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Subject: Why DOA II does what DOA I didn´t rss

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Bernhard Vierthaler
Austria
Salzburg
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I think it was 2007 or 2008, I lived in Korea at that time and so did Tom Vasel. I was lucky to find him by accident over the internet and soon joined his game meetings which he hosted monthly. In one of these meetings he introduced us to Duel of Ages I and his enthusiasm made me buy the whole bunch of base and expansion sets. I played it maybe five times with other people and a couple of times solo – and it didn´t ultimately click. The main problem was that the characters didn´t really come alive for me. Just ugly symbols on small hexes didn´t do the job. Now I still never regretted the purchase because I literally spent hours just to read through all the character and equipment cards and I really enjoyed it. But as a game I was still disappointed and I wouldn´t have rated it higher than a 6 or 7.

When they announced DOA II I was sure I wouldn´t spent another 200 Euros on it after spending roughly 150 on the first one. But I looked at the cards, read the streamlined rules, saw the quality of the components and ordered the whole bunch again. I think I never was looking forward to a game as much before and when it finally arrived I was blown away by the quality and sheer amount of the components.

So far I played four games against other players and about 5 games solo. And what can I say: I bought three games this year that I found absolutely inspiring: Archipelago, which I really love, Android Netrunner, which is really a great game and DOA II that blew away not only these two games but also the game that sat firmly on the throne for almost six years now: Twilight Struggle (which I also learned through Tom Vasel, you see: I owe him a lot).

Compared to DOA I Duel of Ages II for me is an improvement in almost every way. Let me share some thoughts why it is like that.

1.) The new character cards

As I mentioned before I just didn´t have the imagination to let the characters come alive with DOA I. They were merely stats with some ugly symbols and they just didn´t have the personality they should have for a game like this. The new character cards are like reading a good collection of short biographies and short stories. People complained about the mixed artwork. I can understand that but I have to say in a way I like it that there are so different styles in the art. Which one you prefer is a matter of personal taste and I just find it nice that there are so many different styles blended together. What I also really like are the texts on the backside. All characters have their background story or a little short story attached to them and I enjoy it immensely just to pick a card randomly and read through these stories and then look at his stats and visualize what this character really is and represents. The new setting, circle and nature symbols give them a lot more individuality and the portraits finally also let them come alive visually – I LOVE the new character cards – not to mention that the size of the cards sets them apart from the other stuff and put them where they belong to: at the center of your attention.





Character Cards DOA II and DOA I - Frontside



Character Cards DOA II and DOA I - Backside



2.) Henchmen and Equipment cards

I think it´s great that the henchmen have their own deck now: they are far from pointless weaklings – BUT they are NOT characters. You love to have them but they have their own place now: they feel like what they are: henchmen.



Henchmen Frontside




Initially reluctant about the separation of the equipment into three decks I absolutely love this mechanism now, too. There is still enough uncertainty about what you will get, but at least you can control the odds now a little bit according to what kind of equipment you will get. And also you will probably not always pick the elite choice if you are able to do so because they are great cards but their usefulness is sometimes very situational. It is just great fun to have the choice between the decks and I wouldn´t want to miss them anymore.




Equipment





3.) The Labyrinth adventures

The second big shortcoming of DOA I after the character cards for me was the adventuring: Running around the Labyrinth just for the victory points seemed to be very lackluster. The towers I hardly ever used. But now the adventures also have a huge strategic impact. If you have 3 or 4 ancient characters and by finishing a path in the ancient labyrinth the advantage you gain can be really significant. It makes challenging the guardians a lot more meaningful for the flow of the whole game. That they doubled the amount of guardians is a great thing, too, it becomes a lot less repetitive this way. And that you now can get all sorts of bonuses if you challenge the guardians with the right characters is great: again giving the characters a lot more individual personality. Lith´s Lair substituting the cumbersome towers, the bases now getting really meaningful for the game, the Alliance key: ALL great improvements – I am very happy with that.




Labyrinths DOA I and DOA II




4.) Customization of the game

What a great achievement also in this regard. The new encounters are perfect if you want to speed up the climax of the game. I didn´t use them yet, because I like the slow speed in the buildup of the game. But if you are short of time I think this is the perfect choice to speed things up without losing the feel of the game.
The different character selection methods, the different map building methods (I really want to try the Split setup) the different achievement choices (labyrinth achievements, flags, escaping for a rush game): you can customize the game in almost every regard: and it is not just for the sake of customization: it REALLY changes things and gives you a lot of variety to play around with. It is just fantastic.

