Saturday, September 15, 2007

Duel in the Dark

I first played Duel in the Dark back in June at the Australian Games Expo. It was just the one game with Zev from Z-Man games explaining the rules, I was quite taken by it.

Only a limited number of copies have hit Australian stores so far and Greg managed to get one of those. He has been playing it at lunchtime at work, but unfortunately he is now working in another part of the city, so I had to wait until Thursday night.

We played six games in a row. Three different nights with different weather and we played each night twice, once as the Germans and once as the British. We were playing the basic rules.

In a comment on a recent Gone Gaming post Larry talked about situational luck and resolutional luck. The former being this is the situation in front of you, i.e. the deal of the cards and now it is up to you to make the best of it and an example of the latter being where you have set up an event, e.g. an attack, and then a die roll is used to determine the outcome.

Duel in the Dark is a game that has no resolutional luck, but certainly has situational luck. There are four main aspects of situational luck that I can see and they are all quite thematic.

Firstly there is the weather. Is it clear skies? Full moon or new moon? Fog over the German airfields? Cloud cover or thunderstorms over the British target? What is the prevailing wind? All these things are are dependent on the weather card drawn and all can have an impact on both players. The British player would generally prefer not to have to fly over Germany on a clear night in summer with a full moon. Yes it does make it easier to see the target, but it also makes it easier for the night fighters to see the bombers. There are generally pros and cons to each aspect of the weather. The British see the weather and have to then plan the bombing mission taking into account the weather. The Germans then need to plan their air defence allocation based on what target the British may choose. There is an element of gambling or bluff here. If the weather looks like it is favourable for the British to attack Northern Germany, does the German bulk up the defences in the North leaving the South vulnerable only to find that the English player has gambled on the German doing precisely that and attacks Southern Germany? Trying to protect all cities equally can leave the German defences spread very thin. Even the wind direction can play an important part. In one of our games I chose the target city based on my plan to fly the majority of the way back to Britain flying directly into the wind which plays havoc with the German night fighters and their fuel.

As already mentioned, the second element is the British target and the route to and from the target. Will the British player go for the short, quick and generally safer but less rewarding mission? Or will it be to strike deep into the heart of Germany with a much increased reward but many more chances of being intercepted by the Germans? The British player must decide without knowing the layout of the air defences, but then again the German player then has to plan the air defences without knowing what the target city is.

The air defences themselves are the third element. The German player has forty items to distribute. As mentioned above, where to place them can be important. Also the mix. Radar units help night fighters, but not flak. Refuelling trucks can be very useful if you expect to be operating a lot of night fighters in the area, how many searchlights should you put in a given city? The questions and decisions go on and on. The British player cannot change the bomber's course in reaction to the air defences, however the Mosquito may be used to disable pesky search lights, damage important airfields etc. that may aid the British mission.

For the German player the fourth element is the Mosquito squadron. It is really an element of bluff on the part of the British player. Why has he moved the Mosquito directly in front of the bomber and knocked out one the searchlights in that hex? Is it because that is where the bomber is going and it is serving as an escort? Or is it because the bomber is about to veer to the South and he wants to lure the night fighters away from the bomber? Possibly the German can read the British player, or can deduce from the actions and the possibly target what the British intention is, but if the British player is mentally flipping a coin to determine between escort or lure then I would say there is an element of luck involved. Depending on the weather the German player can lose points when entering the hex with the Mosquito. If it is acting as an escort then these points should be made back with interest when intercepting the bomber, but if the Mosquito was just a lure then the sacrifice was for nothing. This decision point can be quite tense for the German, especially when the fighters are low on fuel and this may be their last chance of an intercept for a turn or two.

We played our six games in three to four hours. Each individual game can be considered a game in itself, but it is nice to play the reverse side and to string a number of missions back to back.

Whilst it doesn't scratch the same gaming itch that say a seven player game of Civilization does, it certainly does make for a very engrossing quite short game and scratches that gaming itch very well.

I'm looking forward to getting my own copy, moving on to the advanced rules and adding the expansion tiles I recently received into the mix and playing many more nights over Germany.

Mmm meeples taste like...

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