A Classic Re-Issued
I am going to make this review very simple. If you have a gaming group of 4 or 6 then you should buy this game. It really is that simple. In the higher player counts this game is wonderful and about as good as a board game experience can get in my opinion. Pound for pound, probably the most valuable game as well considering the fun you will have with this. If you fall into this category, stop reading and buy this game. For everyone else…
He who controls the Spice!
Dune is amazing. It is such a phenomenal game that pulls players deep into this desert world. You will be desperate for Spice! Long for the right treachery powers. You will lie and bluff to your friends as if your life depends on it, and in a funny kind of way, it will! You cannot fail to be absorbed by this harsh and violent world as you become one with your faction.
But first, let me deal with lower number player counts before anything else.
Even the score
Dune is a brilliant game. Deeply strategic and dripping with theme. If you are a fan of the book, film or original game, then I am certain you will love this game. If you have no affinity with Dune, or don’t play in a 4 or 6 enough for your liking for this investment, you need to know if you can enjoy this game still. I will do my best to help.
You need to play this game in even numbers. A 3 or 5 won’t work as well. It can be done; it’s just one player will most probably be left out of an alliance and be easily destroyed. More on alliances later. A 4 player works well, likewise, in a 2 it can work and can be a good way to learn. And once you understand it a little more, each player can control 2 factions each so essentially this would be like a 2v2 4 player game.
You simply have to decide if you will be annoyed at not fully utilising the games strengths each game. I would suggest it will still be one of the best games experiences you have. The desire to fully experience the 6-player madness will keep you up at night, but hopefully also drive you to encourage your friends to take the plunge.
The 6 factions in the game offer genuine rule destroying opportunities for each player. And I mean rule destroying. Not rule bending, or rule tweaking. Absolute and utter devastation. It’s brilliant!
The first phase is the storm moving. When the storm moves through a territory with troops on, they all die. However, in the advanced version, the Freman get to decide themselves the movement of the storm using cards they alone control. Thus avoiding the impending doom the storm brings, leaving other factions troops at the mercy of the winds. Seem fair? I have only just begun!
After the storm and inevitable slaughter, there is a spice blow, where new reserves of spice are deposited in alarmingly large quantities somewhere on the map. Spice is essentially the currency in the game and without it, you are very limited in your actions.
The spice can turn up anywhere and moving troops is very limited and can only be done once per round so getting to the right pace on the map is hard. But, the Atreides get to see where the next Spice blow will happen before each movement phase so they can rally their troops accordingly. Following them about the board can lead to great riches! Or treacherous bluffs. Or bloody battles. Either way, fun!
Phase 3 sees a charitable donation from the CHOAM giving every player with 1 or no spice, 2 free spice. Although, the Bene Gesserit get 2 spice in this phase no matter how much they have! Not fair I here you cry! Good. Now you are starting to understand the genius of Dune.
Next is the bidding phase where players submit bids for treachery cards. This is a chance to get your hands-on weapons, defences and tricks to win in battle. You can only have 4 cards. Except of course one faction, the Harkonnen who can have 8. Bidding is blind, except for, yes you guess it, one faction who can look at them before bidding. The Artreides have the power to know what is up for grabs. They can then pass this information onto other players in exchange for bribes. The money from the bidding is paid to the spice bank unless the Emperor faction is in the game, in which case, they get it all!
Players can then revive any defeated troops before the Shipment and movement phase, when new troops can be placed onto the game board and existing ones can move. Shipping troops into Dune costs Spice which you pay to the bank. Unless of course the Spacing Guild are present in the game, in which case they collect all the Spice into their own coffers! This faction also gets to move way more troops than other players and for half the price of everyone else. In the advanced version, they can take this part of their turn at any point in the round too. The Freman can also ship troops for free to any space within 2 territories of The Great Flats.
After this, any players who occupy the same space engages in battle. Here the mechanic is very similar to others you have experienced such as Blood Rage or Scythe. The twist here comes less in the faction powers as before, but more in the traitor cards. Did I not mention them? Well you are in for a treat!
At the start of the game every player is given 4 traitor cards. These represents the leaders in the game. Players can choose one to keep using later in battle. The Harkonnen however, get to keep all 4. If an opponent uses a leader in battle against you that you possess the traitor card for, no matter what else is played, cards, troops; you win. The treacherous leader abruptly turns coat and the battle is over. A devastating blow for players who really need to win that fight.
You genuinely feel betrayed when it happens to you. You stare in disbelief as your once loyal commander stabs you in the back and rips out the heart of your military plans. If this doesn’t sound like fun, then this is maybe not for you. For me, the chance to plot mischievously round after round just to play the right traitor card at the right time and snatch victory at the last second, in a joy!
Once all battles are done, remaining players in areas with Spice collect any available loot before the final phase where you simply check to see if the winning conditions have been met. You do this a maximum of 10 times, but the game can end at any point, I will come to that shortly.
Sounds fun, but how do you win?
The first player to own 3 or 4 strongholds (depending on player count) wins. The game can end in the first few rounds and some players, particular the Harkonnen will be trying to do this. Their player sheet actively encourages an early win as it suits their powers.
However, this would not be Dune without more twists and turns. The Bene Gesserit can win another way. At the start of the game they predict which faction will win and in which round. If that prediction comes true, then the faction that thought they had just won, loses with everyone else. The Bene Gesserit win instead. You could be up from your seat celebrating a hard fought victory when the player acting as the Bene Gesserit flips their prediction cards to show your faction, the round you are in and a smug face that would not look out of place on a Cat in an all you can eat cream factory. Madness!
Let’s Team Up!
So how in all that is spicy can you counter these powers? It’s all about alliances. At certain phases you can try to negotiate an alliance with other players. This is encouraged in the rule book, and it is suggested that you need to seek out other factions with complimenting abilities. This again, is why this game really shines in a 6 when all factions are present. Much like another classic from the same designer, Cosmic Encounter, joint victories can happen. But unlike Cosmic Encounters, these alliances are not just for one off battles, they can last multiple turns, sometimes full games. But do you trust your friends? Will they turn on you at the last moment? Will you turn on them? Are they just trying to force a win scenario as predicted by the Bene Gesserit?
Still with me?
Sure, this game has a higher learning curve than most, but it is no way as complicated as it has been made out. The new version has a great rule book that is easy to digest, and they separate the advanced rules very well. You can add them one at a time as you develop your understanding of the game very easily. The first time you play you will make mistakes without doubt. But that’s part of the fun.
This game does not feel dated at all. Minor changes have been made from the original 1979 masterpiece, but it wasn’t needed. This is a reprint more than a new edition. The old school mechanic is noticeable, but it stood the test of time because it's good.
Dune is a masterpiece. It should be bought by every gamer. If not to play, but to proudly shelve in the hope that one day, they can experience a full on 6 player battle. It’s the board game equivalent of buying a nice whiskey even if you don’t like it. Or owning a full set of Encyclopaedias. It’s the game I am most proud of having. It has a mystique associated to it. A history. A magical wonder that calls to me in the night. After games of this I often wake up in the middle of the night, cursing a misplaced move. That pleases me.
I love this game and would encourage everyone to get it and play as soon as they can. Convince your friends it is worth the effort, because much like a mighty Baron once said, “The spice must flow!”
With a six player count, this game would score 100% for me. I would heartily recommend this.