The Ark of the Covenant
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Joshua has led the children of Israel into the Promised Land and you have been given the unique responsibility to develop the area by building roads, cities, temples and raising sheep.Deploy a Prophet into the cities to preach repentance. Take on the sacred duty of moving The Ark of the Covenant around to different areas of the Land.
Based on Carcassonne, winner of the prestigious 2001 Game of the Year award, The Ark of the Covenant combines a timeless Old Testament story with an addicting game that families will enjoy over and over again.
Ok so if you've read any of my other reviews in the Carcassonne family you know by now that I am a HUGE fan of the Klaus Jürgen-Wrede smash hit. I have not as yet reviewed the base model game, it's individual expansions, or Die Jäeger und Sammler (Hunters and Gatherers) but I'll get to them.
Now about this version, first of all let me just say that I am not a fan of any of the major religions, nor the minor ones for that matter either. I was raised up catholic however, I no longer practice, anyway just FYI I did not get this because of it's religious theme. With that said, I got this strictly because of the designer, and the genre (i.e. an abstract, tile placing, strategy game).
Ark Of The Covenant has all the great qualities of it's forbears with only a few slight modifications. Anyone familiar with the base model will grasp the concept immediately. Newcomers will catch on quickly, even more so if taught by an experienced Carcassoner (hey I coined a new term!). The game as it stands (72 tiles) plays fast, puts up fast, and is enjoyable to play. Whether you're an avid church-goer, or a fanatic paganist, you will enjoy this game, so long as you enjoy the basic game that is. If you hate the original Carcassonne, then you're likely to hate this too. Unfortunately I see no expansions coming for this game, although I can easily guess what would work as an expansion, I just don't think this incarnation is worthy of any.
The scoring is a little different from it's mother game, yet similar to the scoring in Hunters and Gatherers. You still try to build cities, roads and fields, but they score a little different. In a closed city, it's 2 points per tile, and 2 points per scroll (treat as shields from the original version) and is the only feature that's exactly like the original. In a closed road it's 1 point per road tile, and 1 point per oasis (if any) oases are similar to the "Inn by the lake" but instead of doubling the road they are worth only 1 point each. Roads here score more like a river segment in Hunters. If at the end of the game you have meeples on an unfinished road or city it's 1 point per road or city tile, and 1 point per oasis or scroll symbol. There is also a large follower just like the double meeple from a Carcassonne expansion (I forget which expansion?) BUT! he does not count as 2! He is your prophet, you may place him in a city to score double points for the city, if you close it. The prophet (or double meeple) can only be used once per game, so, it's best to get him in early, make a huge city, and score it. Once he's scored for you he retires to the box, and cannot be used again this game. Which in my opinion would otherwise overpower the game, and make it nearly un-fun to play if he could be utilised over and over again.
You also have the ARK meeple (for lack of a better term) who comes out at the closing of the first city. Which in my opinion makes for a lesser likelihood of someone closing a 2-tile city. Once a city is closed, the "closer" scores his (or another's) points, and may then place the ARK in any segment of that closed city. Thereafter any player who chooses not to place a meeple may then move the ark up to 5 spaces. Any meeple the ark passes (as in touches the tile a meeple is on) scores 1 point for each meeple passed. Therefore it's best to not only place the ark nearest your men, but also in such a way that makes it difficult for your opponents to move it without scoring points for YOU! The ony drawback is that if the ark starts on a tile where a meeple already stands, that meeple DOES NOT score a point. If the ark ends it's movement on a tile where a meeple already stands that meeple DOES score. So there are definitely some intriguing ways to use the ark. If you can't score during your turn, don't place a meeple, instead move the ark, to either A) Score for yourself, or B) get the ark closer to your already placed meeples so you can score next turn.
