Introducing Kingdom of Solomon
Worker placement games have blossomed in recent years, particularly since the success of Caylus, and over the last number of years some wonderful titles have released, including some genuinely fresh takes on the genre. Kingdom of Solomon is a new contender crying out for attention in what is quickly becoming a crowded field. But this new release is well worth a close look, not just because of the particularly interesting way it works with the worker placement mechanic, but also because it comes with a theme that feels like an exciting novelty not just among worker placement games in particular, but among euros in general: Solomon’s kingdom. It's a Biblical theme that doesn't become tacky or preachy, nor will the historical flavour be of interest only to Jews or Christians, but perhaps best of all it doesn't compromise quality of game-play. So don't think that this does to worker placement games what Settlers of Canaan did to Settlers of Catan by tacking on a different theme and bringing it Biblical Palestine with merely small changes to the mechanics. Kingdom of Solomon is a fully independent and well designed worker placement game that has the maturity and quality to stand on its own two legs, and just happens to have a solid Biblical theme, yet not one that will reduce its appeal.
King Solomon was undoubtedly one of the most majestic and powerful monarchs of the ancient world. As King of ancient Israel, Solomon amassed a myriad of possessions of many different kinds, including many which could not be measured in material sense, such as his great wisdom. In addition, Solomon was wealthy beyond imagination, and his political power and influence spread throughout the Mediterranean world. He also acquired many beautiful wives – although these particular acquisitions would certainly get him into some trouble! And now, centuries later, with the release of Kingdom of Solomon from, wise old Solomon has one more acquisition to add to his vast collection – a board game that reflects the era of his rule of the land of Palestine!
Kingdom of Solomon, designed by Philip du Barry (of Revolution! fame) and published by Minion Games, is a game for two to four players, in which you will take on the role of a governor in the land of Israel during the time of Solomon. As governor, you will be responsible for overseeing the massive building and expansion efforts that were undertaken during Solomon’s reign. To do so, you will need to access and collect resources drawn from throughout the Israelite territories. In addition, you’ll also have the possibility of assisting in the construction of the Temple – one of the greatest architectural wonders of the ancient world. You might even succeed in climbing the ladder of power and becoming the High Priest of the Israelite people – a position that will give you access to the vast resources of the kingdom!
So, will Kingdom of Solomon turn out to be as rich and as polished a final product as the Temple ultimately was – or will it prove itself to be nothing more than pyrrhic copy of that magnificent building? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out!
Kingdom of Solomon in play
The box cover features some of the great artwork by Ricky Hunter, who is the artist behind the artwork on all the game cards and other components.
There’s more of his attractive artwork to enjoy on the back of the box, as well as a short synopsis of what to expect from the theme and game-play. To whet your appetite, it’s well worth repeating:
Help shape Solomon’s age of peace and prosperity. King Solomon presided over a golden age of peace and prosperity in ancient Israel. During this time Solomon instituted an unprecedented building program. As one of Solomon's chief governors, you must procure materials and oversee construction of buildings and roads across the land for the glory of Solomon. You will also help to construct the Temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Kingdom of Solomon is a worker-placement game with a few new twists and turns. Do you claim a resource space, an action space or throw in all your remaining pawns to grab a powerful Bonus Space? Will you spend your resources to extend Solomon's kingdom, take some points in the Market or add to the Temple? These and many other choices await you in this highly interactive game.
Intrigued yet? You should be – this promises a fresh and interesting theme, plus new twists and turns to one of our all-time favourite mechanics: worker placement! But can it deliver? Let’s look inside the box and find out.
Here’s a list of what you’ll find inside the box:
● 1 Game Board
● 4 Sets of Player Pieces (6 Player Pawns, 5 Building Tokens, plus 1 Turn Order and 1 Scoring Track Token for each player)
● 70 Resource Cubes (in 5 types)
● 20 Building Cards
● 32 Fortune Cards
● 12 Road Markers
● 16 Temple Blocks
● 10 Temple Tokens (aka High Priest Tokens)
● 1 Rule Book
Let’s take a moment to offer some comments regarding the quality and function of each of these components.
Everything inside the box
The well constructed board depicts the land of Israel during the days of King Solomon. The kingdom has been divided up into a number of areas or territories called resource spaces, each of which had been marked to show the particular type of resource which that space produces when you place a worker in that space. Most of these resource spaces have white boxes where you will be able to place one of your building site markers over the course of the game, and thus reserve that resource space for your use only. As the game progresses, you will also have the potential to use roads to join these individual resources spaces in order to form larger resource regions that are capable of generating a number of different kinds of resources simultaneously.
The game board
In addition to providing a topographical view of the Holy Land, you'll find the following elements:
● In the upper left hand corner you’ll find space to lay out four building cards. The resources you’ll be collecting can be used to construct these buildings over the course of the game.
● Near the bottom centre of the board you’ll find a portion of the board which represents the Temple, the construction of which represents an alternative use for building materials you provided.
● To the right of the Temple, you’ll find the Market, where resources can be bought and sold.
● Above the Temple section of the board, you can see a location to indicate which player currently holds the title of High Priest, as well as a description of the benefits that come with that title.
● To the right of the High Priest graphic, you’ll find a Turn Order track.
● Directly above that, there are a number of Action Spaces (Prophet, Minister, Thief, Trader, and Artisan) to which your workers can be dispatched in order to allow you to carry out a particular action or to receive a specific benefit during your turn.
● There are also three Bonus Spaces (Tribute, Ark, and Altar) where worker placement gives particularly valuable benefits, but typically also requires placement of more workers to claim.
