The Duke is a 2-player chess-like game. It requires about 5 or so playthroughs before you really start to understand what is going on.
How to Play
The goal of the game is to capture your opponent’s Duke tile.
Each player receives 19 tiles and 1 bag. Every tile is a unit that can be used to capture your opponent’s Duke, which is also a tile/unit.
Both players start the game with their Duke tile and 2 of their Footman tiles. The rest of their pieces go into their respective bags. One player places their Duke tile onto the 6 x 6 gameboard on either of the 2 center squares at their edge of the board. Then, that player places their 2 Footman tiles orthogonally (not diagonally) adjacent to their Duke. Afterwards, the other player does the same on the opposite side of the board.
On a player’s turn, they may do 1 of 2 things: activate a tile or draw/place a new tile.
- Activate a tile
Each tile depicts the potential activations it can make on its face. The three types of activations, in the base game, are movement, strike, and command. Movement is then broken into move, jump, slide, and jump slide. If a tile ends its movement on top of an opponent’s tile, the opponent’s tile is captured (like chess).
After a tile activates, flip that tile. It now has a different set of activations. All tiles start on its starting side depicted by the shaded in pawn. The flipped side depicts an empty pawn in a black box.
For move, the shaded circle, the piece goes from its current position to the position of the shaded circle. If any piece would be in the path to the shaded circle, this option may not be used.
Jump, the empty circle, is like move except you place your piece directly on the empty circle and bypass any tiles in the path.
For slide, the shaded triangle, you can move the tile any number of squares in that direction. You cannot move through pieces and if you end on an opponent’s tile, stop and capture it as usual.
Jump slide, the empty triangle, is the same as slide, except you jump to the selected starting spot and then may start sliding.
Strike, the 6-pointed star, means you capture the tile in the square with the strike symbol. The tile that used strike does not move, but it still flips.
Command, depicted by a square with shaded triangles in the top left and bottom right corners, lets you move one of your other tiles. You may move a tile from one command square to another command square. Flip the tile that used command after the activation. Do not flip the tile that was moved by command.
- Draw/place a new tile
If you do not want to activate a tile you have on the board, you may draw a new hidden tile from your bag. Once drawn, place it starting side up orthogonally adjacent to your Duke.
If, at the end of your turn you are in a position to take your opponent’s Duke next turn, you must say “guard.” You may not put yourself into guard (leaving your own Duke vulnerable to be taken on your opponent’s next turn).
You immediately win the game by capturing your opponent’s Duke. If you can neither make a move nor draw/place a tile, you lose.
As I mentioned in the forward, the first few games of The Duke weren’t great. While I understood the rules, the strategy was not clicking at all. Most of the games were quick and seemed kind of stupid and unbalanced. But, the more I played, the more I started to see and understand certain aspects of the game. Now, I actually enjoy it quite a bit.
I would say I’m decent at chess, but I never memorized the openings. So, I know generally of concepts such as space control, material value/advantage, revealed check, etc. These same concepts do apply in The Duke as well. If you enjoy chess for the actual playing of chess and not the memorization (statement inspired by Bobby Fischer), there is a good chance you will enjoy this game.
One of the major differences between this and chess is the randomness. When you draw a tile, there is a wide range of tiles you might get. Due to this, there is a lot less ability to predict future turns. In addition, you need to be able to adapt your strategy based on what you get and what your opponent gets. There are also definitely times where I have drawn tiles that have not helped me at all; that is a thing in this game. Overall though, I have enjoyed the randomness (after I figured out different aspects of the game that is).
The most important tip I can give you is this: do not put your Duke in a position where it is trapped by your own pieces. For instance, don’t move it on the bottom row directly behind one of your tiles in the same column. In this situation, your Duke is pinned until your other tile moves or is captured. It isn’t very difficult to force the capture of a pinned Duke.
I would recommend trying The Duke, if you like chess or other similar 2 player games. My main caveat is that you power through at least 5 games to give this a chance to get its hooks in. I definitely do not see this taking the place of chess because chess is so entrenched. The randomness will potentially hold it back as well. Nonetheless, this is a game I would be happy to play with other people who have played it. I’ll teach it to someone, but only if they already show some interest in this type of game.