While not much of a gambler myself, I find the gambling/betting mechanic in board games to be an interesting mechanic. Quite a while ago I looked at the horse racing game Winner’s Circle made by Reiner Knizia where players make secret bids on horses that were controlled by a roll of the dice. When I first read about Divinity Derby it reminded me quite a bit of Winner’s Circle. In both games you are betting in secret in a race between horses/creatures. Both games have mechanics where you can help your own bets or mess with other players bids. Before playing the game the one major difference I could see between the two games was that while Winner’s Circle used dice, Divinity Derby used cards. After playing Divinity Derby I will say that the two games share some things in common but they do play quite a bit differently. I actually think you can make an argument that Divinity Derby is better than Winner’s Circle, a game I really enjoyed. Divinity Derby is the perfect example of a game not having to be difficult to be an engaging game.
How to Play Divinity Derby
All of the creature pieces are placed behind the starting line. Each player chooses a God and takes all of the bet cards for that God. The cardholders are placed so there is one cardholder to the left and right of each player. A number of creature tokens are used in the game based on the number of players. A number of cards are dealt to each player based on the number of players and each player places their cards on the cardholder to their left.
Playing the Game
Each game of Divinity Derby features three races with each race featuring five phases:
- Make first bets
- Run the race
- Move the creatures
- Make your third bet
- Determine the final standings
- Zeus’ Judgement
- Determine the outcome of the bets
Beginning with the first player each player chooses one of their bet cards and places it face down on the table. They then choose one of the creature tokens and place it on top of the card to show what creature the bid was for. Each player will take turns making a bet until all of the players have made two bids. If all of the tokens for a creature are gone, no more players can bid on that creature.
On a player’s turn they will choose one card from the cardholder on their left and right to play to move creatures.
The first card that they play will move the corresponding creature the number of spaces of the top/higher number. fF two or more creatures end up on the same space, each subsequent creature to land on the space is put further outside on the track.
The second card that they play will move the corresponding creature the number of spaces of the lower number.
When playing their first card a player can choose to perform a dirty trick. Some of the movement cards have a bonus value printed on them. If the player wants to perform a dirty trick they will move the creature the combination of both top numbers. The movement card is put in the Zeus’ deck after it is used. The player can choose not to use the dirty trick though. The creature won’t move as many spaces but will be discarded like a normal card instead of being put in the Zeus deck.
When one of the creatures pass the midpoint of the race, all of the players will make their third and final bet for the race. The player who moved the creature past the midpoint completes the rest of their turn. The first player token is passed to the player to the left of the last player to play and this player will make the first bet.
When a creature passes the finish line they are put on the top remaining standing space in the middle of the board.
The race continues until all of the cards have been played. For all creatures that haven’t passed the finish line, the final standings are decided by which creatures are closest to the finish line. If two creatures are on the same space the creature on the inside track is considered ahead of creatures further from the inside of the track.
When a race has finished, all of the cards in the Zeus’ deck are shuffled. Two cards are randomly drawn from the deck. If any of the cards drawn are for one of the creatures, those creatures are disqualified from the race.
When the race is over all of the players reveal their three bet cards. All bets that were correct are placed in one pile while all incorrect bets are placed into another pile.
Cleanup/End of Game
At the end of the first and second race the board is setup for the next race. All of the creature tokens are returned to the board and each player is dealt new cards. All of the creature pawns are returned to the starting line.
After the third race has finished the game ends. Each player collects their successful bid cards and counts up the points on the cards. Whichever player scores the most points wins the game.
My Thoughts on Divinity Derby
While I like games from all areas of the difficulty spectrum I have always enjoyed the light-moderate to moderate level the most. The light level generally relies too much on luck with the players making few decisions. On the other hand I am not a huge fan of the high difficulty level since I don’t believe you should have to spend as much time learning how to play a game as you actually spend playing the game. The reason that I like the light-moderate and moderate level is that you get the best of both worlds. The rules don’t take long to learn/teach and yet you still have plenty of strategy which keeps the game interesting for all of the players. Divinity Derby is a perfect example of this in action.
On the difficulty spectrum I would classify Divinity Derby as a light-moderate game. There are basically two main mechanics in the game. First you make bids which involve playing a card face down and choosing a disc to play on top of it. The other mechanic involves playing one card from the cardholder on your left and one from the cardholder on your right. The first card you play is played for the higher value while the second card is played for its lower value. There are a couple other small mechanics but those are the basics of how to play Divinity Derby.
