There is always a certain level of nervousness when you first dive into a game, especially one where the words 'Kickstarter Preview Copy' are attached. You are literally hoping that you aren't just a tertiary level of play-testing for the designer, and that you don't end up playing the 'benefit of the doubt' card when things don't quite mesh. You don't often get the same experience in a professionally produced game where entire teams of play testers might be used, and there's not a sparing of feelings when it come to criticism. It's not that I want to be overly critical on a creator for their attempts, but at the same time, if you want to be accepted as a professional, then you have to be pushing yourself to being as close as you can to that level.
The Ministry of Meeples want you to take them seriously. Everything from the introduction note for Reviewers included in the box to the rule book in Theurgy suggest they are thinking about engagement with their potential audience from the moment you open the box.
Theurgy is about faith, followers and worship, as you attempt as a small god to travel a hexagonal map, converting the masses to love, adore, but most of all, believe in you enough to build temples in your honour. Player count will define the number of temples that need build in order to secure your victory, and the game continues to play until one person has reached the required number. This is about domination, not rounds, and sitting back for calculation and scheming can often lead to early punishment.
Theurgy at it's very heart is an area control game, which introduces additional bells and whistles as the rounds progress, including mythical monsters to fight on your side, but before it even does that, it does a solid job of explaining to you the rules that you play by. In my time, I've often ran into the Enigma machines of tabletop when it comes to explaining how a game is meant to be played, where it's clear that blind play testing wasn't a thing that was considered, let alone enacted. Lets face it, it takes a long time to explain things down to a base level and include those all important examples. Try writing down instructions for making a cup of tea where you need to explain what a kettle is, and you'll get the general idea. For Theurgy, the rule book contains not only examples but suggestions on how you should try to learn the game in the first place. It's impressive and refreshing, and it takes you down the road to learning the game that little bit quicker. The Ministry of Meeples could have hoped that a play through video might have done the hard work for them, but took the more difficult route instead.
Moves aren't tricky to begin with. Move your Acolyte and convert some of the followers to your side within that hex, regardless of their existing colour if they are unprotected by not having their own Acolyte. Or place one of your faith tokens at the corner of a hex to strengthen your claim on that area. Play a miracle card to help your cause or summon a monster to cause some ripples in the landscape and shake things up. Finally, and if you're feeling brave, test the faith of an area by causing an anomaly and see who everyone turns to, thus causing a temple to be built or ruined in that space.
There's more though, because every god has it's own special power that will come into play when one of the four actions is played, normally offering something extra on the basic action. But you can't repeat an action in the following round so you can't go on a huge conversion spree across the land, so just like Scythe, there is some planning and scheming as the turns go on. Theurgy requires you to balance between building numbers and increasing faith, before you push to build that temple. It's all presented brilliantly, the artwork, even in its prototype form works extremely well to give an ethereal appearance to proceedings and everything from the monsters to the gods themselves fit in to the theme. It's so close to being the finished product because the soul of the game is already there. There's clearly a huge amount of thought that has gone into everything here.
As the rounds go on, the basics stay there, but the decisions you're making climb in complication as you're often trying to plan for eventualities, as well as try to build your own plan of attack, and so it's normal to expect some analysis paralysis. There is nothing more wonderful than swooping in and totally upsetting someone else's plans for domination and watch them crumble, having to retreat and start again. So because of the potential flip flop nature, sometimes games will maybe stay past their bedtime, as the tide can turn in rounds back and forward very quickly, and you occasionally can step into a stalemate situation until someone blasts in a miracle card. It's not something likely to happen in every game, but it can mean that games will be more of an evening affair than just a quick hour.
There's so much care and attention to detail from The Ministry of Meeples, and they want you to play their game so much, that it would be rude not to.
Theurgy is now live on Kickstarter
This preview copy of Theurgy was provided by the designer
We were not paid for this article
The Ministry of Meeples have not guested on the podcast