As I’ve grown as a gamer, theme has become more and more important to me. However, I can’t deny that I like a good abstract game now and then (especially if it’s not trying to be something else). So, here’s a new one:
The Duke is a new abstract game from designers Jeremy Holcomb and Stephen McLaughlin, and published by Catalyst Game Labs. It’s for two players and takes 30 minutes to play. There’s a loose medieval theme attached to the game (like Chess), and the object is to capture your opponent’s Duke. What sets this game apart from other abstracts is that the movement of each tile is printed right on top.
The game comes with a board featuring a 6×6 grid; two bags to hold your tiles; four terrain tiles (mountain, fort, and two flags); and 32 wooden tiles, 16 each in light and dark wood. The terrain tiles are only used in the advanced game to change things up a bit. At the start of the game, each player sets aside two Footmen and their Duke, then puts all the other tiles in the bag. Players set up their tiles on opposite sides of the board, with the Duke in one of the two center tiles of the edge row and the Footmen adjacent to the Duke. Tiles must be oriented with the name pointed towards the player who controls the tile, and with their starting side up.
On your turn, you do one thing: move a troop tile or place a new troop tile.
MOVEMENT: Each player can move a single troop tile in a manner indicated on the movement grid printed on it. Your options are printed in symbols: a dark circle means move to the indicated space as long as there is a clear path and it is not occupied by a friendly tile; an empty circle means jump to the indicated space, even over other tiles; a black triangle means to slide, moving as many spaces in the indicated direction as you want (as long as the path is clear); a star means strike, allowing you to capture a piece without moving; two small triangles in the corners means command, allowing you to move a friendly tile indicated by one arrow to a space indicated by the other. If, when moving, you land on an enemy tile, you capture it. You cannot move a troop tile if it would mean your opponent could capture your Duke on the next turn (check).
After completing whatever movement action you’re going to take, you flip the tile over. This means that piece will move entirely differently next time. You can pick up and review the other side of your pieces at any time. However, you can’t review your opponent’s pieces. But, here’s a guide to how each one moves:
- Bowman: On its starting side, the Bowman can move forward, left, or right one space; or it can jump backward, left, or right two spaces. On the other side, it can move forward one space or diagonally back one space in either direction; or it can strike forward two spaces or diagonally forward one space.
- Champion: On its starting side, the Champion can move one space in any orthogonal direction; or it can junp two spaces in any orthogonal direction. On the other side, it can still jump two spaces in an orthogonal direction, or it can strike one space in any orthogonal direction.
- Duke: On its starting side, the Duke can slide left or right. On the other side, it can slide forward or backward.
- Footman: On its starting side, the Footman can move one space in any orthogonal direction. On the other side, it can move one space in any diagonal direction, or two spaces forward.
- General: On its starting side, the General can move one space forward or backward; or it can move two spaces left or right; or it can jump forward two and left or right one (basically a forward knight maneuver). On the other side, it can do the same jump maneuver; or it can move forward one; or it can move left or right one or two spaces; or it can command any of the five spaces behind and beside it.
- Knight: On its starting side, the Knight can do the same forward jump maneuver as the General; or it can move left or right one space; or it can move back one or two spaces. On the other side, it can slide forward; or it can move diagonally back in either direction one or two sapces.
- Marshall: On its starting side, the Marshall can slide left or right; or it can jump two spaces forward diagonally in either direction, or two spaces back. On the other side, it can move one space in any direction (except back), or two spaces left or right; or it can command any of the three spaces in front of it.
- Pikeman: On its starting side, the Pikeman can move diagonally forward one or two spaces in either direction. On the other side, it can move one space forward, or one or two spaces backward; or it can strike two spaces forward and one space to the left or right.
- Priest: On its starting side, the Priest can slide diagonally in any direction. On its other side, it can move diagonally one space in any direction, or it can jump two spaces diagonally in any direction.
- Seer: On its starting side, the Seer can move diagonally one space in any direction; or it can jump orthogonally two spaces in any direction. On the other side, it can move one space orthogonally in any direction; or it can jump diagonally two spaces in any direction.
- Wizard: On its starting side, the Wizard can move one space in any direction. On the other side, it can jump two spaces in any direction.
PLACEMENT: You may draw a random troop tile from your bag and put it on the board adjacent to your Duke. If you can’t, you must move instead.
The game ends when one player catches his opponent’s Duke.
And that’s the game. It doesn’t seem too complicated ruleswise – the hardest thing looks like figuring out the strategy, and remembering what your pieces do once flipped. There are terrain tiles in the game that can be used to mix things up, as well as a number of scenarios. There’s also some Kickstarter exclusive tiles and expansions out there to give you more units. One of my favorites of these extras is a single blank tile for each player that can be customized with included stickers. A very good idea.
I think The Duke looks like a great game. It’s like Chess, but with varying moves for each piece and a random draw of units. I think the abstract planning nature will appeal to players of Chess, while the changing nature of the game will appeal to those of us (myself included) that like more variety in their games. The pieces look very nice. This is definitely one that is on my list…I hope I’ll get a chance to try it out sometime. The game should be in stores soon, if not already – retail price is $35, which seems like a very good deal considering the quality of the pieces. Check it out…thanks for reading!
- BGG page for The Duke
- Original Kickstarter project (closed July 2012)
- Catalyst Game Labs website
- Watch It Played video playthrough
- Dice Tower video review