Quick Look: Ierusalem: Anno Domini
Designer: Carmen García Jiménez
Artists: Enrique Corominas, La Draws
Year Published: 2023
Jerusalem, spring 33 AD: A crowd gathers at the city gates to welcome Jesus of Nazareth as he prepares to celebrate the Passover seder with his apostles and followers. With a revolutionary message, he has garnered supporters everywhere but also looks of suspicion among religious authorities. The Last Supper will soon be celebrated, and the fate of one of the most influential characters in human history will be sealed.
In Ierusalem: Anno Domini, we represent one of the communities of followers of Jesus of Nazareth who, coming to Jerusalem from nearby towns and villages, want to approach the place of the Last Supper and position ourselves as close as possible to the seats of Jesus and his apostles. The closer we are, the more points we earn at game’s end. We also score for offering tokens and parable tiles we’ve accumulated.
Different locations are shown on the board: the market, the desert, the mountain, the lake, and the temple. After sending our followers to one of these locations, we obtain stones, bread, and fish, as well as denarii or cards that allow us to do more than one action. Among these actions, players can choose between listening to a parable, going to the table, changing seats, or doing a favor, among other things. All this happens while the patience of the Sanhedrin runs out. When this happens, as symbolized by a tile moving in a marker, the endgame is triggered.
However, the main element of the game is the cards. Each card has a symbol corresponding to one of five key locations in the game. As we play them, we form combinations that allow us to bring the apostles to the table of the Last Supper. The optimal placement of our followers around Jesus and the apostles will also be done through the management of letters, as well as various resources at our disposal.
Behind a very immersive theme, Ierusalem: Anno Domini will not disappoint lovers of good challenges. Players have a wide range of possibilities at their fingertips and multiple ways to earn points. Preparing the best strategies to get the most out of your followers will be one of the keys to victory. Devout gamers don’t need to look further: Here is your game!
If going by the odds, my chance of encountering Ierusalem were not at all realistic given where and when I first happened upon it. During a summer visit to Indonesia this year, I made a point of perusing every local game shop in my vicinity while in Jakarta. (And I would definitely like to write about my gaming experiences in Asia another time…)
But given the demographics of the area, both my wife and I were equally surprised to find this particular game was rather emphatically being presented to us by one particular shop owner.
Indeed, the proprietor of Toko Board Games seemed rather proud in his suggestion when asked what games he would suggest us to buy and take back home with us. As an overtly Christian / Catholic themed game, it did not escape our notice that recommending such a theme can carry a huge risk these days, especially in certain parts of the world, so it did very much strike us as a bold recommendation. But we decided to make due with the advice, and soon found ourselves headed home with several bags stuffed full of big board games ; and Ierusalem was one of them.
The subject matter at hand for Ierusalem deals with the events of the Last Supper, the famous New Testament account where Jesus of Nazareth celebrates the Passover on the last night of his life on Earth.
Supporting 1-4 players, (I recommend 4), the primary objective is to score as many points as possible by seating as many of your colored meeples / followers as close in proximity to Jesus and his Apostles as possible. While the competitive natures of this goal may seem contrary to the Greatest Commandments given by the Lord, from a standpoint of historical accuracy, there is a certain historical and scriptural degree of merit in taking this approach to gameplay, notably observed with the game designer’s use of Luke 22 , 24-25 : “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest”. So indeed it would seem that in certain points of time, competition was not beneath the followers, and this game makes use of this element for creative purposes.
The game starts with virtually everyone except for Jesus seated outside of the Last Supper area. Your own followers begin on your own player board, and will need to be moved to one of 3 main areas (Mountains / Deserts / Lakes) in order to later receive a calling or invitation to the Last Supper. Even the Apostles themselves do not begin directly in the seating area next to Christ, as it will be up to players to strategically decide when to start seating the Apostles so as to gain favor / Victory points.