With so few mechanics it should not surprise anyone that it doesn’t take long to learn how to play Divinity Derby. I would guess that it would take most people around five minutes to teach the game to new players. While playing the game new players may need a race or two to fully understand how all of the mechanics work together to begin forming a strategy. The game has a recommended age of 10+ but I think children a couple years under that age could understand how to play the game. I know that Divinity Derby would work really well with people that don’t play a lot of board games.
With the game having so few mechanics most people would probably worry that there isn’t much to do in the game. This is where I think Divinity Derby really shines though. The game shows that you don’t need a ton of mechanics to make a satisfying game. The game doesn’t have a lot of mechanics but what the game does with those mechanics is what really matters. I was surprised by how much strategy/decisions there are in the game based on so few mechanics. While you might think you know what the other players are doing, you can never be positive. With the play of one card your strategy can be turned upside down. I don’t see anyone suffering from analysis paralysis in Divinity Derby but you need to put thought into your moves.
When I first found out about Divinity Derby the mechanic that I was most interested in was the idea of the shared hands. While this mechanic has probably been used in other games, I found it really interesting that each player has two hands but both hands are shared with another player. This creates some interesting dynamics since you share information with two different players and yet have some unique information since you are the only player that knows which cards are in both of your hands. While it takes a little while to adjust to having two different hands, it actually adds a lot to the game.
The two hands mechanic can impact bidding quite a bit. When placing bids you most likely are going to want to bid a high standing on creatures that you have a lot of cards for and bid a low standing for creatures that you have few to no cards for. The bidding becomes really interesting since you only see a portion of the cards but you can get some information based on the other players bids. For example if one of the players that you share a hand with bids on a creature that you share a lot of cards for, it probably means that they also have cards for that character in their other hand. If you don’t share a lot of cards for the creature they bid on though you have to wonder whether they are bidding against that creature or if their other hand has a lot of cards for the creature.
Another interesting side effect that comes from sharing cards with another player is that you could end up working with or against your “partner”. If you have a lot of cards for a given creature it is likely beneficial for both players to work together to play those cards for their higher value as long as both players bid on the creature placing high in the race. Things get more interesting when you can tell that your goals and your “partner’s” goals are not in line. In this situation both players have to decide when to strike. Both players will have cards in the hand that they want to use for the higher number and also cards that they want to use for the lower value. It is an interesting decision whether you want to play the card to help yourself or hurt the other player.
The bidding itself is not highly original but it works well. I really like that Divinity Derby gives you some options of what type of bid you want to place. While a majority of the bids are for a creature placing high in the race, there are bids for placing low or even being disqualified. I really like this variety of bids since it gives you an opportunity to hide your true intentions when you play a card. You could look like you are playing cards to help a creature but you might actually be trying to get that creature disqualified. It becomes really interesting when two players appear to be working together when in fact they want opposite things to happen.
At least in my opinion you probably are going to want to bid on which creatures will place high with your first two bids of a race. While you can somewhat tell that a creature is not going to do well if you have few or no cards for that creature, you can never be sure what cards are in the other players’ hands. It just seems easier to get a creature to place high in the standings or be disqualified than it is to keep them at the bottom of the standings. Therefore I think you will mostly be using your low place bids at the midpoint since you then will have some more information on what cards the other players control.
While it might seem like a minor mechanic, I actually think the disqualification rules are some of the most interesting rules in the game. I don’t know if it was intended or not but the idea of disqualification actually adds a lot to the game. Let’s begin with the disqualification mechanics themselves. These mechanics add a risk/reward mechanic into the game. If you are betting on a creature to place high it would be beneficial to cheat with the creature since they will then move more spaces. You are taking the risk though that they could be disqualified from the race. The Zeus Judgment mechanic is really simple since you just draw two cards and disqualify any creature that you draw. By using a deck of cards you can always tell the odds of any card you cheat with being drawn during the Zeus Judgment so you can make an informed decision on how much risk you want to take.
I think the best thing about disqualification though is that players could actually be trying to disqualify a creature. A player could either have bid that the creature would get disqualified or they could try to disqualify a creature that they think a lot of the other players bid would place high in the race. The idea of disqualification adds a lot to the game because you can never tell whether a player is cheating with a creature to help them place high or if they are trying to sabotage the creature.
