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Solomon's Temple is a game for two players that is challenging and fun. The first player to complete the Temple and play Filling of the Holy of Holies is the winner. However, the game is not that simple. While you are trying to build the Temple, the Israelites continue to fall into Sin. Work must be stopped on the Temple so the priests can offer up a burnt offering to the Lord for atonement. To make matters worse, invasion forces from Babylon are pouring down from the north. They want to destroy the entire city of Jerusalem and wreck the Temple! Do you have what it takes to handle the Israelites' rebellion against God, deal with the Babylonian attacks, and still find time to complete the Temple before your opponent does?
I wrote my first review on Settlers of Canaan, a Settlers of Catan variant aimed at the Christian market. I was extremely enamored with the game, and its one of the games that helped me dive headfirst back into the wonderful world of board games. So it only seems fitting that my hundredth review is about Solomons Temple (Cactus Game Design, 2001 Doug Gray). As a Christian, I was disappointed in the fact that most religious games were terrible rip-offs of popular secular games, and hoped that the excellence of Settlers of Canaan and Redemption was a herald of better games to come.
So was Solomons Temple a worthy successor to these other games by Cactus Games? The answer, sadly, is a resounding no. Not only is it an inferior game in every way, its one of the worst games I have ever played. Very few times have I quit playing a game in the middle, because I am determined to finish games, hoping to find some goodness in them. Solomons Temple contained no such goodness, however, and the more we played, the more tedious the game became. My wife, a very long-suffering player, begged me to quit, and I was only too happy to oblige. The best word to describe the game would be tedious, and that may be a little too positive and nice! When I play a game, I want it to be fun, not work!
To setup the game, each player receives a large game board, a deck of cards, and five Babylonian army movement tokens. The boards are set up, and each player removes a prophet card from their deck, placing it in the appropriate prophet space on the board. Each player shuffles their deck and draws eight cards. One player is chosen to go first, and then play alternates between players.
A players turn is made up of four phases. The first phase, Draw Phase, has the player draw up to eight cards, replenishing their hand. During this phase, a player may play card such as Altar, Levite, Prophet, etc.
The next phase is the Military Phase. The opponent is the first to play on a military phase. If the player whose turn it is has a prophet, the opponent must roll a die (with three stars and three sword symbols). If a star is rolled, the people listen to the prophet and the opponent may not play any Military cards. If a sword is rolled, or there is no prophet, then the opponent may play Military cards that allow them to place Babylonian armies on the board, and wreak havoc with already placed armies. The player whose turn it is then can play as many Israelite Army cards as they want to.
The next phase is the Building Phase, in which players can put different cards on the board. Most furnishing cards cannot be placed until a certain structure card is already on the table. (For example, none of about six Furnishing cards can be played until one card the Main Hall card is placed on the table.) A player must announce his intent to build during which time an opponent may play one sin card against theme. A player may play a Burnt Offering card to cancel the sin card, but only if they have a priest (only a good one) and an altar in place. Confused yet?
The next phase is the Discard phase, where a player can discard up to two cards. If at any time, during the Building Phase, a player has completed the entire temple (eighteen cards), and plays the Filling of the Holy of Holies card, they win the game! There are a lot of other rules in the game, regarding the play of cards, but if you want to figure them out go waste your money on the game.
Some comments on the game
1.) Components: I almost put the second board in my extra game pieces drawer when I first opened the game, not thinking two boards were needed. I was surprised when reading the rules to find out that I was mistaken. Frankly, the two boards are way oversized, and for a two-player non war game, this game takes up more space than any other I have played and most of it unnecessary. The boards are of good quality, if a bit drab. The dice are regular six-sided dice with stickers on them, and the Babylonian armies are plastic stand up pieces, also with stickers. Overall, I think the game designer was going for an ancient look, but ended up with drab instead. The cards are of a decent quality, except for two problems. One, the corners are not rounded, and are in fact rather pointy. This makes them irritating to play with and shuffle. Secondly, the text is in all capitals and is very difficult to read. A bad game can be enhanced a little by its components. A bad game with poor components gets even worse, and thats the case here. All of this fits in a nice square box which I found wasnt very sturdy, as it split with only a little pressure on it.
2.) Rules: My head almost exploded after reading the rules for the first time, so I finally had to just play the game to try and figure them out. All the cards can do different things, and arent explained well on the card or in the rules. The way the phases are set up, especially the Military phase, are confusing, and make the game rather hard to explain. The layout of the rules is poor, and there are very few examples of game play. There are, however, rules to deal with broken parts of the game and I cant believe that play testers actually thought we would like certain parts of the rules!
3.) Theme: This is really the only good thing I can say about the game. As a Christian, I was very impressed at how the game was accurate with its details concerning Israel and its dealings with God. Biblical scholars might like that part of the game. But theme fun = stinky game, and theme alone is not enough to carry this game through.
4.) Stupid Things: One can only build one thing per turn. If one cannot get a structure card they need, they cannot build any of the furnishing cards. One can literally sit for half an hour, trying to get a certain card in their hand with almost nothing to do for this time! Also, if you get eight furnishing cards in your hand (entirely possible), the game can get stuck since if you discard one of them, you cannot win, and you cant play them until you first play a structure card. The rules address this, and just tell you to reshuffle, but its a stupid thing that should never happen.
5.) Fun Factor: I had fun until I started reading the rules. My fun began again when we put the game away again.
6.) Tedious: The game is slow and boring, and mostly players just wait around until they get the cards they need. Most of the cards have only one use, which leaves almost no strategy for the player. Play good cards on yourself, and bad cards on your opponent. There is no joy in winning this game, and theres almost as much joy in losing because the game is finally over!
So I do not recommend this game at all, even if its given to you for free, since the components arent much use in other games. The game is long, boring, and the opposite of fun. The one good thing in its favor is its theme, which is accurate, but that alone does not a good game make. If you want Biblical theme, you will have a whole lot more fun reading the Bible than you do playing this game, and youll learn a bit more too. Stay away from this stinker!
Show your piety and devotion to boardgaming in this race to be the first to complete Solomon's temple on your board. Use cards to build structures (porch, pillars, Main Hall, Holy of Holies), and fill them with furnishings. End by refilling your hand to eight cards from your shuffled deck. Rolling a die determines whether your opponent will fight you. If he does, he can use a card to dispatch Babylonian armies, which move ever closer to your temple to undo two furnishings upon entering it. After the military phase, you can declare your intention to build. Your opponent may then smite you with a Sin card, forcing you to first make an atonement sacrifice. Too bad if you don't have the proper cards--now you'll have to wait till next turn. Finish the temple, fill it with the Holy Presence card, and rejoice--you've won!