Demeter board game: A four-sided review

The Demeter board game is a small box flip-and-write that plays in 15-30 minutes. The box says ages 14+, but 10+ is probably closer to the mark for gamer kids.

As with all non-interactive games of this type, there is no real limit to how many people play beyond the number of sheets in the box (100). But realistically, it will handle up to six with no problem. And probably beyond.

The theme has you visiting another planet to catalogue its wildlife – which just happens to be dinosaurs. I’m sure nailing two of the most popular game themes was just coincidence. Especially as the theme is doing very little work here, but kind of works. The art is uninspiring (the dinosaur silhouettes are annoyingly similar) and the sheets are a bit of a graphical mess. But once you get used to them, they’re OK.

In the box you’ll find the pad of 100 sheets, 81 small cards (6 of which are promos for another game, Ganymede) and 13 cardboard tiles. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £20, which feels pretty good value.

Teaching the Demeter board game

Each player takes a sheet, which are all identical. The poor layout is a bit of a hindrance to teaching, but in fairness they’ve had to pack a lot onto the sheets. In the middle of the table you create five piles of 12 cards, according to their coloured backs. there are 15 of each type, giving a bit of variety to each play. But more importantly meaning experienced players can’t guarantee what’s coming in each deck.

One card from each pile is flipped face-up in each of the 12 rounds. Each player chooses one of them and does the action on it. Then gets a bonus, depending on which coloured pile the card came from. These bonus actions get stronger the more times you use cards from the same pile. But you’ll equally get a bonus for taking all five colours. And a card’s main action can be completely different from what you’d expect from its colour. So players soon diverge towards different strategies.

The actions

A good chunk of the cards let you colour in sections of dinosaur (which are in three different colours). Once a dinosaur is completely filled in, another action lets you draw a line from it to a bonus box. Others let you fill in scientists or parts of observation towers, which again give a number of one-time bonuses. While buildings allow you to get a bonus each time you do a particular action. And scientists and buildings can trigger little chains of actions, which made games such as That’s Pretty Clever so satisfying. Finally, you have a science track that – at its ends – allows you to score various end-game bonus points.

At the end of the game, almost everything seems to score you points. But like any good euro-style game, the player who has been most efficient is likely to win it. You can’t score every bonus, so you just have to make sure that you make every card count.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: The rulebook and sheet layout of Demeter immediately had me on the back foot. And I’m still not 100% sure I’m getting all the rules right in terms of how bonuses are triggered. But hey – we’re all playing by the same ones, so who cares? The important thing is the game is fun. And there is genuinely different ways to win. Sure, these are partly dictated by how the cards come out. But you need that puzzley variety to keep coming back.
  • The thinker: When looking for a lighter, fast experience, Demeter is a game I can get behind. Because it packs a genuinely good mix of tactics and strategy into a 15-minute game. Once you start down a path, you’re in the hands of the card flip. You can usually do what you want – but chances are, some rounds you’ll get more value from pivoting for a turn or two. So you tend to have genuine decisions to make every round. You can’t ask for much more from a filler – especially one which can handle such a large range of players.
  • The trasher: There’s absolutely nothing for me here. nothing I can do influences anyone. There’s not even any scoring method that rewards you for doing best at something. It literally doesn’t matter who else is playing, until you compare scores at the end. And If I wanted a solo game, there are plenty more fun than this for me.
  • The dabbler: I found Demeter confusing at first. I didn’t really know what I was doing on my first play. But once I’d seen how the scoring worked at the end, and had tried all the actions – I was hooked! I loved That’s Pretty Clever, but prefer the less abstract nature of Welcome To and now Demeter. And I don’t really miss the interaction.

Key observations

The game sheets of Demeter really don’t help players get into the game. The layout is confusing. And it could have been easily solved by putting a different colour behind each dinosaur type – or by adding more defined markings between sections. The English translation of the rulebook is also quite poor. And feels as if it was squeezed into too few pages. In some cases, examples help explain things, but they’re too few to make up for some serious vagueness. While there’s no excuse for bad English in rulebooks nowadays.

There is a solo version of the game. But unfortunately this was left out of the rulebook – seemingly so a few adverts for their other games could be put in instead. The solo game is really just about getting a high score. But to their credit, they’ve also added a sheet of achievements to aim for which need you to maximise certain aspects of the game. This is well done, and should keep solo players coming back for more. Also, they’ve made two free expansion sheets available online, adding even more variety (same link). A classy move.

As for player complaints, the fact the game is completely solitaire is completely valid. Some also say it has a largely unoriginal euro feel. While I kind of see that, I don’t see it as a negative for players such as me. What Demeter does is make a very quick game, in a small box, that’s available to many players at once. While offering a variable and challenging puzzle each play. That certainly isn’t easy to achieve, or as common as you’d think.

Conclusion: Demeter board game

I had no expectations when playing Demeter – I’d been sent it as a bonus when requesting to review Trek 12. But if anything, despite its visual and rulebook flaws, I think I prefer it. It takes that game’s basic premise (the grid of options, where you can only do each calculation so many times) and makes a euro out of it. And I usually fall on the side of euros! But it isn’t replacing Trek 12 – rather, it’s complimenting it. If you’re looking for a puzzley euro experience in a small box that plays fast, I’d certainly recommend Demeter. My only caveat is that I also have its follow-up, Varuna (Demeter 2), still on the shelf to review. Coming soon! Watch this space…

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