Review by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue after 3 plays thanks to an early review copy by Red Glove
(I have not yet got access to the official English rules so it could be that some terms will got a different translation in the end).
GodZ is an interesting strategic game about some of the gods in the Super Fantasy’s pantheon. Despite the light and ironic theme the game is a challenging and solid Euro. The theme is not pasted on so you have Rocky the Squirrel, avatar of FIU, the god of tree and campers, that get a “build” resource in the forest thanks to his ability to work with tree or GLU, the god of the Sea and the “variety of fried fish”, that is able to kill enemy followers near to sea hexes thanks to the flood miracle.
In GodZ players use followers and avatar to raise the power and glory of their god in an expanding world. There are 3 ways to score points (glory): wars, control of territory at the end and glorify. There are also some few points got during the game thanks to other gods actions.
GodZ is a typical game where you have to plan well your strategy since you have always more opportunities than actions and the timing is crucial. There is no luck and randomness apart from the drawing of new tiles.
The game is played on an hex gridded map. In the beginning there is a central area (a central hex with 6 hexes around) and every player has a starting area with his city in the middle and 6 hexes around. The central area and the players’s starting areas together make up the starting map that can be extended thanks to single hex tiles.
There are 5 different type of hexes and 5 resources in the game: desert – faith, forest – food, sea – movement, swamp – glory and mountain – build.
Every player has also a god board to record resources and actions and displaying god’s miracles and avatar power. Every player start with the avatar and three follower in the city and 3 more can be gained during the game.
There are 5 miracles in each board: 3 are commons to all gods and 2 are peculiars.
The game is played in turn going clockwise until a player got 6 or more war/glory tokens. It is a “sudden death” but the designers told me that the 7 months of play-test didn’t shows any real advantage for the players going first.
During a turn a player run along 3 phases: action, miracle and resources.
In the action phase a player can decide to operate or just take glory. Glorify is an immediate way to score points, just getting glory tokens valued as much as glory resources controlled. You get less glory as much as operate in the previous turns: it looks like the gods prefer followers spending a lot of time praying and celebrating rather than operating. On the other side if you operate a turn after other you get access to increasing special actions/bonuses . After 5 turns you have to glorify anyway and start again. This option between operating and glorifying seems to be one of the main design expedient but in the 3 games I have played we didn’t used the “take glory” action too much.
[Liga] I have played GodZ just 3 times and we never get any glory counter from the “take glory” action. The game always ended thanks to 6 battles and it looks like the easiest way to score. We do miss something ? How can be a glory-strategy be more efficient than a war/territory occupation ?
[Marco] Well, I think you have to figure it out by yourself: no spoilers here! We often hear players saying that a strategy is stronger than another. Glory is too strong, early building is too strong, war is too strong, that miracle is too strong … curse us! We made too many “too strong” things in this game!
[Diego] Yes, blame on us. We also saw games ended without fighting a single war. You can sit on throne of Godz by many ways, usually combining more than just one strategy. If everyone goes for the same path, the one doing it better wins. But, often, thinking out of the box and searching for alternatives could be even a better move.
When you decide to operate you have to choose if building, activating followers or activating the avatar.
You have 3 temples you can build during the game and you need build resources to do.
Using food you can activate your avatar that can move, remove enemy folleowers/villages or just push other avatars away, crushing unlucky followers.
Using faith you can move your followers and, if the needed actions/bonus are activated, you can go war and remove enemy followers or temples. Wars are, together with “take glory” action, the way to score points. Every follower/temple remove will give you a war token valued 2-4 glory points.
[Liga] It looks like you get the real good actions at the end of the track so how can be really advantageous to take “take glory” action before reaching the end of the track (where you have to do) ?
[Marco] Well, scoring Glory at the very beginning of the track is obviously the best way to score Glory Points. If you always reach the end of the track, you always get the -4, and it’s hard to score big points with Glory. Usually it’s wise to try to score Glory Points when you don’t need (or it’s not so good) making war.
[Diego] In GodZ you don’t need to choose a single strategy and “insist” on it. You can unleash war, then go back, moving your pieces your pieces, and go back again scoring up to 9 points. Then go back to war, maybe building something in the middle, or just scoring Glory again if no one is an immediate menace. You have to mix tactical moves to build a strategy, according to what your opponents are doing
War is probably the easiest way to score but you can protect temples and followers. A temple with a follower inside is impossible to defeat, not with war or avatar actions.
After the action phase will start the miracles. To cast miracles you need faith, so usually the right time to got miracling is after a build or avatar action.
The simplest miracles let you to move one follower or draw a new terrain tiles. Than there are the special miracles, different from gods to gods and finally a special miracle that let you to introduce a new follower in play.
After there is the resource phase where you gather the resources you can use in the next turn. There is no accumulation so before taking the new ones you have to discard the left-overs.
Followers get resources from the hex they occupy but more followers in the same hex don’t provide more resources. Temples get one resource from one of the hex near to.
You start with 3 followers and you can get up to 6 with 3 special actions: the great miracle of life, the building of the 3rd temple and an avatar special action.
Like most of resource based games is it good to have more gatherers but it is not a killing strategy and it is not east to bring on the map all the 3 extra followers.
Playing the game you got the impression there is not a single winning strategy since almost everything seems to be important/usefull.
When the game is over you get points for controlling territories, area of neighboring hexes of the same kind. Followers are worth 1, temples 2 and avatars 3 for the purpose of controlling areas that can give a sizable part of the total points.
The game looks quite well balanced and, probably, well tested.
[Liga] How long does it takes to design and playtest GodZ ? I see a lot of small expedients (like the consolation draw for BAU and FIU powers) that I suppose originate from deep balancement.
