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Subject: First impressions (after 6 plays): Fun, but flawed rss

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CARL SKUTSCH
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The Duke is an original abstract strategy game that might be described as chess on acid. It's quite fun, even if it has some problems.

The components:

I grade the components as mixed in quality. The board is hard-backed 6x6 grid which is perfectly serviceable if unexciting. The pieces (which come in nice colored bags) are wooden with their moves diagrammed on the front and back. The wood is decent quality and the diagrams quite clear. They could be sexier but they do have the vague feel of some Middle Ages set unearthed from a castle toy chest. My main complaint here is telling the two sides apart. One side is plain beige wood, the other is stained darker, but the dark staining is uneven and a few of my pieces were rather light. You can tell them apart from the opposition after a squint but I think one shouldn't have to squint to tell the good guys from the bad guys. (While one is playing, your pieces 'face' toward the enemy, which makes telling them apart mostly squint-free.)

Game play:

Like I said, The Duke is chess on acid.

First, all of your pieces, from the great duke to earnest pikemen, each has TWO sets of moves. Whatever side of a piece is facing up, is how it moves that turn. But if you move it, it flips over at the end of the move, and now can move in an entirely different way when next you send it into battle. The moves themselves tend to be chess-like, but with some steroids thrown in. Some pieces are fairly chess-like, others can jump other pieces and then move in straight line, "shoot" at pieces without moving, or even command OTHER pieces to move, and some of the more powerful pieces can do a few of these. This makes for some wild and surprising action (I've checkmated, and been checkmated, without either of us at first realizing it WAS checkmate!)

Second, you only start with 3 pieces (a duke and two footmen) but each turn you have the option of either moving a piece on the board, or placing a new piece (rather like Hive). This means the losing player often still has a chance (more than in chess). I may have killed 5 of yours and you only 3 of mine, but we may both have 4 pieces in play, and so be roughly even.

Finally, beyond the built-in variable nature of the game, you can add to it by playing other scenarios (capture the flag) or with other pieces (like the 3 Musketeers expansion).

What do I think?

I find the random nature of the game excessive. Pieces keep switching their character and flavor. A dragoon is a sniper on one side, a sword-slashing cavalry-man on the other. One can imagine a certain logic to the switches (the longbowman sets up his shots on one move, and fires on the next) but it's not intuitive.

On other hand, the game never gets boring. My son and I were trading pieces, making surprise moves, and bringing pieces out of nowhere to forestall certain defeat (or guarantee it). And we DID have fun. We've played six games so far and the kid is still eager to have a go at dear old dad (I'm winning, 4-2). Part of the fun is that the games go fast, I don't think any of our games went more than 30 minutes, and some were much shorter (let's not discuss that fools mate I fell into on about turn 3).

If the game seems a bit too chaotic for me, it still works as a game. And I'm impressed that the designers were able to come up with a new twist on the abstract strategy game that doesn't fall flat on its face, or that is too blandly generic (Hello Tzaar). As a game, Chess is more intellectually challenging and a better test of true skill. If you want more variety, try Chinese or Japanese Chess (Xiangi, Shogi). But all those take excessive numbers of brain cells. If you want a quick, fun game, where you can still feel like your medieval troops are hunting down a rival aristocrat, Duke hits the spot. Hive is still my number one abstract strategy (the piece quality is better, the game play less random), but The Duke now has the 2nd spot. (And since the kid don't like Hive as much as I do, the Duke will probably get more play.)

I guess in the end I'm saying The Duke turns out to be more fun than I think it ought to be, and that's another credit to the designers. Well done fellas.
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David Anderson
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Nice write up, but I don't see where the flaw is. I think the game accomplishes what it sets out to do. The only game play negative you mention is the random nature. That's what this game is about. I don't think you can fault something for being what is and really the only random thing in the game is what tile you draw from the bag anyway. With more play a player will be able to better plan for what movements are available after the flip.

I'm glad you had fun with the game. That's what it's all about.
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Morten K
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Agreed, I do not think it's flawed - or that you think it is. Just that there are parts of it that you aren't particularly fond of. I don't think turning over the tiles makes it random either. With more plays you'll know what are on both sides and can (hopefully) plan for it. That of course also makes it heavier for the brain cells. The only randomness is the drawing of tiles. I'm not sure yet how fond of that I am. But I like playing the game!
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Ted Magdzinski
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The random pull is one of the best parts. Sometimes you find yourself cornered and need to try the perfect piece to turn the tide. It's exciting.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Flawed is a loaded term, much like "broken." I think it would be safe to say from the body of your review that you meant "less than perfect."
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David B
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skutsch wrote:


If the game seems a bit too chaotic for me, it still works as a game. And I'm impressed that the designers were able to come up with a new twist on the abstract strategy game that doesn't fall flat on its face, or that is too blandly generic (Hello Tzaar).




