed by Jeff Allers, who lives with his family in Berlin, Germany. With them here are their twin sons, Ben, left, and Sam, and Joleen Allers.

That was back in 1994, two weeks after he graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in architecture. He headed to Germany, he said, because "it was shortly after reunification, so Berlin was a pretty exciting place for architects. But I had to learn the language."

All that seems worlds away now that Allers is married, father of twin sons and instrumental in a mission project to start a church with a Christian family center in Prenzlauer Berg, a district in Berlin. Not to mention the board games he creates.

The young family is in Fort Dodge visiting his parents until Thursday, and during their time together, they play a lot of his games. Games he calls family entertainment.

Fact Box

Take a look

The Board game "Piece O' Cake," designed by former Fort Dodger Jeff Allers, was showcased online at CBS Sunday Morning, at the 3:25 mark. It is a family game. The game follows the premise of one person cutting the cake and the other choosing first. It is available online.

Jeff Allers' life after college seemed predetermined - eerily predetermined.

"I've been in Berlin for most of the last 17 years," he said, "with a couple short breaks. I went to look for a job as an architect. I had a few contacts from my professors; otherwise, I went door to door. I spent the first three years as a freelance architect at three firms, doing such things as museum exhibits and a few building projects."

During that time he started attending a German church and helping with the youth ministry there.

"They had an inner city youth project in partnership with American missionaries," Allers said. "I felt called to that full time."

So back to the states he came to study at Columbia International University in Columbia, S.C., a seminary associated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church. That's where he met his wife, Suzanne, who had just finished her master's degree in Christian education. He is studying for his master's in theology.

"Our interest in Berlin is what drew us together," Allers said.

It might be a spooky coincidence, but she calls it God's providence.

Long story short, the two married and moved to Berlin, where he continued to work with the youth project. After seven years, the church aimed at youths soon became a self-supporting family church under German leadership. The American missionaries were gone.

"We've moved on to an older part of Berlin," Allers said. "We're starting a church there and we're doing it with a Christian family center."

It's called the Phillip Church, and it's like a cafe church. Brunch is served about a half hour before the morning service begins, and people continue to sit around tables, maybe drinking coffee, while listening to the service.

"Berliners love to sit in cafes," Allers said. "The idea is to look to the needs of the community."

"We have a family cafe one time a week," Suzanne Allers said. "It seems like there's a need to do it more. It's not an evangelistic event. It's a community event sponsored by Christians. A family festival sponsored by the family center. If people are interested in spiritual things, they can ask us or come to our church."

The church, she said, also offers courses such as photography, English for adults and parenting.

"In German neighborhoods, there's a sense of community, trust, knowing your neighbor, feeling safe," Allers said. "Twice a month, there's a game night. Germans love playing board games. I've always liked playing games."

Things were headed for eerie again.

Allers' architectural training, his affinity for board games, his penchant for being part of the community worked together and rolled him right into the designer's box.

"German games have to do more with building up things," he said. "Look at their history - two world wars. Germans don't like war games. But they put out 600 to 800 new board games every year."

He found a game store where people gather not only to play board games, but to check them out, much like videos and DVDs are checked out in America.

Allers ended up going to a weekly game night with other game designers. When they play games, most of those games are prototypes designed by one of the players. All that started his own creative juices flowing and he started working on games of his own.

"Game design is a group project," Allers said. "It's important the feedback they give you."

And it's helpful to have a basic idea of how to start designing a board game.

"He's able to use the creative part of architecture in game ideas," Suzanne Allers said.

"Most of my games are aimed at the family market," Allers said. "But a few are more strategic, for ages 10 and up. In Germany, they're still considered family games."

In Germany, families play games together regularly, he said. Computers and electronic games don't stop that.

Allers uses that love of games in his ministry as a social activity for youths.

"I think you learn a lot when playing games together," he said. "You learn how to win graciously and to lose graciously. You learn perseverance."

Suzanne Allers nodded. "Instead of running away from your problems, you're able to sit down and face your problems, deal with your frustrations. They work through their frustrations and keep working until they succeed."

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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