Demeter + Autumn & Winter Expansion Review
Closing out French Game Week here, today’s review is of Demeter, a flip-and-write game from publisher Sorry We Are French, and designer Matthieu Verdier. Right off the bat, I’m going to say that I had a soft spot for Demeter before I’d even played it, based solely on the theme of the game. Check this out:
You’re on a shuttle, heading from Ganymede (one of Jupiter’s moons) to one of the moons of a red dwarf called Demeter. You’re heading there because they’re extremely similar to Earth, and as luck would have it, they’ve discovered dinosaurs on one of the moons.
Dinosaurs. In. Space.
I could leave the review there and be pretty happy, to be honest. As luck would have it though, Demeter is a great game.
Welcome, to Jove-assic Park
For all this talk of space, it’s dinosaurs all the way from hereon in. Every round of the game sees one card from all five decks flipped face-up, and all players choose which one they want to use. The top half of a card tells you to colour something in, be that a box or a bit of a dinosaur (more on that in a bit), and the bottom half lets you choose one of the tracks to advance on.
If you’ve ever played a something-and-write game with a little bit of depth to it, you can probably already guess that there’s no way you can manage to do everything in one game. Upgrading the blue track, for example, means that each time you take a scientist action, you get an additional action point for each of the blue boxes you’ve coloured. If you don’t want to min-max, you can go for a bit of everything, and get rewarded by completing columns in the tracks, which give you different bonuses.
Much like Hadrian’s Wall, my favourite flip and write ever, (read the review here, it’s great), your first ten, twenty, or even thirty plays of Demeter can be treated like a sandbox. You can try a different strategy every time you play, and that’s where half the fun comes from. The other half comes from the fact that you’re COLOURING-IN DINOSAURS. I can’t over-emphasise how important this tiny, ridiculous detail is to me. If you take my advice, you’ll get a set of colouring pencils to make your dinos completely awesome.
The hardest part of Demeter is teaching the game to people. There’s a bit of theme there, and the tracks kinda tie together, but it’s still a bit loose. It’s not so loose as to be totally abstract, like Ganz Schön Clever (review here), but not intuitive either. Let’s take the blue and red actions as an example.
Blue actions are scientists, and red are for viewing platforms. You need to build enough viewing platforms for each dinosaur area, to allow you to colour-in the scientists in those areas. If you think about it, the idea of better viewing platforms allowing more scientists to to more study makes sense, but it’s very difficult to convey in terms of the game’s mechanisms.
When you play the game, all of that theme goes out the window anyway, and you’re just playing with the various cogs and gears the game drops in front of you, it just means that the first teach can be a bit cumbersome. There’s a lot going on, and a lot of options. Understanding the dependencies between the coloured actions is important. All of that said, I taught my ten-year-old to play it, and once he got the idea, he was well away. It’s just something worth bearing in mind, as it can sour that first exposure for non-gamers.
Autumn & Winter Expansion
The Autumn & Winter expansion for Demeter adds a few new dino tiles, and two new pads to play on. They don’t change the game massively, but they do mix things up in ways that feel fresh if you’ve burned-out on the base game.
Autumn is largely the same as the base game of Demeter, with a couple of important differences. The research track at the top of your sheet now has three starting points instead of one, so you can heavily weigh your research actions towards a particular bonus tile, without having to use a lot of actions to snake your way through to them. The other main differences are the ways that some of the dinosaur species are scored. Changes to things like the Pterodactyl and Gallimimus are enough to make you rethink the way you approach the game.
The most interesting new thing that Autumn brings are the replacement dinosaur tiles, which now have the names of the species on, and a whole new breed that you need for Winter.
Winter changes more about the game than Autumn does. First up, you can now research Stegosaurus, which is great for dinosaur fans, because more dinos is always better – fact. The other big difference is in the action cards used for the game. In a standard game, just 12 of the 15 cards from each deck are used, and you never know which are excluded. In Winter, all 15 cards are used in the game, meaning every card will be available, and there are another three full rounds. Great news if you always find yourself saying “Oh come one, one more turn!”.
Coupled with those changes, there are some new upgrades available, and more changes to the research track.
Interestingly the Autumn & Winter expansion also comes with a few bonus tiles for Demeter’s sister game, Varuna.
I know I had a bit of a grumble about how the teach can be a bit awkward, but it’s really the only negative I can lay at Demeter’s feet. If you’ve played a modern roll-and-write game, like Fleet: The Dice Game, you know what to expect. Pick one of a load of options, try to combo it as best you can with the other things on your sheet, and have fun doing it.
Demeter is fun, it’s satisfying, and it’s quick. Like, the-game-is-over-in-20-minutes quick. It’s got enough substance to keep any regular gamer happy for a long time, and novices enjoy the feeling of learning how combos work too. It’s just a tidy, fun package. The Autumn & Winter Expansion is great if you enjoy the base game. It’s more of the same, with a bit of nuance. Autumn, to me, feels like the game Demeter was meant to be all along, almost as if Demeter was hurried out before a final blast of playtesting. Winter builds on the base game, and it’s the ‘advanced’ version of Demeter.
The thing I love about Demeter – other than the whole “dinosaurs in space” thing – is that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It shares a universe with other games like Varuna and Ganymede, but it really plays towards that family fun and ‘great big kid’ angle. My son loves colouring the dinosaurs as much as I do, and as someone who has his nose in the rulebooks of a lot of heavy Euro and wargames, it’s a refreshing change for me. If you like roll-and-writes, give it a go, you’ll have a ton of fun.
You can buy both Demeter and the Autumn & Winter expansion from Punchboard’s retail friend, Kienda. Remember to sign up for your account through kienda.co.uk/punchboard for a potential 5% saving on your first purchase.
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Designer: Matthieu Verdier
Publisher: Sorry We Are French
Art: Oliver Mootoo, David Sitbon
Playing time: 15 mins
Demeter: Autumn & Winter
Designer: Matthieu Verdier
Publisher: Sorry We Are French
Art: David Sitbon
Playing time: 20-30 mins