Demeter Board Game Review
WBG Score: 7.5
Player Count: 1-100
You’ll like this if you like: Riverside, Hadrians Wall, Ganz Schön Clever.
Published by: Sorry We Are French
Designed by: Matthieu Verdier
Let's get this out of the way as quickly as possible. Demeter is a brilliant game. There are so many options available to you as you play this game, but you will feel in complete control of your destiny, which when you start to get right after a few games, feels great. It does take a few go's at this to learn the strategy due to the many different choices you can make, but once this becomes more familiar to you, the combination turns you can take at the later stages are wonderfully satisfying.
OK, with that said. Let's talk about the elephant in the room. Namely, there are hundreds of great blank and write games out there. Games where you roll a dice, or flip a card, and then mark something off on a sheet of paper just like here with Demeter. Alongside Riverside, Hadrians Wall, Ganz Schön Clever that I mention above, there is also Welcome To, Cartographers, Silver & Gold, to name just a few recent descents! This is a cluttered market place, so the question needs to be, not, is this a good game? But rather. Is this game better than the rest?
Where does Demeter rank in the genre?
I would rank Demeter very highly. It is certainly up there as one of the best flip and write games for me. With so many good games in the genre, I think the theme and art needs to come into it. It is fine margins that separate these great games. So, you need to make your own choice as to which theme interests you the most. So, yes. Demeter is a great game, but I think it will be personal preference around theme that will determine which one is right for you.
The art and theme for Demeter is fantastic. No blank and write game ever really screams theme as you play it, I would say Riverside is the best for this. They all do become quite abstract when you start playing. I do like the art in Demeter, and think the idea is a good one. It follows on from the game Ganymede, where now, having landed on the planet of Ganymede, you are investigating the local wildlife, which happens to be Dinosaurs. But in truth, at no point during the game do I ever think about this. Does this matter? Not really! It's just with so many games that are all very good, you need to find a way to separate them out. Unless you just buy them all!
How to play Demeter.
Playing Demeter is surprisingly easy. There are five different types of cards which match the five major things you can do shown in the top right of the player sheet. There are fifteen different cards of each suit. Before you start, shuffle and remove three cards at random then place the remaining 12 on the table by the four objectives and scoring markers for each species. You will then play through twelve rounds, drawing one card for each of the five decks each time. Players can chose one of the five cards on offer to use on their sheet. Players can choose which ever card they like, no matter what other players are doing. There is no way to affect the other players in this game other than the scores for the Dinosaurs which we will come to later.
On each of the five cards, there will be a symbol that will show you what benefit that card will give you. They are mostly symbols for spotting dinosaurs, but you can also construct new buildings or observation towers, recruit new scientists, or study the dinosaurs you have seen. Once you have chosen which card to go for, players will mark the indicated space on the top right space on the player sheet. This is important because if you do one from each card and complete a row, you will gain additional benefits. It also just helps you remember which card you chose that round.
Players will then mark off the benefit they gained on the sheet, and then also claim the benefit of the card colour they chose. The blues let you recruit a scientist. The Red card lets you create a new observation post, the yellows let you study an already discovered dinosaur. The purple's let you mark off a space on the research track. And finally, the grey cards let you chose one of the above four options, it acts as a wild.
The player board does look initially complicated but will quickly make sense in your mind after your first game. It is helpful to separate the board into four areas. There is the top left area we have talked about. The purple research track. The buildings on the top right. And then the main area which is separated itself into five areas, each showing a different species of dinosaur. You job is to discover and study the dinosaurs which means to colour in the space of the part of the dinosaur you are discovering. And then when the dinosaur is fully coloured in, you can draw a line from the dinosaur to the box close to it when studying it, to claim that benefit. You need to first spot and then study these beasts.
Adding scientist's and observation towers increases your end game scoring options, and will help you complete objectives in the game. There are four randomly selected objectives for each game. You need to try to meet the criteria of these, but also qualify to score against them in the first place. Reaching the top of the research track three times will allow you to score the first three objectives, and discovering and studying the top four Gallimimus' on the bottom right of the sheet allows you to score against the forth one. It is a nice challenge to have to meet. Not only to do well in the four objectives, but to also reach the point where you can score them.
