I've never been a big into board games until recently, because I look at it as a way to have some easy fun time with the family instead of watching TV or wasting hours at the computer. Plus I wanted some more depth to my games besides Risk and Monopoly. When I started getting interested in some more board games, one of the games I put on my wishlist was this one along with Settlers of Catan. I was hoping to get Catan, but someone got me Canaan for my birthday.
This game has two ways to win. You either get to 12 victory points first or whenever Jerusalem is completely built whoever has the most stones in Jerusalem wins. Choosing the victory point path to win is based on building cities, long roads, getting victory point development cards, getting the most priests in play, and adding more settlements. The stone building is a nice option if you're wanting to pick another strategy beside just growing your colony to win the game. Although growing your colony has the side effect of helping you get more resources which helps you build more stones quickly.
However, the stone option to win is not as exciting if only one player is building and the rest are not. Why? Because a single player doesn't have enough stones to completely fill the city. The only way one person building Jerusalem could win that way is if a lot of 7's are rolled during a game. The 7 rolls bring the plague and a neutral stone is placed inside Jerusalem filling up more available squares each time. This makes a nice time limit to the game. So, if you're building stones and no one else is, then you better start focusing on victory points again.
Someone may be thinking why bother building stones at all? Well, there's a really nice card that will entice victory point strategists to build stones. It's called the "King's blessing", and it goes to the player who has the most stones in the city during the game. With this card you not only get 2 victory points, but you also get to pick one resource and trade it at a 2:1 ratio while you have the blessing. So, even if you're not interested in building the city, you may find yourself trying to maintain control of that card from other players which leads to a stone race. Then all of sudden game over, because the city is built and as the dust settles you count the stones to see who wins even if someone might be 1 victory point from winning and has less stones.
There is some balance to the game to keep the stone building from getting out of hand. A settlement must be next to Jerusalem or a "trade route" going to Jerusalem must be in place to build a stone. But, you can not start the game with a settlement or "trade route" next to Jerusalem. Basically this means you can't start the first few rounds building stones. Your focus at this time is building your colony and getting to Jerusalem if you want to build stones. The "trade route" is for those who don't want to or can't put a settlement by Jerusalem, but they can build a road connecting to other players roads that eventually connect to someone who does have a settlement next to Jerusalem. Having that, a player can pay an extra resource to build a stone.
So the two options to win adds some really nice depth to the game. You may start out wanting to build Jerusalem and find at some point you're never going to have the most stones, then the pace switches to getting as many victory points as possible to win. Good strategists learn to adapt.
What I don't like about the game?
The worst part of the game is that the board is fixed. Although this makes setup easy, it would be nice if you could change the hex resources around each game like you do Catan. I think this detracts from the replay value, because once everyone has played the game enough, everyone is fighting for certain resource hexes at the start of the game. They should have at least created number tokens to change the number on the resource hexes each game (something I might create on my own). This would change the probability of getting that resource each game, therefore it would change how you place your initial settlements.
Overall, I really enjoy this game. I like the depth and level of complexity. I enjoy having a completely good strategic plan ruined by not getting your die rolls (resources) and causing you rethink your strategy. It has 2 player rules, but it's better if you play with at least 3 people. I like the trading resource aspect. My oldest daughter and wife like to play it.
So a solid two thumbs up from me!!
This game has two ways to win. You either get to 12 victory points first or whenever Jerusalem is completely built whoever has the most stones in Jerusalem wins.
Recently played for the first time and my rules state that the winner is the one with most victory points if jerusalem is built.. the most stones is the tiebraker.