(2016 – Frost Forge Games)
In 2013, designer Bryan Johnson successfully crowd-funded his first game, Island Fortress through Kickstarter. Since then he’s turned his company, Frost Forge Games’ focus to Gamecrafter, an online print-on-demand service for board and card games. Earlier this year, Frost Forge Games published Aviary, it’s first release using the Gamecrafter model. A neat trick-taking game in which players are attempting to take tricks that will benefit them versus tricks that could negatively impact them, all revolved around the theme of bird-watching.
Frost Forge Games newest title on Gamecrafter, entitled Death Pit Duels was released in August of this year. With charming artwork from Alisha Volkman, Death Pit Duels is a two-player head-to-head card battle game that focuses heavily on hand management and also contains some card drafting elements. In Death Pit Duels, players will form a team of 12 fighters amongst 4 different races (cyclops, goblins, humans, and orcs) using this drafting mechanic. Each fighter contains a different combat value and possibly a special ability. Players will play fighters from their hand along with a hidden duel card (adding 1 to 12 combat value to the fighter) one at a time and face off against the opponent’s fighters. The winner of a particular duel will receive a gold reward determined before the duel began. Once a fighter and duel card combination have been played, they are removed from the game. After players have exhausted all 12 fighters the game ends and the player with the most gold wins.
– Duel cards
– Fighter cards (Cyclops, Goblins, Humans, and Orcs)
– Prisoner cards
– Coin cards
At the beginning of the game, players will draft fighters, compiling a team of 12 warriors to use in the match. To do this, the deck of Fighter cards are shuffled and placed face down in the middle of the table. The deck consist of Cyclops, Goblin, Human, and Orc warriors, all with various combat values and special abilities. In order to draft a team, the top 5 cards are drawn and placed face up in a horizontal row.
The first player will choose two of these fighters to add to his team, then his opponent will choose two fighters, leaving one fighter remaining. This fighter is left in the middle of the table, and 4 new fighters are revealed. The player who drafted last on the previous turn, will draft first this turn. This continues back and forth until both players have a team of 12 fighters. Players will then shuffle their fighter cards to create their own Fighter card draw deck.
Next, each player receives a deck of Duel cards, along with the matching colored die. The cards in each deck are numbered 1 through 12, and represent the combat modifier that will be added to a player’s played fighter card during a duel. Once a Fighter card and Duel card are played, they are removed from play. Therefore player’s will need to strategically balance when and when not to play their highest card combinations.
The Coin cards come in four different values; 7, 5, 3, and 1. At the beginning of the game, all of the Coin cards with values of 7, 5, and 3 are shuffled together and placed face-down near the play area. During a duel, players will compete for the revealed Coin card, and these Coin cards will be used as Victory Points at the end of the game. The 1-valued Coin cards are kept nearby as well. If there is a tie during a specific duel, a 1-valued Coin will be added on top of the other Coin card, and the winner of the next duel will win both of these.
Finally, a set of Prisoner cards are shuffled and placed face down near the play area. These will come in to play when certain Fighter card special abilities are resolved. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
There’s both standard and advanced rulesets included with the game. I’ve enjoyed the advanced rules a bit more since it allows for more strategic decision making and less random luck, though the standard ruleset works just fine. I will however be covering the advanced rules in this overview, with the main difference between the two being in how Fighter cards are selected from duel to duel. With the standard rules, the top card is drawn off the Fighter deck, and this is the fighter the player must play with for this round’s duel. The advanced rules allow the player to have a hand of three fighters to choose from.
I. Reveal Rewards –
To being a duel, the top Coin card is revealed and put into play. The winner of the upcoming duel will be awarded with this amount of money. The only time that this does not occur is if the previous duel had been a draw, therefore during this step a 1-valued Coin would be added to the previously revealed Coin. But let’s say that this is not the case in our example, and the revealed Coin is a 5.
Players will need to assess and weigh the importance of this reward over possible future awards, and figure in the fighter/duel card combinations available to them. Players always have access to their 1-12 valued Duel cards, and though they won’t have access to all their Fighter cards simultaneously, they should be able to remember what they still have available face-down and what they already played. Obviously, you want to save your best combinations for the 7-valued Coin rewards, however keeping in mind that your opponent probably is doing the same.
II. Reveal Fighters –
After the coin reward is in place, players will draw up to a hand of 3 Fighter cards from their draw deck. If there are no more cards in their draw pile, they’ll only have those left in the hand. Each player will choose a Fighter from his hand, simultaneously playing it face-up in front of them. Each fighter has a combat value listed on the top-left corner of the card, and some fighters also contain a special ability.
For instance, Player A has played an Orc with a combat value of 2 and the “Triple Threat” special ability. Triple Threat allows the player to add two prisoners to this duel combining their combat value with the Orc’s.
Two Prisoner cards are revealed from the draw deck, one containing a combat value of 1, the other a 3. This total of 4 is added to the Orc’s combat value to show a current total combat value of 6.
Player B has simultaneously played a Human warrior with a combat value of 8 and the “Leader” special ability. While he’ll get no combat value bonus to the duel this turn, leaders will lend bonus combat value to the next fighter that player uses. If the fighter is the same race as the leader played during the previous duel, that new fighter receives 2 additional combat value, otherwise it will receive 1.
