The Daily Worker Placement

Monday, May 20, 2024

Playing at Religion: Jericho

by | published Tuesday, April 11, 2023
Box art of Jericho card game, Uberplay edition.

I recently picked up a game from a BoardGameGeek.com user who invited me to see if I wanted any of his other games for sale. “Why not?” I said to myself. Famous last words. 

Among his trove, I found Jericho, a card game still in shrink from 2006, about building up the Biblical walls of Biblical Jericho and then tearing them down with Biblical horns? Did I mention it was Biblically-based? May I also mention he had it listed for $5? Done and done. Is it good? In a word, yes.

First, though, remember that time we talked about teaching rules wrong? The first (and maybe second and third?) time I taught Jericho I taught it wrong. Embarrassing. We will speak no further of that. But we will speak of the brilliance of this charming card game.

In Jericho, 3-5 players receive a hand of cards made up of wall cards and trumpet cards. Before I get any further with gameplay, I need to tell you about the art. This is an old game, so you wouldn’t expect the art to be good. And it’s not. Think about the look of something like The Downfall of Pompeii and you’ll get my drift. Just to be clear, I adore the look of Pompeii—it’s got an attraction so different than the fully painted, saturated boards of modern games. It’s detailed but undemanding, designed with almost-but-not-quite Dover-clip-art level imagery, and the deeply exciting plastic volcano that doesn’t match anything else? Amazing. It’s so of its time and magnetic to me. Very different than what we can all agree is the objectively awful art and design in Bible Trivia. Pompeii is a game that looks like 2006 and that’s a feature not a bug. I love it with my whole heart. Jericho has a different style, but the same vibe: the textures of the variously-colored walls only partially communicate what they’re meant to be built of and the dude on the scoring cards stands awkwardly as he measures the wall in front of him; come to that, the scoring symbol is, I think, meant to represent coins, but looks suspiciously like Corn Pops cereal. The typeface, you guys, it’s meant to look ancient and chiseled and just looks vaguely messy. My whole heart, I tell you.

Cards from the card game Jericho.

Glorious aesthetics aside, this is a neat, concise, frustrating little game. Players receive a hand of cards that they play either face-up to the table to build several single-color walls or face-down to “the supply” which becomes the scoring cards and which the rules charmingly direct you to form as “a disorganized heap.” The winner will have the most points which is the total cards the players have won from the supply plus any 1-point cards still in their walls at the end of the game.

First, someone builds the draw deck in a manner reminiscent of the player deck in Pandemic: the three scoring cards are intentionally dispersed into the deck of wall and trumpet cards so they’re spaced out but random. The game is then played in three rounds, each one ending when a scoring card is drawn. On their turn, players play a card in one of three ways, then draw from the deck: (1) they may play a wall card in front of them either beginning a new wall or continuing a wall of the color played, making it longer; (2) they may play a trumpet card into one of their walls which acts as a wild card but also removes the highest-numbered wall card on the table of the color they name out loud, shortening that wall; (3) alternatively, players can play a card to the supply, either to trash a trumpet from their hand or to increase the possible points for that color wall when it comes to scoring. When a scoring card is drawn, all walls are checked for length (the numbers on the cards added up) and whoever has the longest wall in a particular color wins the matching-colored cards from the supply. Plus, because at the beginning of each round, each player puts a card into the supply and does not draw back up, everyone’s hand becomes smaller and smaller each round, limiting options.

Trying to figure out what might be in the supply to receive as points, what to destroy on the table with your trumpets, indeed, what to throw into the supply in the first place—it’s all a brain-bending puzzle with no real solution. I suppose if you were good at memorizing cards and could process what might be in the supply or people’s hands, you could create a real strategy. It’s mean—there are a whopping 22 trumpet cards in the deck, so keeping track of them is nigh impossible and they get used ruthlessly. Honestly, and counterintuitively, the one-point wall cards end up being worth more, simply because they’re guaranteed points and are unlikely to be destroyed by the trumpets. 

Left hand hold a card from the card game Jericho.

Mechanically and aesthetically, Jericho is a no-brainer/would recommend. But is it A Good Religious Game? Again, yes. Jericho ticks all my boxes (from a previous article):

“A religious game is good when 

  • it succeeds in what it’s trying to do, whatever that is,
    • It’s trying to be a light-weight yet thinky, take-that card game. Done and done.
  • it explores its theme complexly and appropriately for its weight,
    • In the book of Joshua, the eponymous leader lead the Israelites into what they understood as the Promised Land of Canaan where they have to defeat the Canaanites who already lived there. One of their most famous battles (likely not historical, but that’s outside the scope of this article) was the time they marched around the walled city of Jericho for six days carrying the Ark of the Covenant and on the seventh day when they blew the rams horns the walls all fell down.
    • Jericho is a game about building and destroying walls that feels very on-theme. It’s straightforward on that one level, but adds a bit of strategy and confusion to the proceedings. Every time someone plays a trumpet, there’s an immediate release of tension—either because your wall was attacked or because someone else’s was. 
    • Truly, the question of whether to play a card on one of your walls and thus take the lead on longest wall versus throwing something into the supply is a difficult one. What’s actually in the supply at this point? If I throw something in, will it communicate what I’m trying to build over here? Hey, no, don’t look over here, there’s nothing to see. Should I play this giant 7 card on my wall with the assumption that no one has any trumpets? Risky, but maybe the scoring card is about to be drawn and I’ll get a ton of points. Plus, because there are multiples of most cards, you might also have the high card of the color you’re calling with the trumpet—is it worth the sacrifice to hurt others? 
  • and it is joyous.
    • Y’all, this game is hilarious and tense. Once we figured out the rules I taught wrong the first time, we realized it’s a tight little puzzle and so delicious. It’s quick, it’s mean, it’s fun.
  • Additionally, a religious-themed game is good to the extent that it comforts the players and/or exhorts them to a higher good.
    • I don’t know that Jericho comforts or exhorts anyone to anything, though this was a kind of bonus guideline. Not all of the religious literature or history is, you know, inspirational. Do you know the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree? Or of Moses’ wife Zipporah waving a, well, you should just look her up sometime. Much of religion is descriptive of our lives, not prescriptive. So perhaps I should add a caveat to this bonus: a religious-themed game could also be considered good if it describes accurately part of the human experience related to the history of religion.
  • Hypothesis: games that intend to convince the player of something tend to be worse than games that play in the space.”
    • Jericho is definitely a “play in the space” kind of game, so it doesn’t lose points here!

On the whole, particularly given the $5 price tag, both as a religious-themed game and simply a card game, I give Jericho 5/5 Corn-Pop-looking coins.

Author

  • Alice C

    Alice Connor has been playing board games since she could walk, and wondering about why they're so compelling since the day after that. She wrote a book called _How to Human: An Incomplete Manual for Living in a Messed-Up World_. Alice is also a certified enneagram teacher and a stellar pie-maker. She lives for challenging conversations and has a high tolerance for awkwardness. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, two kids, a dog, and no cats.

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