Ducklings: Loss, Parenting, and Responsibility | Kickstarter | Zatu Games

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    Ducklings – A Game About Loss, Parenting, and Responsibility

    Do you remember the last time a board game really got to you? Was it a case of flipping the table and rage quitting the living room, or being brought to tears by the emotions the game provoked? Games have a fantastic history of being able to get visceral responses from their players, but they’re typically better known for getting under your skin and causing massive arguments between family members than for making you explore pain and loss – emotions which board games, and games, don’t often confront.

    This emotional niche has been taken up by Ducklings, a 2v2 co-operative board game recently launched on Kickstarter by Deck Head Games, which follows the perilous journey of baby ducklings being led to a new home. Following in the footsteps of video games like Shelter, you and your partner play as two duck parents cautiously heading across a randomised board of dangerous obstacles with three baby ducklings in tow.

    Will you make it to the other side as a family, or will you lose some ducklings along the way? Ducklings has pitched itself as a game that deals with ‘parental anxiety’, ‘a sanguine but rewarding game about loss, empathy, co-operation, family, love, and partnership’, but whether the game will be able to achieve all this is a question worth asking.

    Emotional Games

    Any game designer or dungeon master will know that anticipating responsibility, empathy and cooperation between your players is a risky business, and creating a sense of emotion and loss through a games mechanics can be even harder. The immersion of emotional responsibility and tension is easily lost to a casual joke or an indifferent player, so Ducklings is taking up a serious challenge in offering a game that delivers on such a specific tone and atmosphere.

    However the Ducklings team seem to be confidently aware of this, acknowledging that ‘while Ducklings has an emotional core built into the game design, it is still up to the willingness of the players to act on those emotions’, and promising that playtests of the game in serious and casual scenarios have worked out well. They do suggest, however, that the game works best among friends and family, and with a group who are willing to put their phones to the side and invest in the gameplay, and when we look at how the game works it’s clear why.

    How it Plays

    Ducklings begins with your players pairing up to become the moms and dads of a new duck family and receiving your three baby ducklings, all of whom have unique in-game powers, names, and adorable artwork to help push you towards your parental instincts of protection.

    As a 2v2 co-op game Ducklings supports up to four players, although this can scale up to eight or twelve players with additional copies of the game, you’ll typically start off with two families starting at opposite bodies of water represented by a Lake or a Pond card.

    The rest of the board is entirely customisable, with different cards representing different challenges such as high mountains or cities full of people, you lay out the cards at the start of the game to create a path between the two opposing Lake and Pond cards, making branching paths if you so choose, until you are happy with the level of difficulty.

    A full deck consists of fifty cards which the creators suggest will take between 40-50 minutes to get through, so players looking for a shorter game have the option of using half the deck to create their board and experience a shorter game.

    As a 2v2 co-op game Ducklings supports up to four players, although this can scale up to eight or twelve players with additional copies of the game, you’ll typically start off with two families starting at opposite bodies of water represented by a Lake or a Pond card.

    The rest of the board is entirely customisable, with different cards representing different challenges such as high mountains or cities full of people, you lay out the cards at the start of the game to create a path between the two opposing Lake and Pond cards, making branching paths if you so choose, until you are happy with the level of difficulty.

    A full deck consists of fifty cards which the creators suggest will take between 40-50 minutes to get through, so players looking for a shorter game have the option of using half the deck to create their board and experience a shorter game.

    The goal for both families is to reach the other side of the board, but intriguingly it’s possible for parents to work against each other or take less ethical tactics against the other family. On each parent’s turn you roll a die and move up to the total number rolled, meaning you can choose to move fewer places if you believe the event card you’ll land on will be less risky. When you land on an event card you turn it over to see what happens. Events can hurt your family, but each card has two options for the player who lands on it: so you might be asked to choose between one of your ducklings taking an injury, or being forced to move back several spaces. Parents can consult each other on the options the card presents, but ultimately it is the player whose turn it is who decides what to do, so parents are under pressure to do what they feel is best for the family.

    Affliction tokens are used to keep track of the injuries your ducklings suffer along their journey, and are intended to tug at the heart strings. Ducklings can’t survive more than three injuries, and at four the parents must flip the card face down to signify that the duckling won’t make it to their new home. With such individualised cute cards and an unrelenting risk of danger it’s easy to see this having a tragic impact on players, and each duckling card comes with a personalised obituary on the back to be read aloud and make the parents’ loss that much harder to bear.

    If you lose all three ducklings you have lost the game, however to win you still need to reach the new body of water with more ducklings in tow than the other team, meaning players attempting to optimise how they play the game still have to toe a line between protecting and losing ducklings. However losing ducklings does mean you will move more quickly across the board as the game uses either a d4, d6, or d8 depending on how many ducklings you have – more being slower. Yet for the most part the game punishes unethical playstyles, it’s not even advantageous to fight with the enemy team: if two parents of different families meet on the same square a territorial duck fight occurs and both families are punished by taking on an affliction token. The world may be cruel to your fragile ducklings, but it’s clear that the game wants you to face it with teamwork and compassion in mind.

