Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry to the temple mount, marks the beginning of Holy Week. Liturgically, Holy Week is a time in the life of most churches where the congregation seeks to experience the last days of Jesus Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter morning services are often designed to get the worshippers in the mindset of being there during those moments. The favorite hymn ask, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Often the aim of holy week worship is to get the congregation to say yes, or at least in the abstract. The aim is to make the congregation feel like they were there. This feeling of being there can be evoked in worship, but can it be re-created by a board game? That is exactly the question that A.D. 30 seek to address. This game designed by Tom Decker and published by Victory Point Games challenges the players to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem.
This game is somewhat unique in that it is meant to be a solo experience. It is designed to be a single player against the system of the game. The game board represents a path that Jesus takes from his baptism to Jerusalem. There are many possible outcomes to this game, but the ultimate goal is to get the historical outcome. Jesus recruits twelve disciples, is betrayed by Jesus, and crucified by Pilate.
Every turn goes through the same structure. The first thing that the player will do is draw an event card. This event card will have a title and the scripture that inspired the title. It will also picture Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod. If pictured, then that person is moved down a track. If any of these people ever reach the sixth spot, Jerusalem, the game will end. The card will also tell the player how many actions they get to take. This number is always between one and four. Finally, the card will tell the player if they advance to the next location and if they need to make a temptation challenge. If tempted, the player needs to roll a die. If successful, then Jesus’ piety raises by one and if they fail Jesus piety lowers by one.
The next part of the turn is where the player takes actions and they have several possibilities. The player may wander. This means they go back a space. This is a necessary action to stay out of Jerusalem and accomplish goals. To complete the wander action a die roll is needed. A second possibility is reduce threat. This simply moves one of the people opposing Jesus a step back up on their respective track. Each of these opponents has a number, and a die roll must be higher than their number. Judas is the easiest to move and Pilate is the hardest. Another option is pray, which will raise the piety of Jesus. This is important because at a lower piety level it is harder to accomplish tasks, and if Jesus piety ever reaches zero it is an automatic loss as Jesus has given into temptation and bowed down to Satan.
The player may also try to get disciples. This happens in one of two ways. The first space on the track is the Jordan River, and while here Jesus can recruit disciples easily. While in Galilee and Bethany Jesus can get disciples through teaching but this once again requires a die roll. Jesus may also send his disciples. This action makes it so that the people who oppose Jesus on the track move slower, but it does create a possibility that the disciple could be killed.
The final possible action is to perform a miracle. This action requires playing a matching mini-game, and when a match is made of one of those opposing Jesus they are flipped to their opposite side. This side has a lower number and it is easier to reduce threat.
Several of the actions require rolling a die. Jesus will either have a three or a four on his marker, and the number rolled must be higher than this number to succeed. The number is based on how pious Jesus is. If one of these actions is failed, then a +1 dice roll modifier is added for the next action. If that one also fails, then it becomes an auto-success.
Once one of the people opposing Jesus or Jesus himself reaches Jerusalem the game is over. The player will add up their score. Players get one point for each disciple recruited, points for where they are on the piety track, and extra points for certain disciples. Based on certain game conditions, the score will tell the players if they won or lost. There are fourteen possible outcomes in this game and only five of these outcomes are considered victories.
Solo games are uncommon, and I think for this particular theme and design it was the right choice. This game does have a strong narrative flow to it, and the input from more people might have disrupted that.
Typically the deck of events is random, but I appreciate that the designer included a historical scenario. The cards can be put in a specific order so that they walk through the life of Jesus as chronologically recorded in the gospels.
I did not like this game at all, and there are two major reasons for that. First, the theme is a problem for me. I appreciate the designer attempting to make a game rooted in the Jesus narrative, but having the players take the role of Jesus may have been the wrong move. I realize that this a subjective feeling, and others might feel differently. However, it deeply bothers me that this game allows for Jesus to fall into sin. The fact that the game even allows it comes off as feeling blasphemous to me. In the same way, I am rubbed the wrong way that Jesus could possibly fail a pray action in finding connection with God the Father. I realize that in my disdain to these mechanisms that my theology is showing. I do hold a high Christology and this game offended that. Your mileage may vary, but I had a strong and viscerally negative reaction to the way this game handled the theme.
Part of what led to me feeling that way is the base mechanisms of the game itself. Specifically, the game is random and very dependent on luck. Nearly everything requires a die roll. When Jesus is at his most pious, this roll is an even fifty/fifty. When he is not as pious the roll only has a one third chance of success. A string of bad rolls can cause a loss. It seems the majority of cards give three actions, and two bad rolls in a row means an entire turn is spent accomplishing one action. Maybe I am particularly unlucky but in my plays of this game that happened many times.
To get the historical outcome requires a near perfect score and for everything to work out just right. Given the games mechanisms that can only happen with a ton of luck. Perhaps this game could be used as a teaching point to show how miraculous the life of Jesus is, because in order for everything to happen as it did required everything to happen just perfectly. This retails for $34.99, so that is a high price point for an object lesson. As a game, I cannot recommend this game and I did not find it fun. There are many ways that believers can try to evoke that “I was there” feeling, but this game is not one of them.