Roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons or video games are probably the types of gaming most associated with geek culture. However, over the past several years a renaissance has occurred in the realm of board games. There are hundreds of new games released every year. Many of these games have fascinating rules, offer interesting choices, and develop a deeply thematic experience. There are a multitude of games with historical settings, but only a small handful of games seek to use the bible as a backdrop for a board game. One such game is Kings of Israel designed by Lance Hill and published by Funhill games. Kings of Israel does not just use the bible as a pasted on theme, but the game attempts to fully capture the subject matter and immerse the players into the drama of the biblical narrative.
This is a cooperative game. This means that all of the players work together on a team. They will either win or lose as a whole. Kings of Israel is set during the Old Testament in the northern kingdom of Israel. The game uses 1 & 2 Kings as well as several of the biblical prophets for source material. In this game players take the role of prophets in Israel. Each player will get a special ability. While not stated explicitly, these prophets draw clear inspiration from the biblical prophets. The goal of the game is to turn the people back to God by building altars. The number of required altars is determined by the number of players.
Each turn follows a certain progression. First, the turn track will advance to the next king. The kings presented follow the line of succession found in the bible. Next, depending on who the current king is a blessing or sin and punishment card is drawn. Then sin cubes are added to the board equal to the number of players plus one. Sin cubes are added by drawing location cards. If a third sin cube is ever added to a location, an idol is added. If a sin cube is added to an idol location, it causes sin cubes to spread to all adjacent locations.
Next, players take their turn in player order. On a player's turn they get four actions. A player can move, give cards to another player in the same location, remove a sin cube, and draw a resource card. For two actions a player can remove an idol. There are a couple of more specialized actions as well. A player can spend a gold, stone, and wood resource to build an altar. If at an altar location a player can spend a cattle and grain resource to make a sacrifice. This will clear all of the sin cubes and idols at that location, as well as one cube from each adjacent location.
After all players have taken four actions, the start player moves and the turn track moves to the next king in progression and play begins again. If players build enough altar to the one true God they win the game. If the players reach "Israel Destroyed" on the king track, ever have to place a sin cube and there are no more in the supply, or are unable to place an idol because there are no more in the supply then the players lose.
The single best thing about this game is how well it delivers on the theme. This game does a great job at capturing the feel of the subject matter perfectly. The players truly do feel like prophets in a desperate struggle to point the Israelites back in the right direction against a tide of idolatry, sin, and wickedness.
The cooperative nature of this game helps deliver that theme as well. It would not make a lot of sense if players were competing to be the best prophet. All of the players being on the same team further cements the theme and really creates the feeling of trying to hold back the darkness.
This game is also fairly accessible. The rules provide for some extremely interesting choices. Doing well in this game requires real strategy and coordination. However, the game is not overly complicated. I have been very successful in teaching this game to players who are not familiar with modern board games, and they found the rules to be very easy to follow. Again, being cooperative helps make the game accessible because throughout the entire game players are working together and helping one another out.
Perhaps the biggest frustration with this game is that it can be cruelly lucky. The most common way to lose this game is for too many sin cubes to be placed on the board. The placement of sin cubes is determined by a random card draw. There are times that just due to the random order of the cards the game is essentially impossible to win. This can be especially frustrating after play has progressed for an hour, players are close to winning, and then two very unlucky turns in a row sink the whole thing.
A negative to the cooperative nature is that one player can dominate the game. This is often called the “alpha gamer problem.” This is when one person starts dictating to the other players what they should do on their turn in order to make the best moves. Players absolutely need to communicate and coordinate, but the nature of this game makes it very possible for one player to dominate the whole thing.
Kings of Israel delivers a very solid and engaging game play experience AND it really brings out its biblical theme. With a little bit of effort in putting it together, Kings of Israel could even be used as the basis for a Sunday school curriculum. For me a game that is fun and compelling while also legitimately teaching about the bible is an absolute winner. If you are looking for a good bible based board game or just a challenging game to play with friends, then Kings of Israel is a great choice.