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Ierusalem: Anna Domini

There is no shortage of board games celebrating Christmas - tho' these almost all focus on the festivities rather than the Nativity - but rather fewer mark Easter. Devir's Ierusalem is themed around the Last Supper, which for Jesus and his Disciples was the Pasech (Passover) celebration that immediately preceded Jesus' arrest and subsequent crucifixion. The title isn't a typo; it reflects the fact that the Romans, who occupied Judea at the time of Christ, did not use the letter 'j' but used 'i' instead. This Latinisation hasn't been extended to Jesus. The game features Jesus and the Apostles and it references Jesus' Parables but it's not an evangelical enterprise per se; think of it as historically rather than religiously themed. Indeed, arguably the core scoring mechanic is markedly unChristian, in that players will mostly be paying to get their followers as close as possible to Jesus and his Disciples at the Last Supper and they'll be engaged in 'take that' actions against other players to bump their opponents off the prime positions and steal them for themselves!

Tho' the individual mechanics in Carmen Garcia Jiménez's design for Ierusalem are all straightforward, this is a game where's there's a lot going on so it can seem initially daunting. Game play is card driven; with each player having their own similar decks of 10 cards from which they draw a hand of five. You play the cards for the actions they trigger but you will also have an eye to the order of icons required to send an Apostle to the Last Supper. The game board has the requisite icons printed on it but you can vary setup by using tokens to randomise these.

Your followers start off on your individual player board where they aren't serving any useful purpose but are taking up the strictly limited 'warehouse' space for resources, so you'll need to get them placed out at locations on the board. For every follower you have at the desert, mountain or lake location, you'll collect the corresponding resource (stone, bread, fish) when you play a card from your hand that triggers that location. You'll need to husband those resources so that, for example, you can pay the cost of sending a follower from another location to the Last Supper. Coins are a further resource. You'll need them to take the Temple action that sends your followers from your individual board to a resource harvesting location. However, unlike other resources, the Denarii coins don't take up 'warehouse' space: 'Render unto Caesar'...

Although position at the Last Supper - orthogonal agency or proximity to Jesus and each Apostle - is the main way in which players will score at the end of the game, there are several other opportunities to score points. There are set collection bonuses to be earned by collecting Parables and you can earn other bonuses, including powerful additional single-use cards, by giving one of your Favour markers to another player. The recipient gets the benefit shown on the token, including use of the icon in placing out an Apostle, but Ierusalem is a competitive game so don't be surprised if players are motivated by self-interest rather than altruism when they 'do a favour' for another player. In our plays at Board's Eye View, players tended mainly to offer favours when they knew the recipient couldn't make use of them (for example, because their player board had no spaces left to accommodate the resources they were being given).

Certain actions will cause a marker to move along the Sanhedrin track. This is the main game timer and it accelerates rapidly when all the Apostles have been seated at Jesus' table. The Sanhedrin track also triggers in-game scoring of specific elements - for example, for every stone, bread or fish they have in their warehouse (ie: on their individual player board). It is only the player who causes the trigger who scores in full; others get only half, rounded down. That means if a player is on track to score highly for the next tile on the Sanhedrin track, it can be in other players' interests to get in ahead of them to trigger the scoring so that they get only half. We warned you this was a 'take that' game!

Ierusalem benefits from a strong theme and evocative art from Enrique Corominas and La Draws. There's a solitaire option, and special rules and a board for a two-player game, but Ierusalem is a highly interactive euro game that's at its competitive best with four players. Just be warned, there are a lot of quite fiddly stickers to affix to all the wooden components: resources, Apostle and followers. You can play without the stickers, particularly for the resources, but they add to the table presence.

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