Poker isn’t my favorite game. Many people love to play it, and many even enjoy watching professional players duke it out with massive amounts of money on the line. There are a few reasons it doesn’t appeal to me, even though I really like the crunchy inter-player tension that it fosters. First, I don’t like to gamble. Secondly, the mechanics of the game itself are really an afterthought. Theomachy: The Warrior Gods takes some of the core mechanics of Poker, namely betting/raising of the stakes and the flop/river/turn, and overlays card drafting, a fantasy theme, and card battle mechanics on top. These changes transform the game into a mash of competitive strategy and deckbuilding that still keeps the tension between players high.
Poker? No thanks. Theomachy? Yes please.
Theomachy immediately veers away from its roots by giving each player their own deck of cards, which is created via a draft at the beginning of the game. Rather than suit-based gameplay, cards in Theomachy belong to four Elements—Earth, Air, Fire and Water—and either Chaos or Order, which is represented by white or black orbs. While the Constellation (flop/river/turn) is composed entirely of Elemental cards, the player decks, made up of Prayer cards, can contain both Elemental cards and Prayer cards. Instead of simply attempting to make sets or runs of cards like in traditional Poker, players will build their strategy around their Prayer cards.
In addition to a unique deck, each player will choose to represent one of the Pantheons in the game. Each Pantheon is composed of three separate Gods, each with unique powers. After the initial deck drafting is completed, players will choose and reveal a God from their Pantheon to play as, which will help determine their strategy and play style. Once you’ve drafted your deck and chosen your God, you really start to get a feel for what Theomachy really is. Not only do you get to shape your deck, and choose a few special powers, but each Pantheon also has a unique set of Myth cards that further enhance a player’s power. The Myth cards can be purchased with Miracles, which are earned in various different ways depending on the God. The Myth cards are not only powerful, but give the players even more agency over how they wish to play, and which strategies they wish to pursue, and many work in concert with the various Action cards in the game.
The Prayer cards that compose each player’s deck have a wide variety of uses, and each has a cost, both in an Elemental requirement and an Orb requirement. This is where the Constellation cards come in. The Constellation cards act as a shared pool of resources that all players can use to play the cards from their hands, and this is where we jump back into familiar water. After the flop players play through an initial round of betting and Prayer card play, and also go through a round of betting as the each additional Constellation card is revealed. As bets are made each round, players can play cards from their hands in order to influence the outcome of the betting, and to set themselves up to win the hand after the final round of bets have been placed.
In Theomachy, bets aren’t simply a means to take your opponents’ resources. In fact, the winner of the hand doesn’t claim the bets of the other players, the loser or losers simply forfiet their bets in their entirety. Bets are made using Worshipers from your Congregation, and the overall winner of the game is the God who entirely eliminates their opponents’ Congregations while still having Worshipers of their own. The members of the Congregation that are used as bets and placed in the Stake actually help determine who wins the hand.
Once the final round of bets has been placed in a hand a Battle ensues, and the player with the most Might at the end of the Battle is the winner of the hand. Each Worshiper provides Might equal to their value, with Prophets providing 10, Priests providing 5 and Initiates providing 2 each. As expected, in order to make it to the Battle step, all players will need to have called the total bet in the Stake, so all players should theoretically enter the Battle with an equal Might total. Players can play Attack cards during the Battle in an attempt to increase their own Might or weaken their opponents. This is where the bluffing and player tension elements from Poker really shine through, and are improved upon in Theomachy.
Rather than simply trying to make your opponents insecure in their bets by increasing your own, players can actively help themselves, and hinder their opponents. Because Theomachy is a deckbuilder, your opponents will eventually get a feel for how your deck is composed just as you get a feel for the cards that are in their decks, and players will be able to guess at what cards you may still be holding by the time the Battle begins. Each player will also be adding a card to their deck after each hand, so you can’t ever be sure exactly which of their cards your opponents might be holding on to, and whether they actually have the resources available to play it. Rather than suspecting your opponent might have pocket Aces, you are left with scenarios where you know they have a card that can beat you in their deck, but you can’t be sure if that have it at that moment. You might also be holding on to a card that you know will win you the day, but you don’t want to overplay your hand and tip the other players off. Even riskier, you might be holding on to an awesome attack, but the card draw left you unable to actually play it. In that case, you might try to bluff in such a way that your opponents fold before you even reach Battle.
The satisfying, stressful, and fun moments of tension of Poker are alive and well in Theomachy, but you feel like you have some control over them, rather than relying on the deck to spit out a good combination of cards for you to work with. The borrowed concepts work well in Theomachy, but what really makes the game shine are the additions to the formula. The game isn’t simply about outguessing/bluffing your opponents, it’s about setting yourself up to outplay your opponents while still leaving bluffing and guesswork as integral parts of the overall machine.
A note on chrome: Theomachy has awesome cards, and a well written rulebook. The cards feel great and the dark coloration means they look amazing on the table. The foil bits on the Pantheon cards are a great touch, and really pop on the dark cards. The dark theme of the cards does have a downside though. The edges of the cards tend to chip if you riffle shuffle them. If you pick up a copy of Theomachy I highly recommend sleeving the game in order to keep the cards looking awesome over time.
The bottom line:
Theomachy takes some basic Poker trappings, and puts a fantastic spin on them resulting in a game that is both familiar and unique. The bluffing, betting and interplay between players that makes Poker so tense and interesting are here, but the card drafting, deck building, special powers, and battle aspect of Theomachy propel it way beyond its basic cardgame/gambling roots. Theomachy isn’t simply a spin on Poker, instead it’s a great competitive strategy game that will appeal to people who like deck building, card drafting and card battling, as well as people who like to raise the stakes with well timed bets. The game can be swingy, and it doesn’t feel like all of the Gods are perfectly balanced, but that’s a big part of what makes the game appealing. It can be as important to intimidate, bluff and misdirect your opponents as it is to have great plays, but it always helps to have a powerful Attack waiting in the wings.
Get this game if:
You enjoy games that are as much about the interplay between the players as they are about the mechanics.
You like card drafting.
You like the betting aspect of Poker, but want more control over the outcome of the hand.
You like games that can swing wildly in one direction or another.
Avoid this game if:
You prefer games with low levels of direct player conflict.
You hate betting mechanics.
The copy of Theomachy: The Warrior Gods used for this review was provided by Petersen Games.
Theomachy is a very good strategic deckbuilding game built upon a familiar Poker foundation. The crunchy interplayer antics of Poker are here, but those basics are built upon with interesting deck building and card-play mechanics that give players numerous strategic options.