    Ducklings - Will it Work?

    There are a few other odd rules and features to the game, but at its core Ducklings seems to hold true to the creators’ description: a game that is ‘simple and easy to pick up’ but where ‘the moral and strategic decisions are hard’.

    With mechanics that necessitate players making hard choices and taking risks with their ducklings, even at the objection of their partner, I think it’s likely that Ducklings will achieve its goal of creating a tense and emotional game that puts protecting your children at its core.

    What’s less clear is whether the game will hold up to replay-ability as even with a customisable board the game will be telling the same story with each play-through, and it’s a possibility that players will get used to the reality that their ducklings won’t get through unscathed.

    However I can see potential in the interaction required between the parents making different games feel fresh with new partners and different approaches to keeping your family safe. Whether or not the gameplay will become repetitive will be revealed once we know the range of event card options and know the real diversity of the stories that can be told. Hopefully events will be specific to the kind of biome the cards represent and add another level of storytelling. However, I think this game will be something you’ll want to try at least once amongst friends and family to see how players react to the more serious challenge of being in charge of getting three ducklings home safe.

    Since launching on Kickstarter on June 28 Ducklings met its funding goal of $8,000 within the first 24 hours, and with numbers still rising it’s clear that many of the perks and goals for additional content will be unlocked, so I hope the team get to add some final touches and give the game the range and depth that its ambitions deserve. While Kickstarter campaigns are notorious for going wrong Deck Head Games seem up to the challenge, with experience in publishing games, rigorous playtesting, and a clear plan in mind.

    So if you’re looking for a game that deals with different themes and emotions than the norm you might just want to check out Ducklings, just $18 on Kickstarter and promising to ship for December this year. There’s something intriguing about introducing more emotional design into a game, and with an honest charm and adorable premise it’s hard not to want Ducklings to succeed.

    Helen Jones is a writer and games journalist, you can read more of her stuff @BarnacleDrive on Twitter. 

    With mechanics that necessitate players making hard choices and taking risks with their ducklings, even at the objection of their partner, I think it’s likely that Ducklings will achieve its goal of creating a tense and emotional game that puts protecting your children at its core.

    What’s less clear is whether the game will hold up to replay-ability as even with a customisable board the game will be telling the same story with each play-through, and it’s a possibility that players will get used to the reality that their ducklings won’t get through unscathed.

    However I can see potential in the interaction required between the parents making different games feel fresh with new partners and different approaches to keeping your family safe. Whether or not the gameplay will become repetitive will be revealed once we know the range of event card options and know the real diversity of the stories that can be told. Hopefully events will be specific to the kind of biome the cards represent and add another level of storytelling. However, I think this game will be something you’ll want to try at least once amongst friends and family to see how players react to the more serious challenge of being in charge of getting three ducklings home safe.

    Since launching on Kickstarter on June 28 Ducklings met its funding goal of $8,000 within the first 24 hours, and with numbers still rising it’s clear that many of the perks and goals for additional content will be unlocked, so I hope the team get to add some final touches and give the game the range and depth that its ambitions deserve. While Kickstarter campaigns are notorious for going wrong Deck Head Games seem up to the challenge, with experience in publishing games, rigorous playtesting, and a clear plan in mind.

    So if you’re looking for a game that deals with different themes and emotions than the norm you might just want to check out Ducklings, just $18 on Kickstarter and promising to ship for December this year. There’s something intriguing about introducing more emotional design into a game, and with an honest charm and adorable premise it’s hard not to want Ducklings to succeed.

    Helen Jones is a writer and games journalist, you can read more of her stuff @BarnacleDrive on Twitter. 

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    Purchase arrived within a few days as stated. Ordered the 2.0 which was unavailable on the official CAHwebsite and got 2.1 instead which was a pleasant update. The bigger box came with a lovely selection of Box cards which I shall treasure in the same exact order they came in. Now waiting for Lockdown to end so we can start proper parties.

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    This website and the products offered are great. I never realised there were so many boardgames about and the informative reviews, unboxing and blogs offer clear insight into what games I might want to buy and play in the future.

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    I can't fault the service provided by Zatu. Their prices are competitive, easily matching the current prices offered even by Amazon, and sometimes with deals on certain games making them even cheaper. Yet the quality isn't compromised. I ordered a restock request item with the knowledge that it might take 2 months to ship, but I got an email saying it was on its way after 3 weeks. Shipping was quick, packaging was good, and all games in pristine condition. I will definitely be using them for future game purchases.

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    Faultless service, competitive prices and a good reward scheme. Believe the only improvement would be a a free delivery incentive when spending large amounts.

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