I had my eyes on Deus for quite some time. My wish list runs pretty long however, so I just got around to getting my hands on it. The main thing that attracted me to it was the card play. I liked that there were different types of cards, and you could do different things with each. I liked the theme, and especially that it included different Roman gods who provided different benefits. Plus, I knew this was a medium-weight game, and I needed to add a few of those to my collection to help balance out what was becoming a little too heavy (I bought Food Chain Magnate, Through the Ages, and Star Wars Rebellion all in a row).
In Deus, you are trying to build the superior Roman territory on a shared map. This includes production, area control, and fighting off barbarians. Victory points are gained in a variety of ways throughout the game and at the end. And like in a few other games, the player with the most points wins.
Players start the game with one of each resource, represented by colored wooden discs (wheat, clay, stone, and wood). They also start with five cards, five gold, and five victory points. On their player boards (which are more like small fold-out strips), they place two (out of five) of each of their buildings in the designated areas. The different building types are: maritime, scientific, military, production and civil. The other three buildings of each type are set aside for now.
The game board is comprised of a number of modular pieces (depending on player count) that each have seven regions. The regions are all the same size, circular, with one in the center surrounded by six others, forming a sort of flower shape. The regions on each piece are arranged differently, so each game will have a unique map. The different regions are: mountains, swamps, fields, water, forests, and barbarian villages.
The barbarian villages will be seeded with victory point tokens equaling the number of regions adjacent to that village. In our games, this has ranged from three up to six.
Gameplay is fairly straightforward. On their turn, players take one of two actions: build a building, or make a sacrifice to the gods. Let’s break each one down.
Buildings: Each card in the game allows a player to construct a building and comes in one of six colors, each associated with a different Roman god. To place a building, the player first selects from their hand which building they wish to construct. They then pay the cost indicated on the card (an amount of gold and/or resources; four gold can be used in place of a single resource), take the building from their player board (if they do not have the associated building on their player board, they can’t build it), and place it either on a region that already contains one of their buildings or a region adjacent to one where they already have a building. The one exception here is the temple, which must go on a region where you already have a building.
After placing their building, the player places the associated card in the indicated column over their player board, and then activates all the benefits from that column. Benefits include gaining points for regions with a certain number of buildings, gaining resources from controlled regions, earning money, selling resources for points or money, and more. The important thing here is that you get the benefit of the card you just laid PLUS all the ones below it. Also important is that you start with the bottom card (i.e. the one you laid first), as this can affect how your benefits interact.
So for example, you might build a construction building (which is done playing a green card), place it in a region adjacent to one where you already have one, and then lay the card above two previously laid cards. You then get the benefit from the oldest card (gain a clay for each swamp you control, for example), then the next (gain a resource associated with the region where you have a production building), and then the one you just laid.
This mechanic forms part of the foundation of the strategy for this game, as the order in which you construct buildings affects how beneficial they truly are+. Laying a card that gives you a wheat for each field you control when you control none, for example, might get you a production building where you need one but not get you the wheat.
Let’s take a quick look at each type of building:
Maritime (blue): These are your ships and can only go in water. They typically let you trade in resources for money or points, or let you buy resources at a lower rate.
Scientific: (yellow): These let you draw extra cards, earn extra points, and even play cards from other columns.
Military (red): These let you steal points from barbarian villages and other players. When a barbarian village is totally surrounded on all adjacent regions, and at least one of those regions has a military unit, the player who has the most military units gets the points seeded on the village. Ties are broken by who has the most total buildings in the surrounding regions, with the points being split if there is still a tie.
Production (green): These buildings provide resources. Each region is associated with a particular resource (fields produce wheat, for example), and some production buildings let you tap into these. Others let you choose outright.
Civil (brown):These typically produce money.
Temples (purple): These always cost one of each resource and produce end game scoring. They don’t come from your supply but rather a common supply. The number of temples in the common supply is determined by the number of players.
Sacrifice: The other option a player can take is sacrificing cards to the gods. This is the primary means of replenishing your hand, as constructing buildings usually doesn’t allow this (some yellow cards do). To sacrifice, a player chooses any number of the cards in their hand and discards them. The card they place on top of the discarded cards determines which of the gods (i.e. columns/colors) they sacrifice to, and thus what ability is granted. This also allows them to place a new building associated with that color from the outside supply to their player board, if they still have them available.
