First Play: Duel of Ages II

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There are a few games in my collection that I find daunting enough that they take years to hit the table. Usually they are lengthy and complex; it can be a challenge to get a grasp on the rules without playing, but I want to be careful in subjecting my gaming groups to a game I’m not well-prepared to teach.

When I first heard about the 2nd edition of Duel of Ages, I knew I wanted to give it a shot. I also knew it would be “one of those” games. After many reads of the rules we finally decided to table it up this past week!

Duel of Ages 2 is a fantasy war game where characters throughout time and space come together to duke it out. It truly is tactical war game: there is line of sight, melee and ranged fire, terrain modifiers and opportunity fire. Play is divided into two teams each controlling a set of heroes. The game comes with a few different scenario types, each specifying how teams earn points which may include killing or imprisoning your opponents, completing challenges across the map or raiding and destroying your opponent’s base. I would liken it to a significaxntly more complex Heroscape or a slightly less in-depth Tide of Iron.

By the end our game I certainly had mixed feelings:

+ This game is all about the sheer ridiculousness of the setting, characters and the items they will find. Our game had William Wallace rewarded with a mountain bike for participating in a baseball game and gloriously riding the bike across the map, only to be sniped. My giant robot took two bazooka blasts to the chest from Wyatt Earp (well, someone who looked suspiciously like him) before collapsing in a pile of metal and bones. As mechanically rich as the game is, it does not take itself seriously and I really love that; makes for highly memorable moments.

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– As much as I loved the characters, I really didn’t care for the stat system. Each character has a slew of stats represented by icons. Most aren’t that important and are only referenced by specific weapons or other items but it adds too much complexity without enough payoff. I appreciate the coolness factor of having three different types of stats for strength but playability would skyrocket if there was just a single stat for strength. Sometimes less is more and Duel of Ages 2 could greatly benefit from having less.

~ Combat works and is pretty straightforward as far as tactical combat systems go. Compare stats to see if you hit, compare stats to see if the target takes damage. It has a deck of cards to resolve all of this which I think works well once you make sense of the cards (which, similar to the character sheets, are unnecessarily busy and confusing). You may also use dice and hit tables but we stuck with the cards. Opportunity fire is easy enough to resolve even if the rules make it sound overly complicated. Nothing here stands out but also doesn’t get in the way which is important.

+ I like the mission variety and the achievement system. Each mission lists the various achievements that may be earned and at the end of the match whichever team has the most achievements wins. There are often “instant win” conditions as well, such as having twice as many living characters as your opponents or having a major lead in map objectives. It allows for some overall strategy and diversity in play but if one team really starts steamrolling it keeps the game from painfully dragging out.

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– Of course, even with those victory conditions the game is still fairly lengthy. I would plan at least 2-3 hours for a game of Duel of Ages II. Some of the missions even encourage you to play for a set duration and tally the score when the timer runs out; that should give you some insight into how long a game could potentially run.

If your group is more the type to really dig into a game and exhaust all of its possibilities I think there will be a lot for you to love in Duel of Ages II. The sheer variety of characters and items means you’ll have a new experience each time and players that really learn the system will likely find it tactically and strategically deep.

Ultimately I think Duel of Ages II may just not be for my group. I really enjoyed the inner workings of the game but I felt the graphic design and unnecessary complexity were a serious barrier to entry. We play a wide variety of games and rarely dig into a single game, so Duel of Ages II is a tough nut to crack. I liked a lot of what I saw though and we all agreed we’d like to give it another try sometime. With so many other games to play, though, it’s hard to say when that will happen!

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