Duels Decide Everything

Brauno: I hope we don't run into any gang-bangers on the way home.
Onomatopeia: Don't worry Brauno, they usually challenge you to duel first, and they'll leave you alone if you win.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Animated Duels, "Demonic Duels at Midnight."

A Sub-Trope of Adventure-Friendly World. In a World where Card Games, Mon-battling, sports, or What Have You is Serious Business, conflict resolution often boils down to a Card Game, Mon-battle, Foo-off, or whatever-bout.

Every problem will inevitably lead to a climactic battle of Mahjong, or Uno, or the like. Is The Hero facing the threat of war? A terrible plague? An economic recession? Inevitably, there's a tangible villain responsible for it and the solution is for the hero to confront them and beat them in whatever the story is about. If you're watching Tales of the Knights of St. Bob you're probably looking at a swordfight waiting to happen, but it's equally possible that you're watching something like Super Table Football Superstar and after an interminable mutual glare, one party will dramatically challenge the other to a game of table football.

Everyone has absolute respect for the authority of the fu-du-jour to decide who gets to walk away the winner. If the "Foo" in Foo Fu is arm wrestling, after Bob has won and is walking away, Alice will not even contemplate the possibility of shooting him in the back. If it's psychic manipulation and Alice has just won a tiring Battle in the Center of the Mind, it will not occur to Bob to jump at her, pin her to the floor and start punching her in the face. And, yes, even if Bob has just lost a game of table football he will just helplessly stand there, shaking his fist in frustration- because, well, what can he do? He's been beaten in a game of table football. Game over for him, really. The best he can hope for is a rematch. Fighting Alice in any way that doesn't involve table football doesn't cross his mind.

This extends beyond just getting the defeated party out of the picture. If the Big Bad has been bested, their whole evil operation will fold up on itself and disappear within the day. The Evil Army will not rally. There is no plan B. The superweapon The Hero managed to destroy while Storming the Castle will have No Plans, No Prototype and No Backup. It's as if some cosmic force had decreed that this conflict be settled with Combat by Champion. Whether the stakes are trivial or world-shatteringly huge, Duels Decide Everything.


    open/close all folders 

  • A series of Super Smash Bros. 4 adverts is all about people taking everyday disputes, such as who gets the seat on a bus, and deciding to "Settle it in Smash!"

