Some days you just want to stay in bed.
And some days, you want to go out and conquer a bunch of hexagonal-shaped tiles with a bunch of barbarians on them before some other conquering civilization does.
Because you snooze, you lose, know what I’m saying?
On days when you feel like that, you can’t go wrong by playing Deus.
No, not Day-O. Deus. Get your ears cleaned out and stop thinking back to 1980’s movies.
Deus is a civilization and world-conquering card game designed by Sébastien Dujardin with art by Maëva da Silva, Christine Deschamps, Paul Laffond, Maëva Dasilva, and Ian Parovel.
It was published by Pearl Games in 2014 and plays 2-4 players.
In Deus, you are playing cards to a tableau in front of you while placing buildings on the map, trying to expand your empire and get the most victory points (it’s always about the victory points, ain’t it?)
How does it play?
Let’s take a look.
You start with a map. That’s always the most important thing when you start conquests, right? You have to know where to go. You don’t want to get lost in the woods or anything.
The Deus map consists of a series of double-sided interlocking hexagonal tiles that can be joined together any way you want. The only restriction is that barbarian villages can’t be placed next to each other.
The game comes with seven of them, but you use fewer tiles for fewer players.
On your turn, you’re either going to be playing a card from your hand to your tableau of cards or you’re going to be making an “offering” to the gods to get more stuff.
If you play a card to your tableau, you have to have the resources to pay for it, along with having a building available to put on the map.
When you play the card, you then put the corresponding building on the map next to a region where you have already established yourself (or you can pay 3 victory points to land on the side of the board somewhere else).
When you start the game, you “invade” by placing your building on any region on the edge of the map that you want, though it has to be more than 3 regions away from any player.
Then, in one of my favourite aspects of this game, you activate each card of the same colour in your tableau, starting with the one you just placed and then going down the line.
This can give you some powerful stuff if you chain them right.
For example, blue cards let you buy and sell resources, sometimes for VP or sometimes for gold.
You could play a card that lets you buy up to 3 resources for 1 gold each, and then the previous card you played lets you sell wheat for 4 gold each. Buy three wheat for three gold and then sell it back for 12 gold!
Gordon Gekko would be proud.
As the game goes on, you will be expanding on the map at the same time as your tableau is building up. You can get quite the engine brewing.
The barbarian villages that are on each tile have a series of victory points on them depending on how many regions surround them. Once all regions around them have player buildings in them (and at least one army), whoever has the most armies surrounding it gets all of those juicy points.
You can build a temple if you wish. This gets you endgame victory points rather than activating when you play it. This can be a valuable way to get points at the end of the game.
You can build your first temple at any time. After that, you have to have built at least one card of each type on a row before you can build a temple on that row.
In other words, you can’t just build 5 temples without having built 5 of each other card first.
Your other possible action, if you can’t play any of your cards or if you don’t want to, is to make an offering to the gods.
When you do that, you discard as many cards as you want, only revealing one of them.
Depending on the colour of the card you revealed, you get that god’s benefit.
Blue (Neptune), for example, gets you two gold per card discarded. Green (Ceres) gets you one resource per card, and so forth. You also get one building of that colour, so this is one way to get new buildings to put out (players have 5 of each building type in total but only start with 2 available).
Using the purple Temple card lets you choose which god you want to invoke.
At the end of the turn, you draw back up to 5 cards (and perhaps more if you invoked the yellow god Minerva).
The game end is triggered when all of the barbarian villages have been conquered or if all of the Temples have been built (there are only so many based on player count). Players finish the current round and then everybody gets one more turn.
Total up your temple points and then who has the most of each resource (plus gold). For each one, whoever has the most gets 2 VP.
Add up everything and whoever has the most points is the winner!
Is Deus a monumental Roman Empire that will last for 500 years or is it a wannabe empire that will last for 500 minutes?
Despite the fact that I hadn’t played it in two years before last weekend, I really do love this game. It’s not a Top 25 game for me, but it’s in the top third of the games I’ve played.
Before I go on about how good this game is, let me mention one major strike in the components of it, which actually really harms it in my opinion.
There are colour discrepancies that make it really difficult for new players to get used to it. You really have to stop and think before making your move.
First, the “gold” isn’t actually gold! Well, maybe the 10 might be kind of. But the “1s” are green! What the hell?
Even worse is that while most of the resources match their region’s colour (you get grey stone out of the grey mountains, red clay out of the red swamp, and yellow wheat out of the yellow plains), the wood is brown while the forests you get it from are green.
I get it: wood is usually brown in any game. And having brown forests would mean that there would have been a lot of drought here and why would you be conquering this land if it really looks that ugly?
But I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say “you get the brown wood from the green regions” in my four plays of this game because the players can’t remember.
Otherwise, the components are just fine. Wooden discs for the resources, cardboard chits for VP, the cards are pretty good quality and the art is pretty good on them. Not my favourite style but it’s not bad.
What’s striking are the map tiles. I love how they are double-sided and you can configure them in so many ways. You can get really creative, or you can use the configurations in the rule book depending on player count.
Other than the map, though, the game does kind of look bland and boring on the table. While the card artwork is fine, it’s not really eye-popping and all of the other things (resources, gold, VP, etc) are just your basic dark colours.
It’s not the most eye-catching game if you’re trying to attract people.
However, what saves the game for me is the gameplay.
I love the tableau building and how cards are activated when you play them. When you get a good chain going, it’s really easy to build up resources, or money, or even victory points.
It’s a great feeling when you play a card and end that turn having received 15 gold and 3 VP, or maybe a bunch of resources that you’re going to need for future cards.
But sometimes you just need to expand. An opponent is horning in on your area and you need to place a ship in a sea zone between you two before they do. You might just have to play that blue card in your hand even though it doesn’t really chain well with what you’ve already got on the board.
And that’s ok too.
Gaining territory is just as important as getting cards out, especially if you have other cards that depend on how many regions you are in, or how many buildings you have in regions.
As the game goes on, the map fills up with buildings and everybody feels like they’ve accomplished something. Even when they haven’t because they have half the victory points of the leader.
For those people who don’t like “take that” and aggressive play against opponents, no need to worry.
There are a few military cards that will let you take a couple of victory points, or maybe a little bit of gold from an opponent you’re next to. But once you occupy a region, nobody else can so there is no conflict with them.
They’re just getting in your way.
I also really like how the offerings work. It’s a great way to clear your hand of shitty cards. Why not make them useful?
Sure, it uses a turn, but you’re going to be needing to do that anyway in order to get more buildings once you’ve used the ones you have up. Since you can’t play a card when you don’t have the corresponding building, offerings are a must regardless. You just have to plan for them.
Overall, Deus is a really good game that just has some major component issues. Without these, I think the game would rank much higher.
If you like your civilization building on a bit of the lighter side with some great card play, give Deus a try.
You might just feel a little bit like Caesar Augustus
Hopefully you don’t feel like Emperor Caligula
This review was written after 4 plays