5.) Gameplay

DOA is a mixture of strategy and tactics. And like it is advertised: the focus is on the tactical side. You have to reconsider your goals almost every turn according to what your opponent does, what equipment your characters get into their hands and how your characters perform in the combat and adventures. And I LOVE that also. No one way strategy that you have to pursue from start to finish but constant changes in the assessment of the game and your goals: that keeps the pace up, the excitement level high and the surprises coming. For me it´s the perfect blend of strategy, tactics and luck – I am perfectly happy with how the game plays.

6.) The Stories

And there you have it: this is what sets this game apart from almost every other game I played. This game delivers constant stories without sacrificing anything according to the gameplay. And that is another huge achievement accomplished here. There are games that are thematic and there are games that have a great gameplay. Very few excel in both areas. DOA II does. Earth Reborn does. Archipelago does. Twilight Struggle does. Die Macher does. There are more I could mention here, but these games come to my mind when I think about a perfect blend of gameplay and theme.
Let me give you one example: Let´s talk about Arkham Horror: there is theme there, yes. But it is not delivered through the game mechanics. It is delivered through texts on cards and the ability of the players to get immersed into the game. I don´t have the game partners to really enjoy Arkham Horror anymore. My game partners are not roleplay gamers so normally we just read what the cards do and their stats and that´s it. We hardly play Arkham Horror anymore, in our game groups, it´s just not that much fun for us. Betrayal on House at the hill is A LOT more thematic, but the gameplay is not very sophisticated and the game itself not very balanced (I still like to play it a lot more than Arkham Horror though).
Then you have a lot of Eurogame style games with great mechanics and a pasted on theme: watch Tom Vasel´s video reviews of Eurogames and you know exactly what I mean (by the way: I am very happy to own the signed copy of Vasco da Gama Tom threw from the roof of his house in Seoul ). But in the games I mentioned above this is not the case. And Earth Reborn and DOA II beat them all in this regard. In many games I am tired after 5 hours of play. After a game of Earth Reborn or DOA II another layer of fun just BEGINS to unfold. As my English is not good enough to express this in an accurate way I just call it: the nostalgic reminiscence. Somebody wrote somewhere (was it another review?) that he was sad when the game ended because he just got used to the world and his team of characters, and that the game would never be the same again. And that is true. There are so many moments you remember after a game. And the next game will be different in nearly every regard. The replayability is endless and so are the stories you can talk about after nearly every game. Yes, I really think I only know Earth Reborn and Duel of Ages that can do that on this level (although there are many games I don´t know, so that doesn´t mean a lot).

7.) The Character Card Generator

The last thing I want to mention is the Character Card Generator on the Lair of Lith Homepage. Here you can see the incredibly customizable character of the game again. It is easy to build a character with the fantastic tool they offer there, it is fun and it is very inspiring. It´s so cool to take one of your friends picture and in the next game she/he suddenly is playing her/his own character in the world of DOA II and it doesn’t feel like it “disturbs” the game world but it´s perfectly fine to have her/him there. How great is that?




Selfmade character (Lair of Lith hompage)





Conclusion

Well, it´s obvious. I didn´t get warm with DOA I. DOA II is defintely one of the best games I ever played and the first game since Twilight Struggle I rate a 10. These two games are as near to perfection for my personal taste as you can probably get.




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Bill Perks
United States
Wilmington
North Carolina
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I never had an opportunity to play DoAI, but I do concur with you that DoA II is currently my favorite game by far and I am excited that I have introduced it to both "wargammers" and "eurogamers" at my FLGS, and both camps are loving it. Two friends have purchased the Basic and Master set and I was thrilled to see a couple die-hard Euro players playing the store's demo copy last evening (thank you Brett)
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Aaron Bohm
United States
Appleton
Wisconsin
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I agree with the overhaul to the visuals.

It's kind of neat that with a couple of the new groups I've played this with now I've had to tell them, "Hey, put the game pieces down and stop looking at them until I'm done explaining the rules!"
 
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Bernhard Vierthaler
Austria
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Yeah, I really think you don´t have to be a wargamer to like this game. After one game the game flows very smoothly rulewise and you can focus on the fun
 
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