You’re a scientist on board a ship departing from Ganymede en route to Demeter 1. Explore and discover the secrets of this unknown moon to become the most celebrated scientist of your generation…
Sorry We Are French
Note: Out of Town Games sent us a copy of Demeter so that we could write this unbiased review
Demeter 1 is the first moon of Demeter, and you have been sent on a mission to explore and discover the creatures that live there to see if it is suitable for human life. Throughout your mission you’ll be discovering & studying dinosaurs, creating observatories, recruiting other scientists to help you and constructing buildings which will aid your work. This little flip and write is a delightful little puzzle that ticks all the right boxes.
How the game works
At first the player sheets and the rulebook seem pretty intimidating (at least to me!) but actually the game is very simple. There are twelve rounds, each round you’ll have a choice between 5 cards which are flipped over to decide what to do on your turn. Each card has an action on it (or a choice between two actions) and a bonus. Complete the action, then complete the bonus. Simple.
But what are the types of action? Mostly you’re discovering dinosaurs on your moon, by crossing off matching segments of the dinosaur. You don’t score any points just for filling in a dinosaur, but you get bonuses for being the first to finish an entire species, and you score points depending on how many different species you discover (21 points if you can manage one of each!).
The other actions are
– building observatories which score points and allow you to recruit more scientists,
– recruiting scientists which give one-off bonuses and points,
– advancing on the research track which give one-off bonuses and also allow you to score end-game objectives,
– studying discovered dinosaurs which give all sorts of bonuses
– constructing a building which improve all of the other actions
The bonus action you get is always the same depending on the colour of card you pick, and the more times you pick that colour, the stronger that action is. For example the first time you pick the blue card you may recruit one scientist, the second time you get two scientists, etc. up to a maximum of 4 times.
Sometimes the actions will lead to bonuses which can get more bonuses, and as with so many flip and writes (such as Hadrian’s Wall) these lead to some satisfying combinations.
After 12 rounds you tot up all the various ways of scoring points and work out the winner. You’ll need to score at least one of the objectives in order to stand a chance of winning, but it was Jess that has beaten me each time we’ve played so perhaps I’m not best placed to give a tactical masterclass!
The review of this game boils down to a pretty simple formula. If you like roll and writes/flip and writes etc. you will definitely love Demeter. On the face of it, it’s a fairly standard flip and write where you can get bonus combos and you improve your engine as the game goes on so that each turn you can do more with it. In addition there are mechanisms which work really well together and make this a very interesting game.
For example, at the beginning of the game there are 4 objectives (that change each game) which you can either score 0, 5 or 10 points on, but in order to score them you need to unlock them. A, B and C can be unlocked using the knowledge track (spoiler alert it’s very difficult to unlock them all!) and objective D is unlocked using the bonuses from studying the Brontosaurus. I like that you don’t automatically get to score every bonus you have to work towards them – it means your strategy can be different depending on which objectives you think you can unlock, as well as which objectives you think you’ll do well on. One game I unlocked the Observatories objective, and I still got 0 points!
Another mechanism I like is how the scoring rewards you for discovering one of each species, but also for discovering all of the same species, so the debate is whether to focus on one or the other, or a bit of both. If you can manage one of each of the six dinosaur species you’ll get a huge 21 points at the end, but most study bonuses require at least two of the same dinosaur to be discovered so you’re scuppering yourself there. Also, if you are the first to discover all of a species you get a points bonus in addition to the ability to get study bonuses.
The game is only 12 rounds long, which means there’s a real limit on how much you can do with your actions. I really like this as it forces you to pick a strategy or two rather than being able to do pretty much everything throughout the game. Although your actions do improve, you can’t do everything, so Demeter becomes a very satisfying puzzle in how to optimise your turns.
I also liked how you all get 5 options each turn, rather than all being forced to use the same card and potentially going down the same route. This increases the replayability in my view as it gives you more options for different strategies to try out. As with most flip and writes like this, there is no player interaction other than competing to finish discovering a species before the others.
Now onto the negative bits, and there aren’t many. It felt a bit obvious that it is imperative to get your buildings constructed ASAP as they give you an action bonus, for example the Academy rewards you with +1 scientist every time you recruit a scientist. It can mean your first few turns are dedicated to getting buildings up before marching on with your strategy.
We found it a bit confusing that in the T-Rex environment, you only score points for the right-most set of scientists you’ve recruited, rather than the total of all of them, because for all other environments you get all the bonuses for the scientists you’ve crossed off. It is mentioned in the rules, but is easy to miss and doesn’t work logically.
The only other slight negative for us was it didn’t seem to fit with the theme of exploring the moons of Demeter, it just felt like a dinosaur-themed flip and write game. That’s fine of course I love dinosaurs and love flip and writes, but it just felt like as soon as I finished reading the opening paragraph of the rules, the space/moon element was lost forever and it could easily have been a Jurassic Park type game.
These things said we still had a really nice time playing it, it was easy to learn, fast to play and with the varying objective cards it was nice and replayable. The box art, cards and the player sheets look very pleasing on the eye so I’m sure we’ll be playing plenty more of it! If you want a flip and write game with plenty of engine-building and bonus combos but want a nice 20 minute hit, then Demeter is definitely the game for you!