untidy anarchist dirtwitch heap

  • she/they(?)

This week (yes I know I'm behind, one of these weeks I'll get two short games and post them at once to catch back up), we've got a small and yet meaty two-player game.

A Duet of Steel is setting-agnostic game about playing two rivals, each part of some broader conflict, who repeatedly come into contact over the course of their lives. The game is played with a deck of cards, five to a hand, and each duelist has a special ability. Duels are simple: Each duelist flips a card from the deck, highest goes first. Attacker plays a card facedown, and the defender can choose to defend, endure, or concede, each interesting choices with their own strategic value. Then, unless one side conceded, it goes around again.

It's a game of attrition, and so the actual mechanical stakes of the conflict are 'reprisals' which are negative modifiers inflicted on the winner by the loser of a duel when they concede (like the winner only having 4 cards next round), but successful attacks can eliminate reprisals from your foe's sheet. Do you risk continuing, and losing your reprisals? Or do you give up and lose the fight so you can hurt your foe now and have a better chance at winning later?

The game is played out over six duels with seven downtime scenes between them (with downtime mechanics like redrawing your cards or forcing your opponent to discard some of theirs), and the conflict stakes are determined by a "scene card" drawn at the start of a duel, which pulls from a table of results going from petty interpersonal reasons to a major setback to the loser's side of the broader conflict. The suit of the card determines the spoils to the victor -- a victory point, a reconciliation point, either, or a new special.

When all the duels are over, you tally up the victory and reconciliation points. An interesting thing here is reconciliation points apply to either side, whereas victory points only apply to the winner, so it's much easier to fill up reconciliation than it is victory. Regardless, whatever's higher at the end is the outcome: One of the duelists' sides winning, or both sides reconciling.

All in all, this game rocks, I'd love to play it, it has the complexity of a card game on top of its juicy premise in a way that makes what seems like a great blend of narrative and mechanics.