4 players sat around a table, 3 secret roles between them all and 1 of them is the Devil himself. This game is gonna be strange, but Czech Games Edition have done a good job with all of the strangeness and created something with great artwork, a high production quality, and interesting game mechanics. Let me tell you all about it… Deal with the Devil puts 4 players against each other, one as a devil, one as a cultist and two as mere mortals.
The aim of the game is simple, have the most points at the end of the game, and you gain those by building different things in your own personal kingdom. However doing this requires resources such as wood, stone, and marble and getting them is difficult…if your a mortal. See, the devil needs very little as he has resources to hand, starting with several resources and quite a bit of money so they can build and make whatever their heart desires. But what they really covet is souls, and they’d pay handsomely for just a little piece. At its heart, this is a resource trading game with an extra dash of secret roles, so you want to trade as much as you can but you no idea who’s offer you will receive.
A Bit Of Give And Take
Trading is done with stealth, with each player hiding behind their own little screen (which are made beautifully by the way, with all 4 being different!) and putting the spare resources they would like to offer into a little box with a sliding lid. They say what they would like in return using a little wheel inside, this is usually an amount of gold, and they get shuffled. Someone in charge then scans the bottom of each box in a handy app, laying the phone on the table and using the front camera. The app then tells the you who gets which box to look inside of and contemplate the deal before you, paying the cost shown on the little wheel.
This is where it gets interesting however, as the devil only deals with soul, he needs not for mortal wealth. If you receive the devils crate, you might have to pay with one of your 3 pieces of soul, maybe even 2 if the deal is really good! And you really need stone, and what can a soul really do for me anyway? Soul pieces are the highest currency in the game, easily, so if the deal is good you should trade them, right? Sure! However, the townsfolk of your kingdom have started to hear rumours about devils being in charge so they’ve called in some help. That’s right, the inquisition are coming and they plan to sniff out these devilish creatures!
Nobody Expects Them
After about halfway through the game, the inquisition start getting involved and try to get rid of the evil in the cities. They do this by demanding to see a piece of soul per inquisitor which is enough to keep them happy and they move on. But at this point the devil might have enough pieces, as there are only a couple of inquisitors at the start. And what if I’ve traded my soul but I’m a mortal? Doesn’t matter, the inquisition are ruthless in their attempts to stop the evil and the lack of soul proves it to them. Unless you can grease their palms with some coin that is.
There’s a great little snippet of history written in the rule book that talks about a Czech priest named Jan Hus who disagreed with the church’s forgiveness being something a man could buy with money to which they responded by burning him at the stake. And this is the beating heart of the inquisition mechanic. They aren’t bothered if you are actually evil, as long as you can pay them enough money. Otherwise they will have to take some of your items away, or points, or even the buildings you’ve built to make the kingdom better! They work so well, giving legs to the idea of the devil tricking even them, but also doesn’t stop you if you did sell some of your soul instead just making it a little harder for you.
At the end of each inquisition all players put all the soul they have into their crates, they are shuffled and revealed, with the devil receiving points and resources based on the soul he’s collected. These go back into the crates and the app again tells you where they need to go before you all continue building your kingdom, fresh with the knowledge of how well the devil is doing, and that the inquisition are coming back later. But this time, with a few more friends.
Lots Of Moving Parts
There’s a lot to remember in this game, to the point that I haven’t mentioned everything about it. For example, one player is neither mortal, nor devil and is instead a cultist. This tricky little fellow has only 2 pieces of soul at the start but both of those are tainted, corrupted by dark magic. For each of these he can give to the devil, the cultist will gain points instead of them, managing to rid himself of the corruption and trick the devil himself! The cultist can also deal in soul as well as the devil, only being able to request one at a time, but can use this to renew himself when the inquisition come knocking. This role adds an extra bit of intrigue as the devil doesn’t really wanna deal with them, as they will probably be quick to unload their soul, so the devil needs to play it just right.
As well as this there is also a witch hunt round, where players get to guess on who they think the devil is, gaining points and outing the devil early if they are correct. There’s a reputation track, that keeps a running tally of all the lovely or wicked things you’ve done whilst building your kingdom (but don’t worry, people tend to forget things over time). There’s loans available at all times, with these sometimes being worse than taking a devils deal due to the interest they generate. There’s event cards that players get every round, which can be played as an optional extra and add a bit of thematically appropriate story telling to the game. Whew! Your really getting your moneys worth here!
But Is It Any Good?
Like with most larger games, it isn’t always perfect. The rules and phases of the game can be a bit confusing, almost requiring a full play through of the game just to teach them. And while there are Hieroglyphics on the board and player screens, they aren’t easily readable until you know what they mean, with a few not receiving an answer until you play a certain card. It’s not very big on interaction either, with everything being done in secret behind your screen. The most interaction you get is when you tell everyone what you would like to receive in a deal and voting during witch trails. I also had an issue in one of my games in which a small slip up during set up allowed one player to mentally figure out everybody’s role based on what they did first turn. Not saying that its possible every game, just try to avoid playing it with an analytical mad man like I did!
The issues I had with the game would probably be ironed out with a couple more plays as a few of them basically revolve around teaching the game to new people. But that does lead to a different issue, one that gives the game a great quirk, but might mean it stays on the shelf more often than not. The game requires exactly 4 people to play it. Not a recommendation or anything, EXACTLY 4. And its clear to see why, two mortals, a cultist and a devil, plenty of soul for trading and more people to hide behind. But arranging to play it had issues itself. If 4 people are invited for a game and one can’t make it, you have to play something else. If you plan around this and invite 5 but all of them turn up, you have to play something else. And telling someone that we are having a game night but one didn’t show and we need someone else, isn’t going to make that friend feel great knowing they weren’t invited in the first place. Its a small logistical issue, but one that will probably stop the box getting opened too often.
The Devil’s In The Details
I can’t moan too much about this game as it is a great addition to any collection. The production quality of all the pieces is very high, having the player boards be made of thick cardboard rather than flimsy stuff and giving each player an internal shelf to play their actions from. The artwork on the elements of the game is brilliant as well, having different cards, screens and even design work on the underside of the board! Plus, the devil literally is in the detail with each card you play having a little devil in the artwork somewhere. Not just a clever title, huh? The app support is great as well, allowing players to select what they would prefer to play as or avoid doing again, but it could still ignore you to keep things random. (Side note: you need to do this in secret as well! Or don’t play with analytical mad men)
All in all, Deal with the Devil is a fun and interesting game, mixing secret role ideas with a resource and building situation, something rarely done before. It isn’t without its issues, and will take a good few games before you’ve all mastered the rules, but the few games I’ve played with friends have already left an impression on us all. We do keep mentioning the game to each other, talking about the turns we made and how many times the devil has won, and I find myself telling other boardgame players about it for its unique build. It does feel like there is room for improvement in this genre, but I will say that if Czech Games Edition does do something like that, I’ll probably look into it.
If this genre is your thing, or you’ve played this game and want another like it try Dead of Winter for the “gameplay with secret roles” aspect or “The Thing” if you want a bit more player interaction/anger.