The buildings will allow you to gain a benefit twice when you get that benefit. For example, the first blue building when constructed, will allow you to gain two scientist instead of one when you get the gain the scientist benefit. Getting buildings early in the game I found to be crucial to scoring well.
Once you have discovered every Dinosaur of its type, as in all three Triceratops are coloured in for example, you will then score the bonus for that type of dinosaur. In a multiplayer game, you will flip over the token for that type of dinosaur and then each next person will score two less points when they discover that type of that dinosaur. This is the only way that players will have any type of interaction with each other in this game. This has both positive and negative affects on the game play. In a multiplayer, you do feel rather that you are playing a solitaire game, and other than the odd conversation here and there, asking what the other person may be doing, and then comparing scores at the end, it does feel rather isolated as you play. But this game plays brilliantly as a solitaire game. There are no rule changes, dummy players, or solo cards to use. You just play as usual and try to beat your previous scores. I like solo games like this, but would prefer there to be a score rank in the rule book so you can compare your scores. I always think it's a missed opportunity when this isn't done in a game that works so well in in solo mode.
This has both positive and negative affects on the game play. Negative in that in a multiplayer, you do feel rather that you are playing a solitaire game, and other than the odd chat here and there, asking what the other person may be doing, and then comparing scores at the end, it does feel rather isolated as you play. Positive in that this game players brilliant as a solitaire game. There are no rule changes, dummy players, or annoying solo cards to use. You just play as usual and try to beat your previous scores. I like solo games like this, but would prefer there to be a score rank in the rule book so you can compare your scores. I always think it a missed opportunity when this isn't done in a game that works so well in a one.
Demeter feels very satisfying to play. There is a quick learning curve and I saw my scores dramatically improve as I learnt the strategy for the game. I found in game two and three I had incredibly high scores as I had a rule wrong around the building bonus, but thankfully some friends corrected me there when I posted my confusion online! (Thanks all!) But after that, when playing correctly, I saw my score steadily improve each game. The rule book is clear, I was just being slow! The game offers a clever puzzle you need to work out how to get right. Playing the game over and over does not get any less enjoyable or interesting. Demeter offers a constant challenge to try and figure out the right way to solve this puzzle the most efficient way.
Games of this nature go from good to great when they offer cascading turns late in the game. Jamey Stegmaier spoke about this recently, where some games offer you lots of little turns with limited power, which all build to one (or more) big turns later in the game. I love games that do this. There is so much satisfaction in feeling you have earn't the right to take lots of actions on one turn. Saying to the other player, "Here, check this out. I can mark this, which lets me tick this, so I can score this, which in turns lets me do this and meet this objective!" It's a great feeling. A good blank and write should have this. Demeter does, but getting to the point where you can utilise and maximise 'one big turn' near the end of this game takes practice. In doing so, there is even more satisfaction than usual. You don't just feel you have earn't the right to do this in this game, but you have earn't the right to do this from the experience you gained from each time you play this game. This feels wonderful.
This offers again, both good and bad things to the game. Good in that this 'one big turn' or multiple big turns in the case of Demeter, is great. It is very enjoyable to do this and your previous efforts and low scores will feel worth while as you develop your skills in this game. But, it does mean this game has a huge advantage to experienced players. I have not seen anyone score well in this game until at least game three, but then you still need I think at least five games before you score really well. The game is quick and can be done in 15 minutes, but not everyone will be up for five games to catch up with you each time you teach them.
I would put Demeter into my top five for blank and writes without doubt. I will play it many more times. Due to its simplicity I would put it into my top five solo games as well. I would like the theme to be utilised a little more, and perhaps a few more ways to score in the game. I understand some of this is addressed in the first expansion, Autumn and Winter, but I have not played that yet. Overall Demeter is a great little game and one I would encourage you to check out if you are a fan of this genre, dinosaurs, or the art in Ganymede.