Design by Sébastien Dujardin
Published by Pearl Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Read this description from the box of Deus:
“As the leader of an ancient civilization, explore unknown lands in order to develop your empire. Found new cities, and construct buildings in order to exploit natural resources and establish trade routes.”
Does this sound like the description for just about every civilization building game you have ever played? Admitted, yes it does. However, please do not let this deter you from giving Deus a go, as it has some very unique mechanisms, including card play that is quite clever and fun.
Deus by designer Sébastien Dujardin and published by Pearl Games (Troyes, Tournay, La Granja) is a civilization building game that combines intriguing card play and a modular board. As described above, the familiar trappings of civilization building games are present. Fortunately, however, the game sheds the usual 4+ hours required play time of many other games in the genre, playing to completion in about 90 minutes or so.
The central board is formed by placing a number of hexagon-type tiles in a roughly circular pattern. The number of tiles used is dependent upon the number of players. Each tile is divided into seven different territories, each of which depicts a terrain type (mountains, fields, forests, swamps or water), as well as one barbarian village per tile. Each terrain type (except water and the barbarian villages) produces a specific type of resource, which will be collected when the appropriate cards are played.
Each player receives a linear player board and a collection of wooden building tokens of five types (civil, scientific, maritime, military, production), each corresponding to a space on their board. Each player begins with two of each building type, with the remainder forming a general supply. Players begin with a starting supply of coins, resources and victory points, as well as a hand of five Building cards, which are dealt randomly from the deck.
The cards are central to the game, so it is worth explaining them in a bit more detail. There are six types of cards, five of them corresponding to the building pieces. The sixth type are temples, and are used to construct temples and earn end-game victory points. In addition to unique artwork, each card depicts the resources required to construct it and the special power it conveys, which is depicted both textually and graphically. When played, cards will be set above the appropriate location of the player’s board, overlapping any other cards already in that column. This will allow the special power of each card to remain visible, which is important.
A player has two choices on his turn: Construct a building or make an offering to the gods.
Construct a Building. A building is played from a player’s hand, with the card being placed in the corresponding column above the player’s board. In order to construct a building, however, a player must:
- a) Have a building piece of that type available on his board.
- b) Pay the construction cost, which is usually specific resources and/or coins. At any time, four gold can be substituted for any needed resource.
- c) The player may not construct the same building more than once.
Assuming these conditions have been met, the player places one of the matching building pieces onto a region on the board. Initially a player must begin along the edge of the map, but may subsequently place adjacent to any existing region where he already has a building. Alternatively, he may also place the building into a region he already occupies, provided he does not have a matching building already in that region. Some cards provide incentives (usually resources) for constructing multiple buildings in the same regions, while others encourage a player to spread out.
The water areas may only contain boats, but later military units can be moved there if a boat is present.
If a player finds his expansion routes blocked, he may construct in a different area along the edge of the map, but at a cost of 3 victory points. Ouch.
Once the card has been played and building piece positioned on the map, the player derives the benefits from all cards in that column. The benefits are derived from the oldest card played to the newest. This is critical, and encourages players to play cards in a certain order so that they can form a mini-engine. For example, with the right combination of cards, it is possible to sell certain resources for a tidy sum, then use that money to purchase other resources. Many types of combinations are possible, affording players considerable flexibility when playing their cards and formulating their strategies.
It is important to note that each column may only contain five cards, which is the construction limit for each type of building. So, there is a limit to the size of the engine one can develop. This also prevents a player from concentrating solely on one aspect of development and expansion.
Make an Offering to the gods. Players do not normally replenish their hand of cards at the end of each turn. Rather, they must make an offering to the gods to do so. A player determines how many cards he wishes to offer (discard) and to which god he desires to make the offering (there are five, matching the building types), placing a matching card atop the offering. So, if the player wants to make an offering to the maritime god, he will place a maritime card atop those being offered.
This is important as each god bestows a benefit when an offering is made to him. These rewards are quite generous, including resources, gold, additional cards and victory points. All allow the player to gain more buildings from the general supply, which is essential to continue construction and expansion. Players will often make these offerings in order to discard a handful of cards, but more often will do so to gain the benefits bestowed by the gods.
While much of the action and benefits are derived from the card play, the board itself is not superfluous. Cards will give benefits (resources, coins, and/or victory points) for occupying various types of terrain, which is key to building those engines and progressing. Further, each tile has a barbarian village that is ripe with loot. When a village is completely surrounded by buildings, the player with the most military units surrounding it scoops the loot. However, there are cards that allow players to make raids into these villages, so the amount of loot may be reduced significantly by the time the village is plundered.
Finally, there are temples. The temple cards allow the player to construct a temple, which is a sixth type of building. The temple cards grant end game victory points by meeting their conditions (occupying certain territories, possessing resources, etc.). However, in order to construct multiple temples, players must have already constructed multiples of each type of building, which prevents players from simply concentrating on hording and constructing temples.
Players continue playing cards, placing pieces and making offerings until all seven temples have been constructed or all barbarian villages have been plundered. After all players have an equal number of turns, final victory points are earned. Bonuses are awarded for the temple victory conditions, as well as for having the majority in coins and each type of resource. The player with the most points is victorious and becomes a legend not quite on par with the gods.