     Anime and Manga  

  • Duel Masters
  • The Legend of Koizumi: Mahjong decides the fate of ENTIRE NATIONS!
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Every four years, countries all over the world get to use their shiny new Gundams and send out different fighters to beat the ever living tar out of each other so one country can rule everyone else for four years. It's worked for sixty years, except for that one time where Neo-England won three times in a row, raising international tensions to the point where the next Fight was delayed. Mildly justified by being Combat by Champion, and better than actual wars. Less justified when a country might have a strong fighter but an incompetent (or Obviously Evil in the case of Neo-Hong Kong) government.
  • Pokémon: Get monsters to fight each other. Prime example: In his first encounter with Team Rocket, Ash tries to engage them in a fist fight. They quickly invoke the trope and state that all their battles can only be with Pokémon. Justified, however, in Pokémon Special: Trainers often fight along side or in tandem with their monsters, and the full consequences of superpowered pocket monsters is explored. Why use a missile when Hyper Beam works just as well? Or why kill a trainer when you can just freeze him in a block of ice?
  • Ranma ˝ plays with this. On the one hand, as much as the main characters often try to invoke this trope, it's shown to never actually work — so, for example, Mousse's efforts to make Shampoo fall in love with him by beating Ranma's head in never make her change her feelings. On the other hand, most of the filler stories do revolve around characters sorting their problems out by who wins or loses a fight.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! in all its incarnations.
    • This reaches the point where, in the anniversary movie, the villain tries to go back in time to prevent the spread of Duel Monsters by killing Pegasus...and he willingly stakes his mission on the outcome of a duel with Yugi, Jaden and Yusei. So basically, he tried to stop Duel Monsters...using Duel Monsters.
    • Ironically enough, the original manga series and first anime series are a bit different, though still following the trope. Yami Yugi had demonic powers which he could use to punish anyone he defeated in a test of luck or skill with death or worse... he is merciful on occasion, though. (Of course, if he lost, it's his neck.note ) Therefore, the demonic powers are what controls the world (which makes sense, considering they can bend reality), and the duels are just a requirement to activate them. (Besides being cooler.) It was basically The Spectre if he had to win a game before he could punish you - this could make anything at all the Absurdly High-Stakes Game. As such, duels of a sort do solve everything the hero encounters. However, they finally encounter a guy by the name of Pegasus with a Millennium Item of his own and a game he invented, with monster cards and such. America only gets the franchise after it was Retooled to make that game itself the focus of the series, and where people who can't make the game part of a Magically Binding Contract still play Duel Monsters before deciding anything, even when you'd never expect the participants to choose to abide by its outcome.
    • Occasionally, this gets more or less ridiculous, which leads to Yusei and Jack outright lampshading this in one episode.
      Jack: You're going to convince the geezer to leave his home if you defeat him in a duel?
      Yusei: Hey, you and I have dueled for sillier reasons, Jack.
    • In the very first episode of 5D's, Yusei tries to distract the police while his friends get to safety. One of the officers, who just so happens to be a duelist, challenges Yusei to a Riding Duel, and if Yusei wins, he gets to go free, despite being accused of having stolen a computer chip for his D-Wheel. Yes, that's right. Thieves are exempt from punishment if they can defeat an officer in CARD GAMES ON MOTORCYCLES!!!
    • He does it again later, when he breaks into the Public Security Maintenance Bureau's warehouse to steal his own D-Wheel back, and the very same officer as in episode 1 with the same stakes. If Yusei wins, he won't be punished for stealing his illegally built D-Wheel.
    • Suddenly subverted when two guards try to block the way to Godwin's box but get taken down in a few blows. Even more surprising, the one who subverted it this time was Yusei.
    • And ultimately, in the big, climactic battle between Yusei and Z-ONE, the fate of Neo Domino City comes down to a Card Game on Flying Motorcycles! Even the original Yu-Gi-Oh! didn't take card-games this far (or to the very extremes, such as what can only be summarized as "Card Games on Flying Golden Motorcycles IN SPACE!!!"). Then cruelly subverted: The Ark Cradle was going to crash into New Domino City anyway and it took a Heroic Sacrifice (albeit one inspired by a duel) to save the city.
    • As you might expect, this often goes to some pretty ridiculous lengths: In GX, for instance, a Filler episode had Jaden agree to duel a guy with the stakes being that whoever wins becomes Alexis' fiancée. Alexis did not agree to those stakes and Jaden doesn't even know what "fiancée" means, but the duel ends up happening anyway because Jaden can't turn down a challenge.
  • Bakugan. Seriously, find a better way to prove something in that show.
  • No Game No Life. Meta-example: EVERYTHING in No Game, No Life is decided by games. It can be any game, and the person who gets challenged gets to choose which game. Explained by saying that the gods had a war and the winner was the only one who didn't play, the God of Games.
  • Gundam Build Fighters generally avoids this, but has one straight example: When a Loan Shark tries to repossess the hot springs resort where Sei and friends are staying, Mr. Ral recognizes the man as a highly talented Fighter who retired years ago. Because Ral invokes his pride as a Fighter, the shark agrees to stake ownership of the resort on a battle with Sei, Reiji, and Mao.

