Control is a weird concept. Those without it always want it, and those who have it are either vicious dictators or some of the greatest leaders. And it comes down to how they moderate the level of control. Iron fist and tight grip? Or shades on, feet up in your own time? Or maybe that’s just my experience of management in a workplace… either way! It’s a coveted thing, particularly in board games. Nay, it’s a necessity! Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy is a game of area control and variable player powers. You take on the roles of the different factions from the Dune franchise and aim to control strongholds to claim the victory. It’s for 1-4 players and can be finished in 40 minutes.
Concept and Changes
Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy differs from both Dune and Dune Imperium, most notably in its playtime. It’s short but is still the full game, with gameplay potentially ending as of round three. This variant is more akin to the original Dune with a heavy focus on streamlining without the loss of atmosphere the original provided. It also limits players to four and incorporates purchasable cards to gain an edge in exchange for gained spice. To my own detriment I have yet to play Dune and so will be giving my thoughts on this version without much reference to its predecessor. I’ll also go into more detail about the specifics and my thoughts on the factions later in the review.
To start setting up the game, players are all allocated a faction board and the associated starting resources, leaders and tokens. This is variable based on which faction is chosen and, as such, should be read and understood before play can commence.
The game board should be placed in the middle of all players. Then the Storm marker, Spice reserve and round and phase trackers should be placed on the board. In a game with less players, some of the planet’s strongholds will be covered and out of use – making for a tighter game. Organise the traitor deck so it only includes factions being used in the game played and deal three traitor cards to all players except the Harkonnen. Players choose one traitor card to keep and discard the rest. Then deal all players four battle cards. The market, traitor, battle and spice decks should be shuffled independently and set out for players to reach and access.
Initial Flow Of The Game
Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy flows through rounds in phases: Storm, Spice Blow, Gain Cards, Revival, Shipping & Movement, Battle and Spice Collection. The game only lasts five rounds maximum and can only be won as of round three.
During Storm, the first player rolls the storm die and moves it that many sectors. On a storm symbol, they choose how many spaces between 0-6 are moved. Forces cannot pass the storm nor reside in a sector it has passed through, resulting in the going to Tleilaxu Tanks (graveyard). Spice Blow is when new Spice is placed on the board. Should the Sandworm card be drawn, all forces currently in the previously drawn Spice Blow card’s listen regions are lost. It is worth remembering the Fremen do not suffer either of these effects.
When in the Gain Cards phase, players draw battle cards back to the maximum of four and can purchase market cards for two Spice each. This goes back to the supply or to the Imperium if they are in play. Revival is when players retrieve forces – two for free and others for two Spice per. They can also retrieve lost Leaders at a cost of their power, too.
Getting Dudes On The Map
Then comes Movement & Shipping. This when players are able to move their forces onto the map at a cost of one Spice per force. They can land on any sand territory or stronghold. Next players can move a group of forces up to three regions. This can be any size of force but they cannot pick up/drop off en route. The map is representative of the planet, being separated into the territories and into sectors, with territories being the named areas of the planet and sectors being the longitudinal lines from the pole. The difference to remember here is that the territory determine troop movement and the sectors determine the storm’s paths.
Battles occur when two forces occupy the same territory. Those two players then use the battle discs to choose the forces they’ll put forward to fight, a leader and optionally a weapon and/or a defence. Forces used are always lost and weapons/defences are used to kill/protect leaders. Leaders add to battle values and, as such, are very valuable. Players can play traitor cards that match their opponents’ leader to automatically win the battle without loss. All lost forces go to the Tleixalu Tanks including leaders killed, with the winner only losing forces equal to the amount staked.
Finally, Spice Collection allows players to collect Spice from the map from forces in territories with it. They collect two spice per force in the territory. At this point in rounds three onwards, a check for victory is done. If a player controls three strongholds, they win. However a player can win based on both strongholds controlled and spice owned if there is no victor in round five.
How It Handles
Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy is a true dudes on a map game. Getting fellows out there to control areas and out manoeuvre your foes. Sometimes it’s blatant muscle stretching, other times it’s deceptive plays of shifty eye movements and territory nudging, and sometimes it’s blindly throwing a few blokes into a location with the hope no one realises you’re without strength! The game stretches your brain and forces you to take risks for outmanoeuvring our opposition. All tied in with the variable play style of each house.
Which Flavour Will You Choose?
Any Dune fans out there will be interested in one thing above all… the houses. The houses each have merits to them. No doubts. They have clear strengths and limitations, play styles and preferences. I’m not going out of my way to get into the politics of how each links to the film, their likeness and that lark. But as variably powered, different coloured players to play as, they’re all incredibly viable. Do I have favourites? Yes. Are they wholly balanced? Not exactly… Has every house won? Also yes. It’s mad to get so much chaos and so many dynamically changing variables affect it all from game to game. Variability is the word.
Vanilla Or A Mix of Two?
