At a Glance: This decades-old classic game of area control, treachery, and shaky alliances captures Frank Herbert’s universe perfectly. The spice must flow…
Dune is a tactical strategy game for 2-6 players that takes place in Frank Herbert’s legendary Sci-Fi universe. Dune chronicles Paul Atreides, aka Muad’dib’s rise to power on the desert planet Arrakis, as he becomes a veritable superhuman, and leads a nomadic desert people to overthrow an oppressive regime. In this game, you take control of one of 6 factions in the Dune universe: The Atreides, The Harkonnens, The Fremen, The Emperor, The Guild, and The Bene Gesserit. Each turn, players are faced with diverse challenges as they attempt to exert dominance over the desert planet of Arrakis. Firstly, the large Coriolis sandstorm moves around the map and destroys everything in the region where it stalls out, including all faction soldiers and spice. This also affects movement on the board, as you cannot traverse through the storm or capture anything where the storm resides. If you know anything about Dune, you know the significance of the spice Melange that is found on Arrakis. Each round, the spice blows around and can be harvested, but watch out for sandworms! As players move around the board and bid for treachery cards, battles will occur. The battle system is truly unique, as players use a combat dial with which they commit a number of resources to the fight that is revealed simultaneously. Also, there is always the slight possibility that the leader you choose in the battle turns traitor and is actually in the employ of the enemy. Because of all this, you’re never really sure how the battle will turn out, which is such a thematically sound aspect to the game. The first faction to control 3 of the 5 strongholds on the map is the winner.
Another interesting aspect of this game is the alliances. Every time a worm card is drawn from the Spice deck, players have the option of forming or breaking alliances. When you ally with another faction, then your tokens are considered the same for the purposes of determining victory. So yes, it is possible for 2 or more factions to share a victory. The game also allows some space for negotiation and bribes, which adds a freedom to the game that can “spice” things up (pun intended). I think I like the combat system more than anything in this game. The somewhat blind approach, balancing of immediate aggression with distant planning, and using treachery cards…it’s a great, unique process that remains thematic. There are special rules, variable player powers, and an advanced play option. All these together may seem unnecessarily convoluted, but I think the little caveats and quirks are what make the game feel so thematic and true to the feel of the novel.
Components are by far the worst part about this game, and that is simply because the game was published in 1979, and the standard for component quality in board games has increased since then. However, I will say that the map is fine and the large cardboard dials used for combat hold up well and are the best component. The game is unfortunately hard to find and expensive at this point. I own the vintage Avalon Hill edition with the sandworm on the cover, which I love, but even a well-worn copy fetches a hefty price on ebay these days. Fantasy Flight re-implemented this system with Rex: Final Days of an Empire, which is in the Twilight Imperium universe, so if you are indifferent toward the Dune theme, but are intrigued by the mechanics of the game, then the Rex version may be right for you, since it is more widely available. For me though, I am a huge Frank Herbert fan, and this game captures that universe so well.