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Martin G
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A couple of weeks ago, I heard Brett Gilbert give a great talk at the London Educational Games Meetup Group about his board game design philosophy. He seemed to share a lot of my thoughts about what makes a good game, and we chatted afterwards about Divinare, soon to be his first published game. Coincidentally, last week I was offered the chance to try a pre-production version and so I thought I would give it a quick ‘first look’ review.

The basics
Divinare is a fairly simple 30-minute card game themed around a prediction contest between mediums in Victorian London. It was developed from a prototype called Oracle Pathway, which won the 2011 Granollers design contest in Spain. The main elements are partially shared information, bluffing and a little screwage. My five-word summary is “Advanced Liar’s Dice, without dice.”

Components
I played a pre-production version, so I can’t comment on the card-stock etc. but the artwork is gorgeous. Most important is a deck of 36 tarot-style cards (6, 8, 10 and 12 of four types).

There are also four boards (corresponding to the four suits) on which players will make their predictions and a bunch of tokens for making predictions and scoring.

Divinare is not a deeply thematic game but the artwork helps evoke the mood of a Victorian parlour. Each player is also given an ornately illustrated character card, but these have no game function other than as an aide de memoire for which prediction tokens belong to whom.


Gameplay
A 4-player game consists of four rounds, with each player starting once as turn order can be quite important. In each round, 24 cards are dealt equally between the players and 12 are left out unrevealed. The players will then attempt to correctly predict how many of each suit were dealt, just as players predict the number of communal dice of a certain value in Liar’s Dice.

Immediately before the start of the round, each player passes three cards to their right, so that all players have now seen 9 of the 24 cards. Players then take turns to place one card from their hand face-up next to its corresponding board, and must also make or alter their prediction of how many total cards of that suit are in circulation.

The trick that makes the game is that you can’t leave your prediction unchanged and only one player can occupy each prediction space. This means that you may end up being forced to change your prediction to something you’re pretty sure is wrong.

After each player has played two cards, they pass two more of their four remaining cards right. This is followed by two more card plays and corresponding prediction movements, a final pass of one card right, and then two more card plays each. By the end of the round, each player will have had 12 of the 24 cards in their hand, giving them information on which to base their predictions.

After all cards have been played, the predictions are scored. For each suit, a perfect prediction scores 3 points, while one space either side gains 1 point. All other predictions lose a point. In addition there are a few bonus spaces at the extremes of the prediction tracks, where both the risks and rewards are increased.

How does it feel to play?
The cleverness of the game is in the fact that the cards not only mediate information, but also constrain player actions. At first I thought I should choose the cards I passed mainly to limit the amount of information I passed on, for example by holding my three cards of the 6-card suit and passing one of the 10s and two of the 12s.

But particularly towards the end of the round, it becomes more important to pass a card because you don’t want to have to change your prediction on that board, or because you really do want your opponent to! This is where the screwage comes in, and it’s important to keep an eye on turn order. Because cards pass right but turn order is clockwise, you’re usually passing to the person who plays immediately before you.

The first few cards played in a round feel a little arbitrary, but as more and more are revealed the mood becomes tense, and it’s horribly painful to be forced to play a card that simultaneously makes your current prediction correct and forces you to change it!

Final thoughts
Divinare is smart and elegant - just as I'd expected from Brett's talk. It can be taught in two minutes and played in no more than half an hour. Turns are quick-fire as each player just chooses one card to play, but the choices feel tricky and significant, particularly towards the end of each round.

Together with the lovely artwork, this makes for an appealing package, of which no less a designer than Bruno Cathala has commented “After having played it, my first feeling was "WAOW !!! it should have been designed by Knizia at his best level !!!" I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of Brett’s designs in the future.

(Photos by Daniel Danzer)
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Clyde W
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I am so looking forward to this one! Thanks for whetting my appetite even further.
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Wyckyd
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Thanks for the review - I'm always looking for this kind of quick-playing deduction type game. I also really appreciate that the invested in great artwork.
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Brett J. Gilbert
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Martin: Thanks for a great review.

So pleased you enjoyed the game! Perhaps we can have a game together sometime? I'll have my copies very shortly!
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Clyde W
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Oh, which player counts will it be best at?
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Martin G
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Clyde - I only played with 4, but as I recall there were special rules to deal with 2p.

Brett - that would be great! I'm sure it would be popular at LoB.
 
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Brett J. Gilbert
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clydeiii wrote:
Oh, which player counts will it be best at?


You might expect me to say this, but the game works really well with 2, 3 or 4 players!

In each round cards are passed around differently depending on the player number, and with 2 players there is an extra little twist.
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Stefan Brunell
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clydeiii wrote:
Oh, which player counts will it be best at?


After several games (over 20) I can say I did like the 2 player version, but 3 and 4 players are great.
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Eddie B
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I enjoyed my first game. My kids trashed me! My 14 year old had 16 points, then the 13 and 10 year both had 13 points and I had a pathetic score of 1 point! I guess I was over analyzing too much!
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Jimmy Okolica
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I'm not sure how I not only missed your review, but I completely missed this game... it just got put on my radar. Darn you Martin!
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Jimmy Okolica
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Just picked up a copy and played it last night. It was great!

It was a 2-player and we only played it once but if future games are as good as the one last night, this is definitely at least an 8.

I'm no poker player, but the 2-player game had the same bluffing and deduction mixed with a little bit of luck that I'd expect from poker (if I had any skill at playing poker). With the theme added in, this game came close to perfect (the only negative being trying to shuffle the cards -- I need to find sleeves for it).

Martin, thanks so much for this recommendation!

I am nervous about playing this with 3 and 4 players. I'm afraid it will lose some of the stress and "poker-feel" of the 2-player game.
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Martin G
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Glad to hear it Jimmy! I've actually never played it with 2. I think I slightly prefer 3p over 4p.
 
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Jimmy Okolica
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qwertymartin wrote:
Glad to hear it Jimmy! I've actually never played it with 2. I think I slightly prefer 3p over 4p.


If so, I'd highly recommend trying it with 2. I played it twice more yesterday with my kids (7 and 11). The games were closer than I expected. The first (3-player) game had the two kids beating me badly after round 1 (3 to 7 to 8), tied in Round 2 (12 for all) and then I surged in the 3rd round (final score: 26 to 15 to 8 -- my boy had problems the last round). My 7 yo daughter wanted a second play, so we played a 2-player and ended up tied at 12 a piece. 3 player was better than I expected, but I still preferred it with 2, very thinky.
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I've played it 3P and 2P and I would just like to add a giant +1 for everyone to try it at 2P!

IMHO, it's awesome!! Usually I get wary when additional rules are required to play a multi player game at 2P (e.g. love letter, 7 Wonders didn't work for me). Divinare plays great at 2P. Who'd have thought the additional 4 closed cards in the middle can add screwage and suspense, and make the reveal at game end more exciting!

"Simply Divine" is what comes to mind.
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