It’s hard to imagine a meal that had more importance for the history of the Western world than the Last Supper with Jesus of Nazareth and his apostles, including the turncoat Judas. It was literally the last meal for Jesus because he was arrested by the Romans the next morning and promptly marched through the city and crucified, according to the story. It seems inevitable that his followers were eager to attend the meal and hear from their prophet one last time. The seating at the Last Supper is the theme of “Ierusalem: Anno Domini”. Yes, 2000 years ago Jerusalem was spelled with an I not a J, hence the name.
Note: I was not raised Christian nor do I consider myself particularly religious. Nonetheless, I was most intrigued by the game’s theme, even if my understanding of the events of that era were fairly vague. While you don’t need to know anything additional about the Last Supper and everything swirling around it, a basic understanding is definitely beneficial. Time to crack open that Bible or do a few Google searches.
Ierusalem is a worker placement game that involves you sending followers to remote outposts to acquire resources (stone, bread, fish) who you can then send to the Last Supper. Everyone’s going to be jostling for position and you won’t even know where the actual apostles show up until later in the game, which makes it quite interesting: If you’re closest to a key apostle like Paul or Matthew, your follower will accrue a lot of victory points in the end game. End up sitting next to Judas and you’ll lose points. The game is for 1-4 players, 12 and older, with 3-4 being the standard game, 2 players in a special dual mode, and a completely separate solo mode where you’re playing against Barabbas. Historically, Barabbas was a prisoner of the Romans who sought to exploit the impending arrest of Jesus for his own benefit, if his name’s unfamiliar.
I opted to play the solo mode, a typical man-vs-automata experience that changed quite a lot of the game mechanics, removed a number of elements, and added a few of its own that made the solo game surprisingly difficult to master. There are a lot of rules and instructions that have some errors and need some additional clarification. But I get ahead of myself. Let’s check out the board and components…
IERUSALEM: ANNO DOMINI SETUP
The game is played on a main board that represents various locations, including the Great Hall in Mount Zion, the location of the Last Supper, with a victory point track around the outer edge. Each player also gets a player board that represents their modest community, with space for their followers, supplies, and more. Here’s the basic setup:
There’s a lot going on, so let’s proceed clockwise. In the center is the last supper, with Jesus in the middle of the table. The yellow and red meeples are friendly followers, people who’ve already made it to the supper and serve to block seats. They can be beneficial to either you or Barabbas and their starting positions are dictated by the rules. Here’s a closeup of that room:
The followers are eagerly sitting and hoping they’ll be able to hear just a bit of what’s discussed. Notice that each spot has an adjacent horizontal and vertical supply associated with it. That’s the cost of placing a follower on the location. The lower left corner, for example, will cost one fish + one fish, while the seat in that column closer to the table will cost two bread + one fish. Many locations have a reward, as denoted by the graphic, but not all. The lower left spot will cause the Sanhedrin Assembly to move one step closer to arresting Jesus (and forcing the end of the game).
The Apostles are queued up and ready to head into the Main Hall, but only head over when certain events occur:
The foreground icons represent specific locations: You’ll need to have those cards on your player board, in exactly the sequence shown, to be able to move an apostle to the Final Supper. Look closely and you’ll see that the purple apostles are worth 4 points, the orange are worth 5 and the white are worth 6. These are scored at the end of the game and the closer your follower is to an apostle, the more points they’ll get. If you have a follower sitting immediately behind Simon, for example, they would earn 6 points. The follower behind them earns 5, then 4, and so on. The fourth orange apostle is Judas and they’re worth -5 points: If you have a follower adjacent, they will cost you five points!
As shown earlier, to place your followers, you’ll need resources. You harvest those by sending followers from your camp to various regions. Here’s a closeup of the Mountain region, which produces bread:
To start out, the solo player (blue, in this instance) has two followers in each location, and Barabbas (green) also has two followers. Each time you play a card with a matching location, you’ll harvest the number of supplies equal to the number of followers you have in that region. There are only 5 spots total, however, and your followers that head to the Last Supper? They have to depart from one of these regions. You need to establish a pipeline of followers going from your camp (home board) to these locations, then from the regions to the Last Supper itself.
