Each player controls an artillery piece, dropped out of the sky into a randomly chosen terrain. Each player has 15 or 30 seconds (depending on the difficulty level) to adjust barrel angle and powder charge, then fire the round. Wind is a factor, rising and falling, or even changing direction. Terrain can get in the way of the shots, forcing the players to use high barrel angles, but sometimes the guns fall within each others' line of sight, giving the players easy shots with low angles and high powder charges.
Artillery Duel provides examples of:
- Attract Mode: A computer versus computer version of the game, with the guns firing randomly and the game's title flashing at the top of the screen. Pretty elaborate by 2600 standards.
- Cutscene: Before each round, the game spends a few seconds rapidly going through all the different terrains while playing a strange sound effect, before selecting a terrain. Then the two guns slowly fall from the sky and the game begins. After each round, two soldiers march out from the winning side to "claim" the enemy. Sometimes one of them marches too far and has to run to catch up to his platoon mate.
- Every Bullet Is a Tracer: The shell is a white dot, which travels slowly across the screen. Can make for some agonizing moments as you watch the enemy shell slowly fall towards your gun.
- Friendly Fireproof: It is possible to fire your shell straight up, so that it falls back on you. Doesn't hurt.
- Geo Effects: There are about a dozen terrains, which are chosen randomly at the beginning of each match. The guns then drop on to the terrain, as if by unseen helicopters. The guns may land anywhere from the top of a hill to the bottom of a valley. Hills are usually in the way, sometimes quite close, making it difficult to determine the exact arc to the enemy gun. And then there's the wind, which can change between each shot. But sometimes, the guns are level with each other, with nothing in the way, and the first player to fire almost always wins with a direct-fire shot.
- No Plot? No Problem!: Who's fighting who? When and where are we? Doesn't matter.
- Player Versus Player: Two players shooting each other with artillery.
- Scoring Points: One point each time you kill the enemy gun. Then another terrain is chosen and the next round begins.
- Side View: The game is viewed straight from the side, with the guns on the left and right sides of the screen, the terrain in the foreground, and some mountains and clouds (which show you wind direction and speed) in the background. But there is no Depth Perplexion: if a terrain feature looks like it's in the way, it's in the way.
- Turn-Based Combat: One player aims and fires while the other player watches. After the shot has landed, the other player aims and fires. Player one (left side of the screen) starts the first round. After that, the player who lost the previous round starts first. Each player has a time limit, if it counts down to zero the gun will fire automatically.