Getting most civilization games to the table can be tricky. You usually need to allot an entire afternoon or evening to them, then recruit others willing to do the same to join in. There are more than a few of us who love these games when we can play them… but longingly stare at them on our shelves far more than we get them out. Deus is a great little (for a civ game) remedy to fill in all those nights where the fates conspire to rob you of longer fare.
The playing surface of Deus is made up of a fixed number of continent tiles. A 4-player game will use all 7 of the included tiles, a 3-player game 6, and a 2-player game 4. Each of the tiles is two-sided, so you’ll randomly pick the appropriate number of tiles, randomly pick a side and place them to form the game board. There is only one rule for tile placement: don’t talk about tile placement. Wait, that’s not right… Oh yes, it’s that barbarian villages (dark grey spaces) may never touch. There are 6 types of terrain spaces on each tile: fields, forests, mountains, swamps, water and barbarian villages. If the barbarian villages on any 2 randomly-placed tiles are touching, one of the tiles will have to be rotated.
Next each player sets up their individual player boards. These are long, thin boards designed to hold your building meeples and provide organization for the placement of your cards during the game. Onto each player’s board goes 2 of each of the 5 building types in a player’s color, on the appropriate spot (the player boards have light outlines in the shape of each of the building pieces to avoid confusion during first play). Remaining building pieces – each player has 5 of each building, or 25 total buildings – sit to the side until they are earned during gameplay.
Players also claim one of each resource (wooden discs in 4 flavors – stone, clay, wheat and wood), 5 gold coins and 5 victory point tokens (yes, this is one of those generous games that lets you start with victory points!) to start with.
Finally, set-up winds down by shuffling a building card deck and dealing 5 cards to each player to form their starting hands. While not an “easy” set-up, Deus isn’t as onerous as other table-sprawling civilization games. It’s handled in under 10 minutes.
On your turn you will take one of two actions: construct a building or make an offering to the gods. However, this small list of options drastically undersells the planning and resource management required.
Constructing a Building:
When constructing a building you are playing a card out of your hand and into the appropriate column of your player board, matching the card’s color to the column’s color:
- Blue denotes maritime fleets (boat-shaped meeple)
- Green denotes production buildings (large building-shaped meeple)
- Yellow denotes scientific buildings (cylinder meeple)
- Brown denotes civil buildings (small building-shaped meeple)
- Pink denotes military units (meeple meeple)
- Purple denotes temples (large white pieces – these are not in player colors for reasons explained below)
In order to play a card you must posses a building of the appropriate type on your player board, as well as any necessary resources to build it. These may be any of the four resources mentioned above as well as gold coins.
Once you pay the resource cost you will move a building of the appropriate type from your player board to the game board. But you can’t just place your building all nimbly-bimbly; you must place it in a region that already contains one of your buildings (although not the same TYPE of building – only one of each on a space) or in an empty region directly adjacent to one you occupy. Your first building can be placed in any space along the edge of the game board.
There are two additional restrictions on where buildings can be played. No building can be played on a barbarian village, and only maritime fleets may be placed on water (blue spaces). However, a military unit may be placed on a water space that already contains one of your maritime fleets.
Text on the cards played, which remain above your player board for the remainder of the game, give you some kind of benefit – but only when you first play the card or play another card on top of it. Some cards will earn you resources, gold coins or victory points; others will allow you to move additional buildings onto your player board or move military units around the board.
But what if you’re not producing enough goods to continue expanding, or you don’t have the available buildings needed to play a card? (And this will most definitely be the case.) Well…
Making an Offering to the Gods:
To make an offering you discard any number of cards out of your hand and gain certain resources or privileges. Two factors determine what you’ll get out of your offering:
- The number of cards you discard will determine how many resources, gold or VP you’ll collect from the offering, or how many additional cards you’ll be allowed to hold in your hand over the normal 5.
- The top face-up card you discard will determine which god you make the offering to, and thus which benefit you’ll receive. For instance, if you’re discarding 4 cards you will place them face-up in the discard pile, and only the one on top will be visible (your opponents won’t see the other 3 cards); it’s this god the corresponding offering is made to.
The benefits received from each god are illustrated on the player boards in symbol form, but they’re not the most intuitive set of symbols you’ll come across:
- Neptune (blue/maritime): gain 2 gold per discarded card, as well as 1 maritime building (note you get only 1 building, regardless of how many cards are spent)
- Ceres (green/production): gain 1 resource of your choice per discarded card, as well as 1 production building
- Minerva (yellow/scientific): draw 1 additional card when refilling your hand for each card discarded, and gain 1 scientific building
- Vesta (brown/civil): gain 1 victory point for 1 discarded card or 2 victory points for 2 or more discarded cards, as well as 1 civil building
- Mars (red/military): gain 1 building of your choice for each card discarded
- Jupiter (purple/temple): wild – choose 1 of the above benefits
You will need to have a building plan to focus on how you will accumulate your victory points. While some victory points are available from playing buildings and making offerings, the big victory points come from temples and barbarian villages.
