I’m wondering how many people will get the movie reference in the title while I scratch my head and think about what I can say about The Duke, a game by Catalyst.
In a nutshell, I like it but make up your own mind because what do I know about what you’re going to like or dislike. But here’s the long answer:
It is an abstract game. I already like that. It’s got to paste on a theme because, well, it’s Catalyst and Americans are buying games too. So yes there are “dragons” and “wizards” but you would have to stretch your imagination to think this is a fantasy game. It isn’t. the theme couldn’t be any more pasted on if the designers tried. We’re grown ups, if you’re selling a chess/shogi variant, and that’s what it is, we don’t need elves and dwarves…
That aside, what’s the game like? I always like a game you can tell is going to be pretty good just from reading the rules. One, because it tells me the rules have, for the most part, been written well (so rare in this hobby), and two, because it tells me I am dealing with a fairly simple, dare I say, elegant set of rules. This is a key feature for me when I am looking at abstract games. I will happily admit that I am tiring of the so-called ameritrash and euro games. We only ever needed about five of them each and the rest are just iterations. Yes, that sounds very socialist, but it is mostly true. I don’t care if I sound smug. If you need a battalion of carefully painted miniatures and lots of random dice rolling or you require some new cog to put into your collection of clockwork-like euro-samey games to have “fun”, bless you, I wish you well, but that is not my bag and you have come here for my opinion.
So abstracts are where it is at for me.
The Duke is a well designed, well presented game of wooden tiles, a simple but effective board and a pretty simple rules set. Each wooden piece includes a diagram of how that piece can move. A duke is very different to a footman or champion. Manoeuvrability changes as you move and then must flip the moved piece to reveal a different diagram of available moves and the aim of the game is to capture pieces and eventually the duke (the duke being much like the king in chess, that is to say pretty useless but extremely valuable). That’s it.
I could waffle on a lot more but I’m not going to because life is short. If you grow a little tired of the base tiles there are expansions like Robin Hood and King Arthur, a little bit naff but, oh well.
But do I recommend it? Sure, why not. It’s a dumbo’s chess and if you’re a dumbo who has no patience and/or respect for the greatest abstract game of all time, go for it.
I think the title might have gotten a little to excited… But if you like abstracts and want variety, this probably belongs in your collection along with games like Onitama and the quite brilliant Yinsh.
So, y’know, like, do whatever you want.