● Finally, surrounding the entire board you’ll find a Scoring track used to record player VPs.
Overall, the board has been solidly constructed, well designed and clearly laid out. Having said that, it has to be noted that this is not a board that proves terribly amenable to colour-blind folks, which isn’t helped by the fact that the resource cubes don’t exactly match the colours on the board. This should be a non-issue for most gamers, however, and that caveat aside it’s a fine and functional board. And while the artwork in the individual territories isn’t a reliable indication of what resources each resource space produces, it adds character and helps bring the board to life.
There are four sets of player pieces, one in each of four colours (red, green, blue and black), consisting of the following:
● Workers: Each player will receive six player pawns (although a different number of pawns will be used depending on the number of people playing) and you’ll be able to place those pawns on either resource spaces or action spaces during the course of the game.
● Building site markers: You’ll also receive five building site markers which you will place into the white boxes which are located on some of the resources spaces. This will indicate that you have erected a building in that space and from that point on, only you will be able to place your workers in that territory (an exception is the High Priest player, which we'll get to later). These building markers are a shade on the small side and it would have been nice if they could have been a bit chunkier, but settlements from Settlers of Catan can be used to make an easy upgrade if you’re so inclined.
● Turn order & scoring tokens: Finally, you’ll also receive two tokens, one to be placed on the turn order track and another on the scoring track located around the outside edge of the board.
Pawns, building site markers, and turn/scoring tokens for each player
Well, this is a euro game and all true blue euro games need resource cubes. In this case, the workers you place in the various regions will produce a variety of goods: gold (10 yellow cubes), copper (12 orange cubes), stone (14 gray cubes), timber (16 brown cubes), and food (18 green cubes). You’ll note that there are different numbers of cubes for each type of resource. As such some resources will prove more scare and, by extension, more valuable over the course of the game. The game is deliberately designed with a limited resource supply, and competing to get these resources while they’re still available is an important dynamic of the game-play.
Gold, copper, stone, timber, and food
So what are you going to do with all those lovely little cubes that you’ve worked so hard to collect? Well one option would be to use them to construct the various buildings depicted by the building cards. There are twenty cards altogether and each round, four of those cards will be placed on the board to indicate the buildings that are available for players to build that round. Each card contains a number of pieces of information.
● To begin with, in the bottom left hand corner you’ll find the name of the building listed – for instance, the Guild Hall, Trading Post, Winery, the Hanging Gardens, or the Granary.
● Next, in the bottom right hand corner, you find the cost, in resource cubes, required to construct that particular building, e.g. the Winery costs two stone and one wood to build.
● In the bottom centre of the card, you’ll find the benefit which that building provides should you place one of your workers on it. Thus, if you were to place a worker on the Granary, he’d function as a Farmer and you would receive three food cubes during the resolution phase of the round; while if you were to place a worker on the Guild Hall, he'd function as a Master Artisan and you could collect two extra resources from a resource space with one of your works.
● Finally, in the top-centre of the card, you’ll find the number of VPs that you’ll score when you construct that building.
The cards have been beautifully illustrated, are of pleasant size and have been printed on decent card stock, and these well produced aesthetics help enhance the thematic flavor of the game.
The game also includes a deck of Fortune cards. These cards are somewhat smaller in size than the building cards and they can be acquired in one of three ways: by placing a worker on the Prophet action space (draw 1 card); by placing workers on the Ark bonus space (draw 3 cards!); or by placing a worker on certain building cards. Once acquired, these Fortune cards can be played at any time during the game, and provide variable benefits in terms of resources, VP and even the possibility of depriving other players of the resources they might need to complete their building projects. They are also bursting with thematic flavor, and giving opportunities for Solomon to take a new wife and hold a feast (Wedding), crush the insurgents when Hadad of Edom rebels (Rebellion), demand tribute from the Amorites (Tribute), receive a shipment from the king of Tyre (King Hiram), or learn wisdom from Solomon (Wisdom), just to name a few of the many possibilities.
Sample Fortune cards
As noted above, over the course of the game it is possible to link together several different resource spaces in order to form a larger resource region. This is done via the construction of roads which are represented by brown, wooden road tokens. Roads, which can be constructed during the building phase of the round, also cost resources to build – in this case, two timber and one food. Roads may only be built in such a fashion that they connect a space with one of your own building site markers with an adjacent resource space which also has one of your own building site markers, or with an adjacent neutral resource space without any building site markers. Once you have joined two or more resource spaces via road, you will have succeeded in creating a resource region, and any single worker which you subsequently place within that region will generate all of resources which that region is capable of producing. Sometimes regions can get as large as 5 spaces, resulting in very profitable worker placement – assuming there’s enough resource cubes available in the supply!
The alternative to using your resources to construct buildings, is to dedicate them to the construction of the Temple. Construction of the Temple requires that first the Foundation be laid (at a cost of one stone and any one other resource), followed by the Structure (at a cost of one gold and any one other resource) and finally completed with the installation of Columns (at a cost of one gold, one copper and one of any other resource ). As each section of the Temple is erected, its completion is indicated with one of these white temple blocks that is placed on the relevant square in the Temple space on the board. It’s also important to note that when all of the available Temple spaces have been filled then the game is over.
In constructing the Temple, players have the option of receiving either a set number of VP, or a Temple token as a reward for their efforts. If you choose VP then you will immediately advance your marker the requisite number of spaces on the scoring track. However you may instead choose to acquire a Temple token for each segment of the Temple you construct, which is a means of securing the title of High Priest. This title is awarded to whichever player has the most Temple tokens, and it brings with it certain specific benefits. In the first place, once per turn the High Priest can place one of their workers within the resource region of another player (but only on a resource space with that player's building site marker) and receive the benefits thereof. Secondly, at the end of the game the High Priest receives a generous bonus of 20 VP.
