Kings of Israel Game Review

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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 14+)
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • Approximately 45 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Save Israel and her people

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek mixed!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

It has been said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Kings that rule the lands of Israel poison the people who follow them, resulting in corruption of the mind and the spirit. You are a Prophet sent to deliver these people from evil, but the road you must walk is not an easy one.

Kings of Israel, designed by Lance Hill and published by Funhill Games, is comprised of 1 game board (which is a map of Israel), 40 Location cards, 34 Resource cards, 30 Blessing cards, 30 Sin & Punishment cards, 8 Ability cards, 1 Staring Player card, 27 Sin cubes (black), 9 Alter tokens (white), 6 Idol tokens (yellow), 4 Prophet tokens, 3 Destruction cubes, 1 False Prophet token (black), 1 King Timeline token (purple), and 4 Player Guides.  The component quality is excellent. The game board is thick, colorful, and detailed. The cards are all well illustrated and are a mix of color and dark shading.

To Your Offspring I Give this Land

To set up the game, first place the game board in the middle of the playing area.

Second, place the King Timeline token on the highest most space on the Timeline track (space is labeled “Saul”).

Third, separate the Location, Ability, Blessing, Resource, and Sin & Punishment cards into their own piles. Shuffle each pile separately and place them face-down next to the game board. These are the draw decks for the specific card types.

Fourth, give each player 1 Prophet token in the color of their choice and a Player Guide. Deal 2 Resource cards and 1 Ability card to each player. The Player Guide and Ability card are placed face-up in front of the player (Resource cards go in the player’s hand). The Player tokens are then placed on the Starting Location spaces noted on the Ability cards. Each Ability card gives its owning player a unique advantage in the game that can be leveraged to benefit the group.

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Fifth, place each token and cube in their own piles off to one side of the game board area. This is the supply pool. Place 1 Altar token in Samaria location on the game board.

Sixth, draw 1 Location card per player, plus 2 more. Discard any “Nation” and “Shall Be Again” Location cards and continue to draw until the necessary number is met. Then place 1 Sin cube on the locations noted on the Location cards, 1 cube per card.

Seventh, draw 1 Location card per player, plus 1 more. Discard any “Nation” and “Shall Be Again” Location cards and continue to draw until the necessary number is met. Then place 2 Sin cubes on the locations noted on the Location cards, 2 cubes per card.

Eighth, draw 1 Location card per player. Discard any “Nation” and “Shall Be Again” Location cards and continue to draw until the necessary number is met. Then place 1 Idol token on the locations noted on the Location cards, 1 token per card.

Ninth, collect all the Location cards and shuffle, placing the deck face-down again.

This completes game set up. Determine who will be the first player and give them the Starting Player card.

Hold Not Thy Peace and Be Not Still

Kings of Israel is played in rounds and turns. This a Cooperative game, meaning the players are working together as a team. They will either win as a group or lose as a group. Players are encouraged to help each other with advise and talk through their moves, but each player should play the game the way they think is best without being told what to do.

A single game round is comprised of several phases. The phases are played in sequential order. When turn order sequence is required, the player with the Starting Player card goes first. A round of game play is summarized here.

Phase 1: The King’s Timelines

At the start of each round, the Starting Player takes a look at the Timeline track to determine where the Timeline marker is currently located.

  • If the Timeline marker is on a white space, draw 1 Blessing card
  • If the Timeline marker is on a red space, draw 1 Sin & Punishment card

Blessing Cards

These cards represent a time period where a good and just king rules Israel and the people live in harmony. Blessing cards can be played later in the round during the Prophets Work phase, but only if the players wants to. Blessing cards never count towards a player’s hand size limit and can be kept in reserve until the need is great. When played, a Blessing card will more times than not be a one-time event, but there are a few that remain in play for the duration of the game.

kingsofisreal_blessings

Sin & Punishment Cards

These cards represent a time period where a bad and selfish king rules Israel and the people live in fear. These cards describe events within the borders or Israel or those caused by neighboring nations. Like the Blessing cards, Sin & Punishment cards are normally one-time events, but a few remain in play for the duration of the game.

kingsofisrael_sin

Most of the time, Sin & Punishment cards are resolved as soon as they are played. The one exception are the “Foretold Events” Sin & Punishment cards. The effects of these cards are shared with the players and they will be given time to prepare for the worst. This glimpse gives players time to consider what should be done and by whom. When ready, the “Foretold Events” Sin & Punishment card is placed back in the Sin & Punishment draw deck underneath a specific number of cards, face-up. The players will encounter it later in the game.

kingsofisrael_fortold

Phase 2: Sin Increases

If this is the first round of the game, this phase is skipped. Go directly to phase 3.

This phase focuses on spreading corruption across the land. The Starting Player draws 1 Location card at a time, placing 1 Sin cube on the location noted on the card. One Location card is drawn per player, plus 1 more.

