Base price: $12.
Play time: ~10 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Logged plays: 5
Full disclosure: A review copy of Do-Si Duel was provided by Button Shy.
More Button Shy games! These are often some of my favorites to review. Not just because the photography is easier, but also because Button Shy is one of my ongoing favorite publishers. They just do so much interesting stuff with so many designers in such a constrained design space! I love it. It’s fascinating. I’ll be honest, this is a review I struggled with; I think there’s something to the game I don’t get, as of writing. I’m going to play a few more times and see if I can crack it before I finish the writing, but I usually write this part either very early or very late. So this is an early intro; even I’m excited to see how the rest of the review will turn out! For you, the reader, there’s not much to do other than launch right into it, though, right?
In Do-Si Duel, it’s a showdown at high noon! There’s only really one way for this thing to go, so you’re either walking away or being carried out. Ideally, you’ll be in the former camp, but the winner and the loser are as much up to skill as chance. Your opponent, naturally, wants the opposite outcome, so better figure out how to make the cards fall in your favor. Will you be able to escape this shootout alive?
Not very much! Set out the sides by placing the Win / Lose Cards in the center of the play area:
Each player gets a set of eight cards: either Orange or Teal.
That’s it! Choose which player starts at which Start Position and you’re ready to go!
Your goal is to be on the WIN side at the end of the game. Simple enough. The player on the LOSE side takes the first turn. When you play cards, you follow their instructions exactly. So how does that work?
To take an action, place 1 or 2 cards matching an action in either the 1 or 2 column on that side of the play area. If there are no cards already played there, you must play on the 1. Then, take that action. For Move Left or Right, both players move in that direction to the next edge of the board. To Switch, both players swap positions with each other. For Hold, players stay in the spot they’re in. If you play a 1, you may play the other card in your hand of the same type to the same spot on a subsequent turn. If your opponent has already taken the 1 spot, you must play both of your cards to the 2 spot.
As soon as one player runs out of cards, the game ends! Whoever is standing on the WIN side of the board wins!
Player Count Differences
None! Purely a two-player game. Though it would be kind of fun to see how something like this would play at four.
- If you resolve the game down to its core, the three Lefts, the three Rights, and the three Switches will result in players standing on exactly the opposite starting positions. Your goal is to avoid that outcome if you start at Win and definitely have that outcome if you start at Lose. Naturally, you also know that your opponent starts with the same cards as you. So, this is where the game gets dangerous. I can’t necessarily say that my Strategy advice is super useful here (especially since I tend to lose), but you’re going to play tactically.
- Don’t make the same mistakes as me; keep in mind what cards you have left and what your opponent has left, and don’t just keep moving yourself into Win. That’s a short-term win that can often get you tricked into a long-term loss. Remember, you play until one player runs out of cards. Keeping yourself in Win might be good for now, but ultimately, what cards are you leaving yourself with at the end of the game? Will those cards set you up to actually win, or will you be forced to move yourself into a compromised spot? If you are, your opponent just needs to Hold and then you’re done. One of you will likely have to play every card in their hand, so if you’re not planning for the off chance that it’s you, you might end up trapping yourself.
- Seriously, though: count cards. You know exactly what cards your opponent has in their hand at all times. It’s the same hand as you, minus the face-up cards on the table. Keep track of that! Use it to make predictions.
- Keeping opposite actions in your hand can be particularly powerful, as it makes it difficult for your opponent to outmaneuver you. Ideally, you don’t want to get stuck with only Move Right cards left in your hand; it makes you easy to predict. Keeping a left and a right makes it much harder to know where you’re going to go.
- Often, keeping a few card options available towards the end of the game will be how you bail yourself out, as your opponent has to play a card on their turn, even if they don’t want to. As I mentioned, having those opposite actions can help you because if your opponent has two cards left, you can put yourself in a position where you can respond to their move with a play that leaves them nothing to do but lose. If you stay flexible, you can outplay your opponent, sometimes.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I like the concept of the game a lot. I think it really blends in nicely with a Western theme, as well. It’s kind of, in my mind, this silly bit of pacing around each other, hands on your guns, ready to fire, and the tension of the game against how fundamentally silly running circles around a small table is just kind of works.