III. Play Duel Cards –
After all special abilities have been resolved and current combat values are totaled, players will then choose a Duel card from their hand, placing it face down next to their Fighter card. If you remember during setup, players are given full access of all 12 of their Duel cards from the beginning of the game, however once a card is played, it is removed from play. Duel cards have a combat value that ranges from 1 to 12, and this amount is added to the Fighter’s combat value to give the player’s overall combat value for the duel.
For instance, Player A knows that he’s currently behind by 2 in combat value based on the Fighters played. If he’s attempting to win the Coin card (+5), he’ll need to play a Duel card valued at least 3 higher than his opponent (ties result in a draw). Since this is the 1st turn of the game, no Duel cards have been eliminated, therefore he hasn’t been able to rule any of his opponent’s Duel cards out. He decides on a Duel card, placing it face down next to his Fighter.
IV. Duel & Rewards –
After both players have their Duel cards face-down, they will reveal them, adding the listed combat value to their Fighter’s combat value. The player with the highest overall combat value wins the Coin card.
For instance, Player A has revealed a 5 valued Duel card, while player B revealed a 10. Player A has finished the duel with a total combat value of 11 (6+5), while Player B has finished with 18 (8+10). Player A didn’t want to attempt to waste one of his high Duel cards on a 5 valued Coin card when Player B was already ahead of him by 2 combat value points. He has however forced Player B to play one of his high valued cards, and now knows that he no longer has a 10 in his hand. He can use this knowledge in future duels.
Before continuing, let’s look a few of the various special abilities listed on Fighter cards. Remember that all special abilities are resolved before Duel cards are played. We’ve already covered how the Triple Threat and Leader abilities work, so let’s take a look at the others:
Berserker – A fighter that contains the Berserker ability can do serious additional damage, though they have a small chance of unpredictable behavior. When a fighter with the Berserker ability is played, the player will roll their 6-sided die, adding the result to the Fighter’s base combat value if a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 is rolled. However, if a 6 is rolled, no bonus is added and the player must draw a random Duel card from his hand when selecting a Duel card.
Fanatic – A fighter that contains the Fanatic ability (otherwise known as a flat-out racist) will gain a +1 combat value when dueling a Fighter of another race. For instance, a goblin fighter that contains the Fanatic ability will gain +1 when dueling a cyclops, human, or orc. But will not gain it when dueling another goblin.
Renegade – A fighter that contains the Renegade ability is opposite from the Fanatic in that he despises his own race. When a fighter with this ability duels another fighter matching his race, he receives +3 to his combat value.
Specialist – A fighter than contains the Specialist ability have been specifically trained to deal with certain other races. If a fighter is specialized in regards to another race, he’ll receive +2 to his combat value. For instance, if a cyclops is a “human specialist”, he’ll receive +2 to his base combat value when duel a human.
End of Duel/Game:
At the end of a duel, if players still have unused Fighters in their hand, they’ll draw a new Coin card and begin a new duel. If the Fighters played during the current duel was their last Fighter cards, the game has ended. When the game ends, players will total their Coin cards together, with the winner being the player with the highest Coin total. If there is a tie, the winner is the player with the most Coin cards.
Although Aviary and Death Pit Duels are two completely different games, it’s interesting that they contains similar planning methods for strategy. The goal in both games seems to be balancing your decision making with the cards at your disposal. As you use cards, they’re removed from the game. Thus, it’s important to plan five steps ahead instead of winging it from turn to turn. Combining a fighter containing a combat value of 8 with a 10-valued duel card will most certainly win you that 7-point coin card, but is that really the best play? Giving up two high combat valued cards for a single coin card? It could possibly limit your options later in the turn, especially if your opponent can remember which duel cards you’ve played, and which ones you still hold in hand. It’s a beautiful formula and one that’ll be interesting to see if it appears in Bryan Johnson’s future designs.
The drafting mechanic, while taking place during the setup of the game, is almost a mini-game within itself. As you become familiar with the various special abilities and combinations they can provide, drafting a balanced team that both assists with your offensive capabilities as much as limits the abilities of your opponent’s is quite fun. It’s a compelling way to begin each game, forcing each player to make decisions on their team makeup based on how their opponent is creating their own team.
As mentioned before, I’m more partial towards the advanced rules when it comes to the playing fighters in a duel than the standard. With the pre-planning that goes into selecting a team, and the strategy behind balancing your duel cards and fighter card combinations, it just makes more sense to be able to choose a fighter amongst the three options in your hand, rather than flip a random one into play from your draw deck. Having said that, I do understand the allure that the standard format can deliver. Being able to use the duel cards you have to adapt to a random fighter in play can be more entertaining for some players, and I applaud the designer for including both formats in the game. It can also be easier to teach to a less experienced group, and move on to the advanced format later on.
Death Pit Duels is a fine addition to the Frost Forge Games card line. While it nestles itself in the “filler” category of cards games (playing in about 15-20 minutes), it provides solid entertainment and is a well-designed two-player game.