Duhr: The Lesser Houses review
Dȗhr: The Lesser Houses is secretly a mechanically simple game – play a card, pick up a card – which is exactly right for a sociable party game. Another good attribute of that type of game is if its rules can be explained in 10 minutes or less, without leaving players completely befuddled about what to do next. That, Dȗhr fails at. While its core gameplay is indeed incredibly simple, it’s plagued with minute rule differentiations, the sheer quantity of which confuses more than the actual details themselves.
Dȗhr strives to occupy the spot of the likes of Masquerade, Coup and The Resistance, while at the same time distinguishing itself to stand out in this busy category. Players take control of one of the lesser houses of Dȗhr, each with their own special ability, and scheme against their opponents by giving them suspicion and scandal cards. At the end of the game, the points are redistributed depending on the status of the house and whether a player completed their secret agenda.
While all players start as favoured by the people of Dȗhr, throughout the game they can fall into disfavour or even become vilified. Every house state has its own set of available actions and rules. For example, a favoured house can perform five different actions, most of them with their own set of prerequisites or side effects. A disfavoured house can do most of the same actions but has a card limit, while a villainous house has its own rules. It feels like almost every action in the game comes with its own set of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ – remembering which detracts from actually playing the game.
Especially for the new players around the table, this feels daunting. They have come for a quick party game but ended up being dragged into a convoluted explanation of the difference between favour types, without really understanding how those states could help them to win tactically. The designers seemingly understand this, because they provide a few strategic tips and suggestions in the rulebook. It takes a few games before knowing what to do becomes second nature and players can begin to formulate strategies. However, anyone joining for the first time will be at a disadvantage compared to more seasoned players.
Even after jumping over that hurdle, Dȗhr manages to forget to set out rules that could help the engagement aspect of the game. It wants to be a social game, where players engage with each other, forming alliances or scheming against others around the table. But beyond the rulebook mentioning that this can be done, it is not at all reflected within the rules themselves.
Take The Resistance, for example. After a mission has succeeded or failed, all players engage in the discussion, laying down their suspicions and accusations, which then are reflected in the team setup for the next turn. Player interaction, whether helpful or deceitful, is a crucial part of the game.
Dȗhr wants the same level of interaction from players but gives them no tools to do so. Yes, players can negotiate for cards or team up against someone, but equally they could just play cards, and the game would probably feel fairer.
This is a missed opportunity. Dȗhr feels primed for player interaction and, to an extent, there is some, but unfortunately it is just not very engaging. Players could form alliances before backstabbing each other to win a match in a genius masterstroke, making that playthrough memorable and exciting. But that would be a credit to player creativity, rather than gameplay.
When a player must trudge through an extensive set of rules and then create their own fun in the game to enjoy it, Dȗhr: The Lesser Houses finds itself falling into disfavour.
Dȗhr: The Lesser Houses loses the fun of play in the minutia of an unnecessarily extensive ruleset, at the same time forgetting to set out the rules that define and encourage player interaction.
Designer: Jim Felli
Artist: Reza Afshar, Jonathan Guzi
Time: 30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.