Some words in the English language are overused to the point that they are institutionally diluted. “Awesome”, “radical”, “liberal”, and “conservative” are but a few examples of words that are so overused that they simply lack the potency and relevancy they once had. I mean seriously…does an “awesome” picture of a LOL cat peeing truly inspire awe, when in 1945, a giant mushroom cloud would be the standard? Is a video of of a monkey flinging poo at a rude zoo patron really radical? Of late, “epic” is the word that we’re all guilty of overusing, but luckily, there are still some things that merit the use. For example, Epic Duels.
Epic Duels may very well be the best light miniatures games ever made. It is the definition of a duel that is epic in nature, especially if you go to Star Wars conventions with wookiee hats on. But even if you’re not a fan of yellow lasers, if you like smartly designed, accessible skirmish games, then this should be at the top of your list to buy. There is only one problem with this game, though, and you should be aware of it: it’s been out of print a while, so you’re going to have to get Tim Norris lucky at a Goodwill, or you’re going to have to spend beyond $60.00 US to get a copy that looks like it was used by a touring band. And a rowdy one. All that being said, though, it is absolutely worth the price, and if you don’t have a copy in your collection, chances are that you are either dice-averse or wooden cube dependant, which in either case, I pity you.
You see, there may be nothing more satisfying than having Vader Force Choking the heck out of Leia like a tube of toothpaste or giving a colostomy to Boba Fett with Chewbacca’s Bowcaster. There are simply very few games out there that provide the tension, excitement, and just straight-up fun as Epic Duels, and I can’t think of many that are as memorable. Part card game and part miniatures game, the concept of Epic Duels sounds simple: a bunch of Star Wars icons, and I mean iconic characters, not Windows icons or something, run around a little stadium blowing the crap out of each other.
While it sounds simple, to master it you need to have tactical skill in maneuvering your wee beasties into firing positions, you need to be able to bluff like a poker champion, you need to be able to manage your hand of cards, you need to know when to attack and when to stockpile “ammo”, and you need to have a copious amount of Irish luck to get the cards you need or the right roll of the die.
When you look at the box, you are greeted with the standard “I am Jedi, I am invincible” artwork that you’ve come to expect, and when you crack open the box you’re met with a bunch of card decks, a bunch of pre-painted miniatures, a single die, and a bunch of little hit point counters. On top of that, there’s two double-sided map boards in the box as well as character sheets for each team of characters.
The artwork on everything is perfect, and the quality of everything is exceptional. The miniatures are the stars of the game, though, because not only are they pre-painted, they’re really good. I’d argue that they’re actually better than the Star Wars Miniatures game miniatures, although many would disagree with me, I’m sure.
My particular copy, which I got used from a man with a name that only a rock star should have, was “rode hard and sent home wet” as it literally WAS the “road trip” game for a touring rock band. Yet, the game is still in good shape. Some frayed edges on the cards, but that’s all the wear and tear this bad boy has had. So, I’d have to say that the game is quite durable!
Anyhow, the game has many teams of duelists, such as Darth Vader and two Stormtroopers, Mace Windu and two Clone Troopers, Emperor Palpatine and a pair of Royal Guards, Boba Fett and Greedo, Han and Chewbacca, and many others. There’s 31 figures, with either 2 or 3 per set, so you’ll play a long time before you get sick of the combinations. With each set of figures comes a deck of cards. Within the decks are three types of cards, one being normal cards with an attack and defense rating, one being a power attack card that has special powers or circumstances it can be used during, and the last being special cards that generally do something exotic, like a Force power, or allowing extra movement. The cards vary incredibly, which is one of the many charms of the game, since you never know what you’re going to get. Further, while the card backs have a picture of the entire team, the faces are keyed to individual figures, and you never know what you’re going to draw next, and thus, who will be able to activate.
I’d like to note that you can play this game with as many as six players, and the more, the better. So, to set up the game, choose a map, then each player selects a team, takes their figures, deck, character sheet, and then places their figures on their start zone printed on the map. Each player will shuffle their deck and take four cards from their deck as a starting hand. Finally, the players place their hit point markers on the largest value indicated on each character’s hit point tracker. It’s that simple, and you’re then ready to play.
