GTM #219 - The Duke - Lord's Legacy
by Catalyst Game Labs


                It’s hard to credit, but it’s already been five years since we first published The Duke, our wonderful, two-player, abstract strategy game. It quickly went on to claim numerous awards and gain a slew of staunch fans around the world. We released half-dozen expansions for the game, as well as the companion game The Jarl, which used the same mechanics, but included all new tiles and could be played as a stand-alone game or used to face-off against The Duke.

                For those that haven’t played it before, you each start with three identical wooden tiles on the gameboard. Then, during your turn, you either move a tile on the board, or randomly draw a tile from a bag of reserve tiles and place it on the board. When moving a tile, everything you need to know about what it can accomplish on the board is printed directly on the tile. A series of Movement Icons showcase those abilities: Move, Slide, Jump, and so on, making it very easy and intuitive to learn and play.

                Once you’ve moved a tile to a new square on the gameboard, the real brilliance of The Duke comes into play as you flip it to the reverse side, revealing a new movement profile. This creates a wonderful, dynamic gameboard of ever shifting possibilities of attack and defense as the tiles are moved around and flipped each time. If you enter a square occupied by an opponent’s tile, you capture that tile. Capture your opponent’s Duke tile and you win!

Five years, then, seemed a perfectly appropriate time to publish a Lord’s Legacy Edition of this great game. (I’ve played hundreds and hundreds of The Duke games, and I’ll still stop and play it at the drop of a hat.) However, note that we’re not changing any of the rules. The mechanics are just too good and do not need any type of overhaul. What’s more, almost all of the tiles are wonderfully exciting and work great, so no changes needed there, either. Instead, we focused on a few other areas.

                First, the packaging. While the previous The Duke box was fine, our graphics on the companion game, Jarl, took the experience to a new level. We wanted to fold those lessons back into the Lord’s Legacy Edition and create a more active, vibrant cover that would leap off the shelf at players.

                Next, we took a hard look at the tiles included in the original release. As noted, the vast majority of them are still rock-solid and form the foundation of the game. However, as part of the initial Kickstarter we ran for publishing The Duke, we created several additional tiles, such as the Dragoon, Assassin, Longbowman, Duchess, and Oracle. What’s more, we also include blank tiles for customization, flags for extra scenarios, even a Dragon. All of these seemed prime candidate to alternate out for brand new tiles to experience.

                We decided to do that in two ways. First, alongside the initial game release, we had very limited releases of four expansions: Arthurian Legends, Robert E. Howard, The Musketeers, and Robin Hood. We’ve taken one of the best of those—especially since it fits the flavor so well—and have folded the complete Arthurian Legends’ eight tiles and its accompanying rules into the Lord’s Legacy Edition.

                That still left us room, however, to create five brand new tiles to include as well: the Arbalist, Countess, Sage, Light Horse, and Assassin. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’m sure you’ll quickly know which of those you always look forward to pulling from the bag. For me, it’s the Light Horse.

                Along the way, of course, we ran the rules back through a full edit and development pass to elevate the quality of the game; we can always write and present our game rules better as we learn more and more with each game we publish.

                Now the Lord’s Legacy Edition will be a fantastic version of The Duke for any player. But of course, we had a lot of fun publishing those previous expansions—not to mention the additional expansions of Siege Engines and Reinforcements: Command Troops. And we’ve two new expansions—heading to print simultaneously with Lord’s Legacy Edition—to continue that great experience.

                First up is Gunpowder Uprising, a 4-tile-for-each-player expansion containing the Pistoleer, Mounted Fusilier, Arquebus, and Bombarde. Unlike the new tiles in the Lord’s Legacy Edition, where we had to emulate some of the tiles we were replacing, these are completely new. It also means players simply grab the tiles and toss them into their bags. That allowed us to really go in new and different directions. While still ensuring they feel like a set of tiles with a good theme, of course. It’s a tough call, but of all of these, I think the Mounted Fusilier is my favorite.

                The second all-new expansion is Reinforcements: Battle Troops. This is the second reinforcements expansion—the first being Command Troops—that introduces a “build-your-bag” style of game play. The new Halberd Man tile may replace the Pikeman; the Crusader may replace the Knight; the Highwayman may replace the Marshall; while the Heavy Horse may replace the Dragoon (or the Arbalist, if using the Lord’s Legacy Edition). In other words, there is a light and dark tile for each of those. And at the start of any game, each player can choose to keep the original tiles, or rotate in these new tiles for those old tiles. Hence the “build-a-bag.”

                While this was a very exciting development—actually lead by my son, Bryn, which is its own level of awesomesauce—it was also very difficult. Because each new tile needed to be interesting and fun to play while simultaneously filling the game-play-space of the tile it is replacing—albeit in a new way—and all the while remain balanced. It was a tall order that took far longer to development and playtest than we ever imagined. But we’re very excited with the ultimate result. Hopefully you’ll agree when you get a chance to try them out.

                Unlike the previous two new batches of tiles above, I don’t have a favorite for Battle Troops. Both the Heavy Horse and Crusader bring some great new play style to the game. Meanwhile the Highwayman doesn’t have a non-starting side icon on it, so you’re able to play either side face up when you first place it on the game board; that, combined with its asymmetric play, makes it wonderfully fun.

                Hopefully that gives you an exciting, behind-the-scene look at the coming The Duke: Lord’s Legacy Edition, along with the two new expansions: Gunpowder Uprising and Reinforcements: Battle Troops. Check them out on game store shelves this summer!

If you’re interested in more details, check out www.catalystgamelabs.com.


         Randall N. Bills has lead the development and publication of hundreds of novels, sourcebooks, rulebooks, box sets, game aides and more. He’s currently the Managing Developer for Catalyst Game Labs, overseeing the strategic development of the perennial BattleTech and Shadowrun properties, while managing the rollout of Catalyst Game Labs’ new line of tabletop games, including core development of Dragonfire.