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  • If the Location card indicates a neighboring nation, 1 Sin cube is added to every location within Israel that is directly connected to that neighboring nation via a road route
  • If 3 or more Sin cubes are located in a single location, add 1 Idol token (only 1 Idol per location allowed)
  • If a Sin cube is added to a location that already has an Idol token, add 1 Sin cube to each location that is connected via a road route (not to neighboring nations)

It’s possible that a single Sin cube could create a chain of events that generate additional Sin cubes and Idol tokens.

Drawn Location cards are discarded. If the Location draw deck is ever depleted, reshuffle the discard pile to create a new draw deck.

Phase 3: Prophets Work

Now the players have an opportunity to address the growing corruption, fortify society, and strengthen the borders of their land. Each player may take a maximum of 4 actions, taking the same action multiple times if they so choose. The cost of the action taken ranges from 1 to 2 action points. Any Blessing cards can also be played during this phase without costing an action to do so and can be played out of turn. The Starting Player goes first followed by the next player in turn order sequence. The possible actions follow.

Move Prophet

By default, a player can move their Prophet token to another location for 1 action via the roads (a solid line between locations) or by sea (dotted line). If the player discards a “Cattle” or “Grain” Resource card, the player can move their Prophet token up to 3 locations for only 1 action.

kingsofisreal_travel

Preach to Israelites

For 1 action, the player can remove 1 Sin cube from their current location. The Sin cube is returned to the supply pool.

Destroy an Idol

For 2 actions, the player can remove an Idol token from their current location. The Idol token is returned to the supply pool.

Acquire Resources

For 1 action, the player can draw 1 Resource card from the draw deck and add it to their hand. A player may never have anymore than 6 Resource cards at a time. Players must discard down to 6 Resource cards if they have more than the hand size limit. Shuffle the discard pile if the Resource draw deck is ever depleted.

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Build an Altar

For 1 action, the player can discard 1 “Gold”, 1 “Stone”, and 1 “Wood” Resource card from their hand to place an Altar token on the location where their Prophet token is currently located. Only 1 Altar can be built per location. Building Altars is necessary to win the game.

Make a Sacrifice

For 1 action, the player can discard 1 “Cattle” and 1 “Grain” Resource card at a location with an Altar token. Doing so removes all the Sin cubes in that specific location and 1 Sin cube from each location that is connected via a road. Idols remain.

Give Resources

For 1 action, the player can give up to 2 Resource cards to another player who has a Prophet token in the same location as the player. Players may discuss what Resource cards are needed and what is available. This is a one way trade and the player giving the Resource cards receives nothing in return other than a word of thanks.

Phase 4: End of Round

The round is over when all the players have taken their 4 actions. The Starting Player card is passed to the next player in turn order sequence and the Timeline marker is moved down to the next King space. A new round now begins.

The Weapons We Fight with Are Not the Weapons of the World

The game is won if the players are able to successfully build a certain number of Altars. The required number is based on the number of players in the game (ranging from 7 to 9 Altars).

The game is lost if the players are ever required to place a Sin cube or Idol token and none are available in the supply pool. The game is also lost if the Timeline token is moved to the very last space, indicating that Israel is lost.

Game Variants & Extras

A few game variants are available for those who like to change the game play, as well as a few extra downloadable goodies. These are summarized here.

Saving Israel with 3 and 4 Players

The Timeline contains an indicator for the number of players. Certain Kings are skipped in the Timeline and some Kings have a very short rule, impacting when Blessing and Sin & Punishment cards are drawn.

Keeping it Easy

Kings of Israel was designed to keep the pressure on and swamp the players if they did not manage the threat level. If the game is feeling too intense, have each player lay their hand of cards face-up when playing, making it much easier to see what fellow-team members have. At the end of each round, each player draws 1 Blessing card, as well.

Not Hard Enough?

If your players enjoy a challenge and are finding the game too easy, introduce the False Prophet. The False Prophet travels around the game board destroying Altars. The False Prophet’s journey is determined by adjacent Altars and Sin cubes, but will always avoid traveling to a location where a real Prophet is placed. The False Prophet can be removed from the game by completing a series of actions when a real Prophet is located in the same space as the False Prophet.

A Game for 5 or 6 Players

The game provides enough components for up to 4 players to work together. A Kickstarter stretch goal provided components for up to 6 players. These do not appear in the game as it’s sold today. The game publishers wanted everyone to have a chance to play with a larger group and have provided the artwork and rules for free. The False Profit becomes an actual player role and a new role, the Thief, steals cards. Both roles are suitable for new and inexperienced players.

Bible Study Material

The game comes with quotes from the Bible listed on a the cards. These serve to provide context, to a certain degree, for the events that are being depicted. If you play with individuals who are actively involved in a Bible Study group or teach a Sunday School class, a guide is provided with downloadable material to be used with the game as a teaching aid. This brings the phrase “cooperative fellowship” to a whole new level.

