Tag Archives: abstract

Wild Wood – The Duke review

The Duke COVER

You know when you’ve met someone for the first time and they ask you the terrifying question about the stuff that you enjoy doing? Then you bring up the subject of board games and they inevitably go “Oh, like Monopoly?” or they wander off down a mental alleyway to when they used to play in the Chess Club at school? That happens to me pretty regularly. Not that it’s a bad thing – I think I have my little speech down pat now about the kinds of things I like to play, and most of the time people will happily listen, then nod and walk off. Of course, those are the ones who mentioned Monopoly; they simply can’t be saved. The folks who talk about Chess though…? Perhaps they can be brought back from the edge and into the fold…

The Duke, from Catalyst Game Labs, was a roaring Kickstarter success last summer and is now available in your local store. If any of those former Chess players express even the vaguest interest in seeing what games have to offer these days, I’d grab a copy and put it down in front of them immediately. Many strategy games will claim to be the greatest thing since Chess, but the vast majority fall very short of the mark – thankfully, The Duke manages to combine many familiar elements with some new ideas that make it quite a compelling game that will be a worthy part of your collection, especially if you’re looking for a quality two-player effort.

Played out on a six by six grid of squares, each player begins with three tiles; two Footmen and the ubiquitous Duke. The tiles are double sided, showing the name and a grid of moves that a piece can do – most of the time it’ll be shifting one space or jumping, but there are also plenty that can slide the length of the board, assuming there’s nothing in the way. Once a piece has been moved, it is flipped over so the reverse side is shown, revealing an entirely different set of potential moves. Manage to land on an opponent’s tile and that piece is taken. Capture the enemy Duke and the game is done.

Of course, this would be a pretty weak game if you were just armed with those three starting tiles. Mercifully, each player is also given a bag filled with more troops that will expand your army further, all of whom have different abilities – and not just simple movements. Whether it’s the Champion who can attack adjacent tiles as well as leap over them or the General who commands other tiles to switch positions, you’re allowed to bring a new tile onto the board if you choose not to move another that is already in play – the only thing is that the new tile must be placed adjacent to your Duke. Of course, the more tiles you bring out, the more limited the areas you can move into, and on a board that only contains thirty-six spaces… well, you can work it out quite quickly that playing this game requires a delicate touch. Balance is key if you are to win in The Duke.

It may look simple, but there's a lot of thought put into every move...

It may look simple, but there’s a lot of thought put into every move… and then you mess up and hate yourself. Every. Single. Time.

A good head for planning ahead is also something of a requirement, but adaptability is also necessary. Every time you pull a new tile out of your bag, you’re never sure what it will be – after all, there are sixteen different troop tiles in there – so you’ll have to be able to work with whatever happens to appear. Where it’s rare that a game of Chess ever goes ‘off the book’ – in other words, something brand new happens that has never been seen before – I think that such an occurrence would be a rarity in The Duke simply because of the randomness you’ll get from the combination of board position and drawn tiles. That’s a very long way of saying that no two games will be alike, which adds to the replay value of this fine little game.

Also padding out the package are bonus tiles to be used to alter the terrain, a ridiculously powerful Dragon tile, a couple of flags (seriously, Capture The Flag in an abstract board game!) and even a couple of blank tiles and sticker sets that you can use to customise your own pieces. Dive into the rulebook and you’ll discover different ways to play the game and challenge even the most experienced of gamers. There’s even a couple of mini expansions available that represent characters such as Conan the Barbarian, the Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, and even some Arthurian Legends… Some curious choices, sure, but it’ll be interesting to see how they’ll interact with the already available set.

As a package, The Duke is rather nicely presented. The tiles are hardwood and feel solid in the hand, and though I had a slight issue with some of the darker set being slightly different shades, it’s far from a gamebreaker. All images on the tiles are clearly screen-printed and though I believe the original plan was to laser cut them (which would’ve added to their longevity) they seem pretty durable – certainly clattering about in their respective bags doesn’t seem to have caused any damage. The bags themselves are the only things I plan to switch out as they’re made from a very flimsy fabric that doesn’t seem to lend itself to the high quality of the rest of the game.

All told, I can’t recommend The Duke highly enough. Yes, there are limitations – it’s strictly for two players, some people may disregard it due to its highly abstract nature, and it’s quite a pricey little package – but if there’s a gap in your collection for a quick-playing strategy title, this one should be on your list to investigate. Long live The Duke!