The game uses a combination of worker placement and card hand management / building to create a sense of progress. The end game can be triggered in a variety of ways, which include a player seating all of their followers, having all of the Apostles seated, or having the game’s timer (The Sanhedrin track) depleted.
On a players turn, as a very broad summary, players can do the following, in order :
1) Play one card
2)Visit an Apostle
3)Buy a Mahane Card
4) Acquire / Discard resources , up to 5 cards maximum allowed. (Resources are limited by spaces left on your player board, so any excess gained on your turn is lost)
Even though limited to just one card use per turn, this is actually a multi-faceted step, as there are many things possible to do with just that one card.
The first deals with the card “location” icon, in the upper left. These will essentially let you perform an action on the specified area, which can be either a Market, Mountain, Desert, Lake, or Temple. Generally speaking, the more workers you have on some areas, the better, as it allows you to collect a resource such as fish, stone, or bread in direct proportion the the number of followers you have there. The Market lets you swap goods for money (and vice/versa) OR buy a Mahane card (a more useful card than your basic starter cards) at a cheaper price than waiting for game step #3.
The second aspect of playing a card lets you take the specific actions denoted at the bottom of each card, in its iconography. Basic cards have one action, Mahane Cards 2, and A.D. 33 cards have 3 actions that can be taken, all of which are optional (except for icons that move the Sanhedrin marker. These extra actions are :
Listen to a Parable
Go to the Last Supper
Be Invited to the Last Supper
Do a Favor
Call a Follower
Go to the Market
Go to the Temple
Receive Denarii (money)
Obtain Stone, Bread or Fish
Meeting the Sanhedrin
Draw a Mahane Card
Draw an A.D. 33 card
Now I will not have time to go into detail of what each of these actions does specifically, but I will say that a lot can be happening during this aspect of gameplay. I will highlight a few of these actions though, as they do highlight some of the elements that make this game fun and unique.
Do a Favor : Each character has 7 “favors” they can elect to do for another player. It grants that player one immediate benefit (such as a resource or card), and a secondary benefit later on that acts as a sort of “Wild Card” for the purposes of seating an Apostle. The benefit for giving out favors for the player who plays it is that they can draw a more useful A.D. 33 card. More on this later.
Call a Follower : Lets you take a follower from your player board and put them into use on one of 3 areas : Mountain, Lake, or Desert, as long as you can pay the cost.
Go to the Last Supper : Provided you have the resources available, you can seat a follower of yours at the Last Supper area.
Be Invited to the Last Supper. Like above, but free of cost.
Now in the interest of time, the only other aspect of gameplay that I will cover will be the next step, #2 : Visit an Apostle.
As you play cards in your player area, you will gradually place them into one of 3 different slots, and in each slot you will start stacking played cards into an array. Each card itself has a symbol on top, and to visit / seat a specific Apostle, you will need to match exactly in sequence the requirement that is listed next to that particular color of Apostle on the game board. For example, you may need your lineup of cards played to be Mountain / Temple / Forest, in that specific to bring a purple Apostle over to the seating area. However, you may also use the aforementioned Favor you received from another player to act as a sort of “Wild Card” to fill in gaps in your array.
Moreover, seating an Apostle also bring a specific benefit directly to the player who brought them over. This could be Victory Points, allowing you to seat one of your followers for free, letting you rearrange the seating between two different followers, or even…acquisition of Silver in the case of seating Judas.
The game will proceed until one of the the aforementioned end game criteria has been triggered, at which point the game will rapidly close off (through moving the Sanhedrin tracker faster), and scores will be tallied.
Again, as a very broad generalization, it is more advantageous to have your followers seated closer to Christ and their Apostles. More on this later when I talk about scoring more.
Okay, so now that this very brief summary of gameplay has concluded, now it’s time to share my thoughts on the game :
—Firstly, I was really surprised how well this particular theme works for what type of game it is.
