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Kingdom of Solomon

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Minion Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; $49.99)

 

In the annals of Biblical history, King Solomon occupies a special place. As a king fabled for his wisdom, he ruled over the land known as Israel and presided over a time of peace and prosperity. Players, as governors serving the king, compete to increase that prosperity by constructing buildings, developing regions and, of course, contributing to the Temple of Solomon, one of the great wonders of the ancient world.kingdomsolbox

Kingdom of Solomon, designed by Phillip duBarry, comes with resource cubes (10 Gold, 12 Copper, 14 Stone, 16 Timber and 18 Food), Temple blocks (16 white), 12 roads, 32 Fortune cards and a deck of 20 Building cards. There are also four sets of colored pieces for use by the players consisting of worker pawns (5 of 6 of them to be used depending on the number of players in the game), 5 building markers, a turn order marker and a scoring marker. There is also a mounted board depicting the ancient land of Israel divided into areas.

Players place their scoring markers on “10” of the board’s perimeter scoring track with turn markers randomly placed on the turn order track. Four Building cards are placed on the board (in the Mediterranean Sea as it turns out but you have to put them somewhere!) so all players can see them. Building cards are extremely important so it’s best to pay close attention to them.

Each round of play consists of four phases: Placement, Resolution, Market and Building.

In turn order, each player places a pawn on his choice of several spaces provided that the space is unoccupied. A pawn may be placed in any land area. Or a pawn may be placed on any of the FIVE Action spaces on the board. As a final move, a player may place ALL of his remaining pawns (his last placement of the turn) on ANY of the THREE Bonus spaces on the board that are currently empty. Now, placements are resolved.

kingdomsolboardA pawn placed in an area will give the owning player that resource. Action spaces are all beneficial and allow you to draw 1 Fortune card (these are Chance cards that are all good and will generally bestow upon a player Victory Points and/or resources or allow you to do a little marketplace manipulation), immediately earn 5 Victory Points, steal a resource from another player, trade a resource for a different one in supply or collect an additional resource from an area you have placed a worker. The special Bonus spaces are similar but even more powerful.

One Bonus allows a player to draw 3 Fortune Cards. Fortune cards may be played at once or saved for play at a later time – even during an opponent’s turn! The only restriction is that you may not hold more than 3 of these at the end of your turn. Another Bonus is to receive 1 each of ALL FIVE resources. The last Bonus pays a dividend of 3 VPs multiplied by your current turn order so, for example, a player going fourth who claims this bonus will immediately receive 12 VPs! Not only that, that player’s turn order token is now moved to first place. (The other players slide down a slot.) Now, in REVERSE turn order, players visit the Market.

The Market allows for resources to be bought and sold but money is not used. Buying and selling is done with Victory Points. (You can, if necessary, go negative in VPs to buy available and required resources.) Once everyone has passed, the Building phase, following the normal turn order, begins.

During the Building phase, players may exchange resources they have accumulated for ONE of the available Building cards. Building cards have multiple purposes. First off, a constructed building is worth a bunch of Victory Points, anywhere from 12 to 20 in one shot. Second, each Building card comes with an “action space”. Should a player place one of his pawns on that space in a subsequent turn, that building is activated and that special action it has comes into play. Buildings can grant you additional resources, Victory Points, trade advantages or Fortune cards. Third, a Building Card allows you to place one of your building makers in ANY unclaimed white rectangle space on the board. From that point on, only you can place a pawn there (with one exception). While only ONE building may be constructed per turn, there is no such restriction on the other two possible builds: roads and Temple Blocks.

Roads can be a vital build. For a cost of 2 Timber and 1 Food, you can place a road to connect an area in which you have a building to another area where you have either have a building or one that does not contain an unclaimed white rectangle building space. This connection creates a resource region. Placing a worker in either area of a region gives you the resources of BOTH! Place a worker in both areas and you get DOUBLE the resources! If you’re fortunate, a regions can stretch to three areas so that triple resource production is possible. Create regions wisely and you can generate a resource engine that gives you an advantage in all sorts of building.

kingdomsol3There are 16 Temple Blocks available to be built: 6 Foundation blocks, 8 Structure blocks and 2 Columns. In exchange for 1 Stone and another resource of a player’s choice, he may either build a Foundation block (and receive a Temple Token OR get 5 VPs). Once all Foundation blocks are built, the Structure blocks may be constructed for 1 Gold and any other resource (and receive a Temple Token OR 7 VPs). When all Structure blocks are built, then and only then may Columns be constructed for 1 gold, 1 copper and 1 of any other resource. The builder gets his choice of a Temple Token or 10 VPs! So what’s the deal with those Temple Tokens?

The player with the most Temple Tokens controls the High Priest. The High Priest allows that player to place his token, once per turn, in an area where another player has placed a building marker! Not only does this allow the player to take advantage of another player’s regions (and generate a bunch of resources for himself), he can deny that player a double dose of resources by claiming that space since there can NEVER be two tokens in one area. And, if that’s not enough, the player controlling the High Priest when the game ends receives a bonus of 20 Victory Points!

Play continues until either ALL building sites on the board are filled, one player has placed all five of his building markers OR the Temple is completed. Resources still held by a player are worth 1 VP each and any Fortune cards still in the possession of the players that award Victory Points are cashed in. The player with the most Victory Points wins!

Kingdom of Solomon presents several hard decisions for players. Where to place your roads to link areas (players must build their own roads, no “piggy backing” on an opponent’s road network allowed) and building sites to maximize resource gathering is obviously important as resources are necessary for all builds. Temple building is another option that requires some thought: do I take immediate VPs OR do I compete for the High Priest to make the most of regions created by my opponents and get those 20 VPs at the end (if I manage to hold on to the High Priest). There are strong arguments to be made each way and that’s one of the strong points of the game.

The Market poses interesting decisions for players as well. Very often, players tend to hoard resources, poised to use them to construct Building cards because of their importance: big chunks of Victory Points, additional and useful places for workers to generate additional resources and VPs too, and making the most of the majority of those cards that allow players to place building markers on the board thereby setting up (or, at least, potentially setting up) regions to maximize resource generation. On the other hand, selling off those resources can often generate more VPs at the Market than they do for the build, an option more attractive if the power bestowed by the building in question is one that a player will not use (or, at least, not frequently use) on subsequent turns. Selling resources can also make you less vulnerable to the Thief action play that can allow an opponent to swipe a key resource to prevent you from constructing something you need.

Unfortunately, one of the unforeseen challenges presented to players is a rulebook unclear on some pivotal points. It seems like a case of knowing what you mean but having trouble getting it down precisely on paper, the result being something akin to the wisdom of Solomon being necessary to decipher the intent. Hopefully, some much needed clarity will be achieved from reading this review because the game is worth the extra effort.

Although games set in ancient Biblical times tend to rest heavy on the Bible and often forget about the gaming aspects of play, Kingdom of Solomon bucks that unfortunate trend, relying on solid gameplay to make this game a challenge fit for a king.

 


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