The city of Dȗhr is a happening place. It’s the center of culture, commerce, and politics. It’s the place where dreams come true. It’s also the place where dreams get crushed. As the leader of a one the lesser houses, your ears perk up when the king has announced that there is now room for a lesser house to be elevated to a great house. Good news! If you are chosen. But you are not alone in coveting the honor. It will take cunning and intrigue to prove your house worthy of this great privilege.
How it Plays
You will control one of the lesser houses in the city of Dȗhr trying to claw your way to the status of a great house. But this battle is not fought with armies and bloodshed. Lies and deceit are your weapons of choice. By spreading rumors about the other players, you will raise your esteem among the people of the city.
The game revolves around playing cards from a deck called the Web of Suspicion made up of suspicion cards that correspond to the different houses the players control. You’ll begin with a hand of seven cards from the deck, and you can play one on your turn to the matching player’s play area in order to cast suspicion on their house and lower their overall standing. You’ll then draw a card to your hand and end your turn.
The number of cards you have in your play area will determine your standing in the game. Less than five cards in front of you, and you are still favored by the people. Once you reach five cards, you become disfavored and will need to deal with the ramifications. If you have five cards in front of you and at least three of those cards are scandals, you become vilified and will drop all pretense at civility.
Around and around it goes, players slinging suspicions at one another until there is only one house left that is still favored by the people. This will trigger the end of the game and the player with the most victory points is the winner.
The above description only describes the barest essentials of what a game of Dȗhr entails. It’s the small details and complications that make the game come to life. Take the status of your house as an example. If you have managed to escape the rumor mill and have managed to maintain your favored status, you can take two actions on your turn. This can be quite powerful, but it comes at the cost of cards, which are an important resource in the game. If, however, you become disfavored, you must select two cards randomly from your hand and are now limited to playing only one of them. Become vilified, and you actually discard your entire hand, and you will instead take special actions as you try to drag the other houses down to your level.
The different statuses not only lend weight and feedback the growing suspicions that mount the players’ houses; they also add a palpable tension that folds seamlessly into the theme of petty, quarreling houses. A disfavored house has fewer favors to call in, which is manifested with the reduced card choice. A vilified house has no reputation left to lose and so makes their moves of deception out in the open, without regard for the backlash of public opinion. Worse yet, you actually grow jealous of the favored houses as you see your own crumble around you due to suspicions they’ve thrown your way. Lies! They’re all lies! And you will exact your revenge.
But wait, there’s more! Every house has a special ability that allows you to manipulate the game state. One house may allow you to flip over a scandal card so that it doesn’t count as negative points or toward the vilified status while another house can move a scandal card from one house to another. They are activated by playing a suspicion card of your own house on your turn.
Furthermore, every player is dealt a secret conspiracy card depicting another house. If you reveal that conspiracy card, you can now take advantage of the revealed house’s power as well. These are some of the tools you’ll need in order to come out on top, but it might seems a little aimless. How do you decide who to attack, who to take it easy on, or who to ignore? The designer has added some direction in the form of agendas
Agendas will give you bonus points at the end of the game if you manage to meet the conditions. White agendas are tied to the house on your conspiracy so you start working on it to begin the game. Interestingly, some of the agendas don’t necessarily mean trashing them incessantly; you might actually want to keep them in favored status. Of course, this means they have a good chance to score many points. A tough dilemma indeed.
Even still, these tools are not enough to gain victory. You’ll need something a little more fleshy to emerge victorious. Dȗhr is very much a social game. In order to further your cause, you’ll need to appeal to the greed of the others at the table. Trading favors and cards is allowed and encouraged. You’ve taken on one too many suspicion cards and need to appeal to the green player so they can move one of them away. Even better if they can move it to the black player in order to move you one step closer toward achieving your agenda. But what can you offer in return? Cards from your hand? A promise of an action in the future? The possibilities are endless and engender some tense negations and satisfying resolution.
If anything, Dȗhr might do too good a job of emulating the bickering of insecure medieval houses. It’s a tit-for-tat world where a favor to one house is repaid by an attack by another. Bruised egos an reputations are the result of being picked on, of being attacked, of being tossed aside. Your enjoyment of Dȗhr hinges on your predilection for bartering, backstabbing, and viciousness. And as it were, I’m game for a round of mischievous conspiring.
Of course, you’re not helpless to the whim of the other houses. At any time, you can play two matching suspicion cards in order to cancel effects and remove scandal cards, among other benefits. But more than anything, it’s your ability to work the table that will protect you.
What Dȗhr lacks in memorable setting it makes up for in simulating what it would feel like to scrap and claw your way to the top of the heap. It’s a not a game for the faint of heart. Tension abounds and tempers will boil over. Real emotion arises from what is essentially a deck of cards. No small feat. it’s not always the most pleasant feeling, but if you want to get in touch with your dark side, Dȗhr: The Lesser Houses is an easy recommendation.
Review copy provided by Devious Weasel Games.