     Comic Books  

  • One Judge Dredd comic included a heavily satirical televised battle between the Soviet and American cities. Each battle is five-on-five, no holds barred, and the winner is awarded a piece of territory. This form of warfare works for a while, but does not prevent a nuclear war later on.
  • Transformers:
    • One issue has an ancient Autobot overlord attempt to get two warring city-states to settle their differences through gladiatorial games. As you might expect, it didn't work out as much as he hoped it would.
    • There was one issue where the winner of a video game gets the MacGuffin of the day and the loser gets exploded. Naturally, Megatron cheats. Naturally, Optimus wins anyway. Naturally, since Optimus won in the end by sacrificing NPCs where he would not have sacrificed actual civilians, he considers himself the loser and orders his own death. Wait, what?
  • In Uncanny X-Men #201, the question of who was going to lead the X-Men was not decided by e. g. putting it up to the members' vote, but in a Danger Room duel between Cyclops and Storm.

     Fan Fics  

  • While the story plays this trope straight a few chapters later, the four-series Yu-Gi-Oh! crossover fanfic Yu-Gi-Oh! 4D Love Surpassing Time subverts it briefly in Chapter 3: Zaman tricks Yuma into accepting a Duel, then speeds himself up, knocks Yuma down, and kidnaps Kotori without following through with the challenge.


  • The 1998 Made-for-TV Movie FutureSport, where the title game was invented as a substitution for gang violence, and ends up being used to avoid a war.
  • The Karate Kid: Battle with karate.
  • In The Luck of the Irish, Kyle tries to trick an evil leprechaun named Seamus McTiernan by betting that he can beat the guy at sports. Seamus agrees (being unable to resist a bet) but chooses "traditional Irish sports" like hurling, step-dancing, wrestling, and javelin-throwing. Surprisingly, Kyle manages to tie the leprechaun, but Seamus insists that a tie is not "beating" him, so Kyle bets his freedom on a game of basketball. Of course, he realizes that he doesn't need the titular luck after all and beats the bad guy.
  • The film Robot Jox is based around a series of mecha battles between the USA and USSR to decide who gets Alaska.
  • General Patton in Patton wishes World War 2 could be decided like this.
    "You know, Dick, if I had my way, I'd meet Rommel face to face; him in his tank and me in mine. We'd meet out there somewhere... salute each other, maybe drink a toast, then we'd button up and do battle. The winner would decide the outcome of the entire war."
  • Whilst guns and such DO make the occasional appearance, most of the problems in The Fast and the Furious series are solved by car racing ...somehow.


  • In the prologue of Knife of Dreams Galad Damodred has dug up a half-forgotten law that gives him the right to Trial by Combat and which, if he wins, should give him command of an army. Subverted when some of the officers of said army accuses him of blatant Loophole Abuse and try to arrest him. Double-subverted when the Commander is so amused by his cockiness that he lets him proceed as planned.
  • In the Codex Alera series, which is based on a Lost Roman Legion/Pokemon crossover, Citizens have the legal right to a "juris macto" - a duel to the death to settle disputes out of court. It is often threatened but only explicitly happens twice in the series.
  • Like the The Wheel of Time example, most Westerosi cultures in A Song of Ice and Fire have a tradition of Trial by Combat which can be invoked by any defendant of noble blood. No matter how obviously guilty the defendant is, if they (or their appointed champion) wins the trial, all parties are honor-bound to respect the decision. In a bit of a subversion, there is also a tradition of Combat by Champion, but it only applies if both parties agree to it, and the superior force never agrees because their victory is near-assured so they have nothing to gain. On the one occasion where it's offered by the superior force, the inferior force refuses on the grounds that they can't trust the superior force to honor the agreement.

