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The past is another country – Deus: Egypt Review

If you read my recent review of Deus you will know that I found it a solid and robust design, enjoyable to play and offering enough of a challenge to engage even seasoned gamers.  It sits at the middleweight point of the scale and presents engaging and intriguing decisions, but it still comes with rules that are easy to grasp in only five minutes.  I did wonder about the longevity of the game, though, and whether there was enough variation in the base box to see it through in the long run.  Well, looky here, for on my gaming table is the slim box for Deus: Egypt, billed as the first expansion for the game.  So is this essential or surplus to requirements, and, probably more importantly, does it tweak the original design in a way that makes it better or does it muddy the waters to turn it into an unfathomable mess?

Deus Board Game

The box hints at the power within.

Not much in the box…but it packs a punch!

While the base game placed its players in the Greco-Roman world, this expansion instead drops them into the fertile crescent of – the clue is in the title – yes, Egypt!  A female figure, presumably Cleopatra, gazes out from the front cover of the box, attended by two loyal leopards (I guess), but what lies inside?  Well, a purchaser could feel a little underwhelmed to find only a few tokens and a pack of cards inside the box (along with the instructions, of course) but, as any addicted purchaser of mini-stuffed games will probably tell you, gaming quantity does not correlate with gaming quality, so maybe these components will punch above their weight.  At least the box for the expansion is an appropriate size for the contents this time around.

The core of Deus: Egypt is the new deck of ninety six cards, which is the same size as the deck in the base game.  This means that it contains sixteen cards in each of the six building categories – temples, military, maritime, production, scientific and civil – and, if you are of an adventurous framed of mind, you can simply use this new deck in place of that from the original game and go playing straight away.  Other options are to substitute an entire set of buildings from the base game with the new cards from Egypt or even to shuffle both decks together and randomise the experience entirely.

Deus Board Game

It doesn’t look like much, but…

Taking it up a notch!  It’s more than just a token effort!

The tokens that come in Egypt are all related to the powers on the new cards, and these are the most exciting part of this expansion, adding new tweaks and powers to those in the base game but without turning the game into an unholy mess.  In other words, Egypt expands the horizons of the original game without adding much in the way of complication, and those new tweaks are pretty decent as well rather than just sparkly bells and whistles added for the sake of something new.

One of the first things that players of the base box will notice about the new cards is that some in the deck now have a “1x” power printed on the top.  These cards trigger that one-off ability only during the turn they are placed, in addition to the tableau ability that is triggered every time a similar building is constructed, allowing players to acquire tokens, activate a special ability or even gain victory points.

Deus Board Game

The core of the expansion is the pack of cards.

Building a theme?  Icons make a difference!

Another small but significant change is the addition of small icons at the tops of some of the cards that indicate that they may only be built when there are already a certain number of buildings in that region.  A Lighthouse can only be built on a sea region that already has two maritime units in it, which makes perfect sense – after all, why would you stick a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean with no shipping nearby? – while an Architect Workshop needs another building already in its area, presumably something to work with.  As players dive deeper into Egypt they will find that the gentle and unobtrusively thematic touches of the base box are to be found here as well, just in slightly sharper focus.

There is also some new terminology in Egypt but it is quick to learn and easy to understand.  An ocean is one or more adjacent sea regions (makes perfect sense) and the rank of a card, which becomes significant when triggering powers, is equivalent to its placement in the tableau – the first card of a set of buildings has a rank of one, the second two, and so on.

Deus Board Game

Some buildings may only be built if other units are already present.

Marketing and combat!  Two significant changes!

One of the most obvious new elements of Egypt is the market tile, and it is one that gets a big thumbs up from me.  No longer are the various resources available to buy all through the game at a standard four gold per resource – instead, the market is a dynamic and changing entity that can be manipulated by the players to their advantage, allowing them to buy low, if possible, but force their opponents to pay more.  This market also has a knock-on effect on the end-game scoring, as the points that are given out for majorities in each resource type are now directly related to that resource’s market value.  This is an assuredly positive step for the game, making it more interactive and dynamic, but without adding significantly to the upkeep or rules overhead.

And there is still more – Combat Tokens allow players to occupy areas without necessarily leaving military units there, can be used to block opponents’ building plans and various other nastinesses besides.  Scribe Tokens are always placed under a player’s most recently constructed civil building and can earn extra victory points via careful play of cards.

