Dale Yu: Review of Deus (Pearl Games)

 

Deus

  • Designer: Sebastian Dujardin
  • Publisher: Pearl Games
  • Ages: 14+
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 60-90 mins

[This game was originally previewed on 9/10/2014 for the blog, but now that we’ve had a chance to play it… now we can do a full review!]

Deus

Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Pearl Games

Deus is the newest release from Pearl Games, this one designed by the principal behind the company, Sebastian Dujardin.  I have been a fan of the previous designs of Sebastian, namely: Troyes, Tournay and La Venise du Nord.  This was one of the more anticipated games of the show for me heading into Essen…

In Deus, players  take on the role of a civilization leader – placing their pieces on the board to control the land as well as to attack barbarian villages.  The board itself is a modular affair – there are neat looking “rounded hex tiles” that are constructed out of seven teardrop-ish colored areas.  Each tile has 2 sea regions, 1 barbarian village and one each of the four different land terrains.  While I can’t confirm this until I see the actual bits – looking at the examples in the rules, it appears that each tile has a different arrangement of these seven areas.  The board is built by randomly placing the tiles together – the number of tiles used is determined by the number of players. The only restriction is that barbarian village areas may not be adjacent to each other.

 Deus Board

Each player gets a building board and two buildings of each of five types.  Each player has a total of 25 buildings in his color – 5 each of the five types – but at the start of the game, only 2 of each type are available to the player. Players also get 5 gold and one resource of each type to start.

On your turn, you have a choice between two basic actions: A) Build a building or B) Make an offering to the Gods.

BUILD A BUILDING

You can build either a regular building or a temple – and then you possibly fight barbarians

Regular Buildings – Play a card from your hand – pay the cost for it (either resources that match the cost on the card OR 4 gold per resource).  This card is placed at the top of the column of cards for that color on your player board.   Then you get to place a matching building (type based on the color of card played) onto the board.

 

This would be a pretty lucrative combo of cards to have

This would be a pretty lucrative combo of cards to have

Building restrictions:  You must have a matching wooden piece available to build in your personal supply (or you may not play that card).  Initial placements must be on a region at the edge of the board, and later placements can either be in a region you already control OR a region adjacent to somewhere you already control.   You cannot place in barbarian regions.  Maritime buildings must be built in sea regions. If you place in a region you already control, you are limited to ONE building of each type in that region.  If you want to start a new chain of buildings (on a new edge region), you can pay 3 gold to do so.

Finally, you get the special effects of the cards – each card has something awesome on its bottom third.  You get the effects of ALL of the cards in the column you placed the card in, going from bottom to top.

Temples – the temples in the game are all of a neutral color – you play a temple card out of your hand, and the cost is always the same: one resource of each type, though again any or all resources can be replaced with 4 Gold each.  The first Temple gets placed in a notch in the player board at the right end.  When you build your second temple, you must first have built at least one card in each other color – and the Temple card will complete that row.  To build a third temple, you must then have at least two cards in each other color…  After paying the cost of the card, you then build a temple piece on the board – this must go into a region where you already have a piece though.

 

Once you have built your building, you check to see if it is time to fight the barbarians.   This happens if two criteria are met: A) A barbarian village is completely surrounded (all neighboring regions have player pieces in them) AND B) at least one military unit is amongst those pieces.  The player with the most military pieces around the barbarian village wins the VP bonus (which is equal to 1VP per region surrounding that particular village).

If, at the end of this turn, you have NO cards left in your hand, you may replenish your hand and draw back up to 5 cards.

MAKE AN OFFERING TO THE GODS

Instead of building, you can take this other action which allows you to discard cards.  You choose as many cards to discard as you like, and place them on the discard pile in a single stack – so that your opponents can only the topmost card.  Then, based on the color of the card on top, you get an action which is modified/repeated by the number of cards you just discarded.

  • Blue (maritime) – Gain 2 gold per discarded card, add a maritime building to your personal supply
  • Green (production) – gain 1 resource per discarded card, add a production building to your personal supply
  • Yellow (scientific) – draw 2 cards for each card discarded (Max hand size of 10), add a scientific building to your personal supply
  • Brown (civil) – Gain 1VP if you discard 1 card, 2VP for >1 card – add a civil building to your personal supply
  • Red (military) – Gain 1 wooden building of your choice for each card discarded
  • Purple (temple) – wild card – this can act as any of the 5 colors listed above.

