There were several things that immediately grabbed my attention when I saw The Duke for the first time.
First the tiles. Nice thick wooden blocks of two different beautiful wooden shades.
Second the Markings. The tiles are crisp and clear telling you how they move at a quick glance. Too often markings on wood are faded and difficult to make out, not so with these.
Third the flip. Each tile (except the flags) are printed on both sides and have different movements on each.
The game plays very similar to chess with some interesting twists that bring new levels of intrigue to the classic game. The game is played on a smaller board only 6x6 instead of an 8x8. This lends to quicker game play. You start the game with only three pieces on the board, the duke (your king) and two footmen (the weakest of your pieces similar to a pawn). On your turn you have two options. You can move a piece or pull a piece from your bag of troops randomly.
When moving a piece the ways it can move are shown on the piece itself. There are different symbols on the tiles that indicate different types of movement such as jumping, sliding, or some new movements: the jump slide, command and striking. All are very intuitive and learned quickly. After a piece is moved it is flipped over and when that pice is moved again will have different ways to move.
When drawing a new tile from your bag you must place the new troop next to your duke. Thus if your duke is surrounded by your own or enemy pieces this action can not be taken.
There are two pieces that have special powers. The oracle and the duchess. The oracle after moved the first time can be flipped again to allow you to draw three troops from your bag and place whichever one you like (the others go back to your bag or you can add them to your captured pieces if they are ones you would not like to draw later). The duchess can move next to the duke from anywhere on the board by flipping the duke and placing her next to him. There are other special abilities coming in expansion tiles as well.
There are a slew of variations offered in the rules as well such as the dragon tile, the mountain tile, a capture the flag, and the dark rider just to name a few. There are also blank tiles to add new troops of your own creation.
I always enjoyed playing chess but ran into the same problems many others did, namely unless you were playing against someone of a similar skill level the game was not much fun for either player. The Duke scratches the same itch but with enough of a random element to give a weaker player a fighting chance. The smaller board also speeds up play which for me is a good thing. There is enough strategy and tactics to mitigate much of the luck and a better player will still win most games. I imagine a skilled chess player would do quite well at The Duke.
The flipping of pieces with different movements on each side is nothing short of genius. It adds layers to the game that will make it very difficult to master and keep each game different and never boring or repetitive.
I am sure there are chess purists that will not like this game due to the random elements. For casual chess fans however, I think this is a wonderful game. The production value is very high as the wooden tiles are beautiful and well made. The board has a clean classic look and the player aids are on nice glossy card stock.
The expansions soon to follow look like tons of fun as well pulling from classic figures in literature.
In conclusion this is a game I would recommend to any chess fan. It has a special spot on my shelf and look forward to exploring all of its variants and expansions for years to come.
The pieces remind me of Shogi sets where the moves are laid out in a diagram on the pieces. Check out my Taikyoku shogi western set.