Hailed by critics as a delightful abstract strategy game, The Duke, is a modern take on classic Chess.
Like Chess, a player’s objective in The Duke is to capture their opponent’s Duke tile. No dice rolling, card playing or other meddlesome crap interferes with your game here – oh no! The Duke is a battle of wits, your tiles vs my tiles. Plain and simple.
Players take turns moving their tiles around the board and onto enemy tiles which “captures” said target, removing it from play.
I mean look at the board, It’s not exactly A Game of Thrones or 7 Wonders. The fairly disappointing artwork and lack of extraneous cardboard fiddly-bits saddened me until the gameplay blew me away with it’s depth. The game is fun with a ridiculous capacity for replayability.
The Duke deviates from the medieval classic in two ways. Firstly, after every tile is used, it is turned over to expose a secondary movement pattern. Secondly, instead of moving a unit players may randomly draw a tile from the bag and place it on the field adjacent to their own duke tile. These tile additions keep the game fresh and unpredictable as you are forced to adjust and scrap strategies to deal with new units that enter the field.
The game relies on the movement mechanics established in Chess with a few new movement types. Moving (pawns and king), Sliding (rooks, bishops and queen), Jumping (knights), and Jump Sliding are carefully combined on tiles to create the 19 unique units. Ranged attacks, “Strike”, is just what it sounds like, and “Command” allows other tiles of the same color to be flung about anywhere in the command zone.
Two out of the 19 tiles have special abilities that are (thickly) explained in the rules. However, the the four movement types and the two special abilities do not greatly complicate the game. Each mechanic is easy to understand and remember. The hard part is still skilfully out maneuvering and pressuring your opponent into checkmate.
The high volume of distinct double sided tiles means each match will be unique enough to be fresh, but similar enough to use some fairly constant strategies.
Reading the rules is fairly daunting. Some good editing or less confusing diagrams could really help with the exposition. Push through them. The rules are not as confusing as the booklet wants you to think they are.
- 1 Board
- 2 Bags
- 19 Basic tiles
- 2 Flags
- 1 Dragon!!! (That’s right, THIS GAME HAS PEOPLE-FLAMBAYING DRAGONS!!!)
- 1 Mountain
- 2 Blank customizable tiles
- Rules and quick-reference cards.
These extra tiles look really cool. Yes that is a monster strike zone on the Dragon 😀 Scenarios like Capture The Flag, Hostage, a 300-esk fight-to-the-death and Black Night are included in the manual. Unfortunately, these are not as fun as the basic game. The Dragon tile is a neutral force that alternates being controlled by both players.
The blank tile you see there is actually pretty cool. Each team has one. It is a totally customizable piece! The mad scientists over at Catalyst Game Labs really support moding of the game. Full print outs of all the units (even the expansions!) are available for free on the website.
Two expansions exist for The Duke, however, both appear to be overpriced ($20+) for the minimal amount of tiles you receive, (roughly eight or less). In my 2 month play time with the game, I find the basic game to be the most exciting. The scenarios just slow gameplay down.
Learning curve: Shallow
Skill level: High.
Strategy vs Luck scale: (X/10)
Time: Short (30- minutes)
Age: 6th grade+
Party-ability: -Zero- It’s an engrossing 2 player, quiet, game.
Visually boring but more than makes up for it in fun, skill and originality. I would recommend for anyone who is comfortable with playing chess.
The Duke is Produced by Catalyst Game Labs and designed by Jeremy Holcomb, Joe Huber and Stephen McLaughlin.
This review and those pictures are made by me!