—The second is that I was a surprised at exactly how strategic the game itself is—It is not just about immediately acquiring the best seat possible, as there are many, many, ways to score points. And these are not cheesy points that are designed to make it feel like “everyone is a winner in the end”. There can be many different approaches and methodologies that go into earning the Most Victory Points, from doing Favors, to being the person who listened to / acquired the most Parables.
And you can be very crafty in how you achieve this through the use of making timely use of actions that let you rearrange players on the board, or when you decide to Visit an Apostle. You can even manipulate the Sanhedrin track to your advantage, and that is a nice touch. I can’t even begin to elaborate on the multitudes of viable paths to victory there may be. And with regards to timing again, that is imperative , as even the choice as to WHEN you give out a favor can be done to great personal benefit.
—Ierusalem flows exceptionally well. And this is contrary to the experience with similarly themed games in my collection, which feel quite clunky in comparison.
—My wife observed that while Ierusalem is a competitive game, it does not feel like it in the end, which is a main selling point for her. The competition isn’t quite as in-your-face and direct as it can be in other games, which can be quite cut-throat in comparison. Most competitive games get her blood boiling, which is why she often avoids them, but she enjoyed and would play Ierusalem again with its flow being a bit more laid back and easy going.
—Materials are all well designed. The game supports 5 languages right out of the box, with manuals and decals for each distinct language. Great assets and art.
—Great variability. Extra Location tokens allow you to change the requirements for Visiting Apostles each game, so the same strategy may not always work.
Areas of Improvement :
—The iconography takes some getting used to for Follower Actions. While it would have been helpful having each card denote in text what action it was depicting, the fact that the game supports 5 different languages right-out-of-the-box would have made this impossible to have each card have its own language variant. So I understand why the iconography had to be without words, but nevertheless , it would have facilitated things. However, each player does have their own player aid with descriptions of the icons so this is somewhat rectified.
—Each player count requires different setup instructions. This may require you to constantly read the manual between plays to get the setups just right, as players will start with different resources, cards available, etc, depending on the player count. As such, we will opt to always play this game with 4 people to avoid confusion, but also because we feel this game plays at its best with 4 players.
Now, as one may well know, I am usually not much of a fan of Worker placement and Ierusalem does sport this as a mechanic to a degree, so I will admit that I was not expecting much of a return in terms of game play when I bought it.
Given the infrequency with which Catholic or Christian themed games come up, I was initially more interested in supporting the game out of principal than anything else.
However, it bears mentioning that even though this is a cause I am willing to support, my willingness to openly share a review on such products is often limited by my refusal to recommend a game that, while employing themes that I relish, nevertheless fails to satisfy in terms of its structure and enjoyability.
And while I will not mention these particular games by name as not to stifle the cause, it still remains clear from looking at my game shelf that most if not all of these games sit on my shelf unplayed after many years.
Ierusalem treats its subject matter with dignity, reverence and respect, while still being fun and educational (in its use of Bibical text to explain the sometimes not-so-obvious reasons for employing certain game play mechanisms). It is a game I would highly recommend, not just for the theme, but also and especially for the gameplay.
And while it is a mid-weight game and definitely not the most fitting for introducing new gamers to, in terms of its difficulty level (I’d rate it a 3/5) , it nevertheless has me convinced that I should perhaps at least consider using the game as a means of introducing certain people in my life to the hobby, as Ierusalem’s brilliant combination of theme and mechanics could nevertheless serve as a catalyst that converts them….to board gaming and possibly other things.
Thank you to Carmen for making this game that I will be just as proud to exhibit and share as was the proprietor of Toko Board Games in Jakarta!
Final score :
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer
Jazz Paladin is an eccentric at heart — When he is not learning to make exotic new foods at home, such as Queso Fresco cheese and Oaxacan molé, he is busy collecting vintage saxophones, harps, and other music-related paraphernalia. An avid music enthusiast, when he is not pining over the latest board games that are yet-to-be-released, his is probably hard at work making jazzy renditions of classic/retro video game music tunes as Jazz Paladin on Spotify and other digital music services.