Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. These are the words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah. In Nehemiah, a worker placement game from Łukasz Woźniak, you are playing as leaders of the tribes of Israel, trying to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.
What do you get for your money?
You get 3 influence boards, 72 work cards. 8 gate cards, 15 construction leader cards, 30 wood cubes, 36 coins, 28 meeples in four colours, 44 influence cubes in four colours, 4 player screens in four colours, 36 victory point tokens, 1 starting player marker, a construction leader reminder token and the rules.
How do you play the game?
In Nehemiah you are one of the leaders of the tribes of Israel. You and your people will help to rebuild the wall and defend the city of Jerusalem.
You try to have as much influence as possible in different areas that are of importance to the people of Jerusalem, like the Temple, the Wall and the Guards. By having influence you get points and you need those to win the game.
Every player starts the game with an amount of workers, some gold and some wood behind his player screen and some influence cubes in front of it. Wood and gold are the two currencies in the game, with them you buy influence.
In a four player game, the game board consists of five columns of four work cards. In your turn you can do two things: place a worker on a work card or activate a workers on a card.
You have to place a worker on the first unoccupied cards in one of the five columns. If every card is occupied you can’t do that action. When you activate a worker, you lay it down and execute the card action. In addition, you can activate cards that are above the just-used card in the same column and have an ‘exhausted’ worker on it. When you use such a card, you have to pay one gold to the bank if the exhausted worker was yours or give one gold to your opponent if the exhausted worker was hers.
Once a player exhausts his worker that was working on the lowest card of a column, the whole column is replaced, regardless of the status of the workers on top of the cards. This means that workers remain on their cards and only after a column is replaced, players get their workers back.
Examples of actions that players can take are: take gold or wood, build a gate, place influence cubes on one of the three influence boards (Wall, Temple, Guards), exchange cards, exchange workers or re-activate workers.
Placing influence cubes is the most important part of the game. There are three phases in the game with three ‘different’ decks of cards. Whenever you have to draw cards from a deck and you have to start drawing from new deck, you check who has the most influence cubes in the three different areas. The player with the most points gets more points than the player in second place. Having more influence on the Guards is more beneficial than having influence on the Temple, which is more beneficial than having a lot of influence on the re-building of the Wall. Every player with the most influence per area has to remove one cube from that area and put it back in their supply.
When deck III is empty, the game and players get one or two additional turns, depending on who triggered the end.
Every player adds up their points and the player with the most points wins the game.
In addition to basic Nehemiah, you can play with the ‘Construction Leaders’ variant. There are 15 construction leader card and every round there’s and auction and you can bid on these leaders with gold, wood and workers. Players take everything they want to use for their bid in their hand and all players reveal it simultaneously. The one with the largest sum of stuff wins.
A leader, basically, is a special ability or action you can activate at any moment during that phase. You lose the gold and wood and you can’t use the workers you’ve used during that phase.
A few examples of Construction Leader abilities are; just before scoring at the end of the round you can move a cube from one board to another, or swap tow workers, or draw a gate card.
The way worker placement is executed in this game is very interesting. You have to place your worker on the topmost card in a column. Because of this, you constantly have to be on your toes. When I place my worker here, then what options do I give my opponent? Not only do you have to be careful to give your opponent a great card to place his worker on, you also have be sure you are able to do all the actions in a column before the player who occupies the last card activates that card. When he does that, he may remove all the cards and workers on it. This mechanism adds some tension to the game.
When you have to place a worker on a less preferable card, you can still have a decent turn when you activate that worker. Although it costs you some money, you can activate the other ‘exhausted’ workers above your own. The timing of activation, because of the previous two mechanisms, is very important.
It would be more exciting if the card powers on the cards were more interesting. The card powers are all about the same, you get wood, you get a little more wood, you place an influence cube, you place two influence cubes, you get gold, you get some more gold.
I was never excited about these abilities. There are the abilities where you can activate ‘tired’ workers, or change the location of workers or cards. These abilities are a bit nicer, but the ‘ wow, I need that card or otherwise I fail’ or the ‘now I can do this cool combo’ feeling was never there.
In Nehemiah you just place your stuff and if can’t do this you do that other thing, no worries. This game misses the tension that is very critical and characteristic for worker placement games, the tension when another player might place his worker in a spot you really need. The tension one move can mess up you strategy. In Nehemiah I always felt that everything was going to be OK.
The addition of the Construction Leaders is kind of intersecting. They have cool special powers, which can be very powerful if you don’t pay attention. I also like it that you can bid with almost everything you have. Workers, gold, wood, it makes you really think about the value of a specific card. Can it be so beneficial that it justifies the sacrifice of a worker this phase?
I not a religious person and my knowledge of biblical stories is limited to the basics, so I’m not sure how well the story of Nehemiah is integrated into this game.
I can however tell you that the game feels pretty dry.
The game looks a bit old-fashioned. The illustrations don’t really stand out and there’s not a lot of variety. I don’t say that this game is a bad-looking game, it’s just very, very bland.
What I do think looks bad, or is at least a bad choice of colour, are the blue and green meeples. These colours look very similar and almost indistinguishable in low lighting.
Quality of the components
The components are of good quality; nice wooden pieces and fine cardboard pieces. The card quality is OK, so very decent components altogether.
I saw this game at Spiel ’14 and the guys at the booth of the publisher gave a short demo. I thought that it looked very interesting. So I put it on my wish-list and when I got it as a gift from my BGG Secret Santa, I was thankful and very excited.
Unfortunately, it proved too good to be true. This game could have been very fun, but because there is not enough tension, not enough excitement, not enough variety, it does not manage to stand out from the crowd.
The idea, the mechanisms, made me interested in Nehemiah, but it cannot live up to my expectations. It just isn’t that fun, you do the same stuff over and over. The first time a column gets replaced before you were able to do your actions, a ‘Noooooooo!’ goes through your head, but after that you realize that if you just keep an eye on your gold and wood supply, there’s always a way to get your cubes on the board.
The Construction Leaders make this game a bit more exciting, a bit more dynamic, but just not enough.
In conclusion, Nehemiah has decent mechanisms, the idea is good, but the execution not quite. Maybe if these mechanisms are used in another game, one with a little more umph and maybe another theme, I might give it another try. For now, sadly, I don’t think Nehemiah is going to be played a lot.