All the Temple tokens
The game ships with a relatively short, four page, full colour rule book, which can be downloaded on BGG here.
There's a lot to like about the rulebook, and its strength is that it features an economy of words that present the game in a very concise manner, making the game relatively easy to learn. It's always good news when the complexity lies more in the player choices rather than the rule-set. Regrettably in the case of this game this comes at the cost of a few instances of rules ambiguity or omission that need clarification. Fortunately these are all easily cleared up with the help of an FAQ that is available, but we’ll have more to say about that when we come to our final reflections about the game.
Sample spread from the rulebook
Alrighty then – let’s get this game up and running, and you’ll be glad to know that setup is a breeze! Begin by placing the board on the table in a convenient, central location. Shuffle the building cards together to form a draw pile and place that pile near the upper, left hand corner of the board. Then draw four Building cards and lay them out on the board. Next, shuffle the Fortune cards and place them in a convenient location near the board. Separate the resource cubes into piles by colour and locate them near the board as well. Do the same for the Temple Blocks and Tokens.
Now, provide each player with their player pieces. In a four player game, each player receives only five of the six worker pawns. With three players, each player receives all six worker pawns, but two resources of each type need to be removed from the game, and the Tribute bonus space will not be used – it’s easy enough to remember but you may wish to mark this in some fashion. With just two players, each player should receive all six worker pawns, but four cubes of each resource type are removed from the game, and both the Tribute and the Ark bonus spaces will not be used.
Randomly determine the turn order and place the turn order tokens as such on the turn order track - you are now ready to begin!
A selection of buildings
Flow of Play
Each round of the game will proceed through four phases, and at the end of each round players will need to determine if the end game conditions have been met. Let’s consider each of these four phases in more detail, which are the following:
1. Placement Phase
2. Resolution Phase
3. Market Phase
4. Building Phase
1. Placement Phase
During the placement phase, each player - in turn order - will place one of their pawns on either a resource space, an action/bonus space, or on one of the buildings they have constructed. This process of placement will continue in turn order until all players have placed all of their workers.
You may not place your worker on an resource space or action space occupied by another pawn, or on a resource space containing a building site marker that belongs to another player (the exception being the player who has claimed the title of High Priest, who may place a worker in a resource space containing a building site marker belonging to an opponent, but only once per turn, and only if this space doesn’t yet have a worker).
Special mention should be made about placing workers in the Bonus spaces, i.e. the Ark, Tribute, and Altar. To claim these spaces, you will need to place all your remaining workers onto that space. So if you were first on the turn order track in a three player game, and you really wished to occupy the Tribute space as your first placement action, you would need to place all five of your workers on that space! Or you can place your first worker elsewhere, and then on your next placement put all four of your remaining workers on the Tribute space – if it hasn’t already been claimed by an opponent. It’s just like playing Chicken! As you can see, the Bonus spaces provide lucrative benefits – but you’re gonna have to commit to them and compete for them, and you’ll have to make tough choices about when to claim them!
Worker placement in the final round of a game
2. Resolution Phase
Once all players have placed all of their workers the resolution phase begins. This takes place in turn order, beginning with player number one, who takes all of the resources provided by the resources spaces and regions in which he has placed workers, and executes any of the action or bonus spaces in which he’s placed workers. You resolve your workers in any order you choose. It’s important to note that if the resource pool has been emptied of the specific resource which you’re entitled to claim – well, then you’re out of luck and you get nothing at all, so turn order can be critical! Additionally, there is no limit to the number of resources that you may keep from turn to turn. Don’t forget that if you place a worker in a region consisting of multiple spaces connected by roads you have built, that worker generates resources for all the spaces in that region.
Green's High Priest visits Red's Gilead to earn some stone and gold
A final note about the Altar, which is a Bonus space that alters player positions on the turn order track: When resolved, the player who occupied the Altar space first scores a number of points equal to three times their current position on the turn order track (e.g. a player who occupied the fourth space on the turn order track would immediately score twelve points!). Then that player moves their token into the number one position on the turn order track, pushing the remain tokens down the track while maintaining their position vis-à-vis each other. The effect is immediate, meaning that the new turn order is effective for the market and building phases of that round.
3. Market Phase
Unlike the other phases, the Market Phase is conducted in reverse turn order. Beginning with the player who occupies the last position on the turn order track, each player will have the opportunity to either buy one resource or purchase one resource from the market. In this game victory points serve double duty as currency, so buying and selling resources requires adjusting your score by the appropriate amount – simple, clean, and elegant! Note also that the market is not seeded with resources during the setup phase of the game, so it remains empty until such time as players choose to sell a resource, and you can’t buy anything that’s not available in the market, nor can you sell anything further if it is full. Players take turns, with each player buying or selling one resource, until all players have passed. Once you have passed you may not re-enter the market that round.
There's lots of gold available at the Market!
4. Building Phase
During this phase, in turn order you will have the opportunity to build buildings, construct segments of the Temple, and build roads.
Buildings: You may only build one building on your turn, which happens by paying the resource cost indicated on one of the four building cards laid out on the board. You will then advance your token on the scoring track as per the amount of VP indicated on the building card, and place the card in front of you on the table – during subsequent rounds you, and you alone, may place workers on this card and receive the benefits it yields. Additionally most buildings (except those marked with a special icon) allow you at the same time to place one of your building site markers into any unoccupied white building space on the board.
