With the release of the Dune movie in 2021, this popular sci-fi series is now well-served with game adaptations, such as the excellent Dune: Imperium. But it’s not always this way. For a long time, only one Dune game – also known as Dune – was first released in 1979 but has cast a long and impressive shadow on the gaming scene ever since. Years ahead of its time, it’s a stunning tribute to the source material with one of the most nail-biting combat mechanics ever invented.
However, it also requires the full complement of six players to work to its full potential, and has a playtime that can last from an hour to almost an entire day. Trying to make the game’s core more flexible for modern tastes has long been considered a near-impossible design goal. But that hasn’t stopped publisher Gale Force Nine from trying its hand at the clumsy Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy (watch it on Amazon).
What’s in the box?
If you’ve played a version of the original Dune game it’s based on, the ingredients will look very familiar. There is a table depicting the surface of the planet in the form of a circular map, which is functionally identical to its predecessor. The art is perhaps clearer, though less stylized than previous versions.
The three card punched boards contain a large volume of spice tokens, leader plates, the infamous battle wheel, and several other tokens. The faces of the leaders are taken from the film adaptation. The combat wheels are large and should be pinned together, front to back, with the two halves sliding gently against each other.
At the bottom are four decks of cards to keep an eye on traitors, spice blows, battle artifacts, and a tricks and tools market. They are also well illustrated with a mix of custom art and image-based art from the movie. However, they are so thin that they hardly qualify for the word “card” on thick paper. Strong sleeves are required if you don’t want them to decompose.
Rules and how to play
Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy lives up to the first half of its name. Victory means taking control of three of the five surface strongholds with your army at the end of a turn. If no one manages that after five turns, you add up points. Five for each stronghold you control plus the number of spices, used in this game as currency, to see who wins.
This tight turn limit gives the game a much more reliable and manageable time table than the older version of the game, and it usually plays for about an hour unless someone wins early. But it also negates the second part of its long name, and a key component of the previous game: bargaining. With very few turns and no rules that allow allies to win, each player is himself. It’s an unfortunate loss but a necessity to keep up the playing time.
What remains, however, is the fighting wheel, the ruthless engine by which you win territories. It’s such an amazing idea that it hasn’t been copied more often. During a fight, each player secretly chooses a weapon and perhaps some defensive weapon or card from their reserves. Then, still in secret, they spin a number of wheels that cannot exceed the number of troops they have in the fight. The plans are then revealed and all the values add up: the loser loses all of their forces, while the winner loses only the number of pieces they have drawn.
It is difficult to overstate the level of detail of these decisions. Spinning a short can lead to a catastrophic loss, while spinning too many can leave you unable to defend your newly won territory. As if this weren’t stressful enough, you may find that your opponent has turned your leader into a traitor, or that poor defense card or weapon choice means they die in the fight so You don’t get their battle value or chance to lose them again.
With such huge stakes, decisions can feel numb. And this is where Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy differs greatly from its predecessor both for good and for bad. The plus side is that the shorter game time makes it easier to pick and more tolerable if you mess things up. On the minus side, cards and traitors are largely a hoax in this version, while in the older game there is a lot of intelligence to be gained as the game unfolds, allowing for a wide range of choices. more lucid.
In addition to controlling the stronghold, another important factor is controlling the spice. This appears randomly on the turn-based chessboard and is an instant draw to set up further armed clashes. You need spices to buy cards and transport troops from your reserves to the surface of the planet, from where they can travel short distances across the desert. But beware as a raging sandstorm moves at the whim of the dice around the circular board like the hands of a clock, destroying forces left open to add to the confusion of strategy.
Another important thing to be kept is the asymmetry of the game. There were four factions here instead of six, the Bene Gesserit had been placed in the hands of the Emperor and the Guild had been completely purged. But each still feels like playing on that faction’s paper shoes from the book. Atredies can use Paul’s presence to force opponents to reveal part of their battle plan. Harkonnen has more traitors. The Imperium gets spice when another player buys a card. Finally, Fremen can move around the hostile surface of the planet freely and easily.
These pairs match their narrative roles, whether you’re multiplayer or not, creating a believable retelling of the novel’s story. With two players, there are also per-player rules for controlling the paired factions, playing Emperor and Harkonnen against Atredies and Fremen. It’s not an ideal way to learn the game, which costs each player more to deal with, but it’s a very satisfying way to experience Dune with two.
Where to buy
https://www.ign.com/articles/dune-a-game-of-conquest-and-diplomacy-board-game-review Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy Review