Control the Spice, Control the Universe!

July 26, 2019

Among older board gamers, the Dune board game based on the Frank Herbert novel is considered a classic for its near-perfect marriage of mechanics and theme.  Published in 1979 by Avalon Hill, the game combines area control, bidding, alliance-building, and treachery to recreate the political machinations of the novel on your kitchen table.  Gale Force Nine is bringing Dune back into print, giving you a chance to experience this piece of gaming history with new art and modern production values.

The board of the game is a map of Arrakis, divided into territories that can be controlled and fought over by players, and wedge-shaped zones through which a massive sandstorm sweeps, destroying any units caught out in the open.  Since the storm moves a random number of zones each turn, you can never be sure exactly how far it will go.  But you need your troops in open desert if you want them to collect Spice, the currency of the game.  Spice randomly appears on the board’s desert territories, but so can the great worm, Shai-Hulud, wiping out the units in the same territory. 

Opposing units in the same territory can (and usually must) fight to control that territory.  Each player uses a dial to secretly choose a number between 1 and one less than the total number of units they have in that territory for their combat strength.  They also pick a leader token from their faction, and a weapon and a defense from the Treachery cards they’ve won in blind auction.  Both players place their choices face-down, revealing them simultaneously.  If you don’t have a defense against your opponent’s chosen weapon card, your leader dies.  Then the totals of surviving leaders and combat strength are compared; the higher number wins.  All of the loser’s units are wiped out.  A number of units equal to the winner’s chosen dial number are wiped out from the victor’s forces.  However, some of the faction leaders are secretly traitors to another faction.  If your faction leader is a traitor actually serving your opponent, you immediately lose the fight.

You can choose from six factions to play: House Atreides, House Harkonnen, the Bene Gesserit, the Emperor, the Spacing Guild, and the Fremen.  Each faction has its own special abilities.  House Atreides has the ability to peek at hidden cards, while House Harkonnen has more traitors among the other factions.  The Spacing Guild collects Spice from the other players when they move their units onto the board while the Emperor gets Spice when the other players bid on Treachery cards.  The Fremen have special movement abilities.

The goal is to control Arrakis.  This means controlling a number of strongholds; the actual number depends on how large your alliance is.  Both the Fremen and the Spacing Guild can win if certain conditions are met at the end of the game.  And the Bene Gesserit can steal anyone’s win if they successfully predict the victor and the turn they won on. 

If you’re interested in the history of board games, or you’re a fan of deep strategy games like Diplomacy and Twilight Imperium, Dune is a game you must add to your collection.  It can entertain two-to-six players and games generally last two hours (though depending on how deep you get into haggling over alliance formation, can go even longer).  Talk to the good folks at Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy® about pre-ordering your copy of this famous game today.