Roads: During the building phase you may also construct roads. Each road costs two timber and one food to build, and unlike buildings you may build as many roads as you wish. The supply of roads is limited however, so once they run out they’re gone. Roads must be built in such a fashion that: (a) it connects two adjacent resource spaces both containing your building site markers; or (b) it connects a resource space containing your building site marker with an adjacent neutral resource space that can’t be owned by anyone.
Temple: Finally, you may also build segments of the Temple at this time. The Temple must be built in stages – beginning with the Foundation, proceeding to the Structure and culminating with the Columns. All of the Foundations spaces, on both sides of the building, must be built before moving on to the Structure, and the same rule holds true for the transition between the Structural segments and the Columns. The building costs in resources for each level of the Temple have been noted above and are displayed on the board. You may build as many segments of the Temple as you wish during the building phase, and for each segment of the Temple that’s built you cover the relevant segment with a Temple block. When you build a segment of the Temple you may choose to take either the specified number of victory points or a Temple token – remembering of course that whoever has the most Temple tokens will receive the title and benefits of High Priest.
Red's region consists of 3 resource spaces, while Blue's region consists of 4 resource spaces
Other elements of game-play
Two additional elements of game-play require a brief explanation:
The High Priest
As noted earlier, the player with the most Temple tokens will become the High Priest. To indicate this, place one of that player’s building markers on the High Priest box on the board. If you’re the High Priest, once per turn you will be able to place one of your workers on a space which contains a building site marker belonging to another player, and collect resources as if you were that player. By doing so, you will receive all of the resources produced by that resource space or resource region during the resolution phase – so if you play this well, you can use this to cash in on the benefits of a lucrative region that an opponent has built up for himself! Also at the end of the game, you’ll receive a reward of twenty VP. Claiming the High Priest is somewhat similar to claiming the Longest Road or Largest Army in Settlers of Catan - should there ever be a tie for the most Temple Tokens, the person who currently controls the High Priest retains control of that title, and you can only steal the High Priest from another player by exceeding the number of Temple tokens they control.
The High Priest space on the game board
During the game, any Fortune cards you acquire may be kept secret until the time that you play them – and you may play them at any point during the game. During the course of a round, you may hold any number of Fortune cards in your hand, but you may only carry a maximum of three fortune cards from round to round, and this hand limit is enforced at the end of each turn. If the draw deck ever runs out, simply shuffle the discard pile to make a new deck. These typically give resource cubes or VPs, although some cards can add some real drama and surprises to the game by reducing cubes available in the supply or requiring players to give up goods!
A helpful hand of Fortune cards
End of Game
End of the round
After you have progressed through all four phases in the flow of play, you’ll need to check to determine if any of the three end game conditions have been achieved:
● All eleven building sites on the board have been claimed
● A player has placed all five of their building site markers on the board
● The Temple has been entirely built
If none of the conditions have been fulfilled, begin a new round by refilling the empty Building Card slots on the board, and then again moving through the four phases as outlined above.
You may build a Building card during the final round of play even if there are no remaining building site spaces available on the board. In order to calculate the final score at the game end:
● Award 20 VP to the player controlling the title of High Priest
● Resolve any remaining Fortune Cards in hand which award VP
● Players receive one VP for each remaining resource cube they possess
The player with the most VP is the winner, with the number of buildings being a tie-breaker in the event of a tie.
In the game pictured here, the game end was triggered in all three ways at once!
What do we think?
● The Good: what we liked
There’s a lot of things to like about Kingdom of Solomon, and here’s some of the aspects of the game that particularly grabbed us as being noteworthy and positive.
The varied options for worker placement: Kingdom of Solomon is most definitely a euro game and worker placement is clearly its central mechanic. What’s great about this game, however, is that while the underlying mechanic may be tried and true and the underlying engine reflects many elements that are familiar, Kingdom of Solomon does manage to employ worker placement in some fresh, new ways and thus brings its own brand to the genre. There are lots of options for placement, because not only can you claim resource spaces (which in late game trigger entire regions), there’s also action spaces to choose from, bonus spaces (which require placement of all your remaining pawns), and of course the benefits from buildings that you have constructed. This myriad of possibilities keeps choices interesting without becoming brain burning. What’s also interesting is that the playing field stays relatively equal throughout the game because there’s no way to acquire additional workers (or for that matter to feed them), and as a result the level of tension and competition when it comes to placement remains relatively constant throughout the game.
The Bonus spaces: One of most fun aspects that Kingdom of Solomon adds to the usual worker placement fare is the notion of Bonus spaces which require that you commit all of your remaining workers if you want to claim them. Because they are so lucrative and impact the flow of play so significantly (especially the Altar) they are much sought after and players really need to time their placements well. You’ll find that it feels as if you were playing a game of chicken with the other players – how far can you go before you have to blink and commit? Sometimes you’ll decide to wait just one more turn before opting for a Bonus space, only to have another player beat you to it, and this creates delicious and at times frustrating tension!
The resource regions: Another strength of the game is the tough choices that are required when it comes to constructing a profitable resource region. Regions make pawn placement particularly lucrative to players who have built up a network of spaces, and so increase the value of worker placement in certain locations. Consolidating your territories into one large resource region can be both efficient and rewarding, although it can also make you a target for the player with the High Priest to take advantage of. Choosing where to place your building site markers is tougher than you might think, especially when also needing to make decisions about which territories to link into a single region by building roads, but they add an interesting spacial aspect to the game that really affects your choices and will change each game.
