He was acclaimed the wisest man who ever walked the planet. He built the massive temple in Jerusalem. He also had 700 wives and 300 concubines. King Solomon was a player. Now whether or not he had any time to play board games…
Worker placement games are one of the hottest categories of European-style board games in the last couple years. Kingdom of Solomon debuted around the time of a similar game that received much attention last year, Lords of Waterdeep. One has a Dungeons & Dragons theme, the other is set in Palestine around 950 BC. You can likely guess which is which. Phil duBarry (see “Q&A with Game Designer Phil duBarry” for more) is the man behind Kingdom of Solomon. Or should I say “man of the cloth,” because by day duBarry pastors a church in the Cincinnati area. Designing a game with a theme he knew well, duBarry sought to take the best aspects of European-style board games and craft one with that appealed to gamers, families, and folks looking for a historical theme that didn’t feature a bunch of scowling Portuguese dudes trading in the Mediterranean.
Designer: Phil duBarry
Publisher: Minion Games, 2012
Play time: 60-100 minutes
Mechanic(s): Worker Placement, Area Control, Resource Speculation, Route Building
MSRP: $49.99 ***
I think I’ll find a spot amid these lovely cedars of Lebanon
In Kingdom of Solomon, players receive 5 or 6 worker pawns, based on the number of players in the game, and assign them to resource spaces/regions on a board. These produce resources (gold, copper, stone, timber, and food ) or give players actions they can take in the game. The goal is to generate victory points (VP) by securing resources, buying and selling them in the marketplace, and building buildings that consolidate land and grant additional functions. The game ends when
- one player has placed five buildings on the map,
- all 11 building spots on the map are filled, or
- the Temple of Solomon is completed.
Typical of most worker placement Eurogames, Kingdom of Solomon is won by the player who scores the most victory points (VP).
The gamification of a biblical icon
A round of play consists of four phases repeated until the game ending conditions are met: Placement Players place their player pawns on any unoccupied resource spaces/regions of the map, playable bonus spaces, or action spaces. This is done in player order, randomly determined at the beginning of the game. Placement cycles through the order one player and one piece at a time until all pieces are placed. Three bonus spaces require a player to play all remaining pawns to claim the space:
- Ark (two to four players)–Take three fortune cards. These cards can be played at any time and consist of additional actions and resources.
- Altar (three to four players)–Change the player turn order and gain three times the player’s current turn order position in VP.
- Tribute (four players)–Gain one resource cube of each type.
In addition, there are five action spaces that feature a specific title or office on which a player can place a pawn:
- Prophet–Draw a fortune card.
- Minister– Receive 5 VP.
- Thief– Steal one resource cube from another player.
- Trader– Trade one resource cube for a different one.
- Artisan– Collect one resource cube type from one occupied space.
Resolution After all pawns are placed, each player in turn order then receives the resources from the map regions their pawns occupy. Action spaces and bonus spaces are resolved too. Market Each resource may be sold or bought in the market. Since the number of resources is finite, they can run out, especially in a four-player game, increasing the strategy of playing the market wisely. Each type of resource in the market includes a spot for up to four cubes of that type. These spots vary in price by availability. A player buying or selling adjusts his VP along the 100-point track on the outside edge of the board according to the price of the resource. Players take turns in reverse turn order on this step only. Building Four building cards are laid out per round. A player may spend the required resources listed on the card to purchase the right to build that building. Buildings pay out VP and function as an extra space to place workers, since each building has a purpose that can produce an action or resources, usually better than similar spaces on the board. A player can build one of these card-based buildings per round. The player takes the card, scores its points, and places a half-sized building cube on an open building spot on the map. This building cube now renders this space off limits to pawn placement from other players. Only a pawn of the same color can be played in a space with a building on it, with the exception of a high priest, which allows a player to place a worker on a space occupied by another player’s building, ignoring that placement restriction. Players can also build the Temple of Solomon, which consists of 16 white, temple block cubes. Each level of the temple is more resource costly, but a player can choose VP or a temple token as a reward for building part of the temple. Only the player with the most temple tokens in any round can act as high priest. If two players have the same number of temple tokens and one is the present high priest, that player retains the role. Players may also build roads. A road multiplies the effectiveness of pawn placement on the map. A road may be built between adjoining map spaces with like-colored building cubes, or between a space with a building and one that has no designated spot for a building. If two or more spaces are joined by roads, the player who places a pawn in one of those spaces also gains the resource of the other space, as if a pawn had been placed in both. This creates a region of resource access for that player. In addition, if the player then places other pawns in other open spaces of that same joined region, the resource payout will multiply by the number of like-colored pawns in that entire region.