After you take the special power of the God, draw back up to 5 cards – unless you took the Yellow action, and instead draw 2 cards per discarded card (to a max of 10)

END GAME

Game ends when either all of the temples have been constructed OR when all of the barbarian villages have been attacked.  At that point, you finish the current round so that all players have the same number of turns.  If you build a temple, you still play the card, but you do not get to place a wooden temple on the board.

Points are added up:

  • VP are earned through the game
  • Look at each resource – whichever player has the most scores 2VP
  • Score points for each temple – each awards points based on different criteria (max of 12/card)

My thoughts on the game

First, let me start by re-publishing my thoughts from 2 months ago based on reading the rules…

Wow – the rules are very straightforward and easy to digest. This game looks like it will be easy to make a play, but the trick here will be to figure out how to maximize the card effects.  Since you get to take advantage of all of the card effects of a particular color when you play a card, figuring out how to get the actions when you need them will be key.

From the graphics I have right now, I only can see about 10 of the cards (out of 96 total in the game) – there certainly seem to be a varied set of actions from amongst the cards in the rules/examples, and I can only assume this will be true of the full set. As discarding cards is a main feature of the game – as a way to get extra wooden buildings for later plays as well as for the particular actions of the gods – you’re going to get a chance to see a lot of cards in the game.  Figuring out which cards are worth keeping will likely be important.

From my three plays – my initial feelings on the game have been confirmed.  The game is quick paced, and it’s all about the cards.  The mechanic of the card tableau is nice, and it does give you more than one reason to consider playing a card.  Some of the actions on the cards seem weaker, but these cards often have a smaller cost to play, and if played early on in the game, they will repay you with their (albeit weaker) action many times over the course of the game.

To be frank, I still don’t have a good feel for whether or not the cards are balanced against each other – I think they are, but it is very difficult to tell as the value of any particular card shifts based on your position on the board and what other cards you have already played.  I haven’t yet come across an unfairly dominating combination of cards, though I have certainly seen some really good combos in my games.

In our first game, it seemed like the board play was a lot of solitaire as each of us stayed pretty close to our initial hex – and the rules force you to give distance to your opponents early on.  However, in the second and third games, I found that there is definitely a time and a place to spend the 3VP to place a unit in a non-connected exterior space.

Examples of the board sections

Examples of the board sections

I really liked the idea of cycling through the card deck using the Offering action.  You generate a positive action through you discards, but you also get to really see a lot of cards at the same time – this way, you are better able to create some cool combination of card actions.  Sure, there’s a bit of luck that is involved with drawing the right card at the right time – but that’s no different than any other card based game.  The challenge is to set yourself up to be able draw a card you need and to do something with the card when you get it.

Finally, the way that the larger end game  bonus cards (the Temple cards) are played is nicely thought out.  All players have the chance to play one Temple card each game – further Temple cards can only be played once you have then played at least one card of each type.  Thus, if you choose to concentrate in a single color – which gives you lots of repeated actions and probably lots of synergy between those cards – you lose out on the opportunity to score more Temples.  Clever.

At this point in the Essen season, this is one of my favorite games thus far.

 Deus board

Opinions from the Other Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (2 plays): Overall, I like this. There can definitely be a fair amount of luck in the card draw, but to me the amount of luck is acceptable for a game this length (it’s not very long), and the discard mechanism means that getting an awful hand is not a calamity – just discard it and get a bunch of resources or even more cards.

A more serious concern which has been raised is that it’s possible for the game to lock up, with enough cards out that no one can get enough sets to use up the temples (and with no one able to close out the last barbarians and still win). I expect that this will turn out to be a very rare occurrence, but if not, you can always play with the variant in the rules allowing a card to be played face-down as any color.

Joe Huber (1 play): While the game seems to have gone over very well, for me it fell flat.  I found the cards not well balanced – with an increasing effect over time, such that unless you want to constantly recycle your hand there’s not enough time for that opportunity to really balance the luck of the draw.  It’s also altogether too easy to get boxed in; while there’s a way around that, paying victory points every time is not particularly satisfying.