- The art is also quite excellent; the orange and teal provide really nice contrasts to each other. I think this is probably the best-looking Western-themed game I’ve played? The colors look great on the cards, the card backs look nice, and they really pop on the table while you’re playing. I really like the look of this game and would love to see another Western game with a similar aesthetic.
- Plays pretty quickly. You have maybe five or six moves? Usually closer to five.
- Not too challenging to learn, either. There are only four possible types of moves, and they’re all symmetric. The fun part, for me, is that you can essentially claim a move that you’ll get to use twice, so, not a whole lot of rules overhead on this one.
- And, of course, as is the Button Shy promise, very portable. I just like having a bunch of Button Shy
- Most of my game tables don’t work for this! Ironically, I play a lot of games on tables that only really have three edges free at any given time. Even my photography table isn’t a great fit for this. We made it work, but, you know, you likely won’t see folks running around their dining room tables. This is much more a small coffee table game or something.
- Oh wow, I might actually just be really terrible at this game. I was, embarrassingly, genuinely convinced that there was no way to win this game if you started at the “Lose” position. So convinced, in fact, that I literally wrote up a simulator to play the game 10,000 times (cards played at random, which isn’t an exact science, yes, but it provides a rough heuristic for player behavior at a high level), and it’s faster than me playing at random 10,000 times (though it did take me an hour to write the simulator). After 10,000 plays, the player starting in the Lose spot won 4,972 times. I … wasn’t expecting that, but I ran through a few of the possible game states from the simulator, and, I’ll completely admit that I’m apparently just awful at this game. I think I understand why, though. Every turn, there’s a temptation to put yourself in a “Win” state from your current “Lose” state. You reckon that if you’re always on “Win”, you can never lose. And that’s sort of right? Unfortunately, that fails to take into account your decision space gradually shrinking, and will usually lead to a defeat, if my six-or-so consecutive losses have anything to say on the matter. I’m not even sure that this is a Con as much as it’s embarrassing for me to have assumed so much about the game rather than the player, but, here it is. It’s interesting, but frustrating, in a fun way, to be so wrong. If you’re interested in the code, let me know, but be warned; I wrote it at 2AM on a Saturday night and did NOT comment it. I even wrote in a toggle to allow players to spend the first four turns each taking a 1-card action; didn’t meaningfully change the numbers. I’m fascinated, and looking forward to digging into this a bit more.
- While I might be bad at this game, there’s also something to be said for letting your opponent have too much time to figure out all possible play options. Be struggled a bit with this when we played, which is why I’m putting this in the Con position. Some of the simulator’s plays aren’t exactly what I would call “intuitive”, especially given that players have the benefit of seeing what cards are available and diagramming out what their opponents can do in response to their plays. This is to say that players can think ahead; a quick Python script that randomly draws and plays cards cannot. So while the pure random algorithm comes out to about even, in practice, this depends on whether or not your opponent can map out possible decisions quickly. I’m kind of inclined to say that a fix is to keep players moving (or play with folks who are unconcerned with the “best” move and just want to play a silly game to have fun), but it’s worth noting that I might not be entirely terrible.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Do-Si Duel. It’s interesting, because the more I looked through the simulated runs, the more I kind of wanted to build an AI to just keep testing, but, again, I’m on a review timetable here, so I don’t have time to really … do that. Code’s available if anyone’s interested, and I could whip up an AI design doc pretty quickly. But, the key thing here is that I think in the abstract case, everyone starts the game with moves that they can take to get them to win. As cards are played, the decision space shrinks, and it’s a bit easier to get trapped in a way that your opponent can always outmaneuver you. That’s kind of the challenge of being the first player. You start, but the other player can always respond based on the context of the situation you created. In the last two or three moves, it’s pretty easy to predict what your opponent is going to do. That perfect informational symmetry is probably what makes me a bit less bullish on the game? It feels like I need my opponent to make a mistake in order for me to win, rather than being able to win on strategy or tactics alone. That’s not always the worst thing, though, since now I largely play the game to keep testing to see if I’m right, and that’s interesting on its own terms (though it has done nothing for my win rate). I think that Do-Si Duel would see a lot more play for me if I’m playing with folks who are either not going to try and math out the decision space or can’t (possibly due to a timer on moves or something). That would work just fine. If you’re looking for a quick and silly card game and you don’t mind moving around, you might enjoy Do-Si Duel, though! I had fun with it.
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