Welcome to the wedding. And it’s not just some ordinary marriage, since all shapes and colors shine here. This is a multiple couple wedding. Two yellow marigolds take each other for husband and wife, blue and red square are the second couple, while the last in line are star and a circle, both red. Each of the couples have something in common (either color or shape) and it is the most important thing about marriage.
And what about having a wedding of colors and symbols on a much larger scale? Such a chance can not be refused. A tiny card game DuCo offers us this opportunity. This is the name of yet little-known novelty of 2013 (presented at Spiel 2013), which was devised, created and self-published by Henrik Larsson. Although it was not available for buy even a few days ago, we have had the opportunity to already try the game.
We do not know, how the box will look like. We received cards as a deck. Why? This is a pre-release copy, that was sent to us directly by the author himself and though it all looks and feels as the game was already finished.
Pile then consists mainly of ninety gaming cards, which are enriched also by two-sided cards describing rules and examples. Fortunately DuCo does not repeat errors of similar games with rules only on cards and explains everything honestly. Lion’s share of this has the simplicity of the game itself, whose principle will everyone indiscriminately pick up within two minutes.
But before we get to principles and gameplay, we should look first at gaming cards alone. On their back side, you will find an enlightened color logo printed on a black background. More importantly, however, front side of the card is divided into nine regular squares. The middle contains a square with inscription DUCO with a colored background different from time to time.
The remaining eight symbols are exactly, what we want. There are various symbols in a great variety of colors on the cards. We have yellow, green, red, black and blue. There is same amout of shapes as well and in addition to the classic square, circle and triangle shapes, you find star and moon there as well. All of them will accompany you during the game and provide the only road to victory. But there are still two jokers: for color they look like a rainbow, while for shape its just a pile of all symbols crowded in one place.
At the beginning of the game, each player receives one and only one card. Then you msut prepare cross of nine cards in the middle of the table – one card in the middle of a four beams, each containing exactly two cards. This creates a symmetrical cross shape. When putting them together, you may ignore the rules, which you will be bound to comply for the rest of the game. And that’s it, now we can start playing.
Once its your turn, you have a very simple task – place a card from your hand to the place, where you get most points for it. You can freely rotate card, but it must be aligned exactly with its neighbours, so you may not attach the card with only two of the three symbols, leaving the last not connected.
You receive points for two adjacent symbols of the same color, shape or both properties. If you manage to find a pair, that has one common trait, you get one point for it. Two points will be rewarded, if they match both in color and shape. Sometimes you can get even more points, because of the inscription „x2“, which multiplies points for that particular couple.
It is clear, you always try to make as many neighbors as possible with your card, because that will bring you more points. Even so, there is so much possibilities for attaching, that searching for it is a real and main challenge of the whole game. In so many symbols and colors, it is simply impossible to find the best option immediately. Therefore, you should definitely include some time limit in the game for each move, because otherwise you find yourself waiting for your opponents. You certainly know someone, who has a tendency to think through their options really thoroughly.
Gradually, therefore, you attach cards, draw cards as compensation on each end of your round and try to be the first to reach point limit for victory. Rules propose this to be 75 points, which is just suitable for a quick fifteen-minute game. Any player, who reaches the finish line first, is the winner and the game ends immediately. You obviously first have to finish moves, so all players have the same number of moves. This may change a winner sometimes.
Duco scored in our groups mainly for its simplicity. You become immediately engulfed. In its very core, its a simple game of dominoes, but leaving this classic game behind in the dust at the same time. Huge possibilities and combinations of attaching any cards are tremendously entertaining. And especially, when you have a ticking time limit to watch out for.
But that’s not all. Henrik Larsson prepared several variants for his game from the start. And the first of them directly removes complaints, that rang in our initial testing games. Why only one card in hand? Is it enough? Its a good choice for an introduction game and a game for children. This is the only place, where you should use one card in hand. Even then, options for attaching card are pretty wide.
