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Deus

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Pearl Games/Asmodee, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 60-90 minutes; $59.99)

deus1Ever since the aptly named Civilization was released by Hartland Trefoil (and later published by Avalon Hill) to critical acclaim, the rise and development of civilizations has been a frequent topic explored at the gaming table. Different approaches have been tried, some more successful than others but game designers are always thinking, always searching for new ways to do things. The next new way can be found in this new release: Deus.

As conceived by designer Sébastian Dujardin, the world of Deus is not quite of this world, at least not so you could tell from the board. Two-sided “continent tiles” are used to make the main playing area by randomly joining them together (from 4 to 7 tiles depending on the number of players). Each tile is divided into seven teardrop shaped regions: two sea regions, one field (which can produce wheat), one forest (wood), one swamp (clay), one mountain (stone) and 1 barbarian village. Victory Points are placed in each barbarian village equal to the number of regions surrounding it. (The board must be set up so that no two barbarian villages are adjacent.)

Players start carving out their destinies with one of each of the four resources of the game (wheat, wood, clay and stone), a supply of 25 “buildings” (five of each type) in their chosen color, five gold and five Victory Points. They also get their own player board and a hand of five cards.

There are 96 cards in the game: 16 for each of the six kinds of structures in the game: the five buildings (maritime, production, scientific, civil, military) and temples. Each type of building has their own unique shape. Temples are not assigned to the players but are neutral (and are colored white to stress non-ownership). Players begin with two of each type of building poised on their player board ready for placement; the rest are an off-board reserve. On a turn, a player may either construct a building OR make an offering to the gods.

To construct a building, a player places a card from his hand to his player board. The board has “slots” for each of the five types of buildings as well as one for temples. The appropriate card is placed above the matching slot. Cards have a cost (in resources and/or money) and that cost is paid into the general supply. (Short on resources? Then you can use 4 gold for any resource in its place.) Now the piece is placed.

Any player’s first building must be on a space on the perimeter. From that point on, subsequent buildings must be placed adjacent or in a previously occupied spot as multiple buildings can be put in a single space but only one of each type is allowed in a space. No buildings may be placed on a barbarian village.

At some point, as pieces fill the regions, barbarian villages will become surrounded. When that happens, the player who has the MOST military – NOT necessarily the most buildings – encompassing the village gets ALL of its VPs. (If tied, VPs there, rounded down, are shared.) The thing to remember here is that it doesn’t matter how many buildings you have surrounding a village, only the military counts. So, for example, if a 6 VP village is surrounded by you with all sorts of buildings and no military but your opponent occupies just one space with one military, your opponent gets them ALL! You come up empty. Speaking of empty, empty villages remain impassable with no buildings allowed there. (For the most part, spaces claimed by other players are also impassable so it is possible that you may be prevented from moving into an adjacent spot. In that case, you can, at a cost of 3 Victory Points, start a new “settlement” on a distant perimeter space.) Once placing a building, the special powers of the cards are activated.

All cards can do special things and these “powers” come into play EVERY time a card of that color is played. Card powers are activated from the first card played to the most recent one. These powers can do lots of things including providing more Victory Points, allowing you to obtain additional – and cheaper – resources, allowing your military to move through otherwise impassible areas and more. But suppose you don’t like the cards in your hand? Maybe you don’t have the necessary resources to activate them. Maybe they don’t meet the needs of your plans. Then, you can always appeal to the gods!

deus2Offerings to the gods require discarding cards in return for a special benefit. You can discard 1 to all of your cards but the COLOR of the TOP card you are discarding must match the color of the god you are entreating. Each god can do something different. Neptune (the blue cards) is a money maker. For each card discarded, you get 2 gold. Ceres (green) allows you to get 1 resource of any color per card discarded. Minerva (yellow) allows you to draw TWO cards for each one discarded. (There is a hand limit of 10 cards.) Vesta (brown) will bestow Victory Points (a maximum of 2) for discarded cards. In addition, all of these gods will liberate one of its matching buildings from supply to be placed on your playing board ready to move onto the main map. Mars (red) gives you a bit more flexibility when it comes to buildings as it allows you to retrieve from off-board ANY building type, one for every card discarded. Finally, Jupiter (white temple) allows you to choose ANY power for your use. In all cases, players restore their hands to (at least) five cards.

