Zeal, from Nice Games, is an area control strategy game for two or three players where you're trying to spread your religion across the globe and be the first to place out 10 temples (8 in a three-player game).
The game is played on a map of the world that is not dissimilar to the world map in Risk (Hasbro). Two population tokens (referred to as 'flock tokens') are placed in each of the 19 areas on the map. Players take turns to choose locations to place out two temples. On a player's turn, they get to activate one of their 'miracle' (special effect) cards, move the token representing their prophet and then take an action to either Multiply (add a flock piece to an area with a temple), Exodus (move pieces from an area you control with a temple to any adjacent areas with no flock), Slaughter (sacrifice flock from your area to remove a similar number of flock pieces from an adjacent area), or Convert (where your flock is 3 times the size of the flock in an adjacent area, you can add a temple to the adjacent area). A Starvation phase forces players to remove a flock piece if they have a stack of more than five in any area.
There are no dice and so there's no element of luck in the game, tho' players' miracle cards give them and their prophets asymmetric abilities. Zeal incorporates four different 'religions', so four sets of cards. There are six cards for each religion and you only play with four of them; so there are some choices to be made at the very start of the game and these will affect the way you play. This adds to Zeal's replayability.
As is common in area control games, you'll find play tends to follow a rhythm whereby the initial turns see players doing their own thing as they expand their spheres of influence. After this initial expansion, players' religious empires come into conflict as you find you can't build a new temple without removing the temple of an opponent. For us, the dynamics were at their best in the three-player game, where player A will be conscious that actions that reduce Player B's flock may create an opening that Player C can exploit. Because it's relatively easy to get your first half dozen temples built, victory always seems tantalisingly close, but that'll be true for your opponents too... One careless action can give an opponent the opening they need to seize the win.
The game shown here on Board's Eye View is a prototype. Designer Marc Di Stefano has used art from the Morgan Crusader Bible, but Zeal is an entirely non-denominational game: the four factions don't represent any particular religion so no-one should take offence at the theme as players lead their flocks like lambs to the slaughter in this engrossing fast-playing abstract strategy war game.
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