Chess is a funny thing. It’s a centuries-old game that people have dedicated their lives to playing, and yet hobby board gamers hardly ever talk about it one way or the other. At most, it’s appreciated from afar, as a game that people respect but don’t really want to play. It’s easy to see why—there’s little theme to the game, skilled players will almost invariably beat weaker players, and the learning curve between amateur and expert play can be a real grind.
It seems there’s a demand for a game that scratches the same strategy game itch as chess, but tweaks the formula to replace the parts that turn many game players off. One recent attempt to fill this demand is The Duke by Catalyst Games.
The Duke is an abstract strategy game, similar to chess or shogi (a game I dutifully Googled before writing this review). The game is played on a six by six grid, and troops are represented by wooden tiles featuring the piece’s name, symbol, and movement pattern. On their turn, a player can move one of their pieces according to that pattern. If it lands on an enemy tile, that enemy tile is captured and removed from the game. If a player can threaten to capture the opponent’s Duke from the board, and their opponent has no way of stopping it, that player wins the game.
Sounds fairly typical so far—nut there are three things that distinguish The Duke from games like chess or shogi.
First, taking a page out of miniature wargames, the players get to deploy their troops at the start of the game.
Second, the pieces have a reverse face that has a different movement pattern. In chess and shogi, a piece can be promoted if it advances far enough to your opponent; in The Duke, the pieces flip every time you use them.
Third, instead of moving one of your tiles, you can instead use your turn to draw a random tile from your bag and place it on the board adjacent to your Duke.
Let’s take a look at what these elements bring to the game.