The High Priest: The High Priest certainly adds some real excitement to the game, and functions somewhat similar to the Longest Road and Largest Army in Settlers of Catan. While it’s often not worthwhile for other players to compete for the High Priest from a player who has secured it by investing in lots of high priest tokens, it is a way that players can try to leech benefits from their opponents. Choosing to forgo immediate victory points otherwise earned from Temple building in favour of strengthening a claim for the High Priest comes with the potential for an end of game reward of 20 VPs as well as the immediate benefits of being able to place workers in opponent’s regions, but there's also the added risk that you might lose this privilege before game end. It certainly adds an interesting dimension to the game-play, because while the points it earns are potentially lucrative, they aren't guaranteed.
The buildings: The building cards also have a significant and positive impact on the game. For the most part they don’t seem over-powered or unbalanced, and as well as adding to the theme they also introduce some interesting dynamics to the game-play. Constructing a building usually means adding a building site marker to the board as well, and you can use this to lock opponents out of a resource space on the board, while at the same time giving yourself the possibility of unique benefits of your own building on which you alone may place a worker. This adds a personalized touch to the worker placement that particularly becomes important in the late game, when less resource spaces will be available on the board, and you’ll need to rely on your buildings for producing resources or other benefits.
The Fortune cards: The Fortune cards are another interesting aspect of the game, and can sometimes give you just what you were wishing for! They have the effect of injecting an element of the unknown into the game: Does my opponent have a few hidden victory points that will be only be revealed in the final tally at the end of the game? Or will he unexpectedly play a card to strip me of key resources I need to build a critical building? The fact that these cards can be played at any point during the game can lead to some curious game state situations, but all-in-all they add a positive element to the game, as well as contribute positively to the theme. Whatever strategy you’re playing, you need to be sure to take them into account, and the small element of hidden information that they add to the game is a welcome addition.
The turn order mechanism: Solomon wasn’t the one who said that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, but it is in the Bible, and the principle of the last being first certainly holds true in some respects for this game. Turn order is critical in this game, and creates a very interesting dynamic, particularly with the use of the Altar bonus space that will often play a decisive role in determining the outcome.
The limited resources: The tension created by the turn order is particularly a result of the deliberately limited supply of resource cubes. It's not that critical in early stages, but frequently becomes critical at the end, and here turn order is key to ensure that you have a chance of getting the resources that you need. Expect to frequently see situations in the final round where all the resource cubes are in the hands of players before resolution is complete, meaning that the player who is last in the turn order suffers the misery of missing out. You’ll want to time your move up the turn order track very carefully in the closing stages to ensure that this poor soul isn't you!
The theme: We're all familiar with the near ubiquitous criticism that gets raised about many a modern Euro game: i.e. it’s got elegant mechanics and great game play, but it's wrapped up in a paper thin and often abstract theme that only minimally contributes to the overall gaming experience, and is often a clichéd theme at that. The good news is that while Kingdom of Solomon can't be accused of brimming with theme and chrome, it's certainly got one, and it's one that actually works pretty well, and one that is far from over-used in board games, even if does owe some debt to Settlers of Canaan. The idea of taking on the role of a governor who is supervising Solomon's building and expansionist efforts makes good sense with what you’re doing in the game. As the player pieces are placed on the board, you really do have the feel - both visually and thematically - of an expanding empire that's becoming more developed and complex with each passing turn. In addition, the Buildings provide benefits that match their identities and character. Many aspects of the game beautifully reflect something of the unique aspects relating to Solomon’s reign, such as the building of the Temple, which grows ever more lavish as it nears completion, the endless series of weddings, tribute, and wisdom depicted by the Fortune cards, the timber and involvement of King Hiram, all of which were a very real part of Solomon’s life and times. The way that the Bonus spaces function also have a sensible meaning in terms of game-play, i.e. it makes sense that the Tribute space would grant you resources, that the Altar would boost your prominence, and that the Ark would grant you prosperity in the form of Fortune cards. All in all, the theme and the mechanics mesh together pleasantly and effectively.
From an overarching perspective, it's also nice to discover a biblically themed game that actually plays like a satisfying, medium weight Euro. Most of us are well aware that there’s an unfortunate and all too frequent reality that applies to many games which have a biblical or Christian theme, namely that while they might prove appealing from a pedagogical standpoint, they are frequently so substandard in terms of gameplay that they prove too painful to be worth playing. Thankfully, this isn't at all the case with Kingdom of Solomon, because not only is it a good game in its own right when judged independent of the theme, the successful Solomonic theme is going to only add to its appeal, especially in Judeo-Christian circles. So if you're looking for a game that can employ as teaching aid and that as a gamer you don't need to be embarrassed to bring to the table on account of it being a sinking ship when measured purely on the level of game design, then this might just be the game for you! It should also be noted that while the theme is one rooted in Biblical history, the game doesn’t make the mistake of becoming preachy or trying to convey a religious message by means of cheesy mechanics. While our Christian convictions personally help enhance our own appreciation for this particular theme, we recognize that Kingdom of Solomon is first of all a good game, and it’s strong enough on its own merits for all gamers to enjoy, and the theme certainly is no reason to send anyone running.
The variability: There’s a lot of replayability inside this box, and that’s a reflection of several noteworthy characteristics about this game, primarily connected to the fact that the game can play out very differently from game to game, and even over the course of a single game. Here’s some reasons why games of Kingdom of Solomon can feel very different from one to the next:
● Variable ways to earn points - The game’s replayability is enhanced first of all a result of the fact that there’s a lot of different ways to earn points within a game. The “many paths to victory” and “multiple strategies” that has become a eurogaming staple is certainly present here. You could aim to grab hold of the position of High Priest – a position that grants considerable power to benefit from opponent’s regions, plus an attractive scoring bonus at the conclusion of the game, and perhaps even the opportunity to control the game end by rushing the process of Temple construction. Alternatively you could also focus on land acquisition and try to control as many key territories as possible, building up lucrative regions. You could also opt for the more powerful buildings and so obtain the possibility for exercising their powers while your opponents can only look over your fence in envy.