There’s a marketplace area called the Mahane which allows you to purchase more powerful cards and either buy supplies if you’ve extra denarii (money) or earn denarii by selling excess supplies. You will probably be cash-strapped during the game, so remember you can sell excess supplies to generate some quick cash! The final location on the board is the Temple, which allows you to pay to move followers from your camp to one of the named geographic regions (e.g., desert, mountain, lake).
There are also parables you can earn that are worth plenty of points if you can collect even half the series:
Each parable is worth points for the first person who listens to it, and the total number of parables you have at the end can earn you a bonus too, as shown in the grid. Collecting 4 parables during the game is worth 10 points at the end (along with, potentially, 4 additional points during play).
THE PLAYER BOARD
Just as important as the main Ierusalem: Anno Domini board is the player board. Below I have mine set up with my initial followers, one each of the three supplies (stone, bread, fish), and 6 denarii, along with the Illumination tile (top left, worth 5 points at the end) and five solitaire cards, face down:
The three areas in the center are where you create stacks of cards, seeking to have their locations exactly match the sequences for the apostles. The lower portion are for parable cards and you’ll notice a few of them will yield a reward. Handy!
The Starting cards are all important because they are the main way through which you can control the game and your outcome. Here are a few example cards:
In addition to the striking artwork (the game artwork features illustrations from L.A. Draws, Enrique Corominas and David Esbrí), each card has a top left symbol that’s a location, a top right number that indicates the potential victory points earned if the card becomes one of a set to help move an apostle to the Last Supper, and one or more follower actions. The leftmost card matches the lake region, is worth 3 points, and allows you to send one of your followers to the Last Supper (if they’re already in a location and you have the resources needed to pay for their spot in the main hall). The middle card matches the market graphic, allowing you to “go to” the market to buy or sell supplies and even buy one of the more powerful Mahane cards. The follower action of that card gives you a free Mahane card (a boon!) and then moves the Sanhedrin track marker up one spot. Every other move of the Sanhedrin token triggers an event too; in the 2+ player game they can be beneficial, but in the solo game they always involve followers being kicked out of the main hall and a new apostle showing up, ready to listen to Jesus!
Jumping ahead just a bit, here’s a sneak peek at one of these Barabbas Sanhedrin cards and the Sanhedrin track:
This card moves a purple apostle to the main table, but more devastatingly, it removes nine followers from the Last Supper area, as denoted by the red ‘x’ marks. If you’ve worked toward getting your own followers in that area, it can be quite frustrating, particularly near the end of the game.
GETTING INTO GAMEPLAY
Ierusalem: Anno Domini is a complicated game with a lot of components and connections. It takes a while to figure out, no question. For solo play, the turn sequence has Barabbas revealing a card that, like our own action cards, has a top action portion and a lower follower portion:
The symbols used on these cards are scattered throughout the 27-page rules, which quickly became tedious. In the above card, the top symbol means that Barabbas will earn 1 VP for each supply in my storehouse. The lower portion is where things get complicated: The man pointing above his head icon means that this is a friendly follower action: Pick one of the non-player followers starting at the spot indicated with the arrow (red or yellow, with my setup), then move it to be orthogonally adjacent to another of the same color. Then score points based on the total number of that color follower who are orthogonally adjacent.
Player turns consist of 1. Playing a card, 2. Visiting an apostle, if possible, 3. Purchasing a Mahane card, if possible, then 4. Refilling your hand back up to 5 cards. For my turn, I’m going to place a card:
This is the Temple card (top left icon) and it’s worth 3 points if I can complete my set and move an apostle to the Last Supper. On the bottom, the floating feet mean I can place one of my followers (from a region, not from the player card) into the Main Hall as long as I can pay the necessary price with my one stone, one bread, and one fish.
