The game, “The Journeys of Paul” by Cactus Games attempts to put the player into the shoes of an early christian missionary circa 60 AD. Following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul and his journeys across the Mediterranean, the object of the game is to establish three churches in various city spaces across the map, and then travel to Rome.
The point of view is established through the use of event representing hardships that early Christians faced from ridicule, arrest, and beatings to shipwrecks and sickness. Event cards are universally bad and can only be countered through the use of opportunity cards which can represent anything from sympathizers in the Jewish or Roman government to miracles such as healing. Each of these cards contain a bible verse which can be looked up and act as a justification of the card’s effect. For instance a card label “persecution” is not a bad event card but rather a good opportunity card. The bible references on the card point to verses in which the early apostles state that hardships are a chance to overcome adversity and better oneself.
Sadly, these cards are the only entertaining aspect of the game. The game play itself is incredibly simplistic. Players have no way of interacting with each other and instead compete simply to achieve the same objective first. The box even lists the game as being playable by “1 to 6 players”, and indeed, this is the case. Game play is divided into turns which are divided into phases. A player first chooses one of three possible options “build a church”, “travel by land”, or “travel by sea”. The player then draws and event card and reads to determine if the event effects their chosen course of action. If so, the player may use an opportunity card to counter the event if they have one that applies. The player then carries out the chosen action to the best of their ability given the potential hinderances of the event card. The Player is then allowed to draw an opportunity card and the turn ends.
While this may sound somewhat complex, the game more or less plays itself. There is really no downside to using opportunity cards whenever an applicable event comes up. The process of building a church lacks any kind of meaningful decision as one simply declares they are building a church and then draws an event card to see if they succeed in attracting followers. Movement is fairly restricted as well. Though there are no technical limitations aside from event cards, players are each given 3 “city” cards at the start of the game that indicate cities in which a substantially larger grouping of christians exist. As such, the player’s route to rome is more or less decided as there is no reason to build churches in city that is not on the route suggested by the combination of the city cards. Movement by sea as opposed to land represents the only actual sense of risk vs reward in the game as shipwrecks threaten the otherwise faster movement afforded by sea travel. That said, a player cannot even choose to travel by sea if they do not posses an opportunity card called “ship available”. While playing I never once drew this card and as such did not even have the option of choosing it as a strategy.
This game is different form a documentary film, but only in the same way as a documentary book. The gameplay is incredibly simplistic, and ignores the possibility of competition or cooperation. Basically the game’s value exists purely as a series of cards. As such the game is only documentary game in the sense that its focus is on purely textual data. Despite a variety of cards, their specific effects on the actual game play tends to be redundant as there are only three possible actions for them to affect. In the end, the intend message gains nothing from the game format save perhaps as acting a way of trying to trick people into looking up bible verses on their own.