● Variability between games - Not only will your overall strategy shift from game to game, but the game can swing in quite varied directions depending on the way players approach the game. The board will develop differently from one game to another as people construct their resources regions differently from game to game, build different buildings, or interact with other players in various ways. In some ways a series of successive games of Kingdom of Solomon with the same group can feel like a car sliding on ice, because a certain meta-game can develop, and when you over-correct your strategies from game to game, the trajectory of the game can go wildly in one direction in one game, but in quite a different direction in the next. For example, one person reported a game in which the player with the High Priest had a runaway win courtesy of its powers. As a result in the next game he invested significantly in order to claim the High Priest, only to find that the other players deliberately decided not to build roads so as not to create any regions that would benefit the High Priest, thus resulting in a totally different game. Yet that's part of the beauty of the game, because the value of certain things will change from game to game depending on how the players at the table approach the game. This forces you to readjust your strategies and reevaluate the game situation, because the optimal strategy will often depend on what other players are doing at any given moment. This can be considered as a strength in the sense that it prevents the game from feeling scripted, and it helps keep the game fresh, especially with a renegade player or two at the table.
● Variability within a game - But not only do things change from game to game, but also within the course of a single session the game will feel different and require different decisions as it progresses. For example, the value of different locations on the board will change as the game unfolds, and what’s more you’ll need to rely more on your own buildings as options for map placement become more limited. Also the Tribute space can be tremendously helpful early on in the game – but as resource regions get developed it decreases in importance because placing a pawn elsewhere might get you just as much return or even more from a large region of your own. The buildings that you construct will also play a role in directing your game and in determining what is of greater or lesser value to you as the game progress. This really prevents the game getting stale over the course of a single game experience, because the challenges that arise vary depending on the trajectory of the game, and players will constantly need to reevaluate the value of different options as the game progresses, adjusting their tactics and strategies accordingly. As a result you never have the sense of rinsing and repeating the same old thing, because the different stages of the game require different approaches.
The accessibility and weight: Kingdom of Solomon really hits the mark as a game with an enormous reach. First of all it is a pleasantly medium weight game that can be played in a reasonable length of time. It avoids the intensity and analysis paralysis that might come with a tough game of Agricola, yet equally it doesn’t quite stoop to the level of simplicity of something like Stone Age. It’s a genuine middle weight, and this will only add to its appeal, particularly because it can be played in a very reasonable length of time. A simple set of rules also means it is easy to teach, and could even serve as an excellent step-up game for those who are ready to move beyond Catan and TTR, or looking for something to compete with Stone Age and perhaps even offer a few more challenges.
The scalability: Kingdom of Solomon plays very well – although with a different feel – with any number of players. Although from the perspective of interaction, tension, and tough choices the game is probably at its best with four, it plays very well with two or three as well, and that is only going to enhance its appeal. The fact that you can knock out a game with two players in less than an hour is a real plus.
The interaction: The game has just the right amount of interaction to please most people. Your placement depends on the placement choices of others, and additionally there's going to be competition for key action spaces, bonus spaces, and regions. The High Priest also adds interesting elements of interaction. Despite this there's only a few small elements of very direct confrontation (e.g. Tax Collector fortune card, the Thief action space, and opportunities to play Fortune cards at inopportune moments). The slight take-that factor which is present doesn’t turn the game into something that’s mean or harsh, and certainly shouldn’t be a barrier to new players. In other words you get just the right level of interaction, without unnecessary or crippling screwage.
Completing the construction of the Temple
● The Not-So-Good: what we didn't like
Now if you’re thinking that everything we’ve said so far means that Kingdom of Solomon is a terrific game, you’d be right – it is. But it’s not entirely without flaws. Fortunately, these weaknesses don’t remove much of the game’s shine, but in the interests of an objective review, it’s only fair to mention them:
The components: If this game falls short in any category it’s at the level of production quality. There’s nothing wrong with the components as they stand – but there’s nothing stellar about them either, and it could be argued that the quality is a little on the pedestrian side of things. The board is clean, simple, and appealing enough, but not terribly engaging either. The number of Temple tokens strictly speaking should be 16 rather than just 10, although it's very rare this will actually affect the game. The resource cubes and player pieces are functional, but they’re rather on the small side. As it turns out the publisher is not entirely to blame for this, because they seem to have been shafted by their printer somewhat (see this post), and to their credit they are going out of their way to produce an upgrade kit for those who are interested in it. An easy component upgrade - should you feel the need for one - is to borrow some settlements and roads from Settlers of Catan (as described in this article), and in our experience having roads in your own player colour also makes regions easier to identify. In the end, the issue is really one of relativity. In today’s world of top-notch game production, the components are just average in character, even if they are quite functional, adequate, and satisfactory.
