Euro games can be divisive in the board gaming community. Some players call them dry and mathematical, while others are happily addicted to them. We’re easily in the second camp. Euros from Agricola and Tzolk’in pop up on our table all the time. Same with more obscure titles.
The problem with euros is often associated with how uncreative they feel with their themes. There are dozens if not hundreds of games about farming, building towns and ancient/medieval civilizations. Sure, the setting is not enough to make a good board game, but can improve it a lot. Especially when it’s paired with a set of great mechanics.
Goetia: Nine Kings of Solomon, designed by Kristian Karlberg, is an innovative take on euro games. It won’t make you grow corn or tend to cattle. Instead you’re be dealing with pretty different horned beings. Demon kings.
The word “Goetia” means the art of conjuring demons previously summoned by king Solomon. The game was inspired a 17th century spellbook, known by most occult stuff lovers. The first part of said grimoire, called Goetia, describes 72 demons; 23 Dukes, 7 Princes, 14 Marquis, 8 Presidents, 10 Dukes, 1 Knight and 9 Kings. Goetia: Nine Kings of Solomon focuses on the 9 Demon Kings and methods to summon them.
As for the story of the game: One of the workers building the legendary Temple of Solomon has encountered an evil demon, and was taught how to imprison him. Hellish beasts are dangerous but the powers they wield are unmatched. If one was to learn how to subjugate these beasts, he would become a ruler of the entire world. That’s exactly what you’ll be competing for.
The setting and lore feel refreshing. Illustrations by Andrzej Masianis, quotes on cards etc all have an unsettling feeling of dealing with knowledge that should not be known. We also have to admit that the theme made us research the topic and sink some hours learning about occult lore.
The Summoners Gather
We were lucky to get our hands on the prototype version of Goetia: Nine Kings of Solomon last week (thanks Kristian!). The game can be played in few different player counts. We enjoyed the 2 player mode a lot (it’s very competitive and aggressive) and tried the 4 player mode once. It felt noticeably longer but there was no painful waiting between turns. The game is rather fast paced, especially when you get the hang of the turn order.
Drawing the Magic Circle
The center of the board represents a world, where demon kings threaten humanity. They stay in their own dimensions but experienced summoners can make them come to our realm or even bind them to do their bidding. The world is made of 9 double sided cards placed in a 3×3 grid. The setup is randomized, leading to much higher replayability. Each of these cards has a set of hexes that can be used by your workers to gather resources. When certain conditions are met – the tiles are flipped and uncover demon kings you will conjure and pray to. The world area is surrounded by World’s Edge Cards used to recruit new workers and grant additional resources later on.
Scry boards are located to the right and get slowly filled with workers. When enough of them are placed on a Scry Board – one of 9 demons gets summoned and his pool of cards becomes available to players next round.
Conjuring demons slowly fills the board with white New World Cards, that symbolize triumphing over demons and grant some interesting combinations of resource gathering worker spots.
As you can see, the board keeps evolving as you progress. This creates an interesting dynamic that many euro games lack. The playing area keeps changing and flows, while the available actions switch to a different pool every few turns.
Working Your Way to Mastery
How does the game play? Everyone starts with 3 workers. Players place one worker in turns until everyone has moved all of their meeples to the game area. Workers can be placed on workable spots to gain resources for free. Later on you can also place them on Scry Board or on an unlocked Demon Card to get new cards, but these actions need to be paid for.
The game uses an interesting mechanic of linked hexes. Placing your worker on one of these makes him stay there until the entire chain is filled with meeples. This makes the most valuable actions risky but rewarding – as normally workers are collected after each round.
Apart from linked hexes, cards often use a queue mechanic. Many action hexes form lines. Placing your workers at the beginning gives you the priority while distributing rewards from the card, but these spots often contain less resources and lock your meeple for quite a few turns.
As you can see, Goetia: Nine Kings of Solomon is highly competitive. Apart from queues and fighting for best areas for workers, players also compete for resources. The pool of resource cubes is limited (20 per type) and when the supply gets empty, you take cubes from the opponent with the most of them. In 2 player mode it didn’t happen too often but with 4 players, you’re bound to steal resources from others sooner or later. Especially considering how the costs of actions grow as the game progresses.
Worker recruitment is also resolved in a creative way. Increasing your workforce has a cost based on the amount of visible hexes in a World Card row of your choice. The more workers already standing there (and covering hexes) – the less you’ll have to pay to get new ones.
Breaking the Rules
After gathering resources, filling up the Scry Boards, conjuring demons – it’s time to reap your rewards. Goetia uses special, small format Demon Cards for these. They’re divided into 3 different types: Relics, Treasures and Demonic Powers. All of them give powerful bonuses to players owning them. And by powerful we mean… changing the core rules of the game. Treasures for example provide additional resources for 5 turns. Relics include actual workable hexes that grant rewards like making cube colors obsolete, returning blocked followers, doubling the amount of resources you get or even resurrecting your workers. Demonic Powers alter the costs on cards, allow taking resources against the rules or even break the links between hexes.
Late game also adds Pact cards that you get after conjuring final demons. These cards have a direct influence on final score and add new ways to get points.
The Grand Finale
The end of the game can be triggered in 2 ways. First one happens when a player has 4 active Pact Cards, and these appear pretty late in the game (when you conjure demons in one row, exhaust their card pool and get to the most vile goetian Kings). Alternatively: when most Pact Cards have been picked up, and only the amount equal to the number of players remains – the game ends as well.
After the final round is triggered and completed players count their cubes, points on cards, pact card multipliers etc. The conjurer who ends up with the most points – wins.
We had tons of fun playing Goetia: Nine Kings of Solomon. Learning curve was rather friendly, mostly thanks to the rulebook introducing all mechanisms in a digestible way. When you realise how the board tiles flow – everything clicks. The way the gameplay area changes feels fresh and helps avoid the late game stagnation.
The game itself keeps feeling really competitive from the very beginning and is by no means a solitaire. You often need to choose between 2 or 3 powerful actions, many of which will give your opponents an edge if you don’t take them yourself. Limited resource supply only increases the competition and makes you plan your management of cubes carefully.
Replayability seems to be on the higher side here, as thanks to tile based board, you will get a different set of actions every time. The way they evolve is also dependent on the order in which you conjure demons or recruit workers.
Apart from the mechanics, the visual side of Goetia is also great. Pictures seem unlike what we usually see in board games, fit the old spell book theme well and are consistent.
All in all, we enjoyed the game enough to back it when it launches on February 27th. Backers of the campaign will also receive metal coins and neat custom meeples.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed!