Journeys of Paul, the

Reviewer Reviewed On Publisher Designer Published In Rating
February 22, 2006 Cactus Game Design Not credited 2002 7
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As a Christian, I’m often rather disheartened by the serious lack of good, solid games with a Biblical theme. Most of them are either a cheap rip off of a commercial game or a horrible game that was put together merely to make dollars from being sold in Christian bookstores across the world. Cactus Game Design is an exception to that rule, making quality Christian games in a barren market. While I haven’t liked all of their games, Redemption and Settlers of Canaan have both been top notch. So my expectations for The Journeys of Paul (Cactus Game Design, 2004 –no designer credited) were hopeful. I was slightly apprehensive after reading the rules and seeing the amount of luck contained in the game but decided to give it a whirl anyway.

And I had a blast! The Journeys of Paul won’t win any game awards for its unique and clever mechanics, but the game is a lot of fun; and as a Christian, I especially enjoyed the thematic flavor of the game. It’s essentially a race game and works better with more players (a maximum of six) but can even be played as a solitaire variant. It has trading, luck, and maneuvering all bundled together under the theme of establishing churches in the Mediterranean area. I’m not so sure how the game will go over in non-Christian circles, but it was a great game to be played at a church gathering, and I’ll gladly pull it out again!

The advanced rules are simple enough that I’m going to include them in my rules explanation. A large board depicting the Mediterranean area during early Roman times is placed on the board, made up of many spaces – most of them irregular hexagons. A deck of city cards is shuffled and five are dealt to each player, representing one of the cities on the map that has no church. A deck of Opportunity cards and one of Event cards are shuffled and placed face down. Each player takes church, cell group, ship, and deacon counters of their color, and places a matching pawn in the city of Jerusalem. Each player is dealt two opportunity cards, and the game is ready to begin, with one player chosen to start.

On a player’s turn, they state whether they will move by land, move by sea, or build a church. Movement by sea can only be done if the player has an opportunity card that depicts a ship – they play that and place the ship counter on the board. The player can then use that ship until they take one of the other two actions, at which point the ship disappears. After the player states which action they will take, the top Event card is flipped over, and the player checks the action they have chosen with the one listed on the card. Much of the time, “no effect” will be there, which means that a player can take the action normally. Many times, however, a player may be restricted from taking that particular action, or take a reduced action. Most Event cards can be canceled by certain Opportunity cards, which are listed on the Event card.

When moving by land, a player may move one, two, or three land spaces. When moving by sea (which has much larger spaces – allowing for quicker movement), a player may also move up to three spaces. When building a church (which can only be done in a city that has no church), a player adds two cell groups to the city. If the player has the Church card that matches that particular city, they may play it for an additional three cell groups and certain Opportunity cards may also be played to gain additional Cell Groups. When a player has seven or more Cell Groups in a city, they remove them and place a church in that city instead.

If a player ends their turn in a city with a “Pre-established” Church, (marked on the map – these cities may not have new churches built in them) they may discard an Opportunity card and draw a replacement. Either way, a player always draws an additional Opportunity card, although they have a maximum hand size of seven cards.

Several Event cards will affect certain cities with a disaster of some sort. If the player whose turn it is has a church or cell group in one of these cities, they will lose one cell group from that city (which might break a church down into six cell groups). Some Opportunity cards allow players to play a Deacon card in their cities, which protect a city from disasters such as these.

Before the start of the first player’s turn, a Trading session occurs. Players may trade Cell groups, Churches, Opportunity cards, and City cards during this time. All agreements must be honored, but pretty much any agreement can be made. The game continues until one player has established five churches AND reaches Rome. That player is then the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The game originally came packaged in a tube, but the newer release comes in a large square box – with ample room (almost too much) to hold all the components. Six reference cards are included with the game, which is nice – but almost unnecessary – everybody I’ve taught the game to has understood the game after the first couple of turns. The rest of the cards are great – high quality, with good artwork and Bible verses printed on them to talk about the events described. The Event cards are color coded so that you can quickly look at them and see how your action is affected. I’m a little less pleased with the counters; they were okay quality but were only printed on one side and didn’t punch out easily. Still, when everything is placed on the map, it looks incredibly good! The map is exceptionally well drawn; and since all of the paces are more or less hexagons, there’s no confusion about what space borders what.

2.) Rules: The rulebook looks like one of those tourist pamphlets that you pick up in hotels and gift shops. Still, its eleven pages are quite sufficient to explain all of the rules, including a page example of play, clarifications of all the opportunity cards, and a nicely laid out explanation of the basic vs. advanced rules. In the basic rules, there is no trading – churches are given out according to the rules, rather than randomly, and pre-established churches give no benefits. Frankly, they were too simple, and no one complained about my automatically including the advanced rules, which added only a smidgen of complexity for a much better game.

3.) Traveling: Deciding what cities to go to is critical when determining how a player will win this “race”. A player could simply go to the five cities that they are given at the beginning of the game, but the layout for those cities will most likely be scattered around the board. Yes, it’s easier to build churches in those cities, but is it worth it to travel the extra distance? These aren’t hard decisions to make, but it’s fun and interesting as players decide while using their Opportunity cards and City cards and which city to travel in. Of course, if another player builds a church in one of your cities, that makes the choice that much easier.

4.) Competition: The theme of the game is about establishing churches; and while that may be rather competitive in America these days, it certainly wasn’t during the days of Paul. Still, it can be rather competitive in the game, as players can build a church in a city just before another player. In fact, since cell groups can coexist in a city, a player could even drop into another city where an opponent is building their church, and by clever cardplay build their church first! I’ve even kept cell groups in a city that already has a church (they were built before the church was), in the hopes that the church might disband, and I could quickly build mine there instead. This can be quite cutthroat in a game with many players and often invites jabs about “whose church is better”, etc.

5.) Theme and Fun Factor: The theme would probably not appeal to non-Christians; but we had a blast, because all of us were familiar with the events depicted on the cards, and it was close to home and interesting to us. I also appreciated that the game said it was “historical”, rather than Christian, because it really is.

6.) Players and Time: One can adjust the number of churches that a player must start to change the time. I’ve found that starting four churches, then heading for Rome, seemed to be the best bet. I also found that six players was the most interesting, as the competition of where to place a church is more intense and makes for a much more interesting game. The solitaire version, in which a player simply attempt to complete the game in a certain amount of turns, is fine, but I lose the interaction, which is an important part of the game. Downtime is slightly higher in a six-player game, but turns are fairly fast, so I haven’t had anyone complain about.

If you are looking for a good game to play at church, then this is an excellent one. Its mechanics didn’t set my world on fire; but combined with the theme, I found this to be a very fun race game. It was a very enjoyable experience, and players wanted to play again. Jokes were made about deacons; we all learned a bit about geography in Paul’s time, and simply put – the game was a lot of fun. And now I can’t say that Bible games are the worst. ‘Cuz this one is quite good.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”