Chess isn’t broken, but Catalyst Games fixed it anyway. The Duke is chess for the modern gamer, with unpredictability and more dynamic movement creating a familiar, yet all new experience.
There are a lot of wrinkles that set The Duke apart from chess, like the ability to pull new units from a bag. But it’s the funky movement options that help to really set it apart and force a whole new level of spatial thinking. The Assassin can jump over squares and then slide forward like a bishop would in that other game. The General can command and move other troops around it. And then there are tiles like the Bowman that can opt to fire a shot instead of moving.
You’re trying to corner your opponent’s Duke, which can prove tricky. Every time you move a unit, you flip it over, revealing an alternate side with different movement options. This forces you to think not only about where a move might land you, but what options you’ll have once you flip that tile.
The Duke is more of a distant cousin to chess, and if you just aren’t playing chess anymore than this is a huge leap forward. You don’t even start with all your troops on the battlefield, instead drafting new units blindly from a draw bag. That element of randomness can occasionally cost you a game, but there’s an added edge of excitement whenever someone reaches into their bag.
Times Played: 15
Likelihood of Winning: Even the best strategy can be foiled by a lucky draw
Most Often Played With: Two players
Expansions Owned: None (The expansions add additional tiles)
I like chess, but I’ve always wanted some random elements to improve my chances of winning.
PLAYING THE DUKE
- Place The Duke on your edge of the board, with two adjacent Footmen
- Either move a unit or draw one from your bag
- If you move a unit, flip it over before ending your turn
- If you draw a unit, place it adjacent to your Duke
- The winner is whomever “checkmates” the other Duke
IT’S SORT OF LIKE…
Chess meets a grab bag meets one too many shots of vodka.
MOST FUN WHEN…
I saw three moves ahead and made all the right decisions to score a win. It’s sort of like being able to see the Matrix.
WANTED TO FLIP THE TABLE WHEN…
After more or less obliterating everything my opponent put on the board, a pair of great draws foiled my plans, extended the game, and lead to my defeat.
The tiles are great. Nice, solid, easy to read. Comes with a pair of attractive canvas draw bags. But the included board is worse than your average cheap Checkers board. I’ve never gotten it to lay exactly flat. Catalyst Games is toying with the idea of a leather mat, which would be a major step up from what comes in the box.
It takes about two games to get a handle on all the potential movements for each tile. There’s depth here, but it’s a fairly simple game to grasp.
CAN YOU PLAY THIS GAME DRUNK?
Most definitely. Though, in your stupor, you may reach into the bag and swear you feel something moving around in there.
Though I haven’t played with the expansions yet, each adds some new units with some new movement types or special abilities. It’s unlikely you’ll be bored after a dozen plays with the base set, so hold off on expanding until you have mastered the core game.
THREE BEST THINGS
- Totally refreshes chess in unique and exciting ways.
- Lots of fluid strategy mixed with a dose of luck-of-the-draw.
- Bonus tiles allow for different game types, like a Capture the Flag variant.
THREE WORST THINGS
- The board is pretty crappy
- Even the best strategy can be quickly dashed by a draw from the bag.
- Games can occasionally drag on too long as smart players have more tools to evade opponents.
GAMES I’D PLAY IN A ROW BEFORE MOVING ON TO SOMETHING ELSE
GET THIS IF
- You’re looking for a fun two-player competitive game
- You like thinking on your feet
- You ever played chess and thought, “I wish this game were rad.” (Yes, you have to have used the word rad.)
Questions about The Duke? Ask in the comments. Played the Duke and have your own opinion? Tell us! We may feature you in the Dog and Thimble Podcast.