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As a former member of the United States Chess Federation, I admit to being a little intrigued when I saw the offer to review “Duress”.  At first glance, the game looked like a cross between “Scrabble” and “Chess”.  I came to learn that it was similar to “Scrabble” in looks only (what with the lettered tiles) as no spelling is actually involved.  Instead, players take turns drawing a chess tile from a bag then moving one of their lettered pieces using that chess piece’s move rules.  The goal?  Move your colored tiles (A-P) onto the yellow goal letters in the middle of the board before your opponent does. Special thanks to the folks at Doctor Rocket, LLC. for providing me with a press copy for review purposes.

Due to ongoing medical issues (yes, still!) I opted to cover this game mostly via the video linked below.  It goes through the details of how to play as well as shows what a typical game might look like…Vinnie did an excellent job helping as usual.

Did I like “Duress”?  For the most part, yes.  The game is more luck based as you’ll be drawing a random chess tile from the bag that determines how you’ll move that turn.  With bad luck, you can keep drawing pawn after pawn.  To be fair, the manual does have a number of alternate rule suggestions in the back of the manual and reducing the number of pawn tiles (there are eight normally) is one of them.  Because of this luck factor, “Duress” is strategic, but not in the same way as “Chess”.  Rather than having the freedom to move any piece you want on your move, you’ll more than likely be setting your letters up to reach their goal positions as efficiently as possible.  That is…moving a letter in such a way that you can reach your goal via bishop, queen, pawn, or king all at once on the next turn (assuming you draw one).

I did have some minor quibbles.  The game instructs players to draw a random tile from the bag on their turn.  Well, the only bags that comes with the game are zipped and see-thru.  A non-transparent cloth bag would have been ideal as it could have been used as storage as well when putting everything away. Unless I missed it, the rulebook doesn’t tell you what to do with the chess tile after you draw it and move a letter piece.  Logically, it made the most sense to put it back in the bad as opposed to creating a discard pile to which all of them would return to the bag once the bag emptied.

The positives outweigh the negatives however.  “Duress” is both clever and different while still adopting rules from an extremely popular abstract game.  It doesn’t replace “Chess” and I doubt anything could, but it’s a nice two-player game to bust out to get your “Chess” fix without actually playing it.  Just be aware that it’s not fully a game of skill like “Chess” is…you’re going to draw pawn after pawn sometimes and it’ll set you behind despite all the clever blocking and planning you might have done.  Still, it’s fun and worth the twenty bucks, the current price of the game on Amazon as of the date of this posting.  Use the Amazon sidebar (links often break as products move around on that site) to search for it and give it a look!

Final Verdict: 7/10

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