In 1979, gaming company Avalon Hill (since bought by Hasbro) released a board game based on the popular science fiction novel Dune. Regarded by many as a masterpiece of the form, it is an asymmetrical wargame designed by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge and Peter Olotka, the people who created Cosmic Encounter
. Six different factions vie for control of the desert planet Arrakis. As WickerNipple notes in his Everything node on the game
, “Instead of giving subtle differences to the various factions like most games, Dune gives huge differences and advantages, that don't over-balance things only because every faction receives them.” The thing is, each player has special rules that give them very different options and abilities compared to the other sides, and yet the game remains balanced (especially when played by a full six players). The game has been long out of print due to the Frank Herbert estate refusing to re-license. Fantasy Flight Games is rumored to be working on a release of the game without the Dune license. Importantly, all the necessary files are available on the game's BoardGameGeek page
to construct a copy of the game. (Homebrew game board
- Rules, cards, counters and extras
- Windows freeware game client and server
What makes Dune special? Here is the basic play of the game. It gets messed up a lot by all the special abilities, but it serves as a framework on which to base your understanding of it:
The game lasts up to 15 turns. On each turn, a storm moves a semi-random number of spaces, eliminating all game pieces it travels through if they're in the desert. (There are many safe spaces to hide in.) Also, either spice or a worm emerges on a location of the planet; if it's a worm, it appears at the location where spice last appeared, devouring anything that happens to be there, such as units that scrambled there to claim the spice. Then the players bid on treachery cards, which give them special abilities or advantages in battle. Then the players take turns acting. On each turn, a player may move one collection of troops already on the planet, and may ship in from space one collection of troops from off-planet to a single location on the board. If two factions have troops on a space, they fight it out.
Each side secretly determines which of his leaders he'll use in the fight (each has a name and a value), how many of his troops he'll use in the fight, and, optionally, an “attack” and a “defense” treachery card. This forms their battle plan
. When both sides are ready, they reveal their plans. The number of troop counters fielded is added to the value of the leader. The player with the higher value loses the troop counters he committed to the fight; the other player loses all
his troops on the space. Thus, you never want to commit all your troops, but as few as you can and still win. The leaders are retained unless the opposite player played a treachery card that attacks the leader; then he is killed unless he had a defense against that card. The attacks are poisons (which must be countered by poison defense), weapons (which must be countered by a shield), and the powerful lazgun. The lazgun has no defense, but if the other player tries blocking it with a shield it causes a huge explosion that destroys everything in the territory, regardless of the outcome of the battle.
The players rush to be the ones to collect spice when it appears, although they must be mindful of the storm and the possibility of worm attacks, and they battle for control of the five stronghold locations. To win the game, a single player must control, with at least one troop token, any three strongholds at the end of a complete turn. If players form an alliance (which can only be made or broken at certain times), then they can claim a joint victory.
If at the end of 15 turns no one has won, the Fremen player wins if he has control over three particular territories. If he hasn't won this way, the Spacing Guild player wins.
All of the leaders in each faction has a card in the Traitor deck
. At the start of the game each player is dealt four, and selects one to be a secret traitor for his side, discarding the others. If this leader is ever used against that player, the player reveals the traitor card and immediately wins the fight, kills the enemy leader and gains spice equal to his value.
Complicating these basics are the special rules and advantages enjoyed by each side:
The Atredies player has precognition, and gets to look at Spice and Treachery cards when drawn. He gets to look at them even if they are drawn face-down, giving him an advantage in tracking down spice locations, predicting worm attacks and deciding which treachery cards are worth bidding for and which other players have them. Additionally, when forming battle plans the Atredies player may look at one aspect of the battle plans of the other players before the fight and react accordingly. He also has access to the Kwisatz Haderach counter, which is worth a bonus in battle.
The Harkonnen player is a master of treachery. He draws an extra treachery card every time he gains one (which the Atredies player does not get to see), can hold up to eight cards instead of four, gets to keep all four traitors drawn at the start of the game, and can capture enemy leaders, either to kill them or use them themselves for one turn.
The Emperor player has access to the elite Sardaukar troops, which are double-strength, and also is given the spice the other players bid for treachery cards. Most sides gain income through spice harvesting, so an extra source is a substantial advantage.
The Spacing Guild player pays half to ship his own troops onto the board, and furthermore receives the payments other sides (except for Fremen) pay to put their troops on the board. Again, alternate income sources are valuable in this game.
The Fremen player has Fremakin elite troops that are worth double, and revives troops for free at the end of a turn (other factions have to pay beyond a certain number of free revivals on a turn). Furthermore they only lose half their troops in the storm, and are not only unharmed by worm attacks but may then ride them elsewhere on the planet.
The Bene Gesserit player is difficult to play. Although in battle they have the Voice ability which forces the opponent to set one aspect of their battle plan as they dictate, they only get one free troop revival each turn, and they lack the Emperor's extra income to make up for it. They can sneak their troops onto the planet along with other shipments and without paying, and can also choose to “coexist” with other units in a space, choosing to fight only when they please. They also have a special way to win. At the start of play, the Bene Gesserit player writes down one of the other factions and which turn he thinks that player will win on. If this player wins or is a member of a winning alliance on that turn, then the Bene Gesserit player reveals the prediction and is in fact the sole winner! This gives the BG player a way to win by playing kingmaker, subtly influencing the direction of the game in favor of a given player in order to become the power behind the throne.