Artist: Adrienne Ezell, Jason Kingsley, Roanna Peroz, John Shulters
Publisher: Renegade Games
Trick-taking games for two players are rare. A coop version of this genre is rarer still. Frankly, I don’t know any besides The Crew. Even then, that game was designed for four players. Playing with two felt suboptimal. In any case, Duet entered the market shortly after a competitive version of the game, Fox in the Forest, was published a few years back. I assume the game met with some success since the Duet version arrived shortly after.
In Duet, players are dealt 11 cards each from a deck of 30 cards. There are 3 suits in the deck, with values ranging from 1-10….hence, the deck of 30 cards. Since only 22 cards are in play each time, you won’t see all the cards every round. In each suit, all odd numbered cards have a special power and on top of that, all cards have a “movement” value that ranges from 0-3. Duet, like its sibling, is a one-card trick taking game. As soon as a card is played and any powers resolved, the high card wins the suit. Like any trick-taking game, one player will lead with a card. The other player must follow with another card of the same suit if they can. Before each round, a single card is also flipped over to show the trump suit. If players play a card in the trump suit that doesn’t follow the lead, then they will win the trick and lead the next hand. In this way players will cooperate to win tricks so that they can achieve a common victory over the system.
So, how do you win the game? Well, both players must pick up all the gem tiles on the main board after 3 rounds of play. These gem tiles are laid out on a linear path and along the path, there are slots at regular intervals where gem tiles are placed. Each slot can contain more than one gem tile. A total of 12 tiles are placed in the beginning of each game and players have up to 3 rounds (each round having 11 tricks) to clear the path of all gems. In between rounds, new gems are placed in some slots to ratchet up the tension. It is not possible to win the game in 1 round as there are 12 gems and 11 tricks to play. However, it is very possible to finish the game in 2 rounds. As player play tricks, the winner of each trick will sum up the total “movement” points on both cards and move a shared token toward him or her. If the token stops at a location with a gem on the slot, that gem is removed and cleared from the board. The shared starts in the middle of the path and will move back and forth on the path a certain number of steps depending on the winner of the trick and the total number of movement points.
Since this is a linear path, it is possible to move too far down one end of the path and run out of space. In which case, the token is reposition in the starting slot and the players a penalized by selecting a slot on either end of the path and sealing it up permanent using a chit. Sealing up a location means that the path is shortened overall, and may make movement a little more challenging. Sealing a slot also occurs at the end of each round and players get to select which end of the path they want to seal. This is meant to slowly increase the tension as the game as it progresses toward the finish line. The game is lost when all the chits are used and players are required to use one more chit to seal a slot. Another way to lose the game is to have leftover gems on the main board after 3 rounds.
As you can imagine, the game requires players to cooperate and move the token along the path, sometimes see-sawing back and forth to hit all the gem locations. Part of the fun comes from figuring out which trick to play or lose to your opponent. In particular, the special powers come in really handy. Some of the powers allow you to swap cards between players, change the direction of the token or ignore movement points. They are pretty potent and when timed properly, can greatly improve your chances of scoring an early victory. Since not every card is in play each round, memorizing the cards shouldn’t matter all that much. We sometimes play with the discard pile splayed wide open so that we know which cards have been played previously. This can help sometimes. Right now, it isn’t immediately clear if there are particular strategies one can use to help improve your odds of winning the game, but at the easy level, we managed to finished the board without too much of a challenge. There are also two sides of the main board to cater to beginners and also an advanced version. This may address the concern of replayability since some folks have noted that game play can feel repetitive after a while. The question is whether Duet is a worthwhile addition if you already have Fox in the Forest. These two games have a very similar core mechanism in terms of card play and differs only in their modes of victory. Sure, the special power cards are different for the co-op game and the competitive game and the objectives are also different, but the game has a similar feel. Overall, I still think Fox in the Forest is a much better design. Unlike Fox in the Forest, Duet is a pleasant distraction because it is a co-op and I think of it as a lazy Sunday-morning-after-breakfast type of game. Because of that, if you are looking for a hardcore trick-taking experience, look elsewhere. Both these games are complementary and I did wonder whether these two games ought to be packaged and sold together in one box. That would be neat. Perhaps they could even include a third entry: Fox Trio?
Finally, something I noted about the game: the theme of gem collection is odd, but really, there is a story behind the entire Fox in the Forest game. However, one would need to read between the lines. Why not just put the entire story up front and center. The broken up bits woven in between the rules is kinda distracting and prevents people from actually connecting theme with the story. I bet many folks are wondering what are the foxes doing with the gemstones. I think Renegade Games kinda missed the boat here.
Initial impressions: Good