An Interview with Lance Hill, Designer of Kings of Israel

5 11 2013

Kings of Israel

Today we’re having a chat with designer, Lance Hill, who is currently running a campaign for Kings of Israel, a co-op game set in ancient Israel.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us!

Thank you for having me!

First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Lance and I am a full-time stay-at-home dad for our three small children, and part-time game designer. In my previous life I was a systems analyst for small businesses (IT guy). I’ve been a gamer all my life, and the family game growing up was multi-player solitaire. The game misses the nuance of most euro games, but does allow for more trash talking.

kins of israel logo

You have a new game on Kickstarter called Kings Of Israel. Tell us about that game.

Kings of Israel takes place during the reign of kings in Israel, which is about 3,000 years ago. Each player takes the role of a line of prophets that, together as a team, are trying to keep evil out of Israel while building the needed altars to win the game. Every turn evil spreads and good or bad events occur, depending on whether the team is living during the reign of a good or bad king. If the players run out of sin cubes or idols, or if Israel is destroyed by Assyria before the altars are built, then the team loses.

Did you set out to make a religious game, and then add the gameplay elements? Or did you first set out to create a fun game, and then add the religious theme?

My original goal was to make a fun game that I could use to teach geography to the teen Bible study I was leading. During the summer session we didn’t have a set plan to follow for our studies so I wanted to integrate a game into the studies, but I hit a wall. There are very few biblical-themed games that are actually fun to play, and with the few that are enjoyable the theme is usually light and has nothing to teach. I tried using Settlers of Canaan with pasted-on labels for important locations in roughly the right area, but it was way too abstracted and not very useful. I did have one student go out and buy Settlers of Catan right after the game was done, though! So I decided to start working on my own game to teach geography. Originally it was going to be a resource-delivery game, and I probably still have all my notes of what resources are where in Israel. But then I started to lean towards a “12 tribes of Israel” game with each player taking on a tribe or two, but it started to feel a little bit too cutthroat for a game that’s to be used in a Bible study. Then I finally started to think about the spread of disease in Pandemic and started to think how that mechanic could be adapted as a way to show the spread of evil in Israel.

And so Kings of Israel was born! Eventually!

mosesIs this a gamer’s game? A family game? A nongamers game? All of the above?

I would say a family game is the closest category, but I tried to make Kings of Israel scalable to the type of group you are playing with. Playing with teens or a family who has never played a real strategy game before? Start them off with either the Basic or Easy version, depending on time and mental constraints. Playing with a group that enjoys gateway games? Play the normal version of Kings of Israel. Group of gamers? Play the Expert mode with the false prophet to grind the team down.

One of the “accusations” leveled against you is that this is just Pandemic with a religious theme. What makes Kings Of Israel unique?

I believe the spreading mechanic in Pandemic should be put in the same category of mechanics as deck-building and worker-placement games. It is a brilliant design that lends itself to many purposes.

Evil spreads in a way similar to Pandemic but it varies in many ways. Instead of needing three cubes before something spreads, an idol is needed for evil to spread in Kings of Israel. Idols can be created when a third (or more) sin cube is added to a location or as the result of a bad event. This causes two issues in-game. First, two cubes in one location is a dangerous spot since it’s one away from an idol, and idols are harder to remove than sin cubes. Secondly, since the idols can appear because of bad events, the players cannot depend on just certain areas being the ones to hover around. There is a lot of movement in the game.

There are also dangerous regions on the map based on their proximity to outside nations. Nation cards within the location deck can cause one card to hit multiple areas with sin cubes at once if that nation is connected to those areas. A single area can be hit multiple times in a turn if its location and an adjacent nation are drawn together.

Building altars to win the game is not their only purpose. Altars can be used to make sacrifices if you have the proper resources. A proper sacrifice can remove multiple cubes of sin in a region with one action, and the team cannot win without properly timed sacrifices. Good placement of altars is very important to win the game.

Additionally, the resources needed for altars, and other purposes, are not given to you each turn as it does in Pandemic. Instead a player must use an action to draw a resource card. This big difference alone, I believe, really adjusts the feel to the game. Instead of waiting around for the cards a player needs to win the game, they can go out there and get them! But if a player uses too many actions to acquire those resources instead of removing sin cubes and idols, then they can quickly become overwhelmed and lose. There is a bit of push-your-luck to Kings of Israel in knowing when to try to draw that card you need to do something, or when to just remove that troubled spot that might explode the next turn.

There are many other differences! There is no limit to how many cubes can be in one spot—I’ve seen six reached at one point. The difficulty can vary each turn depending on the king and how many good or bad events have occurred. Traveling is different, reshuffling the deck occurs but not seeded the way it is in Pandemic, and so on.

Do you think this game would still appeal to atheists? Why or why not?

I think Kings of Israel is also a fun game for atheists. One of the big concerns I imagine an atheist would have is whether Kings of Israel preaches to the player, which is common in biblical-themed games. It does not. If the player likes to sacrifice their children to Molech, then maybe it does talk down a little to the player, but that’s about it. There are Bible passages used on the cards but they are flavor text that are applicable to what the card does. To try to alleviate some concern by atheists, I decided that one of my reviews should be done by an atheist, as a “neutral party,” if you will. Richard of “Rahdo Runs Through…” mentioned at one point in a Geeklist that Kings of Israel might be interesting to check out. After confirming he was an atheist I asked him to review a copy of the game, and he agreed! He ended up enjoying Kings of Israel and encouraged others to try it and not be put off by the theme. That review is available on Youtube here if interested.

How did you first get into modern Euros?

I was always interested in gaming and about 10 years ago I came across Boardgamegeek. I knew I had to try some of the highly ranked games, and I did have a roommate that was interested too, so I went to the mall and purchased the best two-player games that I could find. I believe my first Euro games were Alhambra, Attica, Lost Cities, and Settlers of Catan: The Card Game. And it just exploded from there!

What are some of your favorite board games?

I do enjoy a good worker-placement or area-control game, so my top 5 at the moment is probably:

  • Agricola
  • Die Macher
  • Dominant Species
  • Through the Ages
  • Le Havre

Are there any other games you’re working on?

I do have a couple ideas going around in my head, one of which is far enough along that I am playtesting it right now. It is a little different from Kings of Israel in that it is a game about building pre-fab homes called “Prefabulous!”

kings of israel cardsJust like us, you’re involved with youth ministry. So what’s the craziest youth ministry story you can share with us?

Hmm, tough call on that one. I do remember the time another chaperone and I took our youth group camping for the first time in mid-February. I decided that, since we’re from Wisconsin, we could survive the colder season in Texas just fine and that everyone would just bundle up. Well, turned out it was going to be one of the coldest days of the year, and it was going to freeze overnight! So we went out camping with all of the poor Texans bundled in layer-upon-layer of clothing. It all went fine until we had to move away from the campfire into our tents. It was around 3AM when I woke up to the sound of the guys next to me shivering. I ended up giving them my blankets while I went outside and walked around until the sun came up!

Now it’s time for the lightning round: 5 questions; 1-word (or phrase) answers.

Favorite Muppet?

Beaker

Favorite Old Testament Prophet?

Elisha

Last great book you read?

In Cold Blood

Name you would have given your son Isaac if he’d been a girl instead?

Johanna

Favorite sports team?

Packers

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, Lance!

And thank you!

Thanks for reading, and we hope you enjoyed this interview with Lance Hill! Please check out Kings of Israel on Kickstarter, RIGHT HERE! And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog over on the right!

Oh, and did we mention there is still time to get in on the Pixel Lincoln Contest? There is! Just click HERE!

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