Temples are a different sort of building. As mentioned, they do not belong to any player. Whoever constructs it places it in an area already claimed by him and that temple counts as a building for that player when figuring out how many buildings are at a particular site. Second, temples score Victory Points at the end of the game depending on what any played temple cards require (a particular resource or certain specific areas under control or a particular number of buildings in a region etc.) But their construction is a little different.

Each player’s board is straight across with a cut-out at the very end reserved for temple cards. Temples cost one of every resource to build. You can place your first temple fairly easily. After that, however, you need to have a SET of the other colored CARDS on your playing board for each additional temple you wish to build. So, for example, to build your second temple, you need to have played 1 blue, green, yellow, brown and red cards. A third temple requires two of each color played to your board and so on.

After finishing the round when either all barbarian villages have been stripped of their Victory Points OR the specified number of temples (4 to 7 depending on the number of players) have been built, a final round is played to end the game. Then we score.

To the Victory Points gained throughout the game, players receive points from temples they have constructed (the amount based on how well each temple requirement is met to a maximum of 12 points per temple) and the player with the most of each resource and money gets 2 VPs for each. High scorer wins!

Deus goes against the typical “play a card/draw a card” dynamic. You can’t! Your starting hand of five cards is your “world” and you have to deal with it. Since you do not replenish your hand after playing a card, progress can be agonizingly slow if you decide to play one card after another, limiting choices as your hand shrinks. You are only allowed to get back to a hand of five cards if your hand is totally empty or by making an offering. Jettisoning cards by making god offerings is a good way to “churn the waters” until you find what you want when you want it. With offerings, you can flush out less desirable cards and flood your hand with others (via Minerva up to a limit of 10 cards), fill your coffers with needed funds (thanks to Neptune) and/or get added resources (thanks to Ceres) and more, mitigating the luck factor of card draws.

Offerings are also the way to liberate your pieces from storage so you can get them onto the board. It can be hard to hold back from placing buildings on every turn, especially if other players are marching across the lands. Such area control, popular and a major core mechanism in many games, is handled in Deus with a bit more subtlety. Claiming regions is important, of course, but they also take on a defensive aspect since you can stymie others in their attempts to grab VPs from villages or fulfill temple or card demands (such as occupying certain regions) by getting in the way. Since only one player may occupy a region and, once occupied, those pieces stay where they are for the most part (as military can move with the right cards), overwhelming force is not the paramount factor, positioning is. You may fall victim to the overwhelming temptation to expand but you need to remember that, as important as expansion is, so is development. Flooding areas you control with multiple buildings can be an excellent source of VPs and a viable alternative.

The powers of the gods seem to be, in general, balanced although, at first glance, Mars’ ability does not seem as strong as the others. This apparent inequality is adequately balanced by the fact that military are the only pieces that can move across regions and through enemy held territory as well as being required to snag VPs from villages.

Deus has a different look to it as well with its “globular, modular” motif from its very stylized board with amoeba-like globs indicating various terrain to its pastel palette in its cards and player boards. Not displeasing at all but certainly different. A curious color choice involves the wood. The wooden counters are brown (which makes sense) but the icons on the cards are GREEN (with a small stack of wood in its center), consistent with the green forests on the board. Why not be consistent all the way with the colors?

In the final analysis, Deus is an engine-building game. Unlike a deck-builder where you gather useful cards to increase the size of your deck (or thin out your deck to eliminate less powerful cards so better cards recycle more quickly), deck size in Deus stays relatively stable. What you need to do is develop an engine from the start by playing powerful cards to your board as soon as you can so that each time another card is added to that color, the power is used over and over again. Working towards a situation where one card enhances the ability of another which enhances yet another will make you a formidable opponent and very hard to beat. Since you can only play a card of a color if you have a building to place, activating such an engine is limited to a five times maximum (the number of specific buildings available) so making the most of these limited opportunities is the game’s challenge.

Deus brings cards and gods together in a different way. The push and pull between expansion and development strategies is a struggle that a player’s card hand management will shape. That, and the ability to react and shape the luck of the card draw. Deus adds a few unique elements to the genre of civilization games to intrigue fans of this type of game and make new ones.


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