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Subject: A Newcomer's Take for Those On the Fence rss

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David Stahler Jr.
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More a collection of thoughts and impressions than a strict review, this is geared toward those newcomers (like I recently was) who might be considering picking this up…

It’s funny how some games can come to define certain periods of your life. 2008 brought me the “Summer of Heroscape.” I was just getting into the hobby and had stumbled upon Hasbro’s now-abandoned gem. In short order, I’d amassed a good collection and was having an incredible time playing. This past year, Dust Warfare was the game that rose above the rest.

It now appears that the summer of 2013 will be forever associated with the release of Duel of Ages II. It comes as a bit of a surprise to me, a revelation even. I’d watched Tom Vasel’s review of the original several years earlier and thought, Meh. Chits and cardboard tokens on bland-looking hex boards? I was playing slick, polished lookers like Space Hulk 3rd Edition, Fortune and Glory, X-Wing, and Descent. In June, I saw the banner ad for DoA II on BGG and had a similar reaction. I did some cursory reading, saw the price tag, and once more dismissed the game.

But something kept me coming back. A few forum posters compared it to my beloved Heroscape. I started visiting the website, started looking at the posted pics. I downloaded the rulebook and read through it, then read through it again. I’d start to get interested, but having immersed myself in so many pretty FFG games over the last five years, DoA’s amateurish-looking design (cheesy fonts! illustrative stick figures in the rulebook!) would put me off. Forget it, I’d think.

But I couldn’t. Somehow, the game got its hooks in me, and the next thing I knew, I was adding the Basic Set, then the Master Set, to my CSI order. Within a week, I went from rejecting the idea of purchase to going all-in. And I can say, without a doubt, that it was totally worth it. It’s been a month now, and though I’ve only managed to get two games in (I have very limited gaming opportunities these days, unfortunately), I’ve spent many great hours not only playing the game but reading through the cards (the characters! the items! the challenges!) and pimping out my collection (63 pocket coin sheets! sleeves for the challenge decks! colored discs to elevate character tokens!). There are some games that, even if I don’t get to play them often, I just feel better having them in my collection. DoA II falls into the category, and I consider it money well-spent.

As for the game itself, here are a few of my impressions so far and reasons why those who may be hesitating should take the plunge…

QUALITY: Let’s get this out of the way right now—from a graphic design perspective, the game will not be winning any awards. However, there’s no question the quality of the components are top-notch. From the box to the cards to the cardboard chits and platters, the components are incredibly sturdy, well-printed and well-crafted. The pictures online don’t completely do the game justice. When the game is set up and you’re ready to go, it’s an impressive sight. In fact, I found I quickly forgot my initial qualms about the art and design and have come to appreciate the aesthetic experience DoA II has to offer. There’s a definite charm to this ugly duckling.

SETTING: As much as I love Heroscape, I never cared for the premise. It seemed a somewhat arbitrary way to combine different genres. To be honest, I don’t always pay much attention to the backstory of many games I play, but it does matter. The premise here—a sort of holodeck/virtual reality/avatar-assuming/futuristic combat-chase “game”—works really well, allowing a diverse range of genres to blend together. In a sense, the premise seems more vital than in many games, providing the narrative glue that holds the disparate parts together in a surprisingly believable and interesting way.

HUMOR: One aspect of DoA II that I really respond to is its quirky sense of humor. The flavor text throughout has a sort of tongue-in-cheek quality that enhances the game and speaks to its virtual reality setting—the game can be brutal and bloody, but in the end, it’s just a game, where the stakes are more for bragging rights than a matter of life and death. I really appreciate a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and DoA II manages to accomplish this without becoming too campy. In fact, one of the highlights of play for my son and I is reading through the various funny outcomes for each labyrinth challenge. Many of the item cards also evoke laughs (one “hunter” card, for example, is an annoying insurance salesman).

VARIETY: The Basic Set has a surprising amount of variety, enough to last quite a while. So why did I pick up the Master Set? At first, it was for the platters. Of the four ages represented in the game (Ancient, Colonial, Modern, and Future), the Basic Set only includes terrain platters from the Ancient period. My completist streak got the better of me. Beyond that, however, the Master Set has more everything. When you first open the set and start reading through the cards, the sheer number of items, henchman, hunters, and sentinels is mind-blowing. But the real star of the game is the characters. Each comes with its own backstory, special abilities, strengths and weaknesses, etc. And with the Master Set, you end up with just shy of two hundred. That’s right, almost two hundred characters. And they’re pretty much all awesome, covering just about every archetype imaginable. My favorite part of the game is actually the setup—dealing out the character cards, learning who your team will be and figuring out how they’ll work together. Obviously, within the huge stacks of various cards, there are many variations on a theme, but everything feels unique and interesting.