As I have mentioned many times in the past, I truly admire originality and creativity in game design. In Deus, this originality is evident primarily in the use of the cards. Building an engine with card powers is nothing new, but being able to use every card in a column each time one is added seems unique. Further, the offering to the gods to not only replenish one’s hand, but also gain special powers is also a very creative feature. These systems work well and help elevate Deus above many other civilization building games.
If there is a drawback to the game it is the board play, which seems rather static. There are military cards that allow military pieces to move, mainly to get them into position to raid or plunder barbarian villages. However, for the most part, when a piece is played, it remains in place. Expansion is slow and not much happens on the board. The barbarian villages are ripe targets and usually there is a big rush to surround and plunder them. The player drawing the most military cards will have an advantage here. Fortunately, however, the military strategy does not appear to be dominant.
I tend to perform poorly in engine building games. Usually, however, those games tend to be more intricate and lengthy. Deus is neither. It is easy to learn and plays rather quickly (1 – 1 1/2 hours). Further, the engines being constructed are small, with usually only a few cards complimenting or enhancing each other. Further, your opponents do not interfere with your card play, so there is no frustration factor of having an opponent scoop a needed card. Yes, an opponent can impede or block your progress on the map, but that is usually a minor aggravation.
For me, Deus overcomes my growing intolerance for the civilization building genre. More and more I am beginning to dislike the tediousness and often ludicrous length of many civ-building games. Deus, however, has found the right mix of strategy, challenge and originality, all wrapped-up in a brief time frame. I shall be returning to this game far more frequently than others in the genre.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Patrick Brennan: In one sense it’s the standard get resources, build buildings, generate VPs Euro. The earlier you can get an effect into your tableau, the more you’ll be able to trigger it. But any engine you build can only be iteratively triggered if you specialise in one colour. And there are lots of buildings which instead reward points for getting a spread of colours. Making for choices between specialisation and generalisation. I like how the dumping of cards gives you various types of outs, allowing you to forego a turn (and the building of those cards) so that you can acquire whatever you’re missing (resources, cards, buildings, VPs). And that you’re not dependent on building an exact card effect engine to deliver everything you need to get to the finish line. Which gives lots of options, and provided perhaps the most innovative aspect of the game. I’d happily play again to explore it further.
Brian: Deus is exactly what I want in an abstracted engine building game. The decisions seem straightforward, but the real consequences unfold in ways that reward experience and multiple plays. The collection and spending of the wood pieces acts as a counterweight to the card cycling and mean that even the most powerful combination can only be exploited a finite number of times. The military strategy with barbarian villages means that the game can conclude quickly before sophisticated combinations are built, or extend as a player behind makes conquest difficult in a bid to catch up. Specialization is rewarded, but you can’t do just one thing. This game shot to the top of my radar last year and deserves continued play.
Mitchell Thomashow: I love card combination/civilization types of games that are reasonably simple to play. So I was immediately attracted to Deus. There is much to like about the game, especially the prospect of flushing your hand, and the cumulative effects of your sequence chains. However, I agree with Greg’s astute comment about the board play. It’s just not that interesting. There are some minor territorial tactics to be aware of, but there’s not enough interest in the board maneuverings to add much additional depth. This is a wasted opportunity. Perhaps an expansion will improve this. It’s a good game and I’m happy to play it, especially with two, but it feels like there is some unrealized potential here.
Larry: Deus was one of the better games from last year for me. The card mechanics are pretty clever and it has a ton of variety. It’s hugely tactical and flushing your hand frequently is often necessary; that’s just something you have to accept about the game. Board position doesn’t matter until it does–you do have to make sure you don’t get locked into a position, since that can doom you. It isn’t a great game, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do quite well, so I’m always happy to play it.
Dan Blum:I agree that the board play is not greatly interesting, but it’s not completely dismissable either. However, the cards are certainly the main focus here. There’s a definite luck element, but I find it tolerable given that dumping your hand is not only allowed but generally necessary to do with some frequency, and also given that the game is a fairly short one.
4 (Love it!): Brian
3 (Like it): Greg S., Patrick Brennan, Mark Jackson, Mitchell Thomashow, Larry, Dan
Blum, John P.
1 (Not for me):
This was one of those games I that I started out playing, thinking, “This is awesome, I will probably buy my own copy.” But sadly, by the end, I was instead saying to myself, “Guess I’ll have to keep looking for that Civ Lite grail.”
The card play is truly innovative, and that’s what excited me at the beginning. But two things changed my mind while playing the game:
1) The board play, as mentioned above. But what is not emphasized is that the board play is really the main interaction between the players! Without interesting board play, the game devolves into yet another multi-player solitaire engine-builder. As Mitchell said, this was a wasted opportunity.
2) Options are reduced dramatically towards the end of the game, both in the board and card play. There are more turns in which you are doing LESS than at the beginning of the game, trying to grind out the last points you can muster (and making the last rounds unbearable with optimizing perfectionists). Building the engine at the beginning is fun, but seeing that engine sputter to the finish is not.
That said, I still applaud the originality of the mechanisms in the game, and if you like multi-solitaire engine-builders and still want to try others in the genre, you will probably enjoy this one. The slow, grinding endgame problem is certainly not unique to this game–in fact, it is a typical problem with more interactive civ games. Unfortunately, I will have to keep looking for the game that solves these problems more convincingly.