Buzzworthiness: Duffers

Thanks to TGG Games for providing a review copy of this game.

I’m not a golfer. Other than mini golf, I’ve never played. I also find it pretty boring to watch. I understand the appeal – getting out in the fresh air, hitting something as hard as you can and trying to get it in a tiny hole – but it’s just not a sport that holds any interest to me. And yet, I find myself kind of fascinated by the art behind it. Particularly in the construction of the courses. There’s some real beauty there, and it’s really the only part of golf itself that interests me. The sport itself, however, is the inspiration for today’s game:

image by BGG user MathueRyann

Duffers is a golf-themed deck building game designed by Duane Wheatcroft and published by TGG Games. The goal is to finish the course with the fewest strokes, which is accomplished by loading your deck with clubs, equipment, and crew that will help you.

In the beginning, players get a starting deck of seven chip shot cards and three Whiffs cards. These are shuffled, and you’ll draw an initial hand of five crds from it. Each player gets a Caddie card – these are the same for everyone, just with different art. At the bottom, each player will place the nine ball tokens corresponding to their turn order. You’ll choose holes for the game – 3 for a beginner game, 6 for a standard game, 9 for a full game. There are beginner and advanced holes to choose from. Each of these holes will get one fewer card than the number of players placed on them. You’ll also draw five cards to form the starting Pro Shop market, and you’re ready to play.

image by BGG user geodex

On your turn, you can play any number of cards from your hand. You’ll need to make a decision to use each card for Yardage or Credits. If you play them for Yardage, you’ll be trying to complete a hole. Each hole has a target Yardage, which you can exceed by 50 and still complete the hole. Be aware that you must always have a Putter if completing a hole. If you have any Duffs in your hand (including the Whiffs in your starting deck), these must be played at this time, and they will adversely affect your stroke count. Once you have completed a hole, you place one of your ball tokens on it, which may reveal other abilities now available to you (and your opponents). If there are any cards left on the hole, you claim one. If you got the yardage exactly, the card you claim goes on top of your deck instead of into your discard pile

If you instead choose to use the cards for Credits, you can buy something from the Pro Shop. This can be one of the five available cards, or one of three always available cards – a Putter, a Vintage Club, or a Broken Tee. Buy any cards that you can, placing them in your discard pile.

At the end of your turn, discard all played cards and cards in your hand, then draw five more, shuffling the discard pile if necessary. It should be pointed out that you can play a card onto your Caddie board to save for later.

As you play, you may gain more Duffs, or even Luck cards (which could be good or bad). But once someone has completed all of the holes, each other player has one more turn. The game could also end immediately if you run out of Pro Shop cards. Any incomplete holes at this point score double par (that is, twice what par would be – if it’s par 4, you’d get 8). Add up strokes per player, apply any deck scoring conditions, and see who has the lowest score. They win.

image by BGG user MathueRyann

Components in the game are pretty standard for a deck building game – a lot of cards. They seem to be pretty good quality, and they’re well laid out so all the information is easily accessible. The game also comes with 18 hole mats, and those add a nice visual appeal to the game. Being the first to complete a hole comes with the reward of a card that is stored on the hole mat itself, so you don’t actually see the art until someone has completed a hole. Which is a bit of a shame, because (as I mentioned in the beginning) it’s the visual side of golf that appeals to me. Still, there’s a nice variety of holes in beginner and advanced levels, with the advanced giving you more restrictions. The game also comes with a nice score pad, but no pencil, so provide your own writing implements.

My big complaint about the components is that every single card has the same back. Most of them will end up in the same deck, which makes sense. However, even the Luck cards, which are used then discarded, have the same back. I need something that will identify them. I know there’s a playmat you can get, but it’s hard to tell what the decks are. You don’t want to pull a Duff when you’re trying to pull a Luck card.

One of the things I really appreciate about this game is that you don’t need to know much about golf in order to play. You need to know that you need a certain yardage, and that you need a putter to actually complete a hole, and that different clubs get you different yardages. But that all exists inside the game, and the ins and outs of the sport itself don’t matter as much.

As a deck building game, this one is pretty standard. You have the starting deck that is the same as everyone else’s and you’re buying cards to make it stronger. The card market is randomly draw in a style that is more Ascension than Dominion. There’s the standard pile of cards that are always available, so if you don’t like any of the Pro Shop cards, you can get something that’s maybe not ideal, but something. Most cards can be used for either yardage or credits, though some are not used for either and simply serve to help you do things outside of the regular rules.

Most deck builders have something that will clog up your deck, and that’s the case here with the Duff cards. These are drawn when you use certain clubs, and typically add strokes to your score. So you want to be able to deal with them as quick as you can, or you’ll have problems later. And if you’ve got the right cards, you should be in good shape.

This leads to something that may be a problem for some people (though it’s not for me), and that is that some of the Crew cards are really powerful. They cost quite a bit to buy, but when played, they stay out for the rest of the game. I don’t have a problem with them – it’s like the super powerful cards in something like Innovation, they’re situational and they tend to balance out. Except maybe not as powerful as the ones in Innovation.

To me, the putter requirement for completing holes is the most annoying part of the game. I mean, it makes sense thematically, but they’re not super common in the Pro Shop. I wish there were better putter options available from the beginning – the standard putter that is always available adds three strokes to your score, which is really obnoxious but completely necessary, especially if you can’t get a putter by other means. Maybe if some unlocked throughout the game.

Nevertheless, I really like way Duffers plays. It’s fun trying to build up your clubs, and then seeing what holes you can complete with your hand. Of course, you are beholden to the laws of randomness, but there’s enough fun cards you can get that will help that. Be forewarned, however, there are a few take that cards in the deck. I don’t think they negatively affect play, but I don’t really like them either.

Duffers is packaged with a solo variant, and I have to say that I don’t like it at all. It’s a completely different game. You’re basically playing Klondike – you know, the solitaire game played with a deck of cards where you’re trying to build Ace to King in all four suits? OK, the solo variant isn’t exactly like that, but you draw three cards and try to put clubs on different holes to complete them. You have to do a LOT of extra setup for the game – take any card that isn’t a club out of the Pro Shop Deck, make another deck of equipment cards, find and remove specific cards that are meant for multiplayer…it’s a pain, and there’s not enough payoff. Plus, as I said, it’s a completely different game from the original. So I cannot recommend this for solo play.

But, as a multiplayer experience, I like it. I should say I have only played two-player, which was good. I would imagine there might be more chaos in a four-player game as there’s more likelihood that the cards you want from the Pro Shop will disappear (I have the same problem with Ascension as a four-player game). And it will probably take longer – a full nine-hole game is probably not a good idea, especially the first time with four players. But with two, I’d recommend it.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I really enjoy Duffers. While it doesn’t necessarily do anything new with the deck building genre, it does integrate its theme well and makes for a good golf game. It’s one I can recommend easily.

Thanks again to TGG Games for providing a review copy of Duffers, and thanks to you for reading!

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