The first thing that could come to mind, when you see Deities spread out on the table, is that it might be a slightly overproduced crowdfunded game. You might worry that the appealing visuals and material are supposed to impress you, while the game’s design is shallow and of little substance.
But once you’ve played a few turns, and noticed how the game state can change subtly yet dynamically, you’d have to revise your first impressions. The rules are noticeably more robust and appealing, than they might first appear.
In a throwback to tradition, the game’s board forms the center of play. On your turn you place resource tokens on it. This causes other tokens in the same row to be flipped over. This is how you gain resources, which you then have to cleverly invest into buildings.
If you are reminded of Othello (or Reversi), you’re correct. Place tokens. Flip the connected row. Gain rewards. If you can spot the right space on the board, you are rewarded with a lot of resources and a very satisfying turn. This is smart design, as the smallest and most often repeated action you take already feels good. Whatever is placed on top of that, only increases your enjoyment.
Turns are fairly simple at first, but after a round or two they produce surprisingly engaging situations. Every placement that benefits you, might also set up your opponents for an even better turn. You quickly find yourself weighing tactical and strategic options, when placing your token.
The beginnings of a relentless
fight over resources
We build plastic buildings from our tableau on top of those tokens – literally as well as figuratively. This opens the possibility of generating additional resources outside of our turn, score victory points due to area majority or work towards fulfilling our personal goals, helping us move further ahead on the victory point track.
It soon becomes apparent, that while the presentation of the game suggests a sense of playfulness and loose set of rules, we are actually dealing with a hard fought competition. The set number of turns puts further pressure on us to now (or at least soon) set the course to collect a lot of victory points by the end of the game.
Deities features the kind of „interaction“ (euphemism for passive-aggressive „take that“ gameplay) that many modern eurogames are criticized for lacking. Buildings of other players can be built on and taken over that way. In a game like „The Estates“ this threat of a hostile takeover leads to tense, defensive play and the occasional emotional outburst, when it happens. In Deities this setback is softened, since it is only one factor of many that contribute to your ranking. The compensation you get for „losing“ a building, can sometimes be even more valuable than the building’s original purpose.
This plays a big part in making each game feel constructive, despite its unavoidable conflicts and strong competitiveness. Victory points are always granted to those who played tactically, looked closely and effectively combined the various benefits available to them. Combined with the visual feedback of leaving a large part of your tableau on the board, this makes you feel that you’ve always put up a good fight. Regardless of whether the victory point comparison at the end turned out in your favor or not.
The game’s title „Deities“ vaguely invokes memories of videogames of the godgame genre. You make use of the resources of the earth to construct buildings that give you some kind of benefit. As always the theme serves to ground the game’s rules and is not the focus of the game. It’s useful to grasp and understand our actions, but the game’s appeal lies in its tactical challenge and the strategic competition between players.
Buildings unlock benefits
you can combine
So instead of offering the kind of micromanagement that is typical for that type of videogame, Deities is a smart, pointed positioning game. Thanks to its core mechanism, it’s easy to dive right into the action. Which means that it doesn’t take long to get to what makes Deities fun, and it wraps up before you get tired of its design. The game’s greatest strength is its ability to create direct and ambitious competition with a few brush strokes.
That said, its production and presentation will likely clash with modern sensibilities. The colorful plastic buildings have been cause for criticial comments in multiple gaming groups. I found myself apologizing for it, in the same way I would for an incomplete gender representation in a game’s playable characters, or a lack of inclusion in its texts and pictures.
Admittedly, this dampens the first impression of the game and might lead some groups to be apprehensive about playing it. But so far every game of Deities has ended with people still critically commenting on the game’s production, but not opposing the idea of playing it again.