Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kickstarter bonanza -- Vici and A Duel Betwixt Us

The gears at Game Salute have cranked away and finally spat out a couple games that ran Kickstarters some time ago, landing them on my doorstep last week.

Vici is a two-player battle game, in which players command ancient armies to attack each other's camp. The designer and artist, Ben Shulman, is a friend and game design collaborator, so I've gotten to see a number of iterations of this game as it made its way toward publication. It's very cool to finally see a manufactured copy with heavy chipboard pieces and so on. The published version highlights the good work he did on designing the ergonomics of the game -- it feels clean and intuitive to play.

Vici has a nice balance of strategy and luck. There are good strategic choices to be made about where and how to deploy units, but the outcome of their confrontation is not a sure thing. The unique powers of each unit add a lot of depth. The powers are well-designed to work together -- each type of unit plays off the others, such as having special strengths when battling certain other units or being able to initiate chains of battles in certain ways. The luck element makes it hard for one player to entirely dominate the game, though it can be difficult to come back from a deficit.

A Duel Betwixt Us is also a two-player battle game, but with a very different theme. In this game, players are Victorian gentlemen engaged in contests of strength to win ladies' favor. You employ miners to produce precious ore, which you then use to purchase and construct weapons and armor, as well as carry out various extra actions. Once equipped, you can challenge your opponent to a duel with various specific rules (swords only, no armor, etc).

The art for A Duel Betwixt us is absolutely gorgeous. It has a perfect humorously old-timey look to suit the feel and appeal of the game. This is one of those games that may be worth buying just for the art. The gameplay, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing. Most of the time in the game was spent building up the weapons for the type of duel you wanted to declare. Once a duel was declared, the outcome was almost entirely foreordained -- it was easy to pick out a duel type for which you were well-prepared while your opponent was not, and the various surprise tricks that could be played added only a little uncertainty. Conducting the duel merely consisted of counting up the attack and defense points for each player. Our favorite duel was the "throw everything" duel, because it involved a back-and-forth series of choices (what do you throw, what do you hang on to) that shaped the course of the fight. It was also the zaniest, which was important because I was expecting a much zanier game based on the theme. As a final note, the box for this game was far too large -- a few small decks of cards in a box nearly a foot square. I blame Game Salute for this particular issue, as the box is the exact same size as the one for Vici (which fit it better) and several other GS games I've seen.

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