Tzaar blandly generic? I think the GIPF series is some of the best abstracts ever made. Tzaar is a much better game than the Duke. The Duke is certainly good, but Tzaar is in a different league.
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CARL SKUTSCH
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Tigrillo wrote:
Agreed, I do not think it's flawed - or that you think it is. Just that there are parts of it that you aren't particularly fond of. I don't think turning over the tiles makes it random either. With more plays you'll know what are on both sides and can (hopefully) plan for it. That of course also makes it heavier for the brain cells. The only randomness is the drawing of tiles. I'm not sure yet how fond of that I am. But I like playing the game!

Good point (that others have also made). One could certainly call my complaints matters of preference rather than flaws. I should have made myself more clear (my bad). The random tile draw does not bother me too much, it can be fun, as others have pointed out. I am more bothered by the variable nature of the pieces. Thematically I don't see why pieces should change every time they move, it doesn't make much sense to me. It bugs me. It also makes the battlefield too ever-changing for my taste (which is more what I meant when I wrote "random," even though it's not really random, as you know in advance what each side of a piece does). These two things are "flaws" in mind, but I can easily see how others see these as features rather than flaws.

The so-so quality control in staining the pieces is a real flaw, if not a horrible one.

Overall, I would rate the game a 6 or a 7. It's fun, it just has some, er, features that bug me and I think might bug other players as well.

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CARL SKUTSCH
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pfctsqr wrote:
skutsch wrote:


If the game seems a bit too chaotic for me, it still works as a game. And I'm impressed that the designers were able to come up with a new twist on the abstract strategy game that doesn't fall flat on its face, or that is too blandly generic (Hello Tzaar).




Tzaar blandly generic? I think the GIPF series is some of the best abstracts ever made. Tzaar is a much better game than the Duke. The Duke is certainly good, but Tzaar is in a different league.


A matter of taste. I think Tzaar is well-designed but it seems (to me) to have about as much character as checkers, which is what I meant when I said "blandly generic." We played it maybe a dozen times and then put it away to gather dust. But I respect that others, with different gaming priorities, would see it in a different light!
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Derek H
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skutsch wrote:
Tigrillo wrote:
Agreed, I do not think it's flawed - or that you think it is. Just that there are parts of it that you aren't particularly fond of. I don't think turning over the tiles makes it random either. With more plays you'll know what are on both sides and can (hopefully) plan for it. That of course also makes it heavier for the brain cells. The only randomness is the drawing of tiles. I'm not sure yet how fond of that I am. But I like playing the game!

Good point (that others have also made). One could certainly call my complaints matters of preference rather than flaws.... These two things are "flaws" in mind, but I can easily see how others see these as features rather than flaws.

No, you can't call them flaws. If I buy a house and one of the walls is cracking because the foundation is subsiding, then that is a flaw. If the wall is made from a kind of stone that I do not like, or which cannot easily be painted, then that is not a flaw. That is is how the word 'flaw' is defined; using it some other way will not convey a common meaning.
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Jeremiah Jacobs
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skutsch wrote:

I find the random nature of the game excessive. Pieces keep switching their character and flavor. A dragoon is a sniper on one side, a sword-slashing cavalry-man on the other. One can imagine a certain logic to the switches (the longbowman sets up his shots on one move, and fires on the next) but it's not intuitive.


Historically, a dragoon used both a carbine and a sword. The piece movement flips are fairly intuitive for the historical pieces. Pikemen march then present their spiky bitz to the enemy. For example, the Bowman, Longbowman, and Knight present no terrible jumps in logic.

The footman piece it the one I find odd as the flipped movement shows that it cannot hit to the immediate forward square. I have convinced myself that the flipped side is a charge movement.
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David Anderson
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Thanks. I never even spent 2 seconds thinking about this. I wonder if there is a design diary.

Jacobs40k wrote:
skutsch wrote:

I find the random nature of the game excessive. Pieces keep switching their character and flavor. A dragoon is a sniper on one side, a sword-slashing cavalry-man on the other. One can imagine a certain logic to the switches (the longbowman sets up his shots on one move, and fires on the next) but it's not intuitive.


Historically, a dragoon used both a carbine and a sword. The piece movement flips are fairly intuitive for the historical pieces. Pikemen march then present their spiky bitz to the enemy. For example, the Bowman, Longbowman, and Knight present no terrible jumps in logic.

The footman piece it the one I find odd as the flipped movement shows that it cannot hit to the immediate forward square. I have convinced myself that the flipped side is a charge movement.
 
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CARL SKUTSCH
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Jacobs40k wrote:
skutsch wrote:

I find the random nature of the game excessive. Pieces keep switching their character and flavor. A dragoon is a sniper on one side, a sword-slashing cavalry-man on the other. One can imagine a certain logic to the switches (the longbowman sets up his shots on one move, and fires on the next) but it's not intuitive.