     Live Action TV  

  • Back when the Upright Citizens Brigade had their own Comedy Central show, a third season episode centered on a small town which solved their disputes with log-rolling contests, from "Peanut Butter vs. Jelly" up to "Good vs. Evil."
  • In the 1970 TV movie "The Challenge" Darren Mc Gavin is a rogue soldier sent onto an island for a one on one guerilla war with an Asian soldier (Mako) to settle a dispute that could otherwise lead to nuclear war. Of course both sides cheat like crazy and eventually Mc Gavin decides to let it end in a technical tie. A common trope that the combatants decide they are not working for "The Man" anymore
  • In another 1970 TV movie ("The Love War") two alien races vie for control of the Earth by sending in a set number of soldiers to a deserted town to fight it out. Of course the "bad" aliens cheat their way to victory, dooming the human race
  • A Running Gag which happens Once an Episode in Harry Hills Tv Burp invokes this trope: "Now, I like [X], but I also like [Y]. But which is better? There's only one way to find out - FIGHT!", followed by an often surreal fight between the two parties.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Changeling: The Lost: The true fae are Reality Warpers so any duel actually does decide everything, Changelings on the other hand are stuck with less powerful versions.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons (joke) sourcebook The Book of Wondrous Inventions describes a game called "pinkill," a Glantrian sport something like bowling created to resolve disputes between wizards (the previous dispute resolution system, murder, being too prone to cause Collateral Damage when powerful wizards were involved). Wizards being wizards, the game components were usually so heavily and destructively enchanted that it often caused as much real estate damage as direct combat would have.
  • In BattleTech, Clan society revolves around various trials to settle everything. When a Clan wants something from another Clan they decree a Trial of Possession for it. In order for a warrior to get a promotion, they must pass a Trial of Position. If they feel like they were insulted by another warrior it's settled with a Trial of Grievances. If the loser of any of the previous trials dislikes the outcome, they can challenge the winner to a Trial of Refusal. Most trials follow a set of rules called zellbrigen which mechwarriors must follow to prevent trials from devolving to an all out free for all, and save resources.


  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Given that the play is a Swashbuckler, this trope would be expected, but then is averted and invoked.
    • Averted at Act I Scene I: there is a duel between gentlemen, but they lampshade it is only a pastime and definitely doesn't decide anything.
    • Averted at Act I Scene IV: Cyrano and De Valvert engage in a Sword Fight. This doesn’t decide anything but sets Cyrano as the Spanner in the Works for De Guiche’s plans.
    • Invoked at Act V Scene V: Cyrano invokes a Sword Fight with his old enemies (Falsehood, Treachery, Compromise, Prejudice and Folly) and then with Death itself… but Cyrano admits that he has already lost.


  • In BIONICLE, the residents of Bara Magna decide who owns resources by having gladiator battles (which are more like tournaments, rather than a fight to the death.) Justified, since it prevents the villages from going to war with one another.