One new but strikingly similar Carcassonne scoring feature is the temple. Unlike it's parent forbear (the Cloister) this piece scores differently and for less points. Instead of surrounding the temple (like the cloister) one needs only make a cross. The temple tile plus a tile above and below, and a tile left and right (5 tiles total, basically a + sign). Now you can't place anything on the temple itself, you must choose a road or field segment. Majority rules here too, so if you outnumber your opponents they do not score, everyone scores in the event of a tie. A completed temple is 7 points (as opposed to the Cloister's 9) and 3 at game's end if unfinished.
Now the end game scoring is a lot like Hunters and Gatherers. First score your unfinished roads, then cities, then temples (see above for those scoring methods). Then score your fields. Here is where it gets Hunters and Gatherers-like. In your field, or in any field where you have majority (remove those meeples you outnumber at this point) you score 2 for each sheep in your field, no matter how far away. For each wolf in your field, loose 1 sheep (the wolf ate it). So, very much like the tigers in Hunters and Gatherers however, there are no "cover meeples" the little green circles in Hunters you use to hide each tiger and animal it kills. Fields are scored just like the other features, meaning that majority rules. If you outnumber someone they score nothing, if you tie with someone you each get the same amount of points. So place strategically to either leech off your opponent or to outnumber him/her. A word about Sheep and Wolves: it is this gamer's opinion that the wolves and sheep are simply not as balanced as those (tigers and deer) in Hunters. It's a little more balanced towards the sheep (i.e. less wolves than tigers as in Hunters). So it's really kind of hard not to score a boat-load of points at the end. Other than that there's nothing wrong with this game at all.
So is it worth buying? Sure I bought it, and I hate religion! I give it 5 khadim for playbility, quality, design, mechanics, and overall joy to play, but take back 1 khadim to honor the hebrew god whose ark this is....sorry for the Indiana Jones reference but I had to, and yeah I did take away 1 star (khadim) because of the theme.
Next in a series of Carcassonne spinoffs, this one is aimed more towards Jews and Christians, but certainly not exclusively to them, as fans of Carcassonne will find a lot to like here too! Since it is so similar to the original Carcassonne game, we have taken to calling this game Ark of the Carcassonne or Cark of the Arcassonne or Carcassonne of the Covenant. (I am sure you can do better. =) Even if you havent played that runaway hit Carcassonne yet (all 4 of you) there is enough info on the game on this website so that I feel I am justified in just focusing on the differences between this game and the original.
Again, you are laying down tiles, and placing meeple, trying to complete valuable projects in order to score points. The tile distribution in this game (the shapes of the cities, roads, etc.) is similar to the original Carcassonne (so no funky City shapes), but includes more roads going into cities, which helps limit the size of fields a welcome change.
Scoring has changed slightly as well: Cities score the same, 2 points per tile, and 2 points per scroll; Roads score 1 point for tiles but receive a bonus point for each oasis along the road; Fields score 2points for every sheep in it, but 2 points for every wolf. The other two ways of scoring need a bit more detail.
Temples are similar to the old Monasteries, but not the same. Instead of needing to be surrounded by 8 tiles before being scored, Temples are scored as soon as they are surrounded north-south-east-west by tiles. And you are not allowed to place a meeple on the Temple itself, instead, you must place meeple on projects normally, and when the Temple is being scored, it awards 7 points to the player who has the most meeple in orthogonally adjacent tiles. Strange, yes, but it leads to more competition, and it eliminates the old luck of the Monasteries.
The Ark of the Covenant is a cardboard piece on a plastic stand that introduces a new type of scoring to the game. After laying a tile, instead of placing a meeple, a player may move the ark orthogonally from 1-5 spaces. Each tile that the Ark goes through awards a point to whoever has a meeple on that tile. So if you can get it behind a line of your meeple, anyone who wants to move it out will have to move it past you and give you some points! It adds a nice twist to the game, as now when you receive a tile that doesnt help you at all, you can still generate some points for yourself with the Ark.