I would say that the biggest “complaint” that I had with Divinity Derby was the fact that the players can really mess with one another. I don’t know if complaint is the right word to use as this seems to be a side effect of all secret bidding games. I want to bring it up though because it probably will turn off some people. If you are a gamer that likes to have their fate totally in their own hands, Divinity Derby will not be the game for you.
In order to be successful in Divinity Derby you have to hope that at least one other player is working towards the same goal as you in a particular race. If two or more players are betting on the same creature to place high or low they will naturally work together to get the creature to place high or low. This is really helpful in the game as it makes it much easier to succeed with your bet if other players are helping you reach it. If you can work with one or more players for most of your bets you have a good chance at winning the game. The opposite is also true though. If you get stuck in a situation where you made bets that no one else made you will be going at it alone. The other players will likely play cards that work against you either on purpose or without even noticing. If none of the other players are really working with you, you will have a huge uphill battle in order to win the game.
Just to show how much impact one player can have in a game, with just one card a player is able to ruin multiple players’ bids. Another player and I had bid that one of the creatures was going to place last in the race. We had a good reason to believe this since it was the midpoint of the race and this creature was last. Neither of us had any cards to move this creature either. So it made sense to bid on this creature placing last in the race. We both thought we were going to succeed with our bets until the second to last turn where one of the other players played the only card left for this creature putting the creature one space in front of last place. With this one card the player was able to ruin two players bids.
The other small complaint that I have with Divinity Derby is that the creatures seem to rarely ever pass the finish line in a race. I have yet to have a single creature reach the finish line in any of the races. This is not a huge issue since you just base the standings on which creatures made it the furthest but it would have been satisfying seeing the creatures pass the finish line. The reason why creatures don’t pass the finish line is that there just aren’t enough cards in any given round to move a creature far enough. The closest a creature got to finishing the race was coming up a couple spots short. This required three players (out of four) working together playing most of their cards for that creature at the higher value.
I wouldn’t consider this a huge issue though since it could be easily remedied. By just dealing two or four more cards to each cardholder I would guess a couple of creatures would pass the finish line. I actually would recommend this anyway since I think the game would be more strategic with more cards. You can’t add too many cards since it would make it too easy to get what you want in a given race but giving each player one or two more turns would give players more options and could lead to some really interesting decisions late in the race.
While I haven’t played with the special god abilities yet, I think they are a good addition to the game. Basically the special ability cards give each god special abilities that they can use during the race in order swing the race in their favor. The god abilities are interesting because they can actually have a pretty big impact on the race. Some of the abilities allow you to look at other players bids, move characters forward or backwards, or even change one of your bids later in the race when you have additional information. With a game that is as simple as Divinity Derby it is really nice that you can give all of the characters special abilities which makes each one play differently and can really change the game if used properly.
Before talking about the components I will preface this by saying that the prototype version of the game that we used to review Divinity Derby does not contain all of the final components for the game. Nonetheless I will say that I was impressed with the game’s components. I really like the game’s artwork. The creature pawns are really nice and surprisingly detailed. While a couple of the creatures are a little hard to tell apart without being painted, the final version of the game will include color bases which will correct this problem. For a $35-50 game I don’t know how you could complain about the game’s components.
Should You Buy Divinity Derby?
Divinity Derby might not be for everyone but I really enjoyed my time with the game. It is truly an example of a game where the number of mechanics doesn’t really matter. The game is really easy to learn and play and yet there is a surprising amount of strategy/decisions. The idea of having two hands that you share with other players is creative and brings a lot to the game. The bidding is not much different than most other bidding games but it gives you options since the other players can never be exactly sure what you want to have happen in a race. Even the disqualification mechanic adds something to the game. While your fate does rely a little too much on the other players, Divinity Derby is a fun and simple game.
If you don’t really like bidding games or aren’t that interested by Divinity Derby’s mechanics it might not be for you. Otherwise I would highly recommend checking out Divinity Derby.
If you would like to purchase Divinity Derby the Kickstarter campaign runs until March 24th, 2017. The game has already reached its’ funding goal so if you make a large enough pledge you will receive the game. For a pledge of $35 or more you will receive the basic version of the game which includes all of the game’s components and all of the basic stretch goals that are reached. For a pledge of $50 or more you will receive a deluxe version of the game which includes all of the game’s components, painted creature figures, and all of the deluxe stretch goals that are reached. If you would like to purchase Divinity Derby or would like to find out more information about the game you can check out the game’s Kickstarter page.
We would like to thank Ares Games for the prototype copy of Divinity Derby used for this review. Other than receiving the prototype copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the prototype copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.