There are 7 temples included in Deus, but you only use a complete allotment in a 4-player game. The temple count used in a game will equal the continent tiles used – in a 3-player game 6, and in a 2-player game 4. Temples are in a neutral white color, and all players are competing to build from the same pool. Once you build a temple it will guide your strategy; they provide end-of-game victory points based on certain conditions (for instance, 3 victory points for every space you have 3 buildings on at the end of the game, or 4 victory points for every mountain you occupy), and you’ll want to play to those conditions.
Your first temple can be built at any time, but future temples can only be built when you complete a set of 5 other buildings. If your first temple is already in play and you want to build a second one, you will have to have a maritime fleet, production building, science building, civil building and military unit already on the board. This is why the player boards are indented on the right side – to provide an easy visual for allowed temples.
Your last source of larger amounts of victory points come from barbarian villages. At the start of the game a number of victory points equal to the number of bordering spaces is placed on each barbarian village (6 for an “embedded” village, 3 for a village on the periphery). Once a village is completely surrounded by buildings (these can be buildings from multiple players), the player with the most military units bordering the village wins the victory points. If any number of players are tied, the victory points are split evenly and any remainder is returned to the box.
Deus ends when either of two conditions is met:
- The last temple is placed on the board
- The last barbarian village is defeated
Once a condition has triggered game-end the current round is finished and one more round is played. This gives everybody a chance to make a final move to maximize victory points, and hopefully prevents players from ending with unfulfilled plans. Once finished, each player claims any victory point tokens awarded by their temples and the final tally is made.
The 7 continent tiles in Deus are of fine quality – not that thick but highly resistant to fraying at the edges. The bubbled shape of the continent tiles makes it so that they shift less during play than the flat-edged tiles used in many games.
The player boards are of equal quality and useful for keeping things organized, but the symbols for the “make an offering to the gods” action could have been more intuitive. For the first play it was necessary for us to reference the rulebook to recall what each god would do.
The wooden parts are plentiful and quite nice. There are 107 buildings (25 in each of 4 player colors and 7 neutral temples); while most of them are in standard geometric shapes found in most games, a few – temples, maritime fleets and military units – are unique cuts that look nice and seem sturdy enough to avoid extremities breaking off.
Also in the wood department are 80 resource discs (20 of each resource). While discs aren’t very thematic, these can be problematic for a different reason: the discs representing wood are brown (which makes sense on its own), but are produced in forests – the green spots on the board. Clay (red disc) is produced in swamps, which are colored a very muddy brown-red. It’s very easy to grab a wood instead of a clay when your swamps produce, particularly because the other regions produce goods in the same color as their space.
The cards in Deus have a very fine linen finish that doesn’t detract from the artwork. There are 96 total cards (16 for each of the 6 building types) containing 27 different illustrations.
The remaining pieces – 84 gold coins and 59 victory point tokens – are of the same cardboard stock as the continent tiles and player boards. It’s worth noting that “gold” in Deus is either green, silver or pale gold depending on denomination, while victory points are always bright gold. This can be a little confusing.
Deus is on the lower end of the learning curve for civilization games, but has a moderate learning curve overall due to its genre’s heaviness.
There are fewer parts here than other civilization games, which helps streamline things. It would certainly be helpful if the few areas of possible confusion – the aforementioned clay/wood/swamp issue and the sometimes difficult-to-parse player board symbols – were cleaned up, but overall Deus won’t provide a learning challenge to anybody used to medium-weight games.
Who would enjoy this game?
Deus is a pleasantly colorful game with a bunch of nice little affectations, but there were a few things I found odd. There is no reason to start the game with 5 victory points – this is something usually done when it’s possible to lose victory points during the game, but that can’t happen in Deus so it only serves to inflate final scores. This is just nit-picking; if it bothers you, don’t dole out the starting VP tokens.
A little more distracting was the 2-victory point limit on the god that delivers those (Vesta). Every other offering results in a number of benefits equal to the cards discarded. I’m sure this came from play-testing exposing that allowing a 1-to-1 ratio was extremely over-powered (scores are usually in the 20s to low 40s from 15 or so rounds of play – if you could just dump your entire hand for 5 victory points every turn you’d end up with 75 points). But it still comes across a little clunky compared to the unrestricted nature of the other gods.
But these are minor gripes. Overall this is a well-designed and fun game. It can be tough being a fan of civilization builders surrounded by people who prefer games of the “1 hour or less” variety. If this is you, Deus is a must-buy.
For everybody else this is a great game to have in the library for those nights where time is short but you want to build something. It won’t feel as rewarding as 3 hours of twists and turns that ultimately lead to your original vision, but it will feel like a good compromise.
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