- Designer: Carlo Rossi
- Publisher: Ares
- Players: 3-6
- Ages: 10+
- Time: 45-60 minutes
- Times played: 2, with preview final prototype copy provided by Ares
Divinity Derby is a new race/betting game coming out from Ares. I had the chance to play a nearly final prototype copy of the game this spring. I have played a number of other Rossi designs this month (Dungeon Time, Mino & Tauri, Picassimo) – and the breadth of the selection is pretty impressive… So, I was definitely looking forward to how this would play out.
In Divinity Derby, players take on the role of mythical gods – each from a different culture. They are observers/participants in a great race between six mythic creatures. The gods will try to affect the progress of the race as well as place bets on the outcome. The god who is best able to predict how the race goes will be the winner of the Divinity Derby.
Each player chooses a god and gets a set of 11 betting cards that match his god’s color. A cardholder is placed between players (so that each player has a cardholder to their left and their right) – and then movement cards is then dealt out to each holder based on the number of players in the game. Tokens matching the six racing creatures are placed on the board. Finally, the four Zeus protection cards are placed on the round counter space on the board.
There are three rounds in the game, and each follows the same pattern. First, all players should look at the cards in the racks on either side of them. Then, starting with the starting player, each player makes a Bet – by taking one of their bet cards, placing it face down on the table and then placing one of the creature tokens on top of it. Thus, all players can see which racer is being bet on – but not the actual type of bet. Play goes around the board twice so that each player has 2 Bet cards face down in front of him. Note that you can place one bet on any given creature in a round. There are a limited number of creature tokens available, so if a token is not available, you cannot place a bet on that creature this round.
Once each player has made two bets, the racing starts! Each creature starts in the same starting sector, and races clockwise around the board towards the red finishing line. On a player’s turn, the player chooses one card from each of the cardholders that he can see – and then chooses which order to play them in.
Each card is specific to one of the six racing creatures – you’ll see the picture of the racer in the main part of the card. In the corner, you’ll see a set of numbers. The top number is always larger than the bottom number. In addition, some of the cards have an additional “Dirty Trick” number next to the top number.
The active player chooses the two cards, and the chooses the order in which to play them. The first card always corresponds to fast movement. The racer shown on that card will move a number of spaces equal to the top number on that card. If just the top number is used, the card is simply discarded. However, if there is a “Dirty Trick” value next to the top number, the player can choose to also apply this value to the movement. However, if this happens, the card is not placed in the discard pile but is instead placed in the Zeus area (more on this later). The second card is then played for slow movement, and the racer shown on this card is moved a number of spaces equal to the lower number on that card.
As the racers move, always put the first racer to arrive in a space towards the inner edge. As other racers come into the space, they are placed towards the outside. This order can become important in breaking ties – as the racer closer to the center of the track is considered ahead.
The race continues until one of the six creatures has crossed the mid-race line. When this happens, the current active player finishes his turn (i.e. playing both of his chosen cards). The next player in turn order then takes the first player marker and becomes the first player to make the third and final bet for the round. Each player now chooses a bet card from his hand, places it face down on the table and places a creature token on top of it. Once the third round of bets has been made, racing continues from the new start player.
As the race finishes, the creatures will cross the red finish line – as they do, they are placed in order on the finishing track in the center of the board. Player turns continue until either all the racers have crossed the red finish line or until there are no cards left to be played. Any racers left on the board ard moved to the finishing area based on their progress at the end of the round.
Now, before anything else happens, Zeus passes judgement on the racers. Remember that at the start of the round – you placed four Zeus protection cards in a stack. To this stack were added any cards used for their Dirty Trick ability. These cards are all shuffled, and two are drawn at random. If any creature cards are revealed, the matching creature is disqualified from the current race. They are removed from the finish area.
Each player now reveals their bet cards (making sure to keep the creature token associated with that bet on the card) and then reconciles the bets. If the bet condition was met, the player keeps the bet card face up in front of him. It will be worth VPs at the end of game as printed on the card. Any failed bets are discarded.
This process is repeated twice more – by the end of the third race; players will have each used 9 of their 11 bet cards. The player who has the most VPs from successful bets is the winner of Divinity Derby. There is no tiebreaker rule.
My thoughts on the game
Divinity Derby is a fascinating combination of racing and betting – with the additional twist of the shared cardholders – that really doesn’t feel like any previous game. The whole game revolves around the risk/reward of the bets. Do you make a high value bet early on? By doing so, you’re sure to be able to choose the racer that you want for that bet. However, there is a lot that could go on during the course of the race to thwart your plans. Do you want until the halfway point to make a bet – it’s certainly more of a sure thing at that point – but the chances that you can still place a bet on a particular racer is much lower.
