Dune A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy is the brand new wargame style board game from publisher Gale Force Nine. Designed by a team including Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge and Peter Olotka, the game pits 2 – 4 players against each other as they try to either win by military or economic victory. Players will have spice to collect, troops to shuttle, sandworms to dodge, battles to fight, strongholds to claim and even a storm to avoid. However, as this is the Dune experience you’re looking for? Let’s find out!
At the beginning of the game each player chooses a faction, or if you want to shake things up in a two player game one of the two double factions. Each faction is slightly different, but each will take a specific number of troop tokens, faction specific leaders and a set number of spice from the supplies. With the various decks shuffled, each player (apart form the Harkonnens) is dealt 4 traitor cards, with the rest put off to one side for during play. Each player gets to keep 1 of these cards, with the Harkonnens then able to keep up to 4 – depending on the player count.
If the Fremen are in play then they add 5 troops to the pole, a safe haven territory where no conflicts can occur. The rest of the board is split into territories of sand, rock and strongholds, with these territories potentially spanning multiple sectors. Finally, the storm token is added onto the board at it’s starting location.
Dune A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy is played out over 3 – 5 rounds. A military victory can end the game early, though if the game isn’t ended in 5 rounds then an economic victory is triggered. Each of the 5 rounds are played in the same way, following seven distinct phases. These are in order; Storm, Spice Blow, Gain Cards, Revival, Shipping & Movement, Battle and finally Spice Collection.
While the Fremen can survive the storm, forces of the other factions cannot, and in the first phase of each round the storm moves. The first player rolls the storm die to see how many sectors it moves, destroying forces and spice in its wake. In the spice blow phase new territories gain spice by flipping the top card of the spice deck. This can also see sandworms appear who destroy non-Fremen forces.
Players can then gain cards. Everyone freely draws up to a hand of 4 battle cards: these can be weapons, defense or worthless items. Each player can then buy market cards, costing 2 spice each. These are powerful abilities that can be used in various phases of play, ranging from getting to look into the future of the spice deck or perhaps awarding bonus spice at the end of the game. In your first play the game recommends limiting these to 1 per player, though normally the limit is 3. The cost is paid to the bank unless the Imperium faction is in play, who get paid instead by other players.
Forces will die from storms, sandworms, battle and more. In the revival phase of each round players regain a number of forces to their available pool, the amount based on their faction. Players can then spend spice to revive additional forces and/or leaders. Then it’s time to put boots on Arrakis, with the Shipping & Movement phase. Going around the table from the first player each player can spend to ship forces onto any territory, aside from into strongholds where two other factions are already present. Players can then move a group of their forces from one territory up to 3 territories away. Movement cannot be through or into/out of the storm sector though.
The penultimate phase is battle, seeing territories fought over – if they have two or more factions present (aside from in the neutral Polar Sink). If more than two factions are present the player with battle advantage (closest to the first player in turn order) chooses whom to fight first. The two players involved in a battle both take a battle wheel. Each player can rotate it up to the number of forces they have, as well as committing a leader, weapon and defense card. Note they can only use cards if they include a leader token.
When both players are ready they reveal. At this point players can also utilize the traitor card they chose at the beginning of the game. If they can reveal the leader their opponent has used in battle they instantly win the battle, unless both players reveal each other’s leader. If no traitors are played, weapons trigger; potentially killing leaders who don’t defend appropriately, before combat values are then determined. Both players will lose the number of forces they committed, though the loser will lose all of their forces regardless. Players gain spice from killing a leader, though leaders do not die by losing a battle only via weapons.
After all of the battles have been fought it is time for the final phase, Spice Collection. Players with forces where spice deposits are can claim 2 per force token. At this point the round is over. For the first 2 rounds play will instantly resume with a new round, sliding the round marker on one and the turn marker back to storm. From round 3 onwards, at the end of a round players must check to see if a player has won via military victory.
To do this a single player needs to control 3 of the strongholds with at least 1 force. If this hasn’t been done then the new round begins. At the end of the 5th round if this still hasn’t occurred then it’s time to see who has won on an economic front. Adding up their spice, with a bonus of 5 spice per controlled stronghold, whoever has the most points wins.
Dune A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy was almost specifically designed to take the gameplay of the original Dune board game and streamline it. From this point of view the game seems to tick the right boxes. While there are many phases to each round, none are convoluted. Even the battles which regularly occur can be boiled down to spinning a dial, playing cards and adding up a couple of numbers. However, each of these still has player choice involved. So, even with the streamlining it never feels like the outcome is predetermined.
Each of the four included factions feature heavily in the film, and featuring movie stills for the leaders will help capture the interests of movie goers. With asymmetrical powers each faction does feel unique, with different routes towards the two victory conditions. Out of them all the Fremen with their ability to effectively move twice each round is instantly recognisable as strong. However, if the game goes the full 5 rounds they can start to be a bit drawn out with scattered forces.
From the very beginning of the game each player quite literally has a trick, potentially up their sleeve. Traitor cards are these fantastically exciting, game changing, abilities that players hold onto. Going into a fight completely outnumbering an opponent is never a guarantee as a result. This keeps everyone engrossed, as anything can happen in a battle. Alas, while it is amazing for the person playing the traitor card, for the person the card is being used against it’s frustrating. These are cards from a shuffled deck that can completely wipe out a chunk of your forces, potentially that you spent all of your spice on.
Depleting all of your spice is in Dune A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy somewhat of a game over scenario. With only a few rounds played across the entire game being unable to do much in even one of them can rule you out of contention. It’s possible to come back, just killing a leader in a fight for example is a source of spice. More often than not though once knocked down the game is over before your faction gets back up. Having such a short experience also means there is little in the way of diplomacy, despite it being in the game’s title. There’s just almost no time to form alliances and see them come back as beneficial, unless it’s quite simply all targeting the player who seems to be in the lead.
For the most part the components of Dune are strong. The dials used in combat are great to hold and help hide not only your intentions but the cards being played too. The cards are all easy to read with plenty of room left for the artwork which adorns them. There’s a lot of tokens, which are somewhat on the small side but they aren’t too fiddly. It’s the board and the box which let the game down though. While one side of Arrakis is sure to be in darkness it didn’t need to be quite as dark on the board. Not only does it make reading the region names hard, the sector lines are completely lost. Then there’s the fact that unless you put all of the tokens into bags, which aren’t provided, you’ll spend 10 minutes before each game sorting them out.
Dune A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy manages to capture a lot of the lore logics of the series. Leaders need to have the right defenses, with shields not protecting a leader against something slow moving. The rounds are quick, with choices of what to do and when to battle. Battles are devastating for both sides, with forces lost left, right and center, and if you cannot control the strongholds of Arrakis then it is all about spice. It is missing that special something, which would take it to the next level – perhaps the lacking diplomacy aspects. Still, it is a decent experience and one fans of the films and books should enjoy.
(Editor’s Note: Dune A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)