Theomachy: The Ancients – Review- Petersen Games

Theme and What is it?

When the gods do battle it’s mortals who hold the front lines. You take on the role of an ancient god and gamble the lives of your followers to defeat the others in epic combat in this poker variant.

Gameplay Mechanics

At its heart Theomachy is Texas Hold’em with bits added. Every player gets a hand of cards, there are three cards flipped over that become communal to everyone, and players take turns placing bets, raising, folding, or calling. This continues until everyone passes or folds. Winners are assigned and the next hand is dealt.

However, I did say there were bits added. First is the deck-building portion. Everyone has their own personal deck of cards that they draw their hand from. There’s a market in the center of the table that players can purchase cards from at the end of the turn. This can help them focus their decks and how they’re going to play the game moving forward.

Decks are made up of three types of cards. There’s power cards that represent a suit, power level, and a type that can be used to cause effects. The game has four basic suits and two types of power icons; order and chaos (black and White).

Second are effect cards. These include locations and abilities that let your god perform actions on your turn. These allow you to prevent followers from being removed from play, draw additional cards, or cancel opponent’s cards. These cards are used during the betting phase to help you power up for later in the round.

The final type of card are attack cards. After the betting phase ends any players that are still in the game will battle one another. This is done by players totaling the values of the followers they’ve wagered during the betting phase and playing cards to modify the totals. Some combat cards give players a flat plus bonus, adding to their total. Some cards cause effects, the plague cards destroys all of an opponent’s lowest value followers.

Once all players are finished during the battle phase the player/players with the highest total win and gain a token from the bank. This is a good time to talk about losing a hand. If you lose a hand either because you folded or were outgunned in the battle phase you discard every follower you wagered during the batting phase. These don’t go to any other player. They are removed from the game. All the winner of a hand gets is new follower tokens. They get a priest (5 points) and possibly a prophet (10 points).

After the battle phase we get to the prayer phase. Each player must purchase a card from the market. Cards in the market vary in value. The first two cards are free, the next two cost two, and the final two are five a piece. If you purchase the free cards the spaces are left empty. Any other cards purchased are replaced immediately. Once the prayer phase is over the empty spaces are refilled from the deck.

 

The game continues until only one player has followers remaining.

Initial Impressions

I was a little nervous about this game. It felt like there were just too many moving parts. It also has player elimination, while I don’t mind it if done well, it can be a turn off in some cases. However the game does have a method of playing that removes the need for player elimination.

Game Build Quality

I think the components are pretty decent. The card stock is pretty good; flexible but still sturdy. The cardboard tokens are all a decently thickness. Most of the images are pretty clear and easy to follow.

I had some trouble with the rules. They just felt disjointed and broken. The places where things should have been explained didn’t appear right away. I had to back track in several places and it was frustrating to try and make sense of some sections.

Artistic Direction

The art is top notch. Everything looks very good. Some cards are given a foil coating that looks very nice and really makes the details stand out. A minor detractor for me is that the card art is dark. I mean that in the lack of light sense of the phrase. I could have used with a bit of a lighter touch against the black backgrounds that are used frequently.

 

One major negative is premade decks. The game has a set of cards marked as premade decks for your first few games. After that it’s assumed you’ll draft your starter deck. However, the notations on the card are dark, small, and difficult to find. Additionally, the rules only tell you that the marks exist not where on the card to find them. I’ve had to go through the deck a couple of times just to find all of the cards because of how they set up the numbers. I can only assume it was to not interfere with the general ascetic as much as possible. In this case, clarity would have been preferred. 

Fun Factor

The game has a lot of the strategy and luck found in a typical poker game. They then built a couple of extra layers of tactics on that with the effect and combat cards. How you share and use your resources comes into play a lot more often that you might think.  

Age Range & Weight

The box says 14+ and I think this is off of the mark. I think if you’re just playing poker sure 14 is great but here I don’t think so. The extra levels of game play added with the effect and attack cards coupled with the combat phase felt like a bit too much for someone that age.

Conclusions

I think one of the big factors for most folks will be the player elimination. I didn’t mind it here since it’s a poker variant and that was perfectly in keeping with that style of game. However, the game can go long and if someone is eliminated early then they won’t have anything to do until it’s finished. There is a victory point variant in the rule book that prevents player elimination. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It has some pros and cons. It lets everyone keep playing but can be easily abused by some players. If you’re on the fence just for that reason then I’d say definitely try it with the VP rules to see how you feel.

One quick pet peeve for me is this. I have Theomachy: The Ancients. From the Petersen website I can fight Cthulhu vs Thor. In the rulebook Thor is all over it. There are tips from Thor, notes about Thor, and a point where they remind you if you choose Thor remember to take Mjolnir because that’s his special rule. Thor is not in this game. Neither is Cthulhu. If you want to put something like that in the rules feel free. Just use someone who’s in the game.

*NOTE* I get that Thor is probably in the other version of this game, but I don’t have that one so it doesn’t help me. *

Beyond that, I said I was worried that there was too much going on in this game and I think that’s where I fell at in the end. With the betting, combat, deckbuilding, and different powers of the gods it was just one thing too much.

On the upside the game is super modular. You get the starter decks to start with but can draft if you choose to. There are miracle cards which can be added to the game but don’t have to be. You can play with player elimination or victory points. They give you a lot of options with how to get through the game.

However, for me it was just too much on even the basic level. Trying to figure out and remember the different phases was just frustrating in places. Why and when I should play some cards over others felt… I’m really not sure, off is the best phrase I can come up with here. I kept thinking I wasn’t accomplishing anything. It felt like adding complexity for the sake of complexity. I get that that’s just my hang-up.

I can appreciate what they were going for. What game do the gods play with mortals? This is probably as good an answer as any. It’s just it felt like too much. I always felt overwhelmed just a little.

It’s a shame too because the idea behind the game is solid and I thought it could be good. I hoped it would be good. It’s just over-complicated.

[yasr_multiset setid=0]

[yasr_visitor_multiset setid=0]