THE LATTER PORTION OF THE GAME
Much later there’s been a lot of jockeying for position near the table, a bunch of apostles have shown up, and a few Barabbas Sanhedrin cards have kicked entire sections out of the Hall. Here’s where it stands:
I’m blue and you can see I’ve got some prime positions: Followers immediately adjacent to Jesus earn 7 points per. Barabbas is green. This can all change pretty quickly, however, and Barabbas can bump our followers, while the Sanhedrin can remove an entire row or section of followers. During gameplay, it was common for me to be 10-15 points behind Barabbas too, since he scores points almost every single turn.
It took almost 90 minutes to get to the end scenario of Ierusalem: Anno Domini, but, finally, the Sanhedrin moved to the top of their track. Here’s how everything looked:
By the time all the apostles were placed, I began to play cards based on the matching follower action, which is why my player board is a mess: No need to try and match apostle sets if they’ve already flown the coop! Notice that I completely ran out of followers in the various locations too; they’ve already moved to the Last Supper (though it was continually wiped by those Sanhedrin cards, which is why it’s not jam-packed with folk).
Coming into the last step, Barabbas was at least 20 points ahead of me, but rather to my surprise, I had a far better setup at the Last Supper itself that yielded me a decisive win of 180 to 161. Here’s the final table setup:
Notice I had all four of the prime spots near Jesus of Nazareth (thats’ worth 28 points alone), along with one behind (another 6). i was also closest to the four white apostles (4 * 6 points), while Barabbas ended up stacked behind Judas (silver apostle, top right), costing him a painful -5, -4, and -3, a total penalty of -12, the worst possible situation. His lead dissolved in a puff of Judas-supporting smoke and my followers earned prime spots at the Last Supper, giving me a win for the solo mode, 180:162.
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE GAME
The game designer, Carmen Jiménez, is based in Barcelona and Devir Games is a Spanish gaming company. The game includes thick, beautifully produced instructions in four languages, along with different cards (and apostle stickers!) for multiple languages too. That’s much appreciated. While I have nothing but praise for the components and theme, however, I found these same instructions darn frustrating for solo gameplay. Like many companies, the solo play rules are based on multi-player rules, so you can’t just jump straight to solitaire and get going. But without playing at least a 3-player game through, the variations and exceptions don’t really make much sense. Worse, the iconography wasn’t centralized, so some images, like the man with his hand on his head, left me scratching my own head. I went back and forth via email many times with the translator and developers trying to gain clarification, with mixed success. Even now, I suspect there were a couple of things I did wrong during gameplay. This would be solved by an earnest solo gamer making a new reference sheet on BoardGameGeek [and guess what? There is a player created solo reference sheet I’m only now noticing!], ultimately to be included in the second printing of the game.
Some of the game complications felt a bit unnecessary. Solo mode skips the very interesting favors and offerings mechanism for multi-player, but why have parables included, particularly for solo gamers who are trying to learn the rhythm and flow of the game? Streamlining the number of actions by removing a few sections would allow players to focus on building those engines required in so many worker placement games and let the iconography be a bit simpler too. Later they could be added back as extensions or expansions, as is common with board games nowadays.
Having kvetched a bit, I have to admit that I was surprised how much I enjoyed the theme. As I said at the beginning, I wasn’t raised Christian nor do I consider myself particularly religious, but it’s impossible to escape the profound impact that Jesus of Nazareth had on Western society, whether he was mythic or a real person. A game about the Last Supper? Yes. While it won’t teach you anything about the associated Biblical events, it still turns out to be a fascinating historical theme. I’d like to try Ierusalem: Anno Domini as a multiplayer game at some point. Until then I’ll say this is interesting, but solo play might just not be its strong suite or the best number of players.
Ierusalem: Anno Domini, from Devir Games of Barcelona, Spain. 1-4 players, 12+, 90+ minutes. $59.99 at DevirGames.com.
Disclosure: Devir Contenidos S.I. sent me a free copy of Ierusalem: Anno Domini in return for this candid writeup and review. Thanks!