After discarding and resolving the associated ability, players draw back up to five cards.
Let’s run through each god and see what they do:
Neptune (blue/maritime building): For each discarded card, gain two gold.
Ceres (green/production building): For each discarded card, gain one resource of your choice.
Minerva (yellow/science building): For each discarded card, draw a card (in addition to the cards drawn to reach a hand of five – hand limit is ten cards)
Vesta (brown/civil building): Gain one point if one card was discarded, two points if two or more cards were discarded.
Mars (red/military building): For each discarded card, add one building of your choice from the supply to your player board.
Jupiter (purple): This acts as a wild and lets you use the ability of any one of the other gods.
The game ends when either all points from barbarian villages have been taken or when all temples have been built. Players get two points for each resource of which they have the most, as well as having the most gold. They then calculate any end-game scoring based on bonuses provided by their temples.
The player with the most points wins.
I had to think about how I wanted to rate this. On the one hand, you have the various abilities of the cards (via constructing buildings) and the fixed benefits of the gods when you sacrifice cards. Sounds like there’s a lot of strategic decisions to make there, right?
Well, I half believe that. My big hang-up is that to construct a building and get the benefit from all the cards in its row, you have to have one to build, and there are only five of each building. This effectively puts a cap on each column at five each, meaning once you’ve built five buildings of a single type, you can no longer get any benefits from that column. So at maximum, you benefit from a single card five times in the entire game. I understand this is part of the strategy, but I think it takes away from it as well. If you don’t have a good card to use to construct a building, you are forced to sacrifice, lest you build something that doesn’t immediately help you and thus waste one of five maximum uses of the card.
Like I said, I won’t totally deny that this adds strategic weight to the game, but is it muscle or is it fat? Is it deliberately designed this way to manage the length of the game and impose a sense of consequence for each and every building you make? Or is it a side effect of having a set number of buildings? I can’t really decide, and for this reason I kind of land on the fence. In games like this, you’re building an engine, and part of the fun of building an engine is, well, using it. But if you have a bad run of cards you’re forced to either delay construction of said engine via sacrificing, enabling your opponent to potentially outbuild and/or outproduce you, or work with what you have and hope it clicks together down the line, but waste or diminish what that card does.
I’m going to go on record and say I am 60/40 for gameplay on this one for the above reasons. I love the mechanisms themselves, and the overall concepts. I love games where different inputs provide different outputs. The abilities themselves—the area control, the decision you have to make between building and sacrificing, the resource management – these are all great. It just fell an inch short for me as I felt like a bug trapped in a jar. I think it would have been better if you could still play cards after you ran out of buildings but say, could only get the benefit of the card you just played, or you had to pick one in the column.
Now this one I can be a little more positive on. The artwork in this game is very crisp. I like the modular boards, though they might not be everyone’s cup of tea. They certainly are unique and give the game a fresh look. The cards have quality art as well, and the chits and boards are sturdy and fairly durable. The buildings are wood with glossy paint. The rulebook does a very good job of explaining the rules of the game, though in case I just missed something, does not address ties for victory at all.
The theme is incorporated well here, though if I had to guess I think they started with mechanisms first and then later decided on a theme. Nevertheless, the different kinds of buildings you can make (quarries, legions, temples, etc.), the sacrificing to different gods, and the resources and money all add up to a decent amount of theme. The artwork on the cards pulls it together nicely. Not dripping with theme, but I don’t think the game excessively lacks it either.
Despite my lengthy criticism of this game’s limitations, I still think it has a place on my shelf. It presents enough choices and more often than not should offer just enough kindling to create an hour or two of strategic decision-making. I think those who just take this game for what it is will enjoy it a bit more than I do, though I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it at all. You could do far worse.
As far as if I would recommend this one, I would say yes to anyone who’s moved just a few inches past the casual side of the gaming spectrum. It’s easy to learn, easy to play, doesn’t last too long, and exercises a few brain cells.
I really like this game but I agree on the dependence of card draws. I have played games where it seemed that I drew cards that were not very useful and spent too many turns sacrificing to the gods in hopes of getting better cards. It puts you behind on the engine building.