The Duke was published by Catalyst Game Labs in 2013. Designed by Jeremy Holcomb and Steven McLaughlin for two players only, games will take you around fifteen to thirty minutes. Should you desire a copy – and who wouldn’t? – you can get one from Gameslore for £23


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King of Snake – Hydra review


It’s safe to say that I am not the biggest fan in the world of abstract strategy. I like theme in a game! I like complicated stuff and millions of bits! However, one thing I’ve always wanted to do here on littlemetaldog.com is give everything a try at least once, so if a game is put in front of me It Will Get Played. Them’s the rules! I’d like to think that I can put aside my meh-ness towards a genre of games and see good stuff in everything I play – after all, who knows, I might find something that I enjoy! And goodness me, what’s this? A game that’s made me think that not all abstracts are terrible? Blimey.

Hydra is a two player game built around simple rules with a single objective – to create a single continuous line across the playing surface with your tiles. Each player is given twenty eight tiles in their colour – three Heads, four Tails and twenty-one Bones – which you’ll use to wend your way over the play surface. One will work their way from North to South, the other will go from East to West, but (as you’ve probably worked out) there’s an issue. At one point, the players’ lines will have to cross over somewhere – and it’s here where the game gets really quite tricky and mean.

You see, the three different tile types allow for different placements, and it’s getting to grips with these that will see you ending up the winner. Heads are the most versatile, allowing your next placement in any of the four orthagonal spaces next to it. Tails are useful should you need to turn a corner. Bones, meanwhile, are the simplest of the tiles, only allowing for the creation of straight lines.


In this example, the Light player uses two Bones to move from the bottom of the board, a Tail to turn right, another Bone then a Head.

Each turn will normally see you placing a single tile on the board, either at one of the edges you’re trying to link or off a piece that is already on the board. You also have the option of flipping an already placed tile which can be retrieved at the end of your next turn, or not placing anything and flipping two instead. The playing area, a seven by seven square, quickly gets very busy and the two lines will quickly collide but only a Bone tile can be crossed. Heads and Tails tiles are ideal for blocking your opponent’s plans then, but there’s a literal price to pay: using then will require you to discard tiles from your pile which will quickly limit your options. For every Tail used, you’ll discard three tiles; for every Head, it’s four, and you’ll only be able to reclaim these spent tiles by flipping and removing the played pieces from the board. It’s an ingenious idea that really balances the game out – sure, you could put a load of the more powerful tiles on the board, but you’ll go broke quickly, and it’s in fact impossible to traverse the board using only Heads and Tails. 

For such a small game with simple rules, there’s an awful lot of opportunity for cruelty in Hydra – which is probably what makes it appeal to me despite my normal lack of affection for abstracts. Having played it a fair few times now (and lost every single match) I’m developing an appreciation for the game, recognising where I went wrong and what I could have done to  fix errors I have made during play. Actually figuring out how to win hasn’t quite clicked yet but I feel that will come with time in this game that rewards considered thought and multiple plays. The more experience you have with Hydra, the better you’ll become at recognising openings and options and the more pleasurable your gameplay will be.

While it’s not converted me entirely into the fold of full-on loving abstract strategy, I’ve come to realise that I’ll happily go back again and again to the genre if I’ve got the right game in front of me. Hydra is a well developed little affair that has some neat ideas – plus did I mention that the wooden box collapses down to create the playing surface? It’s these little touches that make me want to put copies of the game in front of others and demand they play with me, if only because I could possibly beat a total newbie…

Hydra is a self produced design by Simon Dangerfield. The game will be launched officially at this year’s UK Games Expo in Birmingham over the weekend of May 25th to 27th. For more information, contact Simon via email: simon@talltree.co.uk


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Push It – Epigo review


It must be said that I don’t often go in for abstracts. I’m a theme boy. I like stories and imagery, something that I can really get my teeth into, but once in a while a game pops up on my radar that I end up enjoying. Epigo from Masquerade Games is my current abstract of choice, one that combines the two pillars of the genre; simple rules and plenty of options. It’s not the prettiest game to look at by any stretch of the imagination but the game itself is really rather entertaining.

Either two or four may play, though the basic game recommends a couple of players to get to grips with how it all works before trying anything more convoluted. Counters, known in the game as Epigons, are lined up face down across from each other across the centre of the board, then flipped to reveal the numbers 1 to 7. An eighth tile, marked with an X, is removed from the board an will take no place in the game.

Now play can begin. Each player is also give a stack of Order tokens, again numbered up to seven, but these have the addition of arrows. At the start of each turn, the players must choose three of these Orders and place them in a small stack. Once both sides have chosen the three Epigons that they’ll move for that turn, the top Orders are revealed simultaneously. Whoever has the highest number moves their piece first (showing the same number as your opponent simply cancels both of your moves), and it’s here where the arrows on the Orders are important. You see, it’s not just a matter of stacking them any way you like – you can only attempt to move the selected Epigon in the direction denoted.