     Video Games  

  • In Monkey Island, Insult "X" contests.
    • Subverted with the Monkey Kombat at the end of Escape from Monkey Island, where it's impossible to either win or lose the fight, as the hit points regenerate faster than they can be drained. The trick is to force a tie three times, causing the Big Bad to get frustrated.
    • This is how Ozzie Mandrill manages to get his hands on most of the property in the Caribbean. He simply challenges owners in an Insult game, and, being pirates, they can't back down. Since he's Australian, all his insults are using Aussie slang, and they're unable to come up with good comebacks, being forced to sell to him.
  • Touhou
    • The basic plot behind most of the games: something bad happens, and the protagonists set out to find the ones responsible and Bullet Hell them into submission. The Hakurei Shrine Spellcard Rule System ensures that even in disputes between people with wildly different power levels, non-lethal spellcard battles decide everything.
    • Occasionally, such as in some storylines for Phantasmagoria of Flover View, the battles - and protagonist - don't really decide anything, and the battles only serve to place the player where and when the storyline resolves itself. Losing battles then just means you don't get to see it happen.
    • As virtually any possible plot in the setting could be resolved by getting the right people to come to the right party, proving to the (generally immortal, nigh-unkillable and non-villanous) antagonists that you survive well enough to be worth remembering and befriending may make Duels Decide Everything fairly rational.
  • Custom Robo - Duels with toy-sized robots are shown right at the beginning to be the perfect way to attempt a robbery. It gets more ridiculous from there. It's mentioned a few times that the toy-sized robots use real weapons with live ammunition, operate in bullet time and can be controlled over decent distances (and in Arena one police officer NPC actually does get shot during a fight) — using them for a robbery makes sense. Dueling with them being their primary use (even when there are safeties that vaporize any stray bullets), not so much, and this still doesn't explain how you end up always fighting them in the game's toy arena. Justified in that it seems custom robo battles can't be escaped, someone can force you into it, and the victory is absolute: the winner is perfectly fine, but the loser gets knocked out cold.
  • The Tradesmeet subquest in Baldur's Gate 2 that deals with the Shadow Druids can be resolved this way. When you reach Druid's Grove, you can challenge the leader of the Shadow Druids Faldorn. Only a Druid character can fight her; meaning you will have to send Cernd, Jaheira, or yourself (if you are also a Druid). Winning the battle ends the Shadow Druids' assaults on Tradesmeet. Justified in-universe by the fact that Druids, as part of their reverence for nature, style their hierarchy after pack animals; the leader, or "alpha", only leads so long as A: everyone is content with his/her leadership, and B: a stronger discontented Druid doesn't oust them from their position.
  • Pokémon:
    • Everything is decided by Pokémon duels. Need to go down a road? Pokemon battle. Need to stop Olympus Mons from rampaging? Pokémon battle. Need to thwart villainous plans? Pokémon battle again! The series have been playing around with this trope lately, though.
    • Ghetsis defies this trope for the first time in the main series and orders his Pokémon to freeze you solid before you fight him in the sequel. Although Pokémon Special and Pokémon Colosseum did it first.
  • In Inazuma Eleven, football games solve everything. Early on in the first game you even chase off a bunch of thugs by beating them at a football battle.
  • In the LOGBOX level of Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts, Gruntilda is about to implement a plan that will cause the whole console to have to be shut down. However, she tells our heroes that she will cancel the whole thing if they just beat her in a race.
    Kazooie: Huh? If we beat her in a race, she'll call off the plan and leave?
    Banjo: So she says. I was in a similar situation once before, a long time ago, with a genie and a giant pig...
  • Justified in League of Legends, where most political disputes are resolved through Combat by Champion with strict rules, a system put in place to prevent widespread devastation caused by large-scale magical warfare.
  • In Puyo Puyo, Puyo matches are the way to go. Someone standing in your way? Puyo match. Thwarting the Big Bad? Puyo match! Someone else trying to thwart the Big Bad? Yep, Puyo match. Winner gets to battle the bad guy after that. Ringo, being Genre Savvy, lampshades this left and right.
  • Monster Rancher 3 plays with this through Sansha, one of your many rivals. When disputing who has the rights to a waterfall training ground, she challenges you to a duel... a fishing duel. She's remarkably willing to agree to a regular ol' battle when your assistant Fleria protests that neither of you know how to fish, instead of pressing her advantage.

     Web Comics  

     Web Original  

  • Yu-Gi-Oh!'s tendency to do this is mocked mercilessly by Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series and is a common source of humour:
    Joey: What do you people want from me?
    Bandit Keith: Your Star Chips, dweeb. I have a score to settle with Pegasus, so Zombie-Boy here is going to beat you in a card game!
    Bandit Keith: Shut the hell up!
    Yugi: Pharaoh, we're in deep trouble. What should we do?
    Yami: Have you tried playing a card game with someone?
    Yugi: Well, that doesn't really apply to this situation.
    Yami: Strange, that usually works.

     Real Life  

  • This has occasionally occurred in real life, where combat between two champions has been used to reach a decision in a dispute. A legal example are judicial duels, which were not always to the death. The original rationale behind duels was to contain possibly huge family feuds into more manageable one-on-one battles that would settle the issue(s). Well, at least before dueling took on a life of its own.
  • At least one large English town attempted to invoke this trope to get its teenage chav and goth population to stop having vicious fistfights in the mall and occasionally stabbing each other by getting them to settle their differences with paintball.
  • Japanese schoolchildren seem to solve any and every dispute with janken, AKA Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Alternative Title(s):

We Settle This With A Duel Of Fiddlesticks