I am sure most people reading this have heard of Dune Imperium. It seems every man, woman and their respective dogs are talking about it online and in my opinion, there are valid reasons why. So, Dune Imperium, set in the sci-fi universe of Dune, sees you vying for the favours of four factions, battling over spice and fighting other players for ever-changing rewards. There’s deck-building. There’s worker placement. Even player vs player combat. Has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?
A Nice Mix Of Genres
Dune Imperium is mainly a worker placement game. Yes, it has deck-building. Yes, it has combat, but the main focus is worker placement. What makes this game tick though – and what makes it stand out – is that your hand of cards governs which spaces you can send your workers (or ‘agents’) to. Each of your cards has two functions: an agent function and a reveal function.
Let’s take a step back. Your turn is made up of two phases: an agent phase and a reveal phase. In your agent phase, you can send one of your available agents, of which you start with just two, to a space on the board. The trouble is, each space is governed by a symbol and you must have the relevant card in hand to send them there. After everyone has passed or used all their agents, you do the reveal phase and you reveal all your remaining hand of unused cards.
Cards With Multiple Functions
This reveal phase determines what you can add to your deck from the small selection of new cards and, if you have any, add power to your army for the battle phase. After everyone has taken agent turns and spent their influence points on new cards, any players involved in the skirmish at the bottom of the board take part in a battle of the fittest for varying rewards. Each round, a list of rewards for the end-of-turn battle is revealed from the conflict deck and it is one of the game's small nuances that you must pick your battles wisely. Not all battles are created equal.
Fighting Amongst The Sand
While moving agents to spaces on the board, you can move troops between your reserve, garrison, and the battlefield. The reserves do nothing, the garrison is where troops are posted, waiting to get stuck in and the battlefield is where they add to your battle score and hopefully win you some sweet sweet rewards. Whatever troops you have on the battlefield are added to battle points left on your cards revealed in your reveal turn and the winner is declared.
There are other nuances to the game like intrigue cards that offer one time bonuses or end game points, standard resource collecting, deck building and other standard worker placement functions. What I find fascinating is how all these systems work together. When you are building your deck or looking at your hand, everything has two functions and you must plod your way through this murky puzzle to maximise your chances of getting to ten victory points first.
Apart from the combat rewards, the other main way to earn victory points is by aligning yourself to one of the game's four factions. They sit on the left side of the board and, as you use their worker placement spaces, you earn their favour and move up their respective tracks. At two points on these tracks, you earn rewards and victory points. It's another cog in this intricate machine to navigate as you try to outwit your opponents.
There are various cards to move you up and down these faction tracks as well as combat rewards. The first to the top makes an alliance with the faction and cannot be overtaken. Be wary though; if someone overtakes you towards the top, they can take the token and the lovely victory point from you. It's a beautiful thing to watch players battling for favour over these four factions and reaping the unique rewards each one offers.
If I have one negative to bring to this Dune Imperium review, it is the components - not the quality, that is fine, but the design of them. Your troops are cubes, your agents are uninspiring and the board could look a tad better. There is a deluxe component upgrade, which I have bought, but you should not have to do that. Don’t get me wrong, the game functions and is a lot of fun, there is nothing wrong with the components, but they could be a little bit snazzier.
The deluxe upgrade looks fantastic (shown below) replacing everything with miniatures and giving players a new box to keep it all in, but when you have forked out for an already quite expensive game, you should not have to hand over another bag of coin for ‘better’ components. That being said, I cannot wait for mine to turn up; they are arriving in March apparently. So, overall, the components are serviceable but nothing to write home about. The cards are nice though, using art from the upcoming Dune film, due this year. You may even recognize some of the people on the cards. My son said, “Isn’t that Drax, dad, from Guardians of the Galaxy?” Yes, son, yes it is.
Gameplay Flow and Ease of Play
I love how Dune Imperium plays! It's a constant battle for spaces on the board, using your abilities, buying the right cards and choosing when to battle. Factor in that every card has two functions, intrigue cards, the faction tracks and all the resource management and you have a spiderweb of decisions every turn. I like that. I like having to make tough decisions and spending every turn trying to maximise my small hand of cards to either win the battle, increase my influence with certain factions, or collect resources.
Choosing your battles is very worthwhile. At the start of every turn, a conflict card is revealed and if the winner gets victory points then I am all in and my turn may be focused on getting troops into the battlefield. Otherwise, depending on the rewards, I may hold troops back for another turn. Once your troops have been involved in a fight, they return to your reserves, so it's another system to negotiate in this web of decisions. It's all good fun though.
Maybe it's down to my explanation, but it does sound complicated on the surface. However, even my son loves the game. Once you know the basics, everything fits together like a well-constructed sci-fi jigsaw. All the symbols are easy to recognise, the board is laid out well and the cards all make sense. It is an easy-to-play game, full of options and rewards for you to manage. I love the game arc too. It starts out slow to earn victory points but, as the battle rewards ramp up towards the end, it really ends in a nice crescendo of players trying to wring out every victory point they can.
Dune Imperium: Final Thoughts
My family and I love Dune Imperium. It has all the things we like: deck-building, worker placement and combat. It ties them all up together in a way that feels different and new. When buying new cards, you have multiple things to consider: factions, spaces you can visit, abilities and battle bonuses. Normally, cards in deck-builders serve one function; in Dune Imperium they serve multiple. The deck-building may only be a small part of the game but it is certainly a vital one.
Dune Imperium is easy to play, even for my kids. It's rewarding and a lot of fun. You have the normal tension of hoping no one takes the space on the board you want. You have ways to draw cards, scrap cards and increase your number of workers. So, if you have played deck builders or worker placement games before, you will slide straight into this intriguing game. I just wish the base components were a tad better. Roll on that deluxe upgrade pack.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on February 23rd, 2021. Updated on Feb 28th, 2024 to improve the information available.