That “heavy is the head that wears the crown” thing? Not here.
The rules to Kingdom of Solomon can be explained in five minutes. In a three-player play-through, I explained the rules to two nongamers who had never played a worker placement game before. They understood quickly. Another play-through with just two, my 12-year-old son and I, saw him wipe the board with me. Rules-wise, the game is fairly light.
What’s behind that temple curtain?
Rulebook The game comes with an almost too simple rulebook of eight small pages. For a game of this type, that’s short. Some have noted a few conditions might arise in the game that aren’t sufficiently explained in the rules. Designer duBarry has a FAQ available online to address rulebook fuzziness. Game components While Kingdom of Solomon is not a chintzy game, it’s also not spectacularly produced. The cubes are standard Eurogame wooden cubes, but on the smaller side. The building half-cubes are downright minuscule. The game cards come in two sizes, standard USA for the building cards and mini USA for the fortune cards. The cardstock is adequate. The game board, while functional, is a smaller than the boards of similar worker placement games and feels cramped. Given that the box for the game is about two-thirds the size of a typical square Eurogame box, opening it up to find the folded gameboard doesn’t fill the dimensions of the box is a disappointment. The player VP track goes up to 100, and it’s possible for good play to yield a score over 200, but no token or marker exists in the game to show a player has lapped the VP track. Also, Minion Games failed to include enough temple tokens for a 1:1 matchup with the 16 cubes needed to build the temple. While it’s possible that not every player who builds a piece of the temple will take a token rather than VP, designer duBarry notes the problem. In both cases, some kind of additional marker (pennies, nickels, glass beads) can be used to signify scoring over 100 or 200, plus additional temple tokens. Lastly, the map isn’t up to National Geographic Society standards, and while the overall graphic design and artwork in the game are serviceable, one expects more production frills from a $50 game. Gameplay Despite simple rules, the game contains a wide breadth of strategic and tactical choices, with no single strategy appearing dominant. Most players will need to build a road or two to maximize resources and lock out strategic regions, but everything else is up for grabs. Though the game scales well for two to four players, four is the sweet spot because it maximizes the market strategy as resources tighten. To exacerbate a lack of resources, the tribute bonus on the board comes into play for four players. While some Eurogames feel like multiplayer solitaire, Kingdom of Solomon does an outstanding job of forcing players to pay attention to what others players are doing. Interaction is good. A well-timed bit of sabotage can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
That’s 19 tons of gold–but it’s BYO myrrh
Kingdom of Solomon, like many games today, has a promo and expansion that do not come with the base game but can be purchased separately. The Levite Camp promo building card was available at the Essen 2011 game convention. The 14 VP card permits building a temple block at no cost. It costs one cube of each color to buy. The Chronicles of the King mini expansion includes 15 event cards that alter play and work especially well with fewer than four players. It also includes four player aid cards.
Closing thoughts of the not-so-spiritual kind
Kingdom of Solomon is a solid game from an up-and-coming designer. Actual gameplay offers many choices for strategy and tactics, good replayability, and satisfying amounts of tension and thought, especially with four players. In addition, the biblical theme may be attractive to gamers who might otherwise be put off by competing worker placement games with themes of developing nuclear weapons (The Manhattan Project), killing off family members (Village), paying homage to demon gods (Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar), and featuring Dungeons & Dragons imagery (the aforementioned Lords of Waterdeep). In short, your game collection has a spot for Kingdom of Solomon. Fill it.