Back in 2020 Demeter was a big hit. Set in the same universe as Ganymede, Demeter is a stand alone flip and write about researching, discovering and exploiting Demeter 1, one of two moons orbiting Demeter. 2021 saw the release of Varuna which is a 1 - 100 flip and write game designed by Matthieu Verdier and published by Sorry We Are French (the same designers and publishers as Demeter).
In Varuna you are exploring Demeter 2, aka Varuna. This is the second moon orbiting Demeter and is 89% covered in water. In Varuna you will board a scientific submarine kitted out with the best measuring tools to study various oceanic creatures such as the mosasaurus and ichthyosaurus. However, Varuna is not without its dangers. There are hazards around every underwater rock and crevice.
The gameplay is similar to Demeter in that you will be flipping a card from each of the five coloured decks and selecting an action to take. Every time you select an action it is crossed off on your sheet and the action performed. Damage may be sustained depending on what is displayed on the four remaining cards that you didn’t select. These are also marked on your sheet. You can gain protection from various actions to negate some of this damage. Actions include moving your submarine, using your sonar, studying dinosaurs and upgrading you submarine.
The game ends after 13 turns. Points are awarded for scored objectives, completed species, diversity, studied dinosaurs and fish and few other areas. Points are deducted based on the amount of damage your submarine has sustained. The player with the most points is the winner. The solo mode plays very similar to the multiplayer with a different objective board being used and a few minor tweaks to objective scoring.
Following on from Demter, Veruna takes the combotastic aspects of its predecessor and builds up on it. The same core mechanism of action selection is still present however there have been tweaks and twists incorporated into Veruna which make the decision making even more interesting.
The addition of damage is a new factor that you have to contend with which I really enjoy. Not only are you picking action cards for their actions but also to minimise the damage you may receive at the end of the round. Damage can be a big aspect of the game and successfully managing/negating this is very important as well as everything else you want to do. Prioritising this versus scoring potential is a tense and fun balancing act.
Varuna has a ton of replayability with different objectives and scoring goals to achieve game. This keeps the game fresh and gives you a different focus each game to concentrate on. There is also a race element to be the first to complete all the “dinosaurs” of a specific type. The first player to do so gains the higher of the points with subsequent players gaining a lower amount of points. This adds some nice tension to the game. Obviously, playing solo this tension is not present but in a multiplayer game it keeps you engaged in what other people are doing.
The moving of the submarine is important as not only does it give you potential bonuses but it also unlocks the dinosaurs to be able to discover and study them. Discovering dinosaurs is also crucial for the race element to receive the higher species tile points.
Every action that you perform combines and leads to other actions. I really enjoy figuring out the puzzle of how best to use your actions to efficiently and effectively score, or at least work towards scoring. The addition of the submarine is also great. You can upgrade your submarine so that when you move you move an additional space, or when you study dinosaurs you study an additional one and so forth.
Overall, if you enjoyed Demeter then you will sure to like Veruna. Is there room for both in the collection? I would say yes. They are similar but different enough to enjoy both games. There is more going on in Veruna and I think out of the two I do prefer Veruna. That doesn’t mean that Demeter is a bad game. Far from it. However, Veruna is an excellent flip and write that I have been enjoying a lot both multiplayer and solo. It is relatively quick but with some interesting choices and tense decisions.