[Marco] Designing and balancing GodZ took more than we expected, I think it took around seven months from the first brainstorming session to the day we said “ok, we’re done”. GodZ is made based on a micro-actions system that focus a lot on timing. This feature of the game allows players to approach each game from different perspectives and with different degrees of “planning ahead”, but it has a lot of variables, so it took some hard work to balance it all.
[Diego] All the actions you take during a game are small steps to make greater things happens before the end. You know, butterflies flapping their wings, hurricanes and so on. So it was designing this game: the “small expedients” are just a part of the flow that bring to you the flavor of what you’re doing. That’s why Fidus can take a bone out of the sand, producing food for itself instead of just faith for BAU. In the time we spent designing and developing the game, the balance was always present, in every single part of the game.
[Liga] Why you decided to include in the box just 5 gods? Could not be nice to have some more to extend re-playbility?
[Diego] Could also be nice to have the bobble head of Kevin Sorbo inside the box, or the whole Super Fantasy pantheon available to play, but it’s not that easy, for a lot of reasons. The game is hard and rich enough to keep player on the board for games and games. There are a lot of ways to play, even playing the same deity, even against the same opponent. There’s a lot of space for thinking out of the box, and even after have seen a great number of totally different played games, there’s always someone who take out something new. Adding new deites means balance again it all, and try to figure out all the things that can emerge from players’ behavior.
[Marco] Going beyond gameplay, the main, blatant problem is that putting more wood and cardboard in the box means a higher production cost, and that obviously leads to a higher retail price, as the product slides to the next price category. So yes, it could be nice having more deities, but we thought it was even more nice having a game like this for 25 euros. By the way, the game is selling really well, so probably the publisher will ask for an expansion.
[Liga] How long does it takes to balance the single gods/avatar powers ? Do you think there are gods easiest to play ?
[Marco] As Diego said earlier, our design method accounts the game as a whole. Even when working on a single part, for example the world, or the action system, we try to never lose the focus on the entire game and on the experience we want to convey. So, we balanced the game in its entirety: the gods the avatars, but also the actions and scoring system are balanced together.
[Diego] Every little thing grows in the same time and space of the greater ones. Of course we have given some last stroke of brush, but it was always on the fresco. You can play every deity in different way, you can even ignore their special powers if you wish, but this game is not one of the easiest, so you cannot expect a god easy to master. Or we can say, playing a deities is easy, bring them to victory is not.
My only uncertainty about GodZ, but is something I can really assert after just 3 games, is the “sudden death” rules offering the first players advantage of virtual extra turns with the only drawback to be the first setting up the map but the designers are not in agreement with that.
[Liga] The tie-breaker rule (if tied the players moving last in the turn will win) seems to show a little advantage for players going first. I think it is a big advantage What do you think about ?
[Diego] As all the game is based on having the right timing, choosing the right moment to end the game is a big advantage, as you can give the “final blow” to your opponents. Also, being the first player – if you’re expert enough – gives you the advantage to possibly enforce your strategy over the board, forcing others to change their plans.
[Marco] Also, if the first player ends the game, he played one turn more than his opponents. That’s why, at end of the game, the tie-breaker rule says that the first player will always lose.
GodZ is a game I liked play and I’ll play again to try new strategies. It is a deep and balanced euro with a nice theme that you can feel playing the game. After 3 games I have just scratched the surface and I’m sure there is a lot more to discover.
Synthesis and Emotions
Few lines to describe what the game is about and emotions it arouses. GodZ is about timing and playing it you will try to control the “sudden-death” end of the game condition preventing other players to end the game too soon (getting stronger position on the map that means more points for controlling territories) or trying to have the possibility to close the game. You can get wars tokens (usually 1-2, sometimes 3) in a turn with a proper Followers action or just 1 with a “take glory” action. War tokens are random points (2-4); glory tokens are known. The game ends reaching 6 tokens.
Since both Marco and Diego are active members of the Italian Board Games designers forum, I’ll ask them about the designing of the game, particoulary about co-design and the future of the Red Glove’s strategy line.
[Marco] GodZ is born as a Red Glove project. So, it was a specific request from the publisher. As they asked me for a “god game” for gamers, for that particular price category, I immediatly thought about Diego as a co-designer. We worked toghether on many projects – you will see another of them in stores very soon – and I really like working with him. We work on equal footing, talking about everything and doing together design, development and playtest.
[Diego] For our method and personality (and friendship) we used to work very well together, even if usually we focus on different elements of a game. This different way to approach the design allowed us to keep GodZ between our lines, until reaching the game you can play now.
[Liga] With Super Fantasy and GodZ it looks like Red Glove is pushing on the strategy line with real good gamers games. Is there something else boiling in the pot?
[Marco] The strategy line is the one with the hardest games to develop, and Red Glove still focuses on family games, so right now I’m working on a new strategy game, but you will see some games for families and children first, along with “Super Fantasy: Night of the Badly Dead”, the second chapter of Super Fantasy saga. Diego and me are working on a children game, a really challenging project.
As Red Glove, we’re also going to release a load of quick and funny games (I can’t tell the exact number because of a contest running right now on Facebook), made by a team of designers. It’s a project I really loved, because I had to coordinate both experienced and debuting developers to design a coherent line of games following the publisher’s directives. Obviously you’ll see something from Diego here too!
[Diego] I’m glad my work has encountered the favor of our CEO, and I wish the audience will appreciate my next games. The whole plan of the publisher is really exciting even for designers who take part on it, so I guess you can expect a lot of new, funny, beautyful games in the next months for every audience category.
The game will be available in Essen both in Italian and English. For other languages/editions the publishers told me to wait news.