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2-4 Players Can Fight Like Demons in the New Dune (2021) - Review

MB Updated October 21, 2021
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2-4 Players Can Fight Like Demons in the New Dune (2021) - Review

Game Information

Game Name
2 - 4
There Will Be Games

The sleeper has re-awakