On Saturday Edmund, our friend Steve and I played the recently-released board game Duel of Ages II published by Worldspanner, along with its huge expansion set, Duel of Ages II Master Set. It was Edmund and I’s first encounter with the game; Steve had tried it solo but had not yet had a chance to play with anyone else.
This is a two-sided game, so however many players you have (normally one to four), they must split up in two teams. Each side gets an array of characters, each with different abilities, equipment and sometimes henchmen, and tries to accomplish a variety of goals that include capture and combat, exploration, mission, and propitiating the multiverse deity Lith.
The game seems to have enormous replay value because there are many scenarios ranging in extent and difficulty, a new game map is assembled form large puzzle-like pieces of terrain, and there are a hundreds of characters from 12 different timelines to pick from. Instead of rolling dice, every random result is resolved using multi-purpose Challenge cards that pack a massive amounts of information.
The art is pleasant and there are lots of funny “flavour text” bits. I was pleased that the characters seemed to present gender balance and a good measure of diversity. The components are not stunning, but they are nice and of good quality.
There are lots of fan-generated resources online already such as new scenarios, alternate counters, tuck boxes for cards and tokens, and the delightful character generator from Lair of Lith that allows you to create your own cards using pictures you upload yourself. (See the example Edmund created with it!)
So How Did It Play?
There is a lot of information to absorb, a lot of stats to understand, and many choices to make that are nebulous for newbies. The game makes ample use of cheat sheets, colour-coding, and symbol-matching to help you, but there is still a steeper learning curve than on most board games I recently reviewed.
We played the ten-turns basic introductory scenario from the Masters expansion, which is suggested for one hour of play when you know what you’re doing, but we stretched it to several hours. (OK, admittedly there was a barbecue dinner to grill and eat in the middle…) And for Edmund and I, completely new to the system, the first two turns were pretty much write-offs as we were just trying to get our bearings — typical for a board game of this scope. (We were on the black side, facing Steve who had the white team).
But Steve went easy on us and patiently repeated the rules a bazillion times (“How do I figure out if I hit, again?”) After the first two turns it was clear that we had picked a couple of characters on our roster that were not good fits for the scenario, but again that’s par for the course on a new game.
I found it very difficult to evaluate which side was ahead and by how much, and it turns out that some reversals can change this very quickly in the end phase of the game. In Turn 8 of 10, we had a turning-point exchange between characters. Hinging on one decision, our side could have gone from slightly behind to completely, hopelessly crushed; instead we ended up squeaking past to victory (did I mention that Steve took it easy on us while we were learning the rules?)
Is It For Me?
This can become more of a beer-and-pretzel game if you have become familiar with the rules, but it is not at the onset. However, it is light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek. It’s probably not a great game for kids (and adults!) who have a short attention span but neither is it ridiculously complicated once you understand the organizing principles. It may feel a little abstract, as the various resources and actions do not represent anything in the real world but are entirely organized around whimsical game fiction.
It feels like a huge amount of thinking and playtesting went into creating this game, with great care for play balance and replay value. I would certainly like to play a few more times while I still remember the rules and see how it plays once we’ve acquired a bit of practice.