Deus Board Game

Combat tokens – expect nastiness.

Want to stockpile resources?  You’re barque-ing up the wrong tree!

My favourites, though, are the barques, and together with the Market they up the ante of the base box in a clever and unobtrusive manner.  Any willy-nilly storage of resources as in the original game is no longer possible.  Instead players begin the game with one size-2 and one size-3 barque, allowing them to store a maximum of five resources.  In Egypt players must discard any resources they cannot store on their barques at the end of each turn, putting an end to any stockpiling.  It is harsh but fair and again goes to make Egypt that bit more gritty and interesting than its original incarnation.

While this may all sound overly complicated Egypt is actually a much simpler expansion to understand than one might expect, because each new element is associated only with its own type of card.  The Market tile is activated only by maritime buildings while barques come into play with the new production buildings, the scribe with civil buildings and the Combat tokens with military buildings – again, all cleverly thematic.  If it all seems like too much gaming overhead to throw everything into the game at once then it is simplicity itself to replace, say, the maritime cards from the original game with those from Egypt and incorporate only the Market tile in early games, adding in other elements once players are happy with the new mechanisms.

Deus Board Game

The market turns resource collection into something dynamic.

How to play it?  Go all in or mix and match!

Of course, some might be happy to dive straight in with all that Egypt has to offer, in which case they will discover a game that is more interactive and malleable than its original version, and one in which they have greater control over what happens on the board.  Where Deus is in any case a fine choice for gamers to play, Deus: Egypt offers a meatier experience for those who are used to something just a little bit heavier and thinkier, but also permits players to fine-tune their gaming experience for those who want less direct aggression or more freedom to collect resources.

My preferred way to play is to take the approach similar to the one I used to have with the original two Guildhall boxes, picking randomly for each of the six types in the game.  Approach Egypt in this way and coupled with the modular and hugely flexible board from the base game you find a game that offers vast and constantly changing possibilities in each play.  Sometimes you will find vast oceans on the board but lack the Egypt cards to exploit them, or have a game with barques but no market.  It is a new puzzle each time to ally the available cards to the layout of the board, and all with those tough choices as to which order to lay down your cards.

Deus Board Game

Barques impose a limit on resources.

How good is this?  Others could learn something!

For some reason I was not expecting much from Deus: Egypt, probably because all that awaited me in the small box was a pack of cards and a few bits of cardboard, but I have learned my lesson and am happy to admit that this expansion does pretty much everything I would like it to do, offering significant bang per cardboard buck.  In fact, I will go further and say that many expansions could learn something from Egypt.  It adds depth to the base game without pages and pages of new rules, and makes Deus meatier and more involving for those who want it without significantly increasing either the learning time or the game length.  Better still it allows players to customise the experience as they see fit, going all-in, partially in, or even adopting a suck-it-and-see philosophy to what the game happens to throw their way.  Oh, and it all fits into the base box (which was admittedly much too big anyway).

When considering how to rate Deus: Egypt one needs to consider not only what value it offers as an expansion in itself but also how it interacts with the base game and whether it muddies those original waters so much that it ruins the original experience.  Many expansions simply add complexity and new choices until the original game loses its charm and leanness in the process – call it the Dominion effect – while others dilute the waters until all the once-strong links between elements become gossamer thin (as with Seasons and Mystic Vale).  The best expansions, at least for me, are those that add something interesting to the base game without either washing out the colours of the original experience or requiring their players to acquire a PhD in rules exceptions, expansions such as the first two Carcassonne boxes.  Pleasingly Deus: Egypt fits nicely and easily into this last category, so if that is what you hanker after in an expansion and you enjoy the base game then it is certainly worth your money.

Deus Board Game

Scribe tokens.

I gave Deus 8 out of 10 in my review, considering it a polished and robust design that took the best qualities of many other games and turned those elements into something engrossing, challenging and fun to play.  I would have to admit that Deus: Egypt takes the already fine base game and takes it up a notch, improving it in pretty much every single area, taking it from being a very good game to being an extremely good game.  Perhaps genuine greatness still lies just a card’s thickness beyond its reach, but with the expansion thrown into the base box Deus certainly needs to be considered for any serious gamer’s collection as something flexible, easy to teach, involving and interesting to play and gets a 9 out of 10 from me.  Any fan of Deus should certainly hurry to game like an Egyptian.

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Nick O'Neill

I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.