What I also appreciate is not only the variety of “stuff” that comes with the game, but the variety of ways in which you can use it. The Master Rules include a whole host of different scenarios and ways of tweaking play to provide a rich variety of experiences. On top of all that, the game itself represents a variety of different kinds of games—with everything from RPG elements (developing and equipping characters) to tactical war game elements (using cover, op-fire, etc). You can choose to imprison rather than kill your enemies. You can infiltrate and destroy parts of your enemy’s headquarters, raid their vaults, break your allies out of prison, recruit henchman, offer tribute to a goddess, and embark on brief virtual reality adventures. Beyond Mage Knight, I can't think of many other board games that allow you pursue so many different actions.

GAMEPLAY: The game play feels tight and smooth, surprisingly so for all that’s going on and considering how many combinations of characters, items, etc. there are. I will say, I found the first game overwhelming. The rules aren’t hard, but there is a tremendous amount to keep track of, especially if you’re playing one on one. I felt a little overloaded at first trying to decide who was doing what, where to move my characters, and how to maximize my team’s strengths. I suggest starting with just two platters and six characters—even with that setup, there’s plenty to keep track of while you’re getting the mechanics down. In the first game, we tried approaching play like a tactical war game (which it is on one level), trying to beat up on each other. The only problem with that approach is that many characters aren’t suited for combat. The second game, things clicked much better—the focus was on trying to win the various achievements, of which combat is just one. The challenge deck is wonderful. Serving as a randomizer for about six or seven different game elements, it accomplishes a tremendous amount and feels like a fresh alternative to traditional dice. (Including a hint, rule reminder, etiquette suggestion, or joke on each card is a nice touch!)

FINAL THOUGHTS: In the end, I’ve had a blast immersing myself in Duel of Ages II, and it’s become the surprise hit of the summer. It’s clever and fun, an impressive game on so many levels. It has real personality—an intangible quality that sets it apart from other games. It’s certainly an investment, but I’ve found it to be a worth-while one. It does play long—at least at first—but the designer has done a great job of providing many different ways of playing, including some variations for quicker games. After our first game, my friend wondered if the game was trying to do too much, but I think it had more to do with our inexperience than any flaw in the game.

I’m not sure how often this will hit the table, but on some level, I don’t even care. Duel of Ages II has already provided me with so much enjoyment that I’m content with the occasional play. If you’re on the fence and unsure (especially if you’re finding yourself put off by the graphic design, like I first was), I’d encourage you to pick up the Basic Set (CSI has it for under $34). You can’t go wrong.
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Josh
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I got to the end of the review (the three things putting me off from the game are the hodgepodge history, the cheesy graphic design, and the apparent time commitment to get the game to the table, although it's nice to hear that the game play more than makes up for these encumbrances), I was thinking how well-written it was, I scrolled back to the top to drop a thumb, and I saw this...

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Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!
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David Stahler Jr.
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Thanks, Josh!

Definitely give it a chance. A lot of the art is actually top shelf. Some not so much. But there's so much to this game, that those concerns quickly disappeared once I started playing. And, like I said, the components are such high quality, it goes a long way toward offsetting some of the cheesier elements.

The board is a little visually busy in the midst of a game. I'm going to be adding discs to the character tokens to give them a little 3D depth. From what a few have said, it makes a big difference.

In an ideal world, it would be great to have minis, but the sheer number of characters, henchman, hunters, sentinels, etc. (around 300, I think), makes it totally impractical.

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Stacie Winters
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Thanks for the review and I agree with your last comment... in the age of miniatures and pretty meeples... this is one game where having miniatures for everything would probably cause even more table space clutter and they would get in the way... especially since this game is designed where any and all numbers of people and things can share the same hex space.
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Josh
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Wheelockian wrote:


The board is a little visually busy in the midst of a game. I'm going to be adding discs to the character tokens to give them a little 3D depth. From what a few have said, it makes a big difference.

In an ideal world, it would be great to have minis, but the sheer number of characters, henchman, hunters, sentinels, etc. (around 300, I think), makes it totally impractical.



I'm a chronic customizer of game components (it's one of my creative outlets), and my first thought when I read this was that I'd be tempted to create cardboard standees. However, not knowing the game, I don't know if this would create even more clutter on the board and obstruct the view of other items.
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David Stahler Jr.
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Some people use plastic card stands (see a recent thread) to hold the counters, effectively doing the same thing. I've considered it, but I think I might like the look and effect of just placing them on black and white painted discs and having them still horizontal but elevated to stand out.
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Johan Haglert
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squash wrote:
I'm a chronic customizer of game components (it's one of my creative outlets), and my first thought when I read this was that I'd be tempted to create cardboard standees. However, not knowing the game, I don't know if this would create even more clutter on the board and obstruct the view of other items.
All that you place on the map is characters, henchmen, hunters & sentinels. Beyond team markers.

