Deal with the Devil (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer:  Matúš Kotry
  • Publisher:  Czech Games Edition
  • Players:  4
  • Ages:  14 and Up
  • Time:  120 – 159 Minutes
  • Times Played: 2 (OG was provided a review copy of this game.)

Deal with the Devil is a new app-driven game from designer Matúš Kotry and publisher Czech Games Edition. That duo achieved notoriety with The Alchemists, another app-driven deduction game, which is a personal favorite of mine. DWTD thus topped my Essen “most anticipated” list, not only because of its creators, but because it looked like a refreshingly new type of game.  

DWTD is, at its core, a worker placement game, but with just a dash of social deduction and trading mixed in. Having now played it a couple of times, I’m highly impressed: the game is innovative and engaging, the sort of game that leads to we-just-have-to-talk-about-that discussion at the end.

The Gameplay

DWTD is for precisely four players and lasts two to three hours, though the box says 120-150 minutes. One player is secretly the Devil, desperate to acquire pieces of soul. The Devil starts the game with plenty of resources and money and will need to trade for his true desire. Two players are humans. They start with fewer resources and money, but they have something more valuable: three pieces of soul, all of which can be traded to the Devil. The fourth player is The Cultist, who has just two pieces of soul, and who is perfectly happy to trade these to the Devil.

The game is played over five rounds, and each round proceeds in six phases, though some rounds have a couple of additional phases as noted below.

First, players take production: they earn in game resources (building materials and money) based on where the production wheel is located. Over the course of the game, they can upgrade their production spaces by building sets of buildings, giving them additional coins and money each round.

Second, players draft building cards (though not in the first round) and receive an event card. The buildings give players in-game benefits and/or end-of-game victory points, and the events can either be played for the good side or the evil side. The good side tends to involve paying resources to go up on the reputation track; the evil side tends to give a player resources but cost them reputation.

Third, players trade. This is the app-driven part of the game. Players put offers (goods and money) into their chest. Players cannot put pieces of soul in at this stage: the Devil has to ask for them. In the top right, they indicate what they want in exchange. (This is how the Devil will demand pieces of soul.) When everybody has their offers and asks made, the app distributes chests to other players via a scanning mechanic. People can then accept or reject the offers by taking the offer and putting in the ask. Then, the app distributes the chests again: offers previously rejected have a new shot at being accepted. Lastly, the app distributes the chests back to their original owners.

Fourth, players plan and perform their actions. This is the worker placement part of the game. Players have two works each round, but they can pay to get up to two extras. During this phase, players build buildings, take production from buildings, and acquire courtiers (which help complete sets of buildings for points and bonuses). They also use their events – either the good side or the evil side – and earn in-game achievements.

Fifth, players pay interest. In the game, players can take loans to get money whenever they need to. During this phase, players move around a track on their board for each loan they’ve taken, paying interest. This causes their debt to go up. If they hit the end of the track, they obtain a demon wing token. Three of these cause a personal inquisitor to come out.  (There is more about inquisitors below.)

Sixth, players earn bonuses or incur penalties based on their reputation. The players highest on the track can earn angel wings, which can be traded for indulgences. (More about indulgences below.) The lowest players earn demon wing tokens. Players then move back to the middle a pre-determined number of spaces based on where they are on the track.

In rounds two and three, there is a seventh phase, a witch hunt. Players can vote for who they think does not have three pieces of soul, which could be any player depending on who the trades have gone. If a player has three pieces of soul, they get an angel wing. If they don’t, they confess, earning a demon wing token and going down on the reputation track.

In rounds three and five, there is an eight phase, the inquisition. The devil puts soul pieces and/or coins in his chest: he or she gets bonuses for showing that they have acquired pieces of soul. The coins are to banish certain inquisitors, and the other players can contribute coins to help with that. If the devil has pieces of the cultist’s soul (they are marked), they must show them, because the cultist gets bonuses for giving away his soul to the devil.

After this, there is an inquisition. The game will have a certain number of these out based on what has happened, and players can have a personal inquisitor if they’ve been acquiring a number of demon wings. For each inquisitor, players need to show either a piece of soul, or spend an indulgence. Otherwise, they suffer the effect of the inquisitor, which means losing points, resources, or other ills.  Though this part of the game is easy to teach, it is a major part of the game: avoiding the inquisitors is essential to winning, which is what makes having souls and indulgences so valuable.

The game ends after round 5. Points are tallied. Positive points come from in-game activity, buildings, milestones for sets of buildings (though the devil does not score this), courtiers, angel wings, unused indulgences, and resources. Players lose money for debt, demon wings, and pieces of the cultists’ soul. High score wins.

My Thoughts on the Game

Deal with the Devil is one of my favorite games of 2022. It is tense, think-y, and as I alluded to above, the sort of game where players just must discuss it afterwards. The game is mostly a worker placement game, but the social deduction aspect is a nice twist.

I’ve only played twice, and I’ve been the human both times, but I think playing any role would be a blast. The humans need to get a nice resource engine going to have a shot, and to do that, an early trade with the Devil is helpful. The problem is that this makes them susceptible to being suspected in the witch hunt phase. Questions will arise: “Just how did you get all of those resources?!?”

The Devil is fun because they are the driver of the big trades in the game. The Cultist is probably the hardest to play, but I think there is joy in the challenge. The roles feel balanced to me, but more plays would need to be made to tell.  So far we’ve had a human win and a Devil win in my plays.

The trading mechanic works well, and the app is intuitive and responsive (at least the Apple version, which is the only version I’ve tried). Trading is the most interesting part of the game, and this facilitates it nicely, helping keep roles secret while also allowing for a smooth flow of the game.

The art and theme are fun. There are intuitive symbols that explain all aspects of the game. The player aids are exceptional. Overall, the production value here is top tonight.

There are some drawbacks, and this game will not be for everybody. Since the game works only at a player count of four players, it can be hard to get to the table. It is also on the long and, and it is a bear to teach (though Paul Grogan’s instructional video is excellent). Playing DWTD is an investment. 

But to me, Deal with the Devil is worth the investment. This is likely to remain in my collection for a long time, because it is so unique. I have plenty of worker placement games, and plenty of social deduction games, but this combines those with a trading mechanic in a fresh and interesting way. I think board games have been on a downward slope in terms of originality in recent years, so this is a refreshingly new entry.  I enthusiastically recommend DWTD.

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:

Larry:  I’ve only played DwtD once, with a late prototype.  It’s really not my kind of game (it’s a bit too long and a little more player-driven than I care for), but I’m very glad I got to try it, as it’s totally unique, which is something I always prize in a design.  As Chris says, it certainly isn’t a game for everyone, but those seeking something different should definitely check it out.  I really liked my one game, but it’s also probably a one-and-done for me, if that makes any sense.

It was interesting talking with Petr Murmak, CGE’s head honcho, after the game.  He acknowledged that DwtD might have a very narrow player base.  But he also said that the company’s success with their other games (particularly Codenames) allows them to take chances with unusual games like this and I got the distinct impression that they really enjoy the luxury of being able to do that.  As Petr said, in the industry, they are affectionately called “those crazy Czechs”.  What a great position to be in and it’s yet another reason why CGE games are always worth trying out.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray
  • I like it. 
  • Neutral. Steph
  • Not for me… 
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