Not only does it have some new mechanics, its the theme of Ark of the Covenant that also impressed me. Proximity to Temples was an important part of ancient Jewish life, and to see the Ark of the Covenant as the priests carried it through the land conveyed blessing and brought great joy to the people as it was being carried to Jerusalem. Both of these facets of Israelite life and the Jewish faith are captured very well in this new scoring, which is just an extra bonus for Jews and Christians purchasing this game; for those of you for whom this extra significance means nothing, for you Ill simply add that these new mechanics work very well and greatly improve on the original Carcassonne scoring. Another plus is the graphical change, as the game now has a stone city and desert setting which is a nice visual break from all the green fields of original Carcassonne. Kudos to Alvin Madden for a very nice artistic style as well.
For hardcore Carcassonne fans, this is a winner. For those of you a bit tired of the system, you may find this new version, while pleasant, to be too much of the same old thing. It does bear many similarities to the original Carcassonne, and that may affect your decisions to acquire it. If you dont have the original, I find this to be an improved version of it. A solid entry into the series.
Well. As die-hard Carcassonne junkies our game group received and immediately broke open the newest incarnation, Carcassonne the Ark. Most of the familiar mechanisms are still present, although we all noticed a decidedly gentler tone to the game. First off, all the components are still top notch and the tiles have a more 'biblical' look to them. The main addition to Carcassonne the Ark is the 'Prophet'. This is the same piece that is the 'double man' in Carcassonne, but now he is placed in a city, and if and when that city is completed, the city scores double points (we found this to be the single most important scoring mechanism in the new version; you must play your prophet after you have developed a fairly large settlement, otherwise you may be cut off in a small settlement with few points!). The other consideration with the prophet is that he is only played one time. After his city is scored, the prophet is removed from the board and the game! The other new twist is the Ark of the Covenant piece. After the first city is completed, that player has the Ark 'in hand' and may place it anywhere in that city. Any time therafter that you play a tile, but take no further action, you may move the Ark from 1 to 5 spaces on the board. Any piece that the Ark moves through scores 1 point (backtracking is not allowed). This made for some interesting battles for points as the ark moved all over the area. Temples are substituted for cloisters, with the temple being scored after the temple is surrounded orthogonally by other tiles (7 points). Whoever has the most followers in the five tile area takes the points. The last change is that farmers no longer supply cities (which cuts down on our usual cutthroat farm wars), and now are shepherds. Each sheep in your farm area is worth two points, minus any wolves which eat one of your sheep.
We found that there are just too few tiles to do much aggressive raiding, so the feeling of the game is a lot gentler. Every tile is important, and therefore must be used for each players own objectives (or maybe we were just in a cooperative mood?). Anyway, because it doesn't quite match up with the original (what does?) we're giving it four stars.
Inspiration Games - sister company of Uberplay Games - specializes in releasing games with religious themes. Owner Jeremy Young feels - as do I - that many families would be more willing to play games if they possessed themes that were related to their religious beliefs. There are numerous reasons why developing games with religious themes makes good sense, but that is a matter to be discussed outside the scope of this report. Suffice to say, under the Inspiration Games label, Jeremy is testing this theory with the release of Settlers of Zarahemla and Ark of the Covenant.
Ark of the Covenant uses virtually the same game system as Carcassonne, quite likely the most popular European-style game since Settlers of Catan (on which Settlers of Zarahemla is based). The game is set in the time period of the Old Testament, with the Israelites developing the region by building cities, temples and roads and by raising sheep.
For those familiar with Carcassonne, the main differences in Ark of the Covenant are
1) The Ark. Instead of placing a token, players may move the Ark, which scores points for players when passing through tiles containing their tokens.
2) The Prophet. This slightly larger token scores double points for a finished city.
3) Temples. These structures close when surrounded orthogonally by tiles and score 7 points for the player with the most tokens surrounding it.
4) Fields. The fields contain sheep, with players scoring 2 points for each sheep in fields they control. Wolves detract from this score.
