Publisher: Garphill Games Games
Player Count: 1-4  Players
Game Length: 90-120 Minutes
Complexity 3.75/5

After decades in captivity to the Persian empire, King Cyrus in 539 B.C., moved by God, issued a decree to allow the Israelite exiles to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their city and re-establish the temple and sacrificial offerings.

In the game, Ezra and Nehemiah, you’ll follow 3 unique leaders, each tasked for a different purpose. Zerubbabel first returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple where God’s presence previously dwelled. Soon after, Ezra and Nehemiah return to re-institute the religious rules of the Torah and rebuild the outer city walls respectively. Players will compete to progress each of these areas, scoring points and earning bonuses along the way.

If you’re familiar with previous Garphill Games such as the West Kingdom series or more recently, the South Tigris games, you’ll definitely see some familiar mechanics. A culmination of a variety of actions, Ezra and Nehemiah is a fairly challenging euro-style game where meticulous planning is rewarded. It employs a hodgepodge of mechanics such as card management, set collection, worker placement, tech tree building and chaining. It has a fairly steep learning curve and clearly appeals to more seasoned gamers. So, the question remains: Are you up to the task of rebuilding Jerusalem or is it best to leave the heavy lifting to someone else?


You might recognize the game’s card system from one of Garphill’s biggest crowd pleasers: Paladins of the West Kingdom. Each player begins the game with an identical set of 10 cards. These cards are the core of E&N. They serve as the jumping off point for your primary actions, auxiliary actions and potential end of round bonuses. Each card features a set of 3 banners, The color of the banner determines the action and their number determines the strength of that action. On your turn, you’ll choose a single card to place on your player board/tableau. Then choosing one of the card’s color banners, you execute that action. Each player board features 3 available card spots and visible banners of the same color can be combined from all 3 spaces. This is a really cool concept that builds on the Paladins model creating a situation where deeper planning can lead to more powerful opportunities.

The game consists of 3 weeks and each week gives you 6 turns. Each turn allows you to play a single card (from a hand of 4), but each of the card locations can only hold 2 cards. When one is covered, that card’s banners are covered and unavailable further complicating the planning process.

The card banners are red, blue and gray and they correlate directly to each of the game’s 3 areas of play.

Red banners allow you to corporately build the temple as well as make sacrifices. Of course sacrifices need Levitical priests – so doing a red action will allow you to commit one of your workers to the priesthood for the rest of the game. The temple is an area of big points and benefits where players will strategically race to claim spots.

Blue banners give you access to the scriptures and tent camping. The scriptures play out like a tech tree where you gain access to additional tiles as players build beneath. These tiles provide exclusive player action bonuses across the board and can be a good source of direction in the game. The tent area serves as a rondel giving you bonuses as you move around the circle.

Finally gray banners allow you to clean up rubble and rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem. The rubble consists of multiple types of rock-like resources that can be recycled for use in the temple or turned around to rebuild the wall. Another great source of end game points, rebuilding wall segments offers minor bonuses and benefits in relation to the city’s gates.

Additionally, you have access to auxiliary actions that allow you to upgrade your player board and make trades (available on the most recent card played) that are critical to planning and efficiently aligning your resources for future turns.

After 6 turns, players prepare for the Sabbath. During the Sabbath, players will feed their workers, evaluate your success offering sacrifices and earn any end-of-round scoring benefits. Players will “tuck” a card giving them that end-of-round scoring for the rest of the game, but subsequently lose that card from their rotating hand.

After 18 turns, the game ends and the player with the most points gets a high five from everyone else (because we’re really working together to return this city to its former glory, right? … right.)


The artwork is provided by long-time Garphill Games collaborator Sam Phillips. His work on games like Hadrian’s Wall and Raiders of Scythia have earned him a healthy following. The art is solid and the game’s graphic design doesn’t disappoint. It will take you a minute to get up to date on the iconography since it’s not always 100% intuitive, but it’s well done and does the job soundly once you’ve acclimated yourself.

The components are what you’ve come to expect from Garphill. Quality cardboard, wooden tokens and recessed player boards all fitting snugly in a smaller-than-normal box. Playing the game as often as I did gave me plenty of practice packing away all the pieces into a box that is just slightly too small (but acceptable) for the components.

Finally, the rulebook does a fair job of communicating the information. While everything is there and available… my brain is hard on rulebooks – often struggling to process all the information clearly. As is the norm, I had to revisit the rulebook multiple times. While everything isn’t exactly where I’d like it to be, it does it’s job and will get you the answers to the questions you’re eventually going to be looking for.


