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Dueling Decks: A Game of Wits

by busterposeys


For years, Dueling Decks has been one of my favorite games. I fell in love with it when I first stepped into Neopia around seven years ago, and I still play it to this day, but why? What about this seemingly mundane card game captures me?

It’s the strategy.

For those who have not played it, the game is played between you and Zenco the Magnificent, whom, despite his title, will not always win if you know how to play your cards. Each player is dealt ten cards (with various Neopian heroes and villains on them) and each are pulled blindly from your pile and it is up to you to choose which of the three categories listed on the cards will beat the one Zenco has. I always play on hard mode, so if I lose a card, Zenco picks the next category - this both builds up suspense and points (more points means more Neopoints too).

Since you don’t know what your next card will be or what cards Zenco has (you don’t always have the same cards in the deck every game), it can be seen as simply a game of chance. Sometimes, regardless of the category you pick for a card, you’re doomed to lose. Sometimes, your courage, charisma, and intelligence are all below Zenco’s. So, do you believe me when I say it’s still a game of wits?

It is indeed a game of wits because your wits can swing the game in your favor the majority of the time. Your wits won’t win you every game, but they can put you in good standings for Neopoints. Here’s how:

I have different keys to tell me which category to pick on a card. In order to pick courage, it has to be at about 11 or higher. Anything in the double digits isn’t bad. For the most part, around 11 or 12 courage will defeat the Zenco’s card. There are a few cards that have 15 or 16 courage, but again, 11 or 12 will defeat pretty much all cards. If courage isn’t double digits, don’t pick it no matter what - even if the rest of the stats don’t sound that stellar.

In order to pick charisma, it should be 9 or above. This is a trait not too many cards have a lot of. There are some that go up to 15 charisma, but many cards don’t have a lot of it, so you can pick a lower charisma than you can courage and have a safer shot at winning the round. Nine is a risky number to lean on, but again, the chances are good enough to risk. This is my default trait, meaning it’s also the trait to chose if intelligence and courage are low.

Finally, to pick intelligence, it should be 125 or over. When I first started playing this game, I almost always picked intelligence - now I barely do. There are a plethora of cards on both sides of the spectrum: some have really low intelligence, or really high. There are a few in the middle that make this rule a rule. For cards that fall above 100 but below 125, it’s a safe bet to not pick it because they usually have a charisma or courage that will beat other cards. It’s frustrating because while 120 intelligence might sound like a lot, Dr. Sloth will be on the other end with 141 intelligence and all of a sudden you’ve lost a card. There are instances where you may have a card under 125 intelligence and you just have a gut feeling to pick it. In that case, pick it. All of these rules are guidelines that are flexible depending on the ever-changing situation.

Now let’s go through a few in-game scenarios to see how it works.

I pull the card “Cybunny Collector”. She has 8 courage, 12 charisma, and 70 intelligence. Based on the rules outlined above, I would pick charisma. I picked it and Zenco had the “Techno Master”. The only trait I would have beat him is charisma - I win that round.

What about if I pull the “Prince” card? He has 1 courage, 9 charisma, and 50 intelligence. It’s cards like this that have bent my rules over the years. But, he fits the charisma rule and I pick that. Unfortunately, I lose that round to a “King Snarl” card that beats me in every category.

So you’re going to win some and lose some (there’s no getting away from that), and that’s really the key to the game. Once you know how to win them, you need to know how to lose them. The key to this game is not to get it over with as soon as possible - it’s about dragging it out as long as possible. This is where easy mode, where you pick every category, win or lose, can come in handy. However, if you’re like me, you’re into the risk of losing and will play with fire on hard mode.

The goal of the game is to take all of Zenco’s cards - once you’ve done that, it’s over. So at some point, he needs to take some cards back. When Zenco falls to around 5 cards, I find a card with all around low stats and try to “throw it away” to him. I try and pick a category I know he should win so he can start picking cards again. The difference between easy and hard mode with this strategy is on easy mode, you can chose to win a round, in hard mode, you only can wish you win a round.

But again, that’s the fun of it. Trying to decide when you play your cards and when to lose to battle back and forth makes this game thrilling. And the fact that there’s no strategy to win every time makes it all the better. Depending on the cards dealt and the luck of the draw, I still lose some days, but that keeps me coming back (that and the appropriately-chosen background music to the game).

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