For the early bets, you have the knowledge of the 12 cards available to you. But, of course, you share each cardholder with one of your opponents, so you won’t be able to play ALL the cards that you want! Trying to prioritize the order of the cards to play is a tough skill to manage here. You might be able to guess at what your opponents want by the identity discs on their bet cards – and that might help steer your card choice as well. There are times that you’ll want to play a card to further your own purposes, and other times when you might play a card in a certain way just so your opponent can not use it for the other type of movement. I’ve even been known to play a card and use the Dirty Trick value on it just to try to get that particular racer eliminated at the end of the race!
In our games (both 5p so far), we’ve found that we’re usually most of the way through the cards by the time that a racer crosses the finish line. Thus, the last round of bets is made with a pretty good feel for how the race will end. I think I’ve seen at most three racers cross the finish line in any particular race – though it’s usually only one or two. I am not sure if this is just due to the card mix that we’ve dealt ourselves or if this is the usual pattern.
It’s up to the player to manage how and when he will make the particular bets. You will use 9 bet cards out of your supply of 11 cards; so you have a little bit of wiggle room on them. In both of my games so far, I’ve tried to hold onto the 7 VP bets (the most valuable ones) until the third bet in a round to try to make sure that I scored them. However, if the conditions aren’t right, you then end up facing a harder decision of taking a risk for the 7VP bet or maybe making a more assured 2VP bet instead.
The components as described on the Kickstarter page look to be wonderful. I have a final prototype copy so I cannot comment on all of the components. I do have a set of the unpainted figurines, and I must say that they’re pretty impressive. The artwork of the gods and creatures is quite detailed, and the mockups that I’ve seen of the painted figures looks good as well.
The game plays quickly, with each race taking about 10 to 15 minutes or so – giving the game an overall playing time of 30-45 minutes. The game feels right in this time frame and it definitely does not overstay its welcome on the table.
To date, I have really enjoyed my two plays of the game, and I’m looking forward to playing it more in the future. I think what I like most about the game is the overall uncertainty of everything combined with the fleeting sense of control. You can see the cards you have access to at the start of each round, and you know what bets you have available to you. But, the dual nature of each card as well as the unknown actions of your opponents causes each race to unfold in a way that is impossible to know from the start. I find that I know enough to try to make a rational plan each round, but then I just have to hold on tight during the race and hope things turn out the way that I want them to!
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Craig V: The blend of mechanisms that comprise Divinity Derby is very compelling. I don’t think that I’ve seen any game quite like this one before, so it feels fresh and unique. On its surface, the game is about racing and bidding, but the actual racer movement, bidding, and scoring are really all driven by deduction and possibly some bluffing. The movement is card-driven, and because each player shares cards with neighboring players, the tension created by that shared, but limited information in engrossing and really provides for emergent gameplay. To begin, players must make an opening bid before any movement occurs based solely on the limited cards that can be seen. However, more information quickly surfaces based on the racers bet on by others players. Especially of interest is how your neighbors bid and then trying trying deduce why a particular racer was picked as well as what type of bid (e.g., first, last, disqualified?) since you are able to see half of the same cards. All of this subtle, but new information floods in and must be evaluated when placing the second opening bid, again before any movement has even occurred. Just sitting and watching all of the other players bid is fascinating. Divinity Derby is really a game of trying to predict what may occur and using the available betting cards to capitalize as best as possible. Now, pair all of that with seeing the racer cards get played out and things get even more interesting. As players pick and play cards that indicate the racer color and movement type (e.g., fast, slow, or “dirty trick”), all players get even more information about how various players may have bet. Or does it? Maybe somebody is actually trying to artificially hurt a racer based on the other bets or maybe it’s just a limitation in the cards a particular player has access to play. It’s so hard to know! Seeing how your neighbor plays cards that you can also see is key information as well and it can help you figure out if there are common interests for a particular racer or not. All of this guessing and double guessing can become somewhat intense – in a good way – and makes for a completely engaging experience that’s a lot of fun. Then there is the final bidding opportunity and just getting to that point can be a critical decision based on the turn order that will occur and what racer colors are left for bidding. I won’t go into any more detail about all of the strategic and tactical considerations encompassed in this game, but hopefully it’s clear that I’m quite enthralled with this game overall! From what was provided in the final prototype copy that I played, the production quality of this game is going to be over the top, resulting in a game that looks as good as it plays. I really enjoyed playing Divinity Derby and look forward to playing it again.
Karen M: There a couple of things I really enjoy about this game. One is the partial knowledge and making decisions based on what you know as in Hab & Gut. I’m not sure why this mechanism is so appealing to me, but it is. I guess I like see how the meta game plays out by seeing how other people’s bets compare to mine. I didn’t see a single card for the green monster in my 2 racks so I predicted that green would lose, but I lost big on that bet because apparently every other rack had nothing but green cards! The other thing I like about this game is its quick playtime. I feel like it lasted just as long as I wanted it to. It’s a fun, casual game that has just enough interesting decisions to keep me engaged.