➕ Beautiful production

➕ Ambitious theme

➕ Great card system that will likely be stolen by other publishers

➕ Think-y choices cater to players who enjoy deep and meticulous planning

➕ Fair amount of replay ability


➖ Serious onboarding time – this is a chore not to just teach, but to get a full grasp of all the game has to offer

➖ Turns have the tendency to bog down the game with overall analysis

➖ This leads to heavy, slow pace that drags down the game

➖ Disconnect between the game’s 3 main sections lost some of the overall synergy

➖ Excitement level for the game never got too high


I think people are going to be drawn to Ezra & Nehemiah for 2 reasons: They are likely huge fans of Garphill Games track record of snappy, think-y and satisfying mid-weigh euros or they’re drawn in by the unique, Biblical theme. It may be 1 or the other or a combination of the 2. Ultimately, I think players who enjoy dry, think-y euros are going to find the most value. The game’s combos work hard to provide added spice, but this is a game about perseverance, planning and calculating. It definitely sits on the heavy end of the Garphill library and the theme integration, while pretty well done, will only take you so far.


The best thing about the game is the individual player cards/decks. The process of cycling through 3 cards to trigger your best possible actions takes so much into consideration. While obviously pairing together the most same-colored banners gives you the strongest actions, the auxiliary trade actions on each card can be just as valuable to your success. I loved this in Paladins of the West Kingdom and it’s taken to the next level here.


Ezra & Nehemiah was one of my most anticipated games of 2024. I’m a huge fanboy of all things Garphill and this looked like a winner right from the get go. The unique theme only elevated things as I’m also a sucker for Biblical history. The game’s designers, Shem Phillips & S. J. MacDonald are 2 of the best in this niche and great designers deserve an honest review. I think it was the combination of my monumental expectations and a few misfires from the game that ultimately led to E&N falling a little flat for me.

First, the positives: This is a solid production. It looks amazing and there is a ton of value for the price point. It’s a bit of a smaller box which pleases my gaming shelf, but there is nothing small about what the game delivers.

The designers did a solid job with the theme. Installing a historical and Biblical theme is a challenging proposition and I think they did it justice. By nature, the Bible doesn’t offer much wiggle room for competitive board gaming. Creating circumstances where God’s will might fail in a game doesn’t sit well with its more devout audience. The deterministic and unchanging nature of God forces designers to be incredibly creative with their choices. I’ve had knowledgeable friends nit-pick a number of things, but I think the general idea of the time and events shines through in a healthy way. Now, that theme only carries the game for so long until you revert to moving cubes and playing cards, but that’s pretty typical with any euro game.

The card system is solid. I touched briefly on that above and look forward to future games using this cool “banner” system.

The challenges of the game hit me right from the beginning. Onboarding was a serious chore. Learning the game and teaching the game are serious hurdles. It wasn’t until I had read the rulebook 3 times and played 3 full games that I started to grasp concepts and strategies. I may be a little slow sometimes, but this really got me. Additionally, a 4-player game early on with my gaming group almost led to a riot. Players rose up in frustration as they struggled to grasp a viable strategy. At this point Ezra and Nehemiah was going to have to dig its way out of this hole.

As I continued to understand the game, the actions became less abstract and I started to realize what the game expected of me. Where I had previously railed against the idea of trading away my hard earned resources, I began to embrace the need to exchange resources for future plans. I also dove head first into the Torah actions that give you on-going benefits, which provided direction and advantages.

None of these revelations could help the game’s pacing. It often bogged down to a slow drip – especially in the 4-player game. There is so much to consider on your turn that even the least AP prone players stumbled in my experience. A lot of this was due to the extensive implications of each card, but it also didn’t help that there seems to be a disconnect between the game’s 3 main areas.

Typically, in a Garphil/Combo-driven game, you can decipher how to best chain your actions and get the most from your turns. The water was a little muddy here. I would often evaluate 2 different options based on my available cards and realize there was no distinctive difference or benefit between the 2 actions. I was going to earn the exact same points and see the same resource result either way. Perhaps that the game was too balanced or maybe it was me failing to play far enough ahead. This all resulted in some very uneventful, unexceptional turns that never let the game rise above a low roar.

Ezra & Nehemiah is a fine game. It’s a solid euro for think-y individuals who like quality productions and exotic themes tied to their games. But, be it expectations, mechanics or indescribable, inaudible subtle waves of dissatisfaction, Ezra & Nehemiah just didn’t get there for me. I’m fully aware that there is an audience out there who will likely love this and cherish it for years to come. I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying it outside of this report. I still love Graphill Games, these designers and this artist. I’m still just as excited for their upcoming games as I ever was. But when it comes to Ezra & Nehemiah… I think I’d more likely recommend one of their many contemporary classics.