The rule-book: The second issue that needs some attention is the rule book. For a game that is in many ways very simple and straightforward – and which has a very short rule book – there were aspects of the game that proved somewhat unclear. On the one hand having a concise rulebook is commendable, and we can be grateful that Kingdom of Solomon doesn’t make the mistake of being excessively verbose, and keeps the game description very neat and tidy indeed. But unfortunately, in doing that a couple of things were also left out – for example the matter of just when exactly roads can be built. Other matters like definition of regions, the use of the High Priest, as well as the timing of Fortune cards aren’t so much unclear as they are rather skeletal in their presentation, and the terminology is not always consistent. Elaboration on some points (e.g. certain action spaces) would also have been welcome. Don’t let this discourage you from getting the game, because we don’t want to make it sound worse than it really is. None of this is game-breaking by any means, and with a little help from the BGG forums and some common sense, you’ll easily enough find your way. In an effort to go some distance to remedying this problem, a FAQ regarding important rules questions has been compiled and has been posted on BGG, which more than adequately addresses any questions that might emerge. At this stage you’re unlikely to repeat the experience that happened in one group we know, who didn’t have the benefit of the rules clarifications that have since emerged and consequently had a rather disappointing experiences in their first two games - but only as a result of playing with the wrong rules. With the help of the rulebook and FAQ, you’re well set to enjoy the game with no real issues to worry about. For convenience, here's a link to the FAQ:
F.A.Q. & Errata: a comprehensive collection of rules clarifications for Kingdom of Solomon
There’s also been a number of great suggestions for tweaking some of the rules, e.g. disallowing buying and selling of the same cube in the market (as discussed here); and allowing players to decide which Bonus space remains unused each round in 2-3 player games (as discussed here). One can only wonder if some more aggressive rules editing or extensive playtesting would have uncovered these things earlier. So in short, the rulebook could have benefited from some closer attention prior to publication by fleshing out some of the rules a little more clearly, and it would have been nice to have seen a little more polished final product in that regard. We hope that the game will prove popular enough to warrant a reprint with a revised and improved rulebook and some small component upgrades, which should more than satisfy any who have lingering complaints about the game in its present form.
A four player game
● The Uncertain: what we're still wondering about
And now for a few areas that we’re still thinking about. These aren’t really criticism as such, but there were a couple of aspects about the game that left us wondering about things. If anything these items are a testament to the game’s potential, in that it generates discussions about balance and strategy. The fact that the answers to these questions are not immediately clear is arguably a sign of a good game, because it forces players to explore different things about the game, and stimulates healthy debate. With that disclaimer, here are some things that we’re still wondering about:
The High Priest: Yes, I know we mentioned this under the things we like, and we really do. But there’s also been some discussion about the High Priest being overpowered, and as of yet the jury is still out on this one. There’s no doubt that because ties in the number of Temple Tokens are broken in favour of the player who already has control of the High Priest, once one player has gained control of the position it can be very difficult (if not downright counter productive) to try and wrest control of the title away from that player. In some of the games that we played, the High Priest was locked down by acquiring three or four Temple Tokens – and once that critical mass had been reached that player retained control until the end of the game, usually because at this point it was hardly worthwhile for other players to invest enormous amounts of resources into Temple tokens at the risk of getting no return. There’s no doubt that the ability to access the best resource region on the board turn after turn, combined with the 20 VP bonus at the end, is a powerful advantage. But whether or not it over-compensates for the loss in resources and potential points that need to be sacrificed to achieve this is not entirely clear. It’s also the case that the players can limit the impact of the High Priest by building fewer roads and/or small resource regions. In the end, only with long term play over the coming months and years will we be able to render a final verdict on this issue, and we look forward to continued discussion on this point.
The Market: As it stands, the overall impact of the market on the game is somewhat muted. It can be used to generate points, and typically you'll see players sell off large amounts of goods at the market, since this offers more rewards than a single point per cube at game end. You can also find yourself in odd circumstances where you end up selling and the rebuying the same good in successive turns just in the hopes of staying in the market hunt long enough to acquire what you really need, should another player perhaps sell something you want. One has to wonder if a little more polish as a result of more playtesting could have resulted in this becoming a more meaningful part of the game, and if some rule tweaks could have improved things slightly (see some good initial suggestions in this thread).
The turn order mechanism: The matter of turn order has also been an issue that has generated significant discussion after our games, and there's a lot that we really like about it, so it was in our list of positives as well. The mechanism of the Altar space is really quite fascinating – you have a `last shall be first' type thing happening there that’s kind of neat, and the reward in points doesn’t hurt either. However, there’s no doubt that getting stuck in last place can find place you in real difficulty, particularly when it comes to being able to constructing buildings during the building phase, and even when you’re collecting resources. If the person who is second or third space nabs the Altar just moments before you were going to commit your remaining pawns to it, and you spend more than a turn or two in last place, well let’s just say it can be tough to come back. This is exacerbated by the limited supply of resource cubes, which is another mechanic that we really appreciate about the game, but at the same time it has to be acknowledged that this can make things quite harsh for a player who is in last place in the turn order. And if you’re playing with experienced and cutthroat gamers – well such circumstances are a real possibility!
To be fair, as has been mentioned already, the above remarks shouldn’t be construed as criticisms, but as discussion points for areas to explore as the game gets in the hand of more gamers. In fact, one gets the impression that the game can seem deliberately unbalanced in different ways, and there’s a real risk that new players might judge it too harshly by extrapolating from just one or two experiences, while failing to realize that the outcome and trajectory of each individual game can vary immensely. By design players are forced to adjust their strategies, and much depends on how the players approach the game, so it’s entirely possible for one person to say that the High Priest is completely broken and overpowered after their first game, while the next person might say that the High Priest is completely useless - if generalizing from very different first experiences with the game. Such experiences are not indicative of guaranteed winning or losing strategies as such, but rather reflect the fact that the game is very flexible, and has the potential to chart a very different course each time, and requires players to try new things. In fact, part of the appeal of the game and part of the fun in playing it lies in attempting to figure these things out, many of which are situational and vary from game to game, rather than being inherent flaws with the game design itself. Gamers would do well to be cautious not to be too critical too quickly, without the benefit of more plays with different players, and we look forward to seeing what the long term assessment of some of the game's interesting elements will be after more extensive play by gamers willing to give it a chance.
