Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Ark of the Covenant

Designed by:  Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Released by:  Inspiration Games
2 – 5 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review first appeared in Counter Magazine #24


Inspiration Games
… sister company of UberPlay Games … specializes in releasing games with religious themes.  Owner Jeremy Young feels … as do I … that many families would be more willing to play games if they possessed themes that were related to their religious beliefs.  There are numerous reasons why developing games with religious themes makes good sense, but that is a matter to be discussed outside the scope of this report.  Suffice to say, under the “Inspiration Games” label, Jeremy is testing this theory with the release of “Settlers of Zarahemla” and “Ark of the Covenant”. 

Ark of the Covenant uses virtually the same game system as Carcassonne, quite likely the most popular European-style games since Settlers of Catan (on which Settlers of Zarahemla is based).  The game is set in the time period of the Old Testament, with the Israelites developing the region by building cities, temples, roads and raising sheep.  

For those familiar with Carcassonne, the main differences in Ark of the Covenant are:

 1)      The Ark.  Instead of placing a token, players may move the Ark, which scores points for players when passing through tiles containing their tokens. 

2)      The Prophet.  This slightly larger token scores double points for a finished city. 

3)      Temples.  These structures close when surrounded ortogonally by tiles and score 7 points for the player with the most tokens surrounding it. 

4)      Fields.  The fields contain sheep, with players scoring 2 points for each sheep in fields they control.  Wolves detract from this score. 

For those unfamiliar with Carcassonne, a bit more detailed description is in order.  The game’s central mechanism is tile-laying.  Players alternate turns placing tiles to form the “board”, then decide whether to place one of their tokens (now widely known as “meeples”) onto the newly placed tile. In lieu of placing a token, a player may move the Ark of the Covenant token, scoring points for each token it passes.  Points are also scored when a city or road is completed, a temple is surrounded orthoganally by tiles, or for sheep tended in the fields at game’s end. 

Tiles depict segments or portions of various buildings and/or terrain, including cities, temples, roads and fields.  When a tile is played to the table, it must be placed adjacent to another tile, and all features on the two tiles must match (road to road, city to city, etc.).  After placing a tile, the player may elect to place one of his seven tokens onto the tile, positioning it onto one of the features depicted on the tile.  Only one token may occupy a particular feature, so if there is already a token in that building, road or field, the player may not place another one.  However, if a player is able to eventually join two separate road, city or field segments into one, then it is acceptable to have more than one token located on a specific road, city or field. 

Tokens placed into a city or road will be returned to the player when that city or road is finished.  Tokens placed in a field, however, will remain in place until the end of the game.  Thus, players must decide on each turn whether to place a token and, if so, on what feature of the tile upon which to place it.  Since there is no guarantee that a particular city or road will ever be completed, and, if so, just how many turns this might take, players must carefully weigh whether they should place a token or not.  If tokens are placed too quickly, it is quite possible to deplete your supply and have none to place when you really want to.  

In addition to 7 “meeples”, each player also has one prophet, which is actually a slightly larger meeple.  The prophet can be placed in a city and if that city finishes, points will be doubled.  The prophet may only be used once, however, so players must be very judicious in its use. 

If a player opts not to place a meeple, he can instead move the Ark of the Covenant token.  This token can move up to five spaces.  If a space through which it moves contains a meeple, the owner of that meeple scores 1 point.  This “Ark” feature gives the player another option, plus helps alleviate the problem of having a tile that does not provide any lucrative placement opportunities.  It also provides a strategy that players can utilize, as the proper positioning of the Ark can yield significant points, even when your opponents opt to move it and must move it through tiles containing your tokens. 

As mentioned, when a city or road is completed, points will be awarded to the player having the most meeples there.  Roads will score 1 point per segment, plus 1 point for each oasis along that road.  Cities score 2 points per segment, plus 2 points for each scroll symbol located on tiles within the city.  When a temple is surrounded orthogonally by tiles, it is “closed” and scores 7 points for the player who has the most meeples surrounding that temple.  In all cases, if players tie for the most meeples at a location, they each score the indicated number of points.  

Fields score only at the end of the game, which occurs when the last tile is played.  The player with the most shepherds (meeples) in a field scores 2 points for each sheep symbol in that field, minus 2 points for each wolf in the field.  This is identical the field scoring in Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers.  Fields can be very lucrative, but since they are large in size, it is often possible for opponents to place tiles to maneuver their own tokens into the field.  Plus, fields are fairly susceptible to attack by placing tiles containing wolves.  So, pursuing a field strategy can be risky. 

As in Carcassonne, all unfinished buildings and roads score at the conclusion of the game, but at a reduced value.  So, the main risk of placing tokens is the danger of depleting your supply during the course of the game.  

The religious theme fits nicely and is certainly nowhere near overpowering.  The addition of the Ark provides more strategic options for players, and the field scoring is simpler and easier to understand than the farm scoring in Carcassonne.  Is it better than the original?  Well, hard to say.  I do like the addition of both the Ark and Prophet, as more options are a good thing.  I actually enjoy Hunters & Gatherers more then the original and feel that I’ll be playing this one more, too.  However, I don’t think the main intent was to create another version of Carcassonne for gamers.  The central idea is to expose the game and others like it to families and individuals in a segment of the market that may be unaware of these types of games.  Inspiration Games earns high marks for this objective, and for the games they have chosen to lead this effort.

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Responses

  1. Lots of good things from Carc in one package. (7/10)


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