Adults will lack choice. So here is the first of a series of variations, that can be found directly in the rulebook. It will advise you to hold three cards in your hand instead and chose one to play each turn. Next step towards a full gaming experience is a draft, which lets you choose the right cards. But we did not use it often, because it is very difficult (and time consuming) to tell, how valuable with card really is for you.
Other options include getting points in diagonal direction as well or the ability to rotate one of the cards already played as part of your turn, but only after playing your card. And because the cards are cleverly designed, eventually you will not even have to play them in precise alignment. This will create a little more chaotic game board, full of overlappings, but also gives players more freedom to choose, where the game should proceed.
The best variant is Evolution, which is a complete change of mechanics, that Duco presents. It brings it rather closer to Ricochet Robots. In the given period of time, all players are trying to find best possible position for one common card at the same time and call out its point value as soon as they do. Only player with the highest number can then really place that card and get points for it. But if you made a mistake, you gave chance to player with the next shouted highest score. This game is completely different, because everyone is always involved in the game and players can more easily measure their skills against each other.
Thanks to its quick game time (with time limit), this game works great not only as entertainment for children, but also as relaxation fun between more complex games for adults. It is demanding on space, so it is not quite suitable to play on your travel. At the same time, you can easily take it with you to your backpack. All the player numbers works very well in the game, because even during a turn, others are looking for the best place for a card, they just got. Yes, the situation will change until they get their chance to play again, but the time limit is still a bogey.
We really liked the addition of options to overlap cards. This will bring even more confusion to the game and also heavier searching. At the same time, you wash away problems with different placement options for each cards. And it holds no significant slip in time in the end (based on our matches played with this rule).
Where the quality of this card game reflected the most is with children. They like not only nice vivid colors, but also composing shapes into combinations. Collecting points is much sweeter reward, than just getting rid of cards like in those domino-oriented games. Children will train not only the basics of mathematics, but also awareness and quick thinking. And not in vain, because they will ask for another game as soon as the previous one ends.
Duco we have played, is not the final version yet. It is possible, that there will be changes made to cards quality or to contents of the box and maybe even to rulebook. But the main thing remains nevertheless. DuCo is amazing fun and easily captures your heart, big or small. Tension and effort to obtain the greatest number of points is simply addictive, because of that difficult search. The enormous variability and many ways to play should be reason enough to add it to your collection.
*EDIT based on final version:
You can add cards also to one side not two as previously mentioned (this article has been removed from the review)
Changes made to the game from the prototype to the full version with box are increased card quality and texture. This means the cards slide less and light reflections glare off much less, as well as the fact that they are not worn out as quickly. Slightly reduced card sizes (better for portable play and handling of cards, they are now 75x75mm. Slight updates in card colors and the patterns inside, much better for people with color-blindness. Cards were globally rebalanced, per-card and per-player (center piece colors). A new rule book in 9 different languages is now included, and more game modes will be put online on the website.
Scoring limit (75 in the prototype version), has been reduced to 50 in the full game.
Number of cards has been reduced in the full version. With the new version each card is unique, and they are much more well-balanced in terms of the colors and shapes.
DuCo gives you shapes and colors into your hand and lets you choos, how to connect them together. The more pairs of similar objects you create, the more points it will bring you. Symbols must not necessarily match to place the card and thanks to this, you have really vast options on how to place each card. You have to watch for thoughtful players, so you have to set them some time limit. But otherwise the game runs smoothly, even when you have only one card in hand, which can be rotated in four different ways. When you have more of them, the planning and selecting is even more difficult, because the board is constantly changing and you cannot usually prepare your turn ahead. Game mechanic lets you build the starting cross shape and with time is getting near a square. There is a lot of additions and variations already in the rulebook, which can enhance your experience easily. DuCo entertains children and adults alike, although each of them finds different qualities in the game. Thanks to all its options, DuCo is really rich game full with many options and simple gameplay. It easily replaces all other domino-like games.