Aside from Nations: The Dice Game, Deus was probably the game that I was most excited to see at the Asmodee Play Mania event despite the very limited information I had about it beforehand. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to actually play it because the cards weren’t in English but the explanation was very intriguing and reinforced my interest in this game. And by interest I mean going from a “want to play” to “blind purchase, gotta have it, when is it coming out already?!” It looks fantastic with elements of hand management, tableau building, and board development. I’ll do my best to recall all the details from the run through we got and hopefully give you a taste of what Deus has to offer.
Each player is developing a civilization that is represented by 6 distinct areas each depicted by their own color. The game itself is card driven and uses a deck of cards that is made up of these six colors (reminding somewhat of 7 wonders’ color system). On your turn you can either play a card from your hand (for the listed cost) or discard one or more cards to make an offering to the gods.
When you play a card there are two distinct effects. First you get to place one of your available figures of the associated color on the central board, if you don’t have an available figure from that color then you can’t play a matching card. Then you’ll place that card in the corresponding color’s column in front of your board and activate it along with all other cards in its column (of the same color). Figures placed on the board generally must go adjacent to one of your other figures and are restricted by terrain type (only ships can go in water). The placement of figures can matter for fulfilling card abilities but is also useful for surrounding barbarians who are scattered across the board. When a barbarian camp gets completely surrounded then the player that has the most figures adjacent to it gets a certain number of points.
The second action, making an offering to the gods, also has two parts. First you’ll choose one primary card to discard in order to receive a figure of its color, thus allowing you to play a card of that color in the future. Along with the first card you may discard additional cards to make an offering to the god of the primary card’s color. Each extra card discarded in this way activates the ability of the chosen god (for instance gaining resources, drawing cards, or earning points).
Purple cards, representing temples, work slightly different than the other colors. In order to play a purple card you will first need to have a set of cards from all the other colors in play. This requirement along with the high cost makes them much more difficult to play but you’ll be rewarded for your effort. Instead of providing an ability that gets triggered when you play the card, the purple cards provide a significant end of game scoring condition. The supply of temples is shared between the players and when they run out or all the barbarians have been surrounded then the game ends and players add up points they’ve earned during the game along with those provided from their purple cards.
Tableau build (or engine building in general) is one of my favorite game mechanics and I really enjoy when a game comes along that approaches it from a new angle. The idea that your cards are only activated when you play another card of the same color is very interesting. The cards that you play earlier in the game will get triggered more often than those played later so identifying key cards is important. This system would seem to encourage players to focus on fewer colors to get large chains of activations but the big point purple cards require you to diversify in order to play. The balancing act of Deus will require players to recognize synergy between their cards and know when it is worth specializing compared to balancing all the colors. This is a very neat take of depth (focusing on fewer colors) versus breadth (building temples) optimization. The mechanics remind me slightly of a mash up between the color balancing of Bruges, the action chaining of Innovation: Echoes of the Past, the conditional end game scoring cards of Race for the Galaxy, and the board development of London. That isn’t to say that Deus just borrowed a bunch of mechanics from other games, the gameplay seems entirely unique and my comparisons are merely to provide some context to how I expect it to feel. I’ll be very much looking forward to hearing the reaction to Deus as it debuts at Essen this fall (and hopefully shows up in the states before winter rolls around so I can play it too).