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Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Duel With Designers

For today's review we returned to Redemption Alewerks for the Taxman Exemption beer which is a belgian, abbey-style tripel, and we brought along a gentlemen's game of comic mischief and mayhem known as A Duel Betwixt Us.  This is a 2 player card game that Claire and I backed on Kickstarter a few years ago (now available on Amazon).  However, after playing this one multiple times, we still find ourselves struggling to enjoy it.  This is not going to be a pleasant review, but it will be an honest and informative one, so read on to see what we think.
This is a take that, resource and hand management card game.  Each person begins with 4 favor cards, 5 miners and 5 or 6 draw cards, depending on who starts.  The favor cards act as both health and victory points, the object of the game being to obtain all of them from your opponent.  Each turn begins with drawing 2 cards from the draw pile and keeping 1.  The draw pile is made up of items (swords, shields, tack hammers, shivs, etc) tricks, and events.  After drawing, you place or place/move your miners into the mines to obtain Ingots of copper, silver or gold.  These Ingots are used to buy tricks, events and items from your hand as well as to enhance the strength of your weaponry.  The event & trick cards reduce damage during duels, hamper your opponant's resources, etc.  Play continues with the two players obtaining resources and improving their arsenal until someone declares a duel.  Sadly, there is no glove or glove card to do this with, rather you simply flip the top card of the Duel deck.  The card revealed gives the terms of the fight and what weapons can be used (concealed weapons only, etc.).  If you do not like the terms revealed, you can back away from the duel and continue on with the game, leaving the card available to the other player.  However only 3 duel cards can be left out in this manner before one must be played.  The winner of the duel can choose between taking a Favor from their opponent, or taking 2 new miners.  Play continues in this fashion until one party has obtained all the Favor cards, making them the winner.

The cover art on the box leads the players to believe that the game is much sillier than it actually is, with one of the men holding a fish while the other is holding an umbrella.  This is not accurate since you use real weapons in the game against your opponent such as guns, claymore, and war hammers, which actually does not follow the theme as it's portrayed.  This is an unfortunate instance of the aesthetic design of the game not meshing with the game design.  The artwork is unique and imaginatively done, but the game itself does not hold up. One would think that it is difficult to go wrong with an old timey game where people fight with fish and found objects, but they managed to.  There is a logical disconnect between the ideas in this game-why are there miners, yet it is clearly upperclass individuals doing the fighting?  Why do you put copper, silver and gold in your weapons to make them stronger?  Why not just buy stronger weapons?  This game feels like it was not properly play tested and as if it is maybe 70% complete.  It has bits of various familiar mechanics in it, but none executed fully.  The instructions also specify that you discard your event cards after using them, but it does NOT specify anywhere in the instructions about what happens to trick cards after using them.  Am I supposed to discard them like the event cards?  I don't know, the instructions say nothing.  Another distracting element are the zombie miners you can get if you pledged more money.  I realize that this game released during the hyped-up, zombie craze of gaming but come on, a game like this should not have zombies.  It's as if the designers were making an attempt at trying to be funny, or trying to take advantage of the zombie craze that was currently going on, and thinking that it would bring in more backers.  I suppose if it released now, it would be Cthulhu instead of zombies.  Either way, no matter what the reason was, it's completely out of place and distracting for this game.  We really wanted to like this game, but it just feels sloppy.
The extra tuck boxes taking up space was a real annoyance to me.  I hate it when designers do this.  If it's not needed, and you can fit everything into 2 boxes rather than 4, then don't spread everything out like that.  Utilize your space more efficiently and make the game box smaller.  There was so much unused space being taken up here, and it was clearly a waste.  Even if this was done to allow for card sleeving, in this case, it's still too much.
What is the big problem with this?  Well, the additional unneeded tuck boxes along with the main box insert means that it takes up much more space in the box than needed, which means the box is two to three times as large as it needs to be.  Like many board game enthusiasts and collectors, we have a plethora of games and we need to save as much space as possible for other games.  All board gamers should be taking this into consideration when purchasing large array's of board games.  There's plenty of great companies/publishers who understand how to package their games,  and there's plenty of them that have also resized their boxes in newer revisions for better packaging so it's not hard for others to follow this practice.  It's just common sense. 

All of the zany behavior in this game was not doing it for me the way I had hoped.  Yes, I get it.  They're trying to be idiosyncratic with these unconventional, amusing traits, but it just fell flat for me.  It was like the game was trying too hard with the integration of the zombies.  I will say, the artwork is quite nice.  The use of color, style, texture and theme provides an early 1900's feel which is what we would come to expect from the title and cover of the game.  I'm not going to say this game is so bad no one should own it, because that would be going further overboard than I need to.  What I am delivering though are my honest thoughts about this game and while it may be for some, it's just not the kind of game Claire and I will be playing very often.  Does that mean we should sell it?  Quite possibly, and we may!  Although, after the multiple attempts that we have made with this game and still not working out for us, then the year it took them to ship it to us, and the fact that it could very well have potential with other gamers, I think it's earned a spot off of our regular shelves and into our closet of shame.  Only time will tell whether it remains in our closet of shame, or on an Ebay listing. 

A Duel Betwixt Us
Overall Meeple Rating: 4.5/10

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