Boardgame Sunday #1: Dune

Introduction

Boardgame Sundays is going to be a new series I’ll be writing about. Playing boardgames is one of my bigger hobbies, and it’s only natural to want to write about it. I’ve been wondering if I should be writing about it elsewhere, but I wanted my blog to be a repository of my hobbies. So here we are!

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Theme

This game, of course, is based on the novel of the same title, by Frank Herbert. Now if you have not yet read it or watched the films based on it, then I really encourage you to do so! From this point on there will be spoilers. Dune is set on the desert world Arrakis, the only source of the spice melange which is a very valuable drug in this fictional universe. Paul Atreides and his family have been assigned by the Emperor as the planet’s stewards. Rival families and other factions come in and try to wrest control from the Atreides.

This is an area control game; the aim is to be the one who controls at least three of the five cities of Dune. Each of the six factions who are trying to gain control each have its strengths and unique characteristics, and if used correctly will pave the way to victory.

Components

This is actually a print-and-play version of a boardgame that has long been out of print. The images for the actual board, player mats, cards, and combat dial can be found on BoardGameGeek, and the ships are taken from another boardgame called Cosmic Encounter. All of the images were printed on photo paper through a printing service (such as Fujifilm), cut and assembled manually. The combat dials need a small snap button to allow it to spin, but a brad can do as well.

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The reason why the Cosmic Encounter ships work so well is because of the colors and number of ships per color, which match the requirements of Dune quite well, and the fact that they stack so neatly. The idea is that each faction needs twenty ships of their color, except for the Fremen and the Emperor which need 15 of their color and 5 of a different color (preferably different from the other 6 colors already mentioned) to represent special forces. Other components required are something to denote spice (any kind of token can serve here), something to mark the current location of the storm (see more below), and something to mark the round number.

How It’s Played

As I mentioned earlier, this is an area control game. Each player’s objective is to be the one who controls at least three of the five cities of Dune at the end of any round.

Each round starts with the perpetual storm moving around the planet killing and destroying everything in its path, after which spice appears on a certain location on the board (Spice Blow phase). A bidding for item cards begin, facilitated by the Atreides player since his special power includes being able to “foresee” what is being auctioned. Each player then gets to revive dead forces and leaders. Shipping and movement comes next, where each player in turn lands their ships onto Dune and move their forces around the board according to simple movement rules. Any location that has one or more hostile forces will be having a battle, which occurs after all shipping and movement.

Battles are an all-or-nothing affair. The losing player loses all of his forces and all the item cards he played for this battle. The winning player kills off his “committed” forces, but in return gets a chance to pick up any item cards up to his hand size and of course gets control of that location. The turn ends after all the battles have been resolved, and players check if anyone has reached the win condition. Another round begins with the storm.

At the end of each round, if any single player controls three cities they win the game. This is modified if alliances are made, wherein a two-player alliance requires control of four cities to win, and a three-player alliance requires control of all five cities to win. Alliances can only be made upon the arrival of a sandworm during the Spice Blow phase. There are certain special circumstances where certain players can win, depending on which faction they are playing, if no one has won yet after 16 rounds (note: we usually reduce this number to 8 rounds to keep the game short).

My Rating

This is one of my all-time favorite games. It has been designed to be very asymmetric given the differences between the factions, and yet it manages to be fairly balanced. The rounds go by pretty fast too, once everyone gets the hang of the gameplay. The game is best played at 6 players of course, so all factions are represented, but it is playable at 4 or 5 players. The best Dune games I’ve seen are the ones where the alliances are fluid. It’s quite fun, but it does take some time to explain all the nuances.

Postscript: I think I chewed off more than I can swallow here! Dune is such a deep boardgame and maybe should not have been the first one I featured. As it’s one of my all-time favorites, though, I couldn’t choose anything else!

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