To learn more about Kings of Israel, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

Kings of Israel, and pretty much any Cooperative game, was easy to teach to the Child Geeks. This is due to the game requiring the players to work together. Teaching as you play is possible, as is assisting younger players by actively walking them through their decision making. It also helps that Kings of Israel is not an overly complex game. According to one Child Geek, “I like this, but it can get really difficult if you don’t watch all the locations.” Very true. The game itself was not found to be overly difficult by the Child Geeks, but nor did they believe it was that easy, either. As one Child Geek put it, “This is a game you can win if you and the rest of the players always work together.” The Biblical theme and narrative of the game went right over most of the Child Geeks’ heads, but all of them agreed that it was a good time.

My fellow Prophet lets me know he's got my back

My fellow Prophet lets me know he’s got my back

The Parent Geeks rather liked the game, too, and the religious over and undertones didn’t seem to bother any of the players one bit. In fact, a number of the Parent Geeks were very pleased to have finally come across a game that was Biblical in nature, but still had all the elements of a fun game. As one Parent Geek put it, “This is a game I would play with my friends at the office and after church.” Another Parent Geek said, “I’m not big on Bible thumping, but this game seems to hit the right mix between its religious theme and game play.” All the Parent Geeks agreed that Kings of Israel was a game that provided a challenge and fun, approving it for their family and friends.

The Gamer Geeks were a mixed bag. All of the Gamer Geeks recognized many elements in Kings of Israel that were also in another popular Cooperative game titled Pandemic. This either bothered the Gamer Geek immensely or didn’t register as a concern. According to one Gamer Geek, “This is the Biblical equivalent of Pandemic. It almost feels like a copy. The game play, however, is less interesting and less challenging.” Another Gamer Geek said, “Yes, I see lots of common elements between Pandemic and Kings of Israel, but this new game stands on its own. It is not a clone.” All the Gamer Geeks agreed that the rules, components, and game play were solid, but they could not agree on if the game was for them or not. The end result was a mixed level of approval from the Gamer Geek elitists.

Let’s first address the biggest elephant in the room. No, Kings of Israel is not a Judeo-Christian based Pandemic. Yes, it has a number of the same game mechanics, but that’s it. For example, both games use the same game mechanic to spread threats across the game board using routes when certain threat levels hit a high mark. Both games also require players to work together and give each player a special ability to help the cause, but that’s where the similarities end. The Blessings and Sin & Punishment cards add an entirely new level of game play and the use of Resource cards creates a distinct feeling of collecting materials to address genuine concerns. The end result is a game that most certainly feels a little like Pandemic, but only to a very small degree.

The second biggest elephant in the room is the game’s theme which is heavily based and supported by Judeo-Christian beliefs. This will turn off many players due to the assumption that the game will be “preachy”. It’s not. In fact, the only aspect of the Bible that is even evident in the game are quotes listed under the cards. The game does not attempt to indoctrinate or push any religious ideals on the player. It’s a game based on beliefs that the player may or may share, but the player need not care or even understand any of the game’s thematic elements to have a good time.

Personally, I found Kings of Israel to be a solid game. It’s not overly difficult, but nor is it a game you can take lightly. All players will have to assist and help maintain a balance until such time the players can get the upper hand. The randomness of the cards always creates for a different game, but the game play is always the same. This will reduce the level of replayability for some, but shouldn’t be that big of an issue since the placement of tokens and cubes is always so widely dispersed and randomized.

I had the most fun playing with the False Prophet. This really made the game difficult and my group actually lost the first game using this game variant. The False Prophet makes a mess out of things for the players, creating fires where you wouldn’t otherwise think to look and making it difficult to determine what threat to address first.

Overall, I’m pleased with Kings of Israel. It’s a solid game, from components to game play. I was pleasantly surprised, as were most of the players who sat down and played the game with me. If you enjoy Cooperative games, do play a game or two of Kings of Israel.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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3 Responses to Kings of Israel Game Review

  1. paschott says:

    Thanks for the detailed review. I appreciate that the game is accessible but doesn’t fall into the typical “Christian Game” category where so many games are clones, roll and move, trivia, or just plain bad as a game. For those who want it, there’s a Bible Study that can be used with the game, but for those who don’t, it can be played just as the game. This looks like something we’d enjoy and having the Judeo-Christian theme and a co-op play is something our friends would appreciate to some extent.

    • Cyrus says:

      Thanks for reading the review and taking the time to leave a comment.

      I failed to mention the Bible Study material due to it not having any impact on the game. However, your thoughts got me thinking about the value of the material. While it’s of little interest to me, it might be exceedingly relevant to another. As such, I have added a link to the Bible Study material and a link to additional rules for a 5-6 player game under the Game Variants section of the review.

    • paschott says:

      Yeah, it’s not something I see us using anytime soon, but I appreciate Lance taking the time to do it for those who are interested. (It may come up at some future point, but I don’t work with an age group where that would really fit in for gaming/Bible study. 🙂 )

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