The turn order track
What do others think?
There's not a lot of comments on the game just yet, but a common concern expressed by those who had criticisms about the game related (unsurprisingly) to the lack of clarity with the rulebook, which fortunately has now been addressed with an FAQ. A few individuals felt that the game doesn't feel different enough from other euros, and suggested that it was too ordinary to stand out from the rest of the worker placement genre. As mentioned already, this isn't a viewpoint we share, because in our estimation there are some very neat mechanics (e.g. the building up of resource regions, the use of the High Priest, and of Bonus spaces) which add some novel and fun twists to what we've already seen in other games. While it would be too much to say that Kingdom of Solomon is genuinely groundbreaking from the perspective of mechanics, when considering some of the interesting elements of gameplay it introduces combined with a somewhat original theme, the end result does feel fresh and unique. A final criticism voiced by some was a concern that the game might be underdeveloped and imbalanced. While we can see how people might come to this conclusion, it should also be acknowledged that the game is deliberately going to feel unbalanced and swingy, and this is going to depend a great deal on player strategies and approaches to the game rather than one particular strategy being broken as such, and what some would see as a weakness could equally be considered a strength for those who enjoy variability in a game.
It's still early days for Kingdom of Solomon, but you will find many positive comments about the game as well, particularly praise for its take on the worker placement genre and its novel theme, as is evident from the following quotes:
"This is a very enjoyable worker placement game with some interesting twists, and some BRILLIANT new mechanisms." - johnweldy
"A good worker placement game using well established mechanics ... Very good." - Gary P
"A clever worker-placement game that requires proper timing and the ability to beat your opponents to coveted locations ... everything blends together well to create a challenging and tense game." Greg Schloesser
"Solid worker placement, nice theme, it plays fast, beautiful illustrations on the cards." - Henk Rolleman
"Very good worker placement, engine-building game with higher-than-average player interaction. Everything is nicely integrated and makes sense. There are different strategies and ways to win the game." - Bownage
"Rock solid worker placement game. Nothing really new, but feels good." - Franz Heidbuechel
"Good game. Great core mechanics." - Ben Eckman
"A lite, but still extremely engaging Euro. Fast playing, and fun with 2-4 players." - Joel Eddy
"Worker placement minus epic length. I like it!" - Mark Andrews
If you like Euro games in general and worker placement games in particular, and you’re looking for a good medium weight title that will present you with some challenging decisions and choices then Kingdom of Solomon just might be the game for you. It can feel a bit swingy at times, but part of that is by design, and if you give the game a chance it can really grow on you. The theme of Biblical history is certainly one that many people will find appealing, and it should prove palatable at almost any gaming table and in almost any gaming situation. Kingdom of Solomon is a solid worker placement game that definitely has some legs, and makes a fine addition to the genre given its unique flavor and blend of mechanics, and will make a fine addition to the collection of many a gamer!
A busy and beautiful part of the board
Credits: This review is a collaborative effort between EndersGame and The Flying Dutchman.
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Thu May 15, 2014 2:40 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Thu Feb 16, 2012 7:44 am
Wow! Another great review. They are typically excellent in visuals, content and presentation; but this is one of your best. Thanks for all the time and effort to put this together. I have been interested in this game and you review has been extremely helpful in introducing me to its better (and not so great) elements.
Great review, as always! Keep 'em coming. Reading such a good review really mskes the decision of whether to acquire a game or not, much, much easier...moreso than most video reviews that just can't take the time to go into the nuts and bolts of a game. Excellent review. Still on the fence on this one as I have a bunch of worker placement games sitting on my shelf...gathering dust.
Wow, what a great review. My copy finally arrived and I'll use this as a guide to learning the game.
Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
Your review came at the same time as our Sunday school class is reading about Solomon, we are reading the bible cover to cover in 90 days. The map is helpful for me to know where some of the locations are that I read about. Great job
I have to admit that the high priest is the only thing keeping this from being an automatic buy.
The competition in Settlers for Longest Road and Largest army is manageable because building roads and collecting/playing development cards are useful outside of earning the 2 pt. bonuses. But in this game you have to forego VPs to compete for a bonus given to only one player. A player that decides to compete for the high priest has no chance of victory if he loses out on the reward. Sadly, I already think I would need to come up with a variant for the high priest mechanic. Maybe this just isn't the game for me.
What Van Ryder Game are YOU playing?
This review earned you a subscriber my friend. Now prepare to be geek-stalked.
Another great review. This seriously needs to be published in a book. Board Games are needing some well published materials. Just setup a file on something like LuLu.com and let people individually buy them if they are interested. I know I would buy a copy.
With that said, I must confess, I don't agree with the review. I do think the game is problematic, and needed a significant amount of play testing and polish. The rule book is not even close to what it should be. The mechanics are interesting, but in my humble opinion, some dominant strategies make this game too unbalanced for my liking. I do not think this game really has multiple paths to victory. And the components/art are very boring.
I want to like this game more, because of the theme and connection to my faith. This might even be the best biblically themed game on the market. However, I think there is plenty of room for improvement. And that is saying it with grace.
David G. Cox Esq.
Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
I am bothered!
Why am I limited to giving you only two thumbs for a review of this quality?
"Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
da pyrate wrote:
I am bothered!
Why am I limited to giving you only two thumbs for a review of this quality?
What a sweet thing to say! You're right, though. Ender is the best written reviewer you'll find on BGG and this was one of his very best.
I love Kingdom of Solomon...