Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sometimes, the dice hate you (Duel of Ages)

... and sometimes they just hate Kozure.

We dug up from the vault a game we hadn't played in five years... Duel of Ages.

This is an old favourite of mine. Flawed in many ways but still lots of fun and there still isn't really anything like it that I know of. For anyone that isn't familiar with the game, it's a cross between a tactical wargame and Cosmic Encounter. Two teams of 4-10+ iconic characters from the past to the future (depending on the number of players and their experience) run around on a modular map. They compete to dominate a number of challenges all the while beating each other up. The past to future thing means that Conan the Barbarian might be running around a mall parking lot with a laser gun.

For me, the silliness of the time/ space mashups are only occasionally amusing. The real draw is the tactical game. It combines characters, special abilities, cool equipment, line of site, opportunity fire, terrain, vehicles, etc, etc, in a really fast playing and relatively simple design. The biggest problem I have with the game is the way equipment is handed out... when a character successfully defeats a challenge, the player might get to draw a card (or more) from the stack. The issues arise because the deck is HUGE and the variety is vast. You might draw a turreted weapon, a pet tiger, a powerful gun, a hovercraft, a blowpipe, etc, etc, etc. Since most characters have advantages with certain weapons over others the luck of the draw can get really irritating if you never draw anything useful. Conversely, if you often draw the perfect items for your characters your opponent can be at a significant disadvantage.

I realize and appreciate that part of the charm of the game might be in making the best of what you draw. Unfortunately, some of the stuff i just so much better than the rest that it remains a sore point for me. Going into the game, me and Kozure both had thoughts on how to improve this aspect and we tried two variants. At first, we tried having 8 cards face up and having a successful player choose the one he wanted (with the option to sweep the cards away and draw a facedown card). This led to a somewhat overpowered game, and reduced the surprise that normally comes with revealing your equipment to your opponent. About 3/4 of the way through the game we switched to simply doubling the awarded cards and then keeping half of what we drew. In the end, I think that this was the better solution and I think I'd definitely play this way again.

As for the actual game, we played with 8 characters each on 4 platters (the modular game boards) for 3 hours. I had a fairly brawny bunch with characters that where good with weapons (like a couple of cowboy types) and a few terminator-like futuristic robots. I would say Kozure had a pretty well balanced party, with a better representation of characters throughout the ages.

As the game developed, Kozure poor luck was astonishing. He was failing easy challenges with alarming frequency. Combat almost never went his way. I know he will likely comment that he doesn't like to blame luck of the dice for his losses, but this was embarrassing. I, on the other hand, was benefiting from extreme and unusual luck. I succeeded all but two challenges, often rolling "amazes". I was flush with equipment, without any casualties and ahead in 3 of the 4 challenges. About halfway through, I asked if he wanted to concede but he said he'd keep playing. About 1/2 hour before we scheduled to finish we decided to call it quits (Kozure had a plan to retake a challenge and executed on it, but failed another simple roll and lost his chance. It was the straw that broke the camel's back!).

I still really enjoyed it, though. The funny thing about DoA is that even if you are getting hammered points can be really close. There are only 5 points to be had in the base game (leading in the ancient, the colonial, the modern and the future challenges and having the most surviving characters). Because of this, it's possible to be down to 1/3 of your original team and still be winning (if you had been successful in the challenges earlier in the game). It's possible to play a defensive game and just block the entrances to the challenges with your dwindling team and hope to hold on until the time runs out. Still, the fewer characters you have the harder it is to keep the other player from gaining on you so it's still a big advantage if you can destroy the other team.

1 comment:

  1. I try to make a "gaming life" point of never blaming dice or getting upset at the vagarities of chance. Sometimes, though, it's hard to not grit one's teeth at yet another roll of 10, 11 or 12 on a task that only needed a 9 to succeed.

    I also have a general "never give up, never surrender" attitude towards gaming, but sometimes you have to throw in the towel when it's futile and to keep playing is just wasting people's time.

    I actually enjoyed this more than I was expecting, and I wasn't expecting to be bored, so it's good to get this back on the table. Fun game. It's going to be great once my son hits the 8 to 10 age range.