The Atreidas is the easiest faction to get to grips with. They have seven leaders instead of five and can also see one of their opponent’s battle plan details. There’s lots of freedom to be aggressive with these and they’re arguably the easiest to utilise for a “strength in numbers” strategy. They’re near immune from traitor cards too as, statistically, 1/7 is less likely an outcome than 1/5. These benefits aside, they’re certainly the most vanilla of the bunch. Plain and simple and capable of doing the job.
If you’re one for claiming all the loot and dictating the flow of a fight, then The Imperium may be just your choice of flavour! They provide a more financial approach to play, along with a strong element of control. They have a constant income from other players’ purchases, meaning they have less need to collect Spice. It also reduces the number of cards being played as players won’t want to have to purchase more… or they may be funding your war machine! As The Imperium you can also choose what type of weapon card their opponents must play, making it easy for them to guarantee victories. It’s almost a two-flavoured faction with scope for two varied tactics.
Lemon Sorbet Or Sand Covered Ice Cream?
Don’t like the flavours available? Want something with more edge? Sourness even? Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy provides! The Harkonnen is a faction centred heavily on the traitor deck. Deception, mind games and moments of reducing someone’s a battle plan to nought. During set up, they gain four traitor cards to keep from the deck and can exchange one for a new one at the start of every battle. It’s the house no one wants to come up against! It only takes one slight outplay, one clever bit of timing or even a bit of dumb luck to manage to play the right traitor at the right time. On the other hand, being able to keep ahold of your own traitor cards guarantees you safety with some leaders. The tacticians flavour for sure!
Finally, we’ve got the The Fremen. The kings of area control. These are the easiest faction to get out on the board and don’t suffer from the storm or spice blow. They don’t pay to ship onto the planet either and ship five at a time. Sounds great, right? Well… they can only ship in from the centre point giving them less immediate mobility. This house is wholly about the sand. They don’t suffer from the storm and aren’t removed because of it, either. And as if they couldn’t be any more sand oriented, they can “ride the worm” during a Spice blow to move even further across the planet. AND they can move two stacks of troops each turn instead of just one, or can move just one twice as far. These are the folk of the sand, the planet’s inhabitants. It should be no surprise really that they aren’t as dependent on Spice as the others!
Duking It Out Over Paprika
With the eclectic, colourful and near asymmetric feel of each house you can guarantee that the battles and tense moments are always on dramatic side. Contextually, some houses canfeel imbalanced, but not insurmountable. They can be the clear underdogs, but never down and out. The cards played, forces committed and leader chosen are only half the battle. The other half is in the mind games within!
Any loss is a complete loss of force so it can be worth going all in on the battle, but how susceptible you are to further attack is then a key element. Will you send further forces to back up the one bloke guarding the stronghold? Or commit them to taking another one? What you choose may very well determine your victory chances. And for me, that’s what makes the game so enjoyable! It’s incredibly low stakes at all times. Going all in on a loss causes a lot of tension, sweat, drama! But does it kill the game? Absolutely not! It’s all done and dusted in such a short amount of time that there’s little stalemating or standoffishness. Just straight up battling for dominance and whole bag of fast paced strategising.
Visually, the game is a weird one. A lot of the art is taken from the Dune 2021 film. Characters, images, screen shots all appear and help to cement the Dune-esqueness of the game. It should all fit nicely into place, but for me it’s a no. No idea whether I’m one of the minority but I really don’t like actual photos as boardgame artwork. I find it forces an unnecessary aesthetic link to another media. Whether that media is linked or not, it detaches me from the boardgame and the respective image’s original work. Don’t get me wrong though, the images are superb for what they’re supposed to represent and it all falls beautifully into place in representing its intended things, but it feels shoehorned. All other art is spot on in terms of its intended representation. Sandy beige is woven with wind scarred rock and worm trails throughout.
In terms of components it’s, again, a mixed bag. the tokens, dials, board and chits are sturdy and well designed. Despite the darker colourings of many components they’re easily identifiable in a crowd and look good, too. The cards’ stock however is a bit on the thinner side. They’ll last and aren’t going to rip in a hurry, but in a pacey game such as this where you’re playing quick and restocking fast, I’d have expected a bit more rigidity. For those more casual of us it’s unlikely we’ll ever suffer the wear and tear, but for anyone likely to get over enthusiastic or want this as a collectors’ piece… sleeve them up.
In A Nutshell
Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy has a whole lot of conquest and very little diplomacy. But that’s what you’d expect from any area control game! You go for the jugular and aim to take territories by force. It’s a fast paced game of get the dudes on the map and hold the zones that surprised me with both its speed of play and excitement factor! Unlike games akin to it, there’s little time burnt thinking and lots of time spent doing. If you’re after a short and sharp jolt of area control with a sandy feel, I’d highly recommend this one! A great bit of fun with a cult classic skin!