For those unfamiliar with Carcassonne, a bit more detailed description is in order. The game's central mechanism is tile-laying. Players take turns placing tiles to form the ``board'', then decide whether to place one of their tokens (now widely known as ``meeples'') onto the newly placed tile. In lieu of placing a token, a player may move the Ark of the Covenant token, scoring points for each token it passes. Points are also scored when a city or road is completed, a temple is surrounded orthogonally by tiles, or for sheep tended in the fields at game's end.
Tiles depict segments or portions of various buildings and/or terrain, including cities, temples, roads and fields. When a tile is played to the table, it must be placed adjacent to another tile, and all features on the two tiles must match (road to road, city to city, etc.). After placing a tile, the player may elect to place one of his seven tokens onto the tile, positioning it onto one of the features depicted on the tile. Only one token may occupy a particular feature, so if there is already a token in that building, road or field, the player may not place another one. However, if a player is able to eventually join two separate road, city or field segments into one, then it is acceptable to have more than one token located on a specific road, city or field.
Tokens placed into a city or road will be returned to the player when that city or road is finished. Tokens placed in a field, however, will remain in place until the end of the game. Thus, players must decide on each turn whether to place a token and, if so, on what feature of the tile upon which to place it. Since there is no guarantee that a particular city or road will ever be completed, and, if so, just how many turns this might take, players must carefully weigh whether they should place a token or not. If tokens are placed too quickly, it is quite possible to deplete your supply and have none to place when you really want to.
In addition to 7 meeples, each player also has one prophet, which is actually a slightly larger meeple. The prophet can be placed in a city and if that city finishes, points will be doubled. The prophet may only be used once, however, so players must be very judicious in its use.
If a player opts not to place a meeple, he can instead move the Ark of the Covenant token. This token can move up to five spaces. If a space through which it moves contains a meeple, the owner of that meeple scores 1 point. This Ark feature gives the player another option and helps alleviate the problem of having a tile that does not provide any lucrative placement opportunities. It also provides a strategy that players can utilize, as the proper positioning of the Ark can yield significant points, even when your opponents opt to move it and must move it through tiles containing your tokens.
As mentioned, when a city or road is completed, points will be awarded to the player having the most meeples there. Roads will score 1 point per segment, plus 1 point for each oasis along that road. Cities score 2 points per segment, plus 2 points for each scroll symbol located on tiles within the city. When a temple is surrounded orthogonally by tiles, it is closed and scores 7 points for the player who has the most meeples surrounding that temple. In all cases, if players tie for the most meeples at a location, they each score the indicated number of points.
Fields score only at the end of the game, which occurs when the last tile is played. The player with the most shepherds (meeples) in a field scores 2 points for each sheep symbol in that field, minus 2 points for each wolf in the field. This is identical to the field scoring in Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers. Fields can be very lucrative, but since they are large in size, it is often possible for opponents to place tiles to maneuver their own tokens into the field. Plus, fields are fairly susceptible to attack by placing tiles containing wolves. So, pursuing a field strategy can be risky.
As in Carcassonne, all unfinished buildings and roads score at the conclusion of the game, but at a reduced value. So, the main risk of placing tokens is the danger of depleting your supply during the course of the game.
The religious theme fits nicely and is certainly nowhere near overpowering. The addition of the Ark provides more strategic options for players, and the field scoring is simpler and easier to understand than the farm scoring in Carcassonne. Is it better than the original? Well, hard to say. I do like the addition of both the Ark and Prophet, as more options are a good thing. I actually enjoy Hunters & Gatherers more then the original and feel that I'll be playing this one more, too. However, I don't think the main intent was to create another version of Carcassonne for gamers. The central idea is to expose the game and others like it to families and individuals in a segment of the market that may be unaware of these types of games. Inspiration Games earns high marks for this objective, and for the games they have chosen to lead this effort.