Historically, a dragoon used both a carbine and a sword. The piece movement flips are fairly intuitive for the historical pieces. Pikemen march then present their spiky bitz to the enemy. For example, the Bowman, Longbowman, and Knight present no terrible jumps in logic.

The footman piece it the one I find odd as the flipped movement shows that it cannot hit to the immediate forward square. I have convinced myself that the flipped side is a charge movement.


Yes, it's true that dragoons used both a carbine and sword. But why can't they use both of them? Picture the moment:

"Er, can I stab them?" "Nope, you just stabbed them, you have to shoot them now." "But I have the sword still here in my hand, I want to swing it, swingy swingy, blood blood!" "No can do, soldier! Your gun feels lonely, abandoned, you need to rotate your weapons so nobody feels left out!" "Er, ok."
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Lukáš Rinka
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Because it´s more or less abstract game? Why in chess can king move only one space? Is he cripled or something? And why queen can move as many spaces as she wants in any direction? Is she superwoman?
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Jeremiah Jacobs
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skutsch wrote:
Jacobs40k wrote:
skutsch wrote:

I find the random nature of the game excessive. Pieces keep switching their character and flavor. A dragoon is a sniper on one side, a sword-slashing cavalry-man on the other. One can imagine a certain logic to the switches (the longbowman sets up his shots on one move, and fires on the next) but it's not intuitive.


Historically, a dragoon used both a carbine and a sword. The piece movement flips are fairly intuitive for the historical pieces. Pikemen march then present their spiky bitz to the enemy. For example, the Bowman, Longbowman, and Knight present no terrible jumps in logic.

The footman piece it the one I find odd as the flipped movement shows that it cannot hit to the immediate forward square. I have convinced myself that the flipped side is a charge movement.


Yes, it's true that dragoons used both a carbine and sword. But why can't they use both of them? Picture the moment:

"Er, can I stab them?" "Nope, you just stabbed them, you have to shoot them now." "But I have the sword still here in my hand, I want to swing it, swingy swingy, blood blood!" "No can do, soldier! Your gun feels lonely, abandoned, you need to rotate your weapons so nobody feels left out!" "Er, ok."


It is an abstracted presentation of a dragoon's maneuver. The dragoon fires, then charges or maneuvers for continuing skirmish fire.
 
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Clive Weaver
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Good review! I don't agree with it, but I love the debate it causes
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Nick Llewelyn
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A Dragoon was originally a type of mounted infantryman. They would ride to the desired part of the battlefield before dismounting to fight. The Dragoon musket was typically too long to fire from horseback (and the chances of hitting from such an unsteady platform would have been very low anyway).

Later Dragoons would deliver mounted charges but by that stage they were no longer mounted infantrymen but medium/heavy cavalry proper. Many even 'lost' their issued muskets on campaign, to lighten their load.

So at least for the early role of Dragoons, I think the way the tile works is quite thematic.
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gamesbook wrote:
skutsch wrote:
Tigrillo wrote:
Agreed, I do not think it's flawed - or that you think it is. Just that there are parts of it that you aren't particularly fond of. I don't think turning over the tiles makes it random either. With more plays you'll know what are on both sides and can (hopefully) plan for it. That of course also makes it heavier for the brain cells. The only randomness is the drawing of tiles. I'm not sure yet how fond of that I am. But I like playing the game!

Good point (that others have also made). One could certainly call my complaints matters of preference rather than flaws.... These two things are "flaws" in mind, but I can easily see how others see these as features rather than flaws.

No, you can't call them flaws. If I buy a house and one of the walls is cracking because the foundation is subsiding, then that is a flaw. If the wall is made from a kind of stone that I do not like, or which cannot easily be painted, then that is not a flaw. That is is how the word 'flaw' is defined; using it some other way will not convey a common meaning.


http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flaw

1

b : an imperfection or weakness and especially one that detracts from the whole or hinders effectiveness


I would say it fits this definition.
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David desJardins
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kaziam wrote:
Flawed is a loaded term, much like "broken." I think it would be safe to say from the body of your review that you meant "less than perfect."


The closest synonym for "flawed" is "imperfect".
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turtleback wrote:
I don't think you can fault something for being what is and really the only random thing in the game is what tile you draw from the bag anyway.


Of course you can fault something for being what it is if what it is is flawed. The game sounds interesting to me, but the apparent randomness is certainly serving a put-off for me as well. And I don't mean randomness of the piece drawing, but rather the multitude of variables makes it sound like the game will feel too random, especially when combined with the flipping nature of the pieces hiding a lot of what is going on, thus keeping game board from being digestible at a glance. It looks like the kind of game that usually ends due to a maneuver you couldn't possibly see coming.
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