However they can all be on the same spot so that make things standing up pretty inconvenient. (Think any war game with card board chits and stacks of them.)
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Aaron Gelb
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Quote:
There are some games that, even if I don’t get to play them often, I just feel better having them in my collection. DoA II falls into the category, and I consider it money well-spent.


This is the x factor..the unexplainable high that I believe puts this hobby of ours, a seemingly geeky, mundane, weird, toy-oriented past time, into the realm of utter pleasure that I can't explain to those not into board gaming as a hobby.

Just the sheer enjoyment of having a game in your collectin despite it not being played all that much...the pleasure of pimping your games, finding the grail games....I mean it really isn't all that different from any other collection-oriented hobby, but man, board games....I sure do love em!

Quick, someone give me a high five! YEAH!
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David Stahler Jr.
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asgelb wrote:
Quote:
There are some games that, even if I don’t get to play them often, I just feel better having them in my collection. DoA II falls into the category, and I consider it money well-spent.


This is the x factor..the unexplainable high that I believe puts this hobby of ours, a seemingly geeky, mundane, weird, toy-oriented past time, into the realm of utter pleasure that I can't explain to those not into board gaming as a hobby.

Just the sheer enjoyment of having a game in your collectin despite it not being played all that much...the pleasure of pimping your games, finding the grail games....I mean it really isn't all that different from any other collection-oriented hobby, but man, board games....I sure do love em!

Quick, someone give me a high five! YEAH!


Virtual high five!
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Shawn Baldwin
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From a fellow heroscape and dust tactics lover this is a great review!
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Christopher Bartlett
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asgelb wrote:
Quote:
There are some games that, even if I don’t get to play them often, I just feel better having them in my collection. DoA II falls into the category, and I consider it money well-spent.


This is the x factor..the unexplainable high that I believe puts this hobby of ours, a seemingly geeky, mundane, weird, toy-oriented past time, into the realm of utter pleasure that I can't explain to those not into board gaming as a hobby.

Just the sheer enjoyment of having a game in your collectin despite it not being played all that much...the pleasure of pimping your games, finding the grail games....I mean it really isn't all that different from any other collection-oriented hobby, but man, board games....I sure do love em!

Quick, someone give me a high five! YEAH!


thumbsup

H I 5vp
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Alan Castell
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War of the Ring. The collectors version. That gives me that high.

Great review. Well written and evokes the feelings I get. Haven't played it much but enjoy re-reading the rules. Will be playing this a lot more, just have Pathfinder Adventure Card Game stealing time.
 
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Destrio Dai
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OP you mention Mage Knight which is my favorite game this year despite it coming out previously. Mage Knight has the benefit of being a great solo puzzle-like game.

Having not read much beyond watching a review, would you say DoA2 is a good game for those who enjoy Mage Knight immensely? It doesn't sound like a solo game but would it be good for 2+players who dig the complexity of Mage Knight?

Thanks in advance
 
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David Stahler Jr.
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They're very different games in a few important ways, but they do have a few things in common. Most importantly, there's something about them both that is very mentally stimulating.

When I play Mage Knight, I find my brain working overdrive considering all the options in terms of maximizing my hand, how and where to explore, when to fight, etc..

When I play DoA II--which, unfortunately, is not nearly as often as I'd like--I find my brain reacting in the same way, trying to figure out how to best use my team, who to send where, which objectives to chase, how best to attack or evade the foe, etc..

I feel weirdly wired after playing both. One other odd thing: every time I've played DoA in the evening, I end up dreaming it about that night--very vivid dreams of playing game. Not sure what that says about the game (or me, I suppose), but it's interesting.
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Bern Harkins
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I find DOA 2 is slightly less complex, less mentally taxing and (depending on the scenario) shorter than Mage Knight.

It is only a bit less taxing, though... the experience is still one of constant thought and recalculation. It just doesn't hurt QUITE as badly.

I enjoy both games greatly, but I think DOA 2 is more fun. Just a little more fun.

Solitaire play has to be done in the play-both-sides, pretend-you-can-fool-yourself mode, but I've seen video of DOA 1 where it seemed to work. I've only played four player, but two player seems like it would be fine.

I've had more DOA dreams than Mage Knight dreams, despite having played MK more. My worst game for extending itself into my sleep period, however, is definitely Robo Rally.
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Alfonso Velasco
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Mage Knight is more "brainburner" than DOA II,less dependent on luck than DOA II. But Mage Knight is a multiplayer solitaire, no interaction amongst players,no direct conflict.DOA II has direct conflict of course.
Anyway both games are great.
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