Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Settlers of Zarahelma

Released by:  Inspiration Games
Designed by:  Klaus Teuber
3 – 4 Players, 1 1/2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

As the name suggests, the game is based on the 1995 Spiel des Jahre, Settlers of Catan.  Like Ark of the Covenants’ relationship to Carcassonne, this version of Settlers bears much in common with its ancestor.  

This new version uses a theme that is tied to the Mormon religion.  I am sorry to admit that I know very little about their faith and beliefs, so I really cannot comment on how accurate the game reflects their beliefs or invokes the “feel” of their faith.  I do understand that Zarahemla is the fabled city of the Mormons and was supposedly located somewhere in South America.  The development cards are the primary items that make an attempt to inject Mormon lore into the game system.  The only other aspect is the building of the temple, which is actually a feature lifted directly from the Settlers “Cheops” Historical Scenarios edition.   Other than these few features, the game is essentially identical to the original Settlers

As opposed to having individual hex tiles depicting the various terrains, Zarahemla uses a board with a large cut-out in the center.  This cut-out holds the terrain tiles, which are not separate, but attached in five separate strips.  These strips are double-sided, so it is possible to construct several different board configurations.  The remainder of the board depicts the temple and spaces upon which the resource and development cards are placed. 

The actual artwork on the board is quite attractive and evokes a “brooding jungle” atmosphere.  I had the pleasure of meeting the artist, Alvin Madden, at last year’s Gathering of Friends.  He is quite talented and it shows here. 

Game play follows the familiar Settlers pattern.  On a turn, a player performs the following actions: 

1)      Play one Development Card (optional).  Development cards are purchased with resources and can either allow a player to perform special actions or grant victory points.  Normally, a player may only play one Development Card per turn.  Victory point cards, however, are the exception and can be played in multiples.  However, they should be concealed and only be revealed at the end of the game to claim the victory.  

2)      Roll for resource production.  Two dice are rolled and the tiles matching the result produce resources for players possessing settlements or cities bordering that tile.  Resources are the same here as in the original.  

3)      Trade, build and purchase cards in any order (optional).  This works in a fashion similar to the Settlers of Catan expansion.  Players can trade and/or purchase cards and build in any order.  This does give players a bit more flexibility than regular Settlers

In addition to roads, settlements and cities, players may also use resources to construct the Zarahemla temple.  The surrender of one brick and one stone allows the player to add a stone to the temple.  The player who has constructed the most stones in the temple, with a minimum of three, receives the Greatest Temple Contributor card, which is worth two victory points.  This card can only be lost if an opponent constructs more stones in the temple than the current holder of the card.   

The game continues until a player wins by accumulating 12 victory points.  The increase over the normal 10 points required in basic Settlers is due to the addition of the temple mechanism and the points that can be earned in its construction.  Even with the increase in victory points required, the game still plays to completion in about 1 ½ hours. 

Settlers of Zarahemla doesn’t really add anything new to the series.  However, it really wasn’t designed to do that.  Rather, the idea was to graft a religious theme onto the game so that it would appeal to those of the Mormon faith.  According to Jeremy Young, founder of Inspiration Games, Mormon families tend to play more board games than the average American family.  Thus, the idea of introducing them to quality games that possess a faith-based theme should prove popular and successful.  I think he is correct, and applaud his efforts at introducing new segments of the population to the wonderful world of board gaming.

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