Kickstarter Alert: The Duke

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The Duke playing pieces (prototypes shown). Photo: Jonathan LiuThe Duke playing pieces (prototypes shown). Photo: Jonathan Liu

The Duke playing pieces (prototypes shown). Photo: Jonathan Liu

My biggest weakness is my inability to turn down a chance to try out a new board game … even though I have a backlog to review and a pile of other things to do. Kickstarter certainly hasn’t made this flaw easier to deal with, as the number of really awesome board games appearing there on a nearly daily basis is quickly depleting my discretionary budget.

In this case, I got a prototype of The Duke, an abstract strategy game by Catalyst Games, but it came during the two weeks when I had too much other stuff going on and hardly played any board games at all. The Kickstarter campaign is ending in just a few days, so I’ll tell you briefly about it and you can check it out here for more complete details.

The Duke logoThe Duke logoThe Duke is a two-player game that’s something of a cross between shogi (Japanese chess) and a tactical combat game like Summoner Wars. The game is played on a simple 6×6 grid, and each player starts with their Duke and two Footmen. (The Duke must be on the player’s home row in one of the two center squares, and the Footmen must be orthogonally adjacent to it.) The rest of the tiles are placed in a bag (but not the special terrain tiles, which are used in variant rules).

Each tile is double-sided, and shows the movement for that piece. It’s a feature that I’ve seen used in other games: Confusion, for example. The icon at the center of the grid shows which side is the starting side when the piece is first played.

The Duke board (prototype shown). Photo: Jonathan LiuThe Duke board (prototype shown). Photo: Jonathan Liu

The Duke board (prototype shown). Photo: Jonathan Liu

On each turn, the player must either place a new tile or use a tile that’s already on the board. To place a new tile, simply draw one at random from the bag and place it, starting side up, adjacent to the Duke. If there are no adjacent spaces next to the Duke, then you cannot place a new tile.

To use a tile, you look at the grid on its face-up side. The pawn at the center represents the piece itself, and various icons show how it can be moved. It can move in straight lines to solid circles, jump to outlined circles, or move in a straight line in the direction of the triangular pointers. There are also stars where it can strike a piece remotely (without moving), and some pieces can also command other pieces and move them around. If you land on an enemy piece, you capture it and remove it from the board. After you use a piece, it is then flipped over to reveal its other stance.

The object of the game is to capture the opponent’s Duke.

There are variant rules: for instance, you can throw a Mountain onto the board, which serves as an impassable obstacle which also obstructs the strike move. The Fortress obstructs some types of movement but protects a tile on it from strikes. There are also two Flag tiles (one per player) which can be used for other variant rules, and there are several variations listed in the rulebook (which you can download here). They’ve unlocked the Dragon tile, which is a neutral piece that can be goaded into attacking the other player, and they’re very close to unlocking the Duchess as well if they hit $25,000 before the campaign ends. There are also a couple of add-on extras, like the Three Musketeers pack and the Robert E. Howard pack (with Conan and Solomon Kane).

If you like abstract strategy games, go check out the Kickstarter page for more details. For $15 you can get a print-and-play version, $30 is the base level to get a copy of the game, and there are a bunch of other reward levels for some very fancy stuff. If you miss the campaign, you’ll be able to purchase it from Catalyst Games when it becomes available, but you’ll miss out on some of the Kickstarter exclusives.

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