I stumbled upon Archduke by accident. It happened a couple months ago while scrolling through the posts on r/boardgames. The post was entitled “My quarantine project: I designed a card game” and I thought I should take a look, as I’m always curious to see what new ideas people came with during the pandemic.
The designer presented it as “a fast-paced card game that combines elements of speed, memory, luck, and sabotage” and that caught my attention because my group is a big fan of fast-paced games (we LOVE Ligretto). Well then, let’s dive a little more into it, I said to myself. I was mesmerized by the minimalist art style. It is clean, simple, yet beautiful and eye-catching. I couldn’t identify any theme, but that’s not a problem, since the mechanisms involved don’t really need a theme to work well.
But how does Archduke play?
At the beginning of the game, you deal 4 cards to each player. Each player has to place their cards face down in a 2×2 grid. It is important to keep in mind that these cards will always remain face-down and will never be rearranged during the game. Before the game begins, the players can look at any two of their cards. They should remember the value and position of these cards, as it will help them further when playing.
On your turn, you draw a card from the main deck or the discard pile and then play a card. You can choose to play the same card you’ve drawn or replace one of your 4 cards with it and play the replaced card instead. If the played card is an action card (has a landscape drawn on it), the player immediately takes that action.
At any time during the game, players can match the played card using a card from their grid. Players should always pay attention to the played card, as this is the only way of getting rid of your cards. This is the main point of the game, as the goal of the game is to finish with as few points as possible. The idea is to get rid of cards sitting in front of yourself until someone believes that they’ve got the lowest hand on the table and they call “Archduke”. At this point, each player calculates his points and the player with the least points is the winner.
For a more detailed version of the rules, you can check them on the official website.
Do I like Archduke?
Yes, I do like it. Very much, actually. It offers more strategy than you’d expect when first looking at it. Memorizing your cards and getting rid of them (or replacing them with lower-valued ones) is clearly the main point of the game and you should focus on that most of the time. However, the special abilities offered by some of the cards spice everything up.
Knowing when and how to take advantage of these abilities is the main key to achieve an easy win in Archduke. Since you are not allowed to pick up cards in your hand or rearrange them, you can actually spy on your opponents and memorize what cards they are placing down or discarding. This way you can get a good idea of what cards they might have. If you do so and swap cards at the right moment, you may get yourself a lower-valued card and give them a higher-valued one. This can get you one step closer to winning.
Peeking at one of your opponent’s cards is also a good idea before swapping a card. This way you gather information about your opponents and you find out whether it’d be worth swapping or not. Also, “peek” cards are worth 12 points, so using them as soon as possible should be a priority, as you don’t want to end up with too many points.
The speed factor of the game reminded me a lot of Ligretto, although the way it works is totally different. The fact that you only have time to match a card until the next player touches either the draw pile or the discard pile always kept us watching the discard pile, trying to get rid of our cards. Even as the active player, you want to decide fast what deck to pick your next card from. By doing so, you won’t allow the other players to match the card on top of the discard pile.
Archduke is a fun card game that plays fast and kept us entertained for hours. The simple mechanics and the fast pace make it great for a filler game, even for serious gamers. It works great at all player counts (even at 2 players!), as adding more players only adds to the strategic possibilities. It joined our fast-paced games pile, and along with Ligretto and Sushi Go!, we will play it pretty often!
Designer: Ryan Tibbitts
Publisher: Navigator Creative
Time: 20 min
Times played: 9
Full disclosure: A copy of Archduke was provided by the game designer.
Did you like the review? Follow me on my Instagram page where I post daily photos of games I play and other things. You can also support me on Patreon to gain access to various special content, such as game unboxings, first impressions, polls to decide what games to cover next, and early access to reviews!