To play, each player will roll the movement die, which is populated with green and red icons and numerals indicating who, and how far, the player may move one or more of their characters. Some faces have a three, four, or five, and other faces have an “ALL 2″, “ALL 3″, and “ALL 4″, indicating the player may move one figure three, four, or five spaces, or alternatively, all of their figures two, three, or four spaces. So, a player’s luck determines how far they may move their figure or figures. Once that’s done, they may move their minis orthogonally up to the rolled limit. Once the player is done moving, they have two actions to use, and with those actions they may either play a card, draw a new card, pass, or heal one of their figures if their main character or secondary characters are killed.
In order to attack, in general, you need to have a direct line of sight on the target. This is only in straight lines, either orthogonally or diagonally, and there’s an unlimited range for blasters and the like. Saberists, though, have to be adjacent to an enemy, for obvious reason, unless they are playing a special or power attack card that allows for the rules to be bent. Some cards are just vicious, like the Emperor’s ability to nuke your hand of cards, or Vader’s Force Choke that can smack-a-ho from anywhere on the map: zap, you’re wounded.
The target may play a card to defend against the attack, in almost all cases, or at least minimize the damage dealt. If the attacker plays a card with an attack value of four and the defender plays a defense of three, the defender would take only one wound. It’s a bit like the skulls and shields combat system in Heroscape. Now, there’s one catch about all these cards, which is that you can only play a card that has the picture of the unit you’re trying to use. So, if you want to have Vader attack someone, you have to have a Vader card in hand; the Stormtrooper cards can only be used to activate a Stormtrooper. The one exception is that if all of the figures that would use one of those cards are dead, like if Vader is dead and you have nothing but a hand of Vader cards left, you can play one to heal one damage point on a remaining Stormy, or vice-versa.
That’s all there is to the game. You run around, you play cards, you draw cards, you kill people. It is so simple, so accessible, yet so damned fun and deceivingly complex. It’s part Yomi, in that you have to anticipate what your opponents are holding in their hands, part chess-like vying for position to strike the killing blow upon your enemies, with the balance being loaded with Epichlorians. It’s a fast playing, exciting, tense, smart game that absolutely anyone can enjoy, be they Star Wars fanbois or simply fans of miniatures games.
Now, all that being said, the game does have what I see as a huge detriment to it. The single bad thing about the game is that the maps are very small. Luckily, the game is easily enhanced to its full potential using any number of Star Wars Miniatures maps, or what I consider to be the pinnacle way to play, using Halo: Interactive Strategy Board Game terrain. Remember the review I did of that sucking, gaping wound of a game? Well, I noted in it that the sole redeeming quality was the fact that there was awesome terrain included in the box. Well, now is the time that Halo gets its redemption, because playing Epic Duels on that terrain is the king.
If you really want to take the slow train to Fancytown, you can do what Steve Avery, my personal game hero and designer of the upcoming Capo, did: make Hirst Arts terrain. Because of his genius, I was inspired to do the same, and using the Halo terrain as a base, I made a 6-piece Epic Duels modular play field. I mean, there are VERY few games that merit my taking time to customize, and Epic Duels is the one I spent the most time on. And it’s worth it.
What Makes Epic Duels So Epic:
- Smart, succinct design makes for a fast playing game
- Bluffing, feinting, and smart cardplay is great for people who don’t dig dice but like a little luck
- The production quality is Hasbro-level, meaning truly well done
- You can play with Yoda and have him cut the balls off of Mark Hamill’s whiny-ass Luke
Epic Duels’ Only Epic Fail:
- The maps are too small for a six player game, and arguably too small for a four player game
Beg, borrow, steal, or buy this game at your first opportunity; this is truly an Ameritrash classic if ever there was one, and may very well be in the top ten board games ever made in my opinion. If you’re an AgricoRican, maybe you won’t like this, but honestly, I just can’t see anyone not liking it. I’ve never heard anyone NOT like it, and I’ve played this with dozens of people over the years. It’s perfect for any game night, it’s perfect to bring to a Con. The only complaint is that if you’re playing with more than two players, the boards feel a little cramped, but for 4$ you can get a Star Wars Miniatures map and realize the game’s full potential.
If you want to learn more about this game, there’s a huge fan site with hundreds of custom, printable factions here: http://epicduels.pbworks.com/w/page/9779461/FrontPage
And if you want to get some Hirst Arts molds, go here to check them out. In fact, contact me if you want some, I’ll sell you half of mine since I bought WAY too many: http://www.hirstarts.com/molds/moldssci.html
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