But the more I look back at my one play, the more I realize that perhaps the greatest flaw of the game was that it felt entirely abstract to me.  Not that there aren’t attempts at theming – there definitely are – but they didn’t catch with me, leaving a complex (for an abstract) and random game that just wasn’t much fun.

Brian Leet (4 plays): My opinion on this title has ranged up and down over my first four plays. I have seen long slugfest games where many temples were built and a lightning round where all the barbarians were cleared while each of three of us had only a single temple. This variability appeals to me, and after four plays has bumped the game up a notch from where it was after the first two attempts. There is no doubt that luck plays a significant factor in the hand of cards you are dealt, but the players are not only control of how and when they recycle cards, but also in the pace of the game itself. This somewhat allays my earlier fears that the game would come down to a close contest won by how is better able to poach a few points from their nearest opponent.

A solid game with interesting decisions, a fun balance between building and sacrificing cards and definite capacity for re-playability. With a familiar group I expect games will go very quickly, giving a lot of gaming bang for the time buck. For me it is an “I like it”, but it also comes with a recommendation to try it.

Ben McJunkin (1 play): During my single play of this title at BGG.con, Tom Vassel wandered past and declared the game to be “Race for the Galaxy: The Board Game.”  At the time, that seemed like an odd comparison.  In my mind, Race for the Galaxy’s definitive characteristic is secret and simultaneous role selection, which leads to interesting parasitic player dynamics, and which is entirely absent in Deus.  But, as I thought about it, I could see the the other similarities emerge:  discarding cards as a prerequisite to playing others (if somewhat indirectly); employing pre-packaged strategies such as military rush, produce-consume engines, or pursuing high-cost developments (temples); a variable endgame trigger based on VP depletion or building limits.  Without Race’s core role-selection tension, these similarities left Deus feeling like a cold, solitary reimagining of a better game (and one that I merely like, at that).  Yes, Deus has some differentiating features, but nothing that excited me or urged me to continue exploring.  It’s the kind of abstracted Eurogame design that we’ve all seen before.  Fine, but unmemorable.

Craig Massey (1 play): I don’t quite get the Race for the Galaxy comparison, but that might be more my lack of experience and interest in Race for the Galaxy itself. I enjoyed my initial play. The game felt familiar yet gave me plenty of things to explore and try. It seems there are different viable paths to victory at first blush. Hard to predict where this will sit in the long term, but for the moment its one of my favorite of the new releases.

Lorna (4 plays): I have enjoyed this game quite a bit. It’s fast, it’s tactical. Despite being a card game I enjoy the variability of trying to do the most with the cards you are able to get. Super light civ game without in your face confrontation.

Jennifer Geske (3 plays): I too enjoy this fast-paced game, especially in how buildings in the same category can be reactivated when a new building is added. The luck in card draw does present a problem. Going back to the Race for the Galaxy comparison, an important action option (consume in RftG – i.e., trading goods for VPs) is not possible if you don’t draw enough green cards (to enable production of goods). I have gone an entire game without drawing a single green card (not for lack of trying as I had a ton of yellow cards) so all of my buildings are more expensive. I have not tried the variant Dan mentioned (playing cards face-down for any color) but will probably suggest it in my next play.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Dale Y, Lorna
  • I like it. Dan Blum, Brian Leet, John P, Craig Massey, Jennifer Geske
  • Neutral. Ben McJunkin
  • Not for me… Joe H.
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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Deus (Pearl Games)

  1. Paul Lister says:

    7 plays and its one of my favorites from Essen 14. The game is all about card cycling and discovering combos – the length of the game means you have to change tack 2 or 3 times to go with the cards – I have only been hosed once by card draws. This is partly mitigated by timing the ending – pulling down that last temple to stop the war monger or killing the last village to stop a late temple. Board position is quite important and getting in next to villages is often a good early move. Its usually a mistake to get to attached to an early temple – they are usually much better used as a wild card offering to the gods. I like the flexibility the game offers and the mental nimbleness it demands – play it as a engine builder and you will be left behind, try and map out a strategy from an opening card set and you will get lost. I have seen 2 victories by a 3vp give up to speed the end game – its as much a game of tempo as combos.

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