I wrote the first-ever Lovecraft game.
Hey all, when I was at Essen a few days ago, my son and I had a chance to meet with the staff of Historical Games Factory and play their game Theomachie with stand-in English cards. They didn't have English rules, but we were taught how to play with by a nice Polish fellow so no problems.
Theomachie is pretty much a pure card game, using deck-building and Texas Hold ‘Em as its basis. It’s quite flexible, with lots of options – you can make it simpler, more complex, turn it into an epic long game, or shorten it, or add or subtract other features. Really, I was taken aback. I couldn’t decide if this was one of those annoying games by designers who “can’t make up his mind” and so present lots of comflicting variants, or if the game is just usefully customizable. (Spoiler: it’s the customizable thing.)
All players start with a bunch of tokens with a numerical value – Followers (2), Priests (5), and Prophets (10). We played the basic vanilla game, and got 9 Followers, 6 Priests, and 3 Prophets. These act as your “money”. You are out of the game if you lose all your tokens. One variant eliminates player elimination, but since the game only takes 20-30 minutes to play it’s not a big deal (maybe if you are playing a more epic version than we did).
Each player gets a deck of 8 cards – they can either draft these individually pre-game, or you can take some preset ones they’ve dolled up. I thought it was interesting to see a deck-building game in which you still have to create a deck ahead of time.
In addition to the player decks, there are two other decks – one is the Resource deck, which has unique backs and is the basis for the Texas Hold ‘Em combat system. The other is the Spell deck, which presents cards for you to acquire and add to your deck. Note – because I don’t have the English rules I might be getting the names wrong. But not their functions.
Each player draws 5 cards from their tiny deck. Then the Resource deck is shuffled and five cards drawn. Three are face-up, two are face-down. Finally six cards are drawn from the Spell deck (some cards in the Spell deck are actually Resources).
Now each player antes up. If it is the first time through the Resource deck, you put in 1 Follower (for each time you’ve been through the deck, the ante goes up by 1 more). They are not placed in a big pool in the middle – you just put them in front of your own hand.
Beginning with the starting player, each player can (A) play cards from his hand and/or up the bid. You have to match whatever bid is currently on the table (like Poker) or drop out. To play cards from your hand, you need power, which is derived from the exposed Resource cards in the middle of the table. Each Resource card has an Realm type (lightning/air, woods/earth, water, fire) and 1-3 Chaos or Law orbs. Chaos is black, Law is white. All cards from your hand have a cost, which is given as 1 or more Realms plus usually some Chaos or Law. For example, to play the costly Earthquake card, I need 3 woods cards, plus 3 Chaos orbs. Another card requires 1 lightning plus 5 Law orbs. The cost is not “paid” – you don’t spend anything - they just have to be visible on the table. Your own personal deck can contain Resource cards in addition to Spells – when you play a resource card it costs you nothing, and gives you its Realm plus its Chaos or Law orbs. This is useful as often you can’t do anything with the resource cards in the middle of the table.
Each round of betting ends when no one raises (though spells can be played even without a raise). You can ONLY raise a bid by a single token (Follower, Priest, or Prophet). Then one of the face-down Resource cards is turned face up and a new round of betting begins. If you run out of Followers in your hand, one of your Priests is turned into 2 Followers. (I don’t know if a Prophet gets turned into 2 Priests if you run out of Priests, but it seems likely.)
The spell cards you play have a variety of functions. Some increase your bid without requiring you to put in another token. Others let you draw extra cards, or protect units from harm. It is a robust system.
Once the third betting round ends, then it is time for Combat. Many, if not most, of your Spell cards are specifically intended for Combat, and can ONLY be used then (I repeatedly tried, mistakenly, to use them during the betting round and had to be corrected.) The Combat cards have a restriction – you can only play Combat cards from a single Realm – i.e., you can’t play both an Earth and a Fire Combat card, but you could play 2+ Earth Combat cards. Combat cards boost your tokens’ value in the final showdown.
The player with the highest final token value wins. He takes back his tokens. The other players lose their tokens to the pool. The winner then gets to draft one (1) new card from the exposed Spell deck, or he can take a face-down one off the top of the deck. In play order, the other players do the same. All players discard their hands and draw a new one, shuffling as necessary (it is always necessary the first couple of turns, since you won’t have 5 cards in your replacement pile.) A new Resource hand is dealt, and the game proceeds until only one player is left with tokens.
So in effect you are trying to destroy the other player’s token pool by enticing him into battles he thinks he can win (but doesn’t). Hence it contains elements of Poker, as well as deck-building (hey! Like I said in the start!).
The most basic variant is that you can choose a God to represent, such as Thor, Cernunnos, or Zeus. These provide bonus abilities and can get you Miracles. I am a little fuzzy on what Miracles do, because they weren’t used in our game.
In our game, my cards were mostly Earth, while my son’s were Lightning, and the Historical Games guy’s were Fire. The drafting was interesting, because you can play ANY Realm during the betting round, so all are good, but during the combat only one, so you are torn between getting tons of single-Realm Combat so you can win a massive victory if Earth cards (or whatever) turn up, or getting a variety so that you have some useful cards regardless of what the draw presents.
I dislike Poker and never play it. However, I liked Theomachy. My son liked it even more than I did. This testifies to the game’s quality because both of us went into the game with no expectations, and when we heard it was like Hold ‘Em, our spirits sank and we felt very negative.
The art on the cards is craftsmanlike and clear, and delightful in the case of some of the Gods.
I recommend this game without reservation and hope they manage to complete their published English version soon.
ADDITION (weeks later) it turned out I liked this game so much that I signed a contract with Historical Games Factory to publish it in English. Please do not mistake the previous review as simple shilling, however - I liked and played it before making the deal.
Anyway, this is now an example of a reviewer really and truly putting his money where his mouth is. We plan to launch a kickstarter to fund the English version of Theomachy in January 2015.
- Last edited Thu Jan 1, 2015 6:11 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Oct 22, 2014 5:26 pm
Hi Sandy, "a nice Polish fellow" speaking here (or maybe you meant Adam, not me - not sure ) thanks for this review, I am very happy you liked the game.
And I hope it will get published in English soon, too. It's probably high time to finish relaxing after Essen then and start to work hard on the project...
Cheers from the whole HGF team, say hello to Lincoln and Arthur from us!
- Last edited Wed Oct 22, 2014 10:03 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Oct 22, 2014 7:50 pm