TWO reviews in one! First The Duke, then Jarl!
Product– The Duke
Producer-Catalyst Game Labs
Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 30-45 minutes (2 players)
TL; DR-Chess, now with a touch of random. 94%
Basics- Two meet on the battlefield, but only one can rule! The Duke is a miniature war between two dukes. The main goal of the game is to capture the enemy’s duke. If this sounds like Chess, then you’re on the right track. Two new mechanics separate this from Chess: 1) random piece draw and 2) variable piece movement. On a turn, you can do one of two things: draw a new piece or move/activate a piece. The pieces themselves have a miniature board on them indicating how they move, what squares they move to, and any special powers in each square. Some actions are moving across spaces, some are hopping over spaces, some moves are not moves as they just attack spaces at a distance. What is interesting is after a player does use a tile, that tile flips to another side, thus providing two different tactics for each piece. The other option is to spawn new pieces. Each player has a bag of tiles, and when they spawn a piece, the player randomly draws a new tile and places it adjacent to his/her duke. Play goes back and forth between the players as they capture tiles, move across the the board, and try to outwit one another to capture the opponent’s duke. Last duke standing is the winner.
Mechanics-I’m not a Chess player. Sure, it’s fun, but it’s never been my go to game. The Duke, though, is fresh enough to draw me in. The constant flipping tiles and random tile draw makes this an innovative game as pieces can change from a knight/bishop hybrid to some new version of a jumping rook. However the best part of this whole thing is the new moves are all balanced, as well as easy to use. No one peice will completely break the game, and no piece will leave you scratching your head as to how to play them. 5/5
Theme-Theme is hard to do in a Chess game. This game has some nice wooden pieces as well as some decent board art. The tiles all do actions that their names would imply. Overall, its a well done version of a war between two flat kingdoms. 4/5
Instructions-The rules to this game are a bit long. The Duke has a lot of ground to cover, but does it well. I’d like them to trim down the rules a bit, but they do have some excellent game aids to get you playing quickly. Those extra cardboard sheets will be the thing you most often reference as you plan out your attack. I’d rather have less than more, but sometimes more is not exactly more. 4.75/5
Execution-Chess is a classic game, but this not only improves on that, it adds new game modes. You can fight a dragon, you can add new terrain to the map to challenge both players, and the game is expandable by adding heroes from classic literature. I love what comes in this box. See all the parts in our unboxing here! http://youtu.be/QvLnLKnO360 5/5
Summary– I’m not a Chess player, nor is my wife, but we both liked this game. The simple nature of each tile really makes this game approachable. The random nature of the tiles also means that veteran players will have to adjust strategies on the fly, while new players won’t instantly be squashed. It’s got great components. I’d like to place the rules on a diet, and possibly give it a tad more theme, but overall, this is a game I can play. The true test is that this is a two player, head-to-head game and my wife will ask to bring this one to the table. That right there tell you that this is an excellently balanced, fun, fast game. 94%
Producer-Catalyst Game Labs
Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 30-45 minutes (2 players)
TL; DR-The Duke, now with a touch of Vikings. 93%
Basics- It’s time to go to war! Jarl is a stand alone expansion for The Duke. Just like The Duke, players start with a few pieces on the board, and on a turn can either move a piece which causes the piece to flip at the end of its movement, or randomly draw a new piece and place it on the board. Aside from that simple introduction, this game plays like Chess. Players attempt to maneuver their opponent into a situation where their king or Jarl will be captured. Last man or women standing is the winner
Mechanics-This is chess, but fun. The Duke has awesome, simple mechanics. Instead of remembering how each piece moves, the simple diagrams provide all the explanation a player needs to make smart choices. The flipping of each piece is just amazing as the quick transition is easily pulled off and creates a dynamic play experience. I even love the randomness that comes out of this game. Master players will always have to adapt to new pieces, while novice players won’t get steamrolled like most new chess players might. 5/5
Theme-This game is chess, so there is only so much you can do for theme. I do like the nice touches to the pieces like the lettering and the rune like carving and imperfections on the tiles. those are great additions, but as a standard game, you don’t have much motivation beyond kill the other player. That’s fine as this is alternative chess, not a session of DnD or Shadowrun. 4/5
Instructions– My only significant problem with The Duke was the rules. I felt the rules were a bit too long. Jarl trims down the rules to a few simple pages while still keeping the awesome cheat sheets for moves. That’s what I asked for, and it’s exactly what I got. 5/5
Execution– Here is where I sound like a hypocrite. I love theme in games, but there is a bit here that hurts the game. I can’t read some of the tiles as the runic alphabet is a bit hard to make out. I can still easily play the game, but I can’t read the pieces out loud. Not the worst thing I’ve seen in a game, but it’s a bit of a problem. Also, this game comes with fewer pieces. That’s not horrible, but you don’t get the raw variety of game modes as you do with the Duke. This game doesn’t even come with a mountain tile to make some terrain on the battle field. None of these are game ending or even game changing changes, but it is a slight step back from the awesome parts in The Duke box. See all the pieces here: http://youtu.be/QvLnLKnO360 4.5/5
Summary– Jarl feels like The Duke with Viking Additions. That’s exactly what it should be, so this is a homerun from that standpoint. It does have improvement such as trimmed up rules. It also has some back steps like the smaller tile count. Overall, if you like Vikings more than medieval kings, Jarl is an excellent addition to any two-player gamer collection. 93%
Jarl vs. The Duke!
Let’s say you only have $40 and you step up the the Catalyst booth at GenCon-What are you going to buy? Jarl and The Duke play extremely similarly. Jarl and The Duke both have the exact same mechanic of either activate/move a piece or draw a new piece. And, both do that well. Jarl pieces tend to interact more with shield maidens protecting other pieces and so on. The Duke pieces tend to be much more straightforward, not simpler, actions.
The major difference between the two is execution. Jarl has less in the box but better theme. The Duke comes with more pieces, options to make your own pieces, and even a dragon expansion in the box. Jarl has more theme as the pieces are runes carved from almost bone and a runic alphabet.
So, you have your 40 bucks, what do you buy? Well, I’m more of a fantasy guy, so I vote The Duke. I do like a bit more complexity in my games, but The Duke give me extra pieces, and more game options. But, it’s a tough choice. If you can’t get The Duke, and a copy of Jarl is nearby, that is an excellent alternative.