Kings of Israel – Prophetic Pandemic
This review was written by guest contributor Ryan Smoker.
The nation of Israel is on the brink of disaster. After blissful years of abundance under the reign of good kings, the people of Israel find themselves subjected to the destructive rule of kings who have deserted the LORD and turned to foreign gods. As sin and idol worship increase throughout the land, a band of inspired prophets rise up to fight the encroaching darkness and call the people to repentance.
Kings of Israel is a cooperative game for 2-4 players by Lance Hill and published by Funhill Games. You and your fellow prophets band together to preach to the nation, destroy idols, gather resources, and build altars to the Most High God. Along the way you will courageously hold back the tide of sin as you race to build enough altars to save the people and avoid ultimate destruction.
Setup will seem familiar to players of other cooperative games. Each Prophet receives a few starting Resources and a special Ability (which also indicates their starting Location). Draw Location cards to randomly populate Sin (black cubes) and Idols (golden calves) around the map of the kingdom. Place the crown on the first King in the timeline, and a single Altar in Samaria.
First Things First
At the start of each round, examine the timeline. Are you working during the reign of a good king? Then draw a Blessing card and resolve its effects. Unfortunately, most turns force you to operate during the reign of a terrible king, which means you get to draw a Sin & Punishment card instead. Hooray! Of course, this hits your band of prophets with nasty effects, limitations, and general mayhem that tends to move you closer to destruction.
Also, each turn except the first requires you to infest the nation with Sin and Idols. Do this by drawing cards from the Locations deck and adding black Sin cubes to the selected area. Once any Location reaches three or more Sin cubes, you must also add a golden Idol to that Location. If an Idol already exists in a Location and you are required to place a Sin cube there, then Sin spreads to every connected Location. This can cause chain reactions of more Sin and Idols filling the board, which will quickly end the game if you ignore them.
The Locations deck also includes nation cards, that spill more Sin into the land around the edges. You’ll also run into “Shall Be Again” cards that cause you to shuffle all the discarded Location cards and put them back on top of the Locations deck.
Release the Prophets!
With the game loaded up with nasty black Sin cubes and pesky golden Idols, it’s time for the prophets to get to work. The people are not going to save themselves, after all!
Thankfully, the prophets are given a variety of Actions they can take to restore the nation to God’s favor. Each prophet has four Action points they can use to help the group achieve victory. The Starting Player begins the round, exercises all four Action points, and play proceeds clockwise to the other prophets. Your possible Actions are, as follows:
Move — Get your bearded hero around the board. This allows you to move between two Locations connected by a road or a sea route.
Preach — ”Knock it off, guys!” Remove one Sin cube from your current Location.
Destroy an Idol — Remove one Idol from your current Location. This uses two Action points, but it’s important to limit the spread of Sin.
Acquire Resources — Draw a card from the Resource deck. You must obey a hand limit of six Resource cards. You need Resources to build Altars and other helpful things.
Build an Altar — Discard a Gold, a Stone, and a Wood Resource card from your hand to build an Altar at your current Location. Remember, building Altars is how you ultimately win the game.
Sacrifice — Discard a Cattle and Grain Resource card from your hand to make a sacrifice to the LORD at an Altar. This allows you to remove all Sin cubes from the Altar’s Location, and one Sin cube from each neighboring connected Location. Nice!
Give Resources — Meet up with another prophet at the same Location and hand them up to two Resource cards. This is a helpful way to get the right Resource cards into other players’ hands.
Don’t forget, each prophet has a special Ability they can exercise during their turn as well. These all bend the rules in your favor in some way or another.
Crown the Next King
Once all prophets have taken a turn, the round ends. pass the Starting Player card to the next prophet and move the Timeline Marker down to the next king before starting a new round. If you reach the “Israel Destroyed” space, your team loses!
To win the game, your team of prophets must build a certain number of Altars in various Locations throughout the kingdom. Not only must you must achieve this difficult task before time runs out, but also without running out of Sin cubes or Idols.
Good luck, prophets, you’re going to need it. Or should I say, may the LORD’s blessing be upon you all. And, you’re definitely going to need that, because this game is not easy! I did say that, right?
So, let me just say this up front. Kings of Israel is a lot like Pandemic. Instead of disease cubes, you have to eradicate Sin cubes. If too many cubes gather in one Location, chain reactions take place and you quickly hurtle towards destruction. If all the Sin cubes make it onto the board, you instantly lose. Sound familiar? There are some differences, but the comparison is hard to miss. If you’re tired of Pandemic and are hoping for something fresh, this is probably not the game for you.
Also, it feels like there are too many card decks in the game. Pandemic streamlined the flow of the game through only two decks. Kings of Israel relies on five different decks to do the same thing. It’s not a major issue, but does seem to over-complicate things at times.
Despite these critiques, this is a fun game! I happen to enjoy Pandemic quite a bit, so while I wish Kings of Israel explored new ground, the familiarity of it makes it pretty easy to pick up and play. The theme is also unusual and entertaining. Seriously, in what other family situation will you put your heads together and strategize the finer details of a trip to Jabesh Gilead to destroy an idol? For families looking for this kind of theme, the Biblical storytelling and historical details are fun to explore and discover.
If your kids enjoy cooperative games, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this one. The mechanics and cards are nicely balanced to keep the game flowing, and the turns tend to move along quickly.
If your team becomes too skilled and needs a challenge, there are various ways to increase the difficulty, including a particularly nasty False Prophet variant. I especially recommend using the Campaign rules (located in the back of the rulebook). The Campaign gives you a set of seven scenarios that range from beginner to advanced. Start the kids off on the easy Campaign to help them learn, and then work your way through the higher levels of difficulty to see what you can handle. There’s almost an infinite amount of small tweaks you can make to turn up the difficulty, so the replayability is quite high.
Fans of cooperative games will find Kings of Israel to be a nice addition to their library. The turns move quickly enough to keep your kids engaged and using teamwork in the face of adversity makes for an entertaining family game night.
The LORD is calling you to action! Grab your staff, set your face like flint, and start your ministry as an itinerant preacher of the Most High God.
And, thankfully for me, beards are not required.
You can ask for Kings of Israel at your friendly local game store or at Amazon.
The Family Gamers received a promotional copy of Kings of Israel for this review.
Kings of Israel
Number of Players: 2-4
Age Range: 14+ (we’d say 10+, maybe younger)
Playtime: 30-60 minutes