If you've ever seen any of the Highlander movies or remember the Highlander TV series you will surely recall the cry that 'There can be only one!' Evidently, nobody told board game publishers tho' because the intellectual property (IP) has spawned a clutch of combat games. We've previously reviewed Highlander: The Board Game (River Horse) on Board's Eye View but Highlander: The Duel from B&B Game Studio offers a different spin on the timeless battle between immortals.
In Highlander: The Duel, two players will go head to head as Connor Macleod and The Kurgan - the two immortal protagonists from the original movie that began the franchise in 1986. The two players each build a hand of five cards from a shared combat deck. The cards show various attack icons on the top and on the bottom. Players select and simultaneously reveal a card from their hand and these are placed head to head. Where at least one icon lines up, the offensive player's attack is parried. If no defence icons align with those on the attacker's card, then the defender takes 1 damage for each attack icon. If all the offensive player's icons are aligned with those on the defender's card, then the attacker takes 1 damage for a 'perfect block'. In addition, cards have text on them which is activated when the card is played. After four cards have been played, both players pick up more cards and the combat is renewed, except that the player who was previously the defender becomes the offensive player. This continues until a combatant is defeated by amassing 12 points of damage.
If that's all there was to Highlander: The Duel, it would be an entertaining game of luck. Designer Chris Castagnetto has given us more, however. You take damage if you play a card that does not show at least one of the icons on the bottom of your previous card. That gives an opponent clues as to what they might face on the next card played. If your last card has a left foot and helmet at the bottom, then your opponent knows that your next card will cover at least one of the positions taken by those icons or you will automatically take damage. When you are building your initial hand of five cards, you have the option of drawing blind from the deck or taking one of the two displayed face-up cards. Obviously, when a player drafts a face-up card then they are sharing information that their opponent may be able to turn to their advantage. Mind you, you'll need a good memory to really benefit from this foreknowledge.
Highlander: The Duel plays quickly – expect a game to take no more than 15-20 minutes – but it can be surprisingly tense, especially as both players' damage totals nudge towards that 12 point knock-out (beheading?) zone. We liked the art by André Siregar; so much so that we'd liked to have seen more of it (there are just 7 different illustrations spread across 28 combat cards). Perhaps it was just our copy but we didn't have enough damage tokens - tho' it was easy enough to use as substitute markers 12-sided dice or tokens from another game. The bonus surprise tho' is that Highlander: The Duel comes with a couple of beautifully sculpted minis. These serve no game play purpose whatsoever. There's also a curiously Arthurian sword-in-the-stone mini to act as marker to indicate the offensive player. We're not complaining: these are great minis and they are a thematic adornment to the game but they really are only decorative additions.
If you're a fan of the Highlander franchise and, particularly, the original movie, then you'll definitely want Highlander: The Duel. However, you don't need to know or care about the movie or the IP to still get a kick out of this filler-length game.