This is where the more interesting aspects of the game come into play. It takes a while for the skill to develop, but if you want to do well in Epigo you must learn how to read your opponent and foil their plans while at the same time advancing your own. Moving into a space that could potentially block the other player’s next move is immensely satisfying – you get a real feeling of one-upmanship when you manage to pull it off – and it can prove very useful as a single piece can only move another single. Epigons are captured when pushed off the board, and the first person to get three is the winner, meaning that games don’t take too long.

Or they shouldn’t, at least. With only having a maximum of three moves at your disposal during each turn, you’d hope that you’d be able to rattle off a fair few games in next to no time. However, set Epigo down in front of someone who has even a minor case of the APs and you could well be in there for the duration. It’s a problem similar to a multiplayer game of RoboRally; you’re trying your best to do what you want to do but have to take into consideration the potential moves of your enemies. It’s the kind of play that could make a brain burst…

Four players mid-game. Push those Epigons off the board!

Four players mid-game. Push those Epigons off the board!

Settle in for a session with someone who doesn’t have a propensity for paralysis and you’re looking at a very enjoyable experience which is only expanded by the inclusion of over twenty variants straight out of the box (admittedly including the four-player format). These range from different set-ups to entirely new ways to play, introducing extra rules and paths to victory. The team at Masquerade have done their very best to ensure that anyone who picks Epigo up gets good value for money and continue to support the game with even more extras on their site. There’s even rules for three players should you be looking for them.

All told, Epigo has really quite impressed me. When I initially cracked open the box I was far from impressed; it doesn’t look like much when you open it up but giving it a well-deserved chance will reveal a surprisingly complex game. Even if you have an attitude similar to mine, one that highly values theme in a game, I’d strongly advise you still give it a try – it could be the game that unveils a whole new world of play.

Epigo, designed by Chris Gosselin and Chris Kreuter, was originally released through Masquerade Games in 2011. Only two or four players can get involved and games should take you around fifteen to thirty minutes. If your interest has been piqued, Gameslore can sort you out a copy for £19 – seriously, give it a shot. It’ll be a revelation. 

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Glory Days – For The Win preview

So, let’s talk about For The Win. It’s a new project launched on Kickstarter by the folks over at Tasty Minstrel Games that seems to have come from nowhere that caught the imagination of the pledging public when TMG’s owner Michael Mindes announced that the game would be initially funded under a Pay What You Want deal. With seven hundred people signing up for that within a couple of days, the game is nearly two thirds of the way to funding with just under three weeks to go on the campaign. The question is should you chuck your money behind this project?

Well, to decide that you’ll want to know what the game’s about – and if it’s any good… Ostensibly it’s a simple abstract for two players that – from the outside at least – feels very much like John Yianni’s classic Hive. Players each get ten double sided tiles split into five pairs, each represented by a different icon. Some of the internet’s favourite things are the stars of this game with Ninjas, Monkeys, Pirates, Aliens and Zombies coming together in a battle for the ages – and you’ve got two of each of them on your side. The objective is straightforward enough: get the five different icons face up and adjacent to each other (orthogonally, diagonally or a mix of both) before the other person does by adding tiles to the grid, moving them around and flipping them.

There's plenty of actions available to a player, but do you use just one or go for two?

At the start of each round, players are given five actions that can be used in ones and twos before passing over to your opponent. These actions are your standard move a tile / shove a line affairs, but that flipping aspect is a whole new thing. By turning a tile face down you activate that creature’s power, each one allowing you to do something a little different to the playing grid. The Ninja, for example, can be moved to any location on the play space, showing how stealthy and sneaky it can be, while the Zombie infects pieces around it turning them undead. The Pirate’s power allows you to move any other piece (firing them out of a cannon), the Alien attracts pieces towards it (tractor beam) and the Monkey flips over all adjacent tiles thanks to its banana skin power.

It’s a quick playing game that – thanks to its portability – can be pretty much set up anywhere as long as you’ve got a flat surface. Despite the simple ruleset it’s got quite a lot of think to it. You’ve really got to pay attention to what the other player is doing while trying not to screw up your own plans. A game can switch from victory within your grasp to utter defeat in a couple of turns if you don’t focus, so don’t take the cutesy icons for granted! Also, with clever play you can actually turn the game round so you can get a stack of actions to play through while your opposition sadly shakes their head, frustrated that you’re wiping the floor with them… and there’s nothing they can do.

Player Two For The Win! Set-up for the next game will take about five seconds...

The addition of powers and the decisions you need to make regarding spending your actions mean that For The Win is no Hive rip-off. It’s a whole new deal from designer Michael Eskue that feels fresh and fun – and this isn’t even the finished version of the game. I’m trying out the print and play demo; all I have is a few bits of paper stuck on card and I can still see the game shining through. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the final version which will come with big chunky plasticised tiles, adding a level of tactile appeal that’s always nice to have.

If you’re interested in getting a copy yourself, there’s only one way: get yourself over to Kickstarter (here’s a link to make your life easy) and put your money where your mouth is. The game will eventually be available through regular retail channels, but to keep ahead of the pack you’ll want to back the campaign. This is a quality little game that deserves your attention – even if you’re not totally into abstracts, For The Win has that combination of quick playtime and straight-up enjoyment that could be enough to change your mind for good!

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Red Light Spells Danger – Khet 2.0 review

Ahhh, Chess. The noble game, two warriors facing each other on opposite sides of the board, their armies ready to sacrifice all for one purpose – to save the King. Years of study by some of the greatest minds on the planet, epic battles taking place over the space of hours…

I bloody hate Chess.

It’s a game that can be won by simply remembering patterns. If you’ve got a better memory than the other guy, you’re more than likely able to defeat him and that’s why I don’t like it. It’s not fun. I remember Chess Club at school – I even went for a couple of weeks – but I stopped because I was so bored. I’d much sooner have had Escape From Atlantis Club.

I got a game in the post a while back that a few mates had played before. When it was described to me as Chess-like I immediately went on the defensive. A big Do Not Want alarm went off in my head… but I was placated for a couple of reasons. Number one: it’s a made up game with an Egyptian theme. Number two: it’s got LASERS. Who doesn’t love lasers? Ladies and gentlemen, the future of abstract games is here. In this house it’s called Egyptian Laser Chess but the rest of the world refers to it as Khet 2.0.

The start of a game is generally pretty safe for both players. Soon, though... laser-y madness.

First of all, there’s a couple of vague similarities to chess. The objective is still to topple the opponent’s King (though with this being Egyptian themed, it’s the Pharaoh). Players have a range of pieces at their disposal but rather than moving them to “take”, attacking is very different. Each turn a player either moves a piece one square in any direction or rotates one by 90 degrees. Then, using the single Sphinx that sits in your corner of the board, you shoot a laser straight ahead by pressing down on its head.

If that laser hits and lights up a non-mirrored side of a piece it’s off the board immediately, whoever controls it – and it’s very easy to wipe out your own side if you don’t pay attention. You’ve got a load of Pyramids which bounce the laser 90 degrees but have two sides that can be attacked. A couple of Scarabs – basically double-sided mirrors – are also available to you.

Your Pharaoh is also protected by a couple of defensive Anubis pieces. These don’t reflect the laser but can absorb a direct hit from the from the front so are very strong indeed – hits to the side or rear still mean they’re out though. In a game where destruction is a constant companion, a huge amount of thought is needed when manipulating your pieces and redirecting the laser around the board.

The various tools of your trade: Sphinx, Pharaoh, Anubis, Scarab and Pyramid.

Playing Khet 2.0 really demands your full concentration. As there’s a possibility of losing a piece on both your turn as well as your opponent’s thanks to all those lasers flying about, you need to be thinking several moves ahead. Sure, you could just go for it turn by turn, but the player who considers their actions will be at a definite advantage.

The manual gives suggestions of three different starting set-ups, each of which offers a slightly altered experience in early gameplay. Players are also encouraged to experiment with their own start formations but after a few turns it does feel like the start doesn’t really matter that much – the pieces have moved around so much that every game is much like any other, a descent into organised chaos with lasers.

It’s a very simple abstract game that most players will pick up in next to no time. I’m not sure about the Egyptian theming, it must be said – personally I’d prefer it if it were entirely abstract, maybe along the lines of something from GIPF Project? However, the designers have made their decision and fair play to them, Khet 2.0 is brimming with pyramid-inspired goodness. The playing pieces and board are built to a high quality and production throughout is grand.

Death! Death to the traitorous Silver Pharaoh! Flawless victory to the mighty Reds!

By the way, the 2.0 in the name refers to the fact that this is actually a remake of the original Khet. That version also had a couple of expansions, a beam splitter and additional section that added an extra layer to the board. The makers of 2.0 promise that these enhancements will be available sometime – in fact, the instructions even say that the splitter is out now, but it’s not – but for now the game offers a decent enough challenge for lovers of abstracts. It’s a good little two-player game that will appeal to those who want a quick workout for their brain.

Khet was designed by Luke Hooper, Michael Larson and Del Segura. Originally published in 2005, Khet 2.0 was redesigned and reissued in 2011, and is published by Innovention Toys. Available from your FLGS as well as many toy and book stores, it’ll set you back around £28 / $40.  It’s also available online from the official Khet site

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