Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Solomon’s Temple

Designer:  Doug Gray
Publisher:  Cactus Games
2 Players, 1 – 1½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

Cactus Games is a firm that is dedicated to releasing games that possess a Judeo-Christian theme.  Solomon’s Temple is one of the games in their line, and is loosely based on the Old Testament account of the fabled temple of King Solomon.  Two players attempt to construct and furnish Solomon’s Temple, while defending the temple against the powerful Babylonian army.  Unfortunately, the story is FAR better than the game, which suffers from some poor design decisions. 

Each player receives a large board depicting the foundation of the temple, including spaces where the four main structures and gates will be constructed.  There is also space for an assortment of other cards, including prophets, kings, priests, altars and even the scapegoat.  While they do help keep things organized, the boards are actually way too large and consume too much table space.  

In spite of the presence of the boards, the game is primarily a card game, with players attempting to collect and play structures, gates and furnishings.  Each player receives an identical set of cards, which contain the aforementioned cards as well as an assortment of other cards.  Players begin with eight cards and one prophet in play.  The only ability of a prophet is to allow the player to place and move Babylonian army cards, a very strange historical correlation. 

A player’s turn consists of four phases: 

Draw Cards.  The player fills his hand to eight cards, immediately playing certain cards if drawn.  These cards are placed on the spaces provided at the bottom of each player board. 

Military Phase.  The player rolls a die to see if he is susceptible to attack on this turn.  There is a 50/50 chance that the Babylonians will be active, but only if the player has an active prophet in play.  If so, the opponent may play Babylonian army cards, which allows him to place new army token on the opponent’s board.  He may also move these tokens, attempting to position them next to gates or the temple.  If any armies are in these positions, he may play “Destruction” cards, which allows the player to destroy an adjacent gate or two furnishings and/or structures in the temple.  These cards are reshuffled into the player’s draw pile, and the rampaging army is removed. 

This phase of the game, like many others, is heavily influenced by the luck of the draw.  If a player gets lucky in drawing army and destruction cards, he is able to place numerous armies onto his opponent’s board.  Once placed, armies are extremely difficult to remove.  This means that they will easily destroy any gates and furnishings placed by a player, which is quite frustrating.  The active player can only play cards to affect the invading armies AFTER they have had a chance to wreak havoc and destruction. 

A further insult is that a player’s prophet card is discarded if an opponent successfully attacks his temple.  Since a player cannot perform military actions without a prophet, this is a severe handicap – and a player is virtually powerless to prevent this loss.  Terrible. 

Building Phase.  The player may build ONE piece of the temple. Gates can be built without restriction, but in order to add furnishings to the temple, the corresponding structure must be constructed first.  There are three structures:  the Outer Porch, Main Hall and Holy of Holies.  Each of these areas has 2 – 8 furnishings.  Herein lays one of the major problems in the game:  there is exactly ONE of each of the three structures in a player’s deck.  It is quite possible that one or more of these cards will be buried in the deck, and not surface until much, much later in the game.  This means a player will be unable to place any of that structure’s furnishings, and these cards will clog the player’s hand.  The player does not want to discard these furnishings, as there is also only one of each of these cards in a player’s deck.  So, once discarded, it is impossible to get them back into your hand until the discard pile is re-shuffled.  This could take a long, long time, as there are one-hundred cards in a player’s deck.  This is yet another ludicrous design decision. 

But building is not as easy as described.  Before a player has the chance to build, his opponent may play a Sin card to halt the building.  In order to overcome the Sin, the player must have an altar and priest in play, AND play an offering card.  This combination is difficult to achieve, so many building attempts are aborted.  

The one-build-per-turn restriction is also troublesome, as it causes the game to drag on and on.  The two King cards liberalize this a bit, allowing gates or structure cards to be played as instant cards, but this has a minor affect on the game.  If I ever play again – and I won’t – I would insist on allowing players to be able to perform multiple builds on their turn. 

Discard Phase.  The active player may discard as many cards as he desires.  As mentioned, a player’s hand often becomes clogged as needed structure cards have not been drawn.  Often, a player must discard desirable cards just to give him a chance to draw one of those desperately needed structure cards.  

Once a player manages to construct all four gates, three structures and fifteen furnishings, and keep the Babylonians from destroying them, he still must play the “Filling the Holy of Holies” card to claim the victory.  It should come as no surprise that there is only one of these cards in the deck.  Once drawn, the player must never discard it, so it will likely occupy a space in the player’s hand for a long time before it can be used – if ever.  

Sadly, Solomon’s Temple is a poorly designed game.  One’s success is exclusively determined by the luck of the draw.  Getting needed cards early is vital.  Otherwise, the game quickly deteriorates into frustration, as each turn becomes nothing more than trying to draw the needed cards.   The prohibition against building any furnishings before the corresponding structure card is in place is the main culprit, and a major design flaw.  The “sin” and military rules are also terrible, and contribute to the game’s downfall.  

I am particularly irritated since folks will be tempted to purchase this game based on its religious theme.  I have seen the game in Christian bookstores, and I am troubled that folks will buy it and likely be very disappointed.  This could easily dissuade them from trying any further games that are beyond those found on the shelves of local Toys R Us or Wal-Mart.  That is a shame.  Good religious-themed games can be made – Ark of the Covenant, Settlers of Canaan, and Settlers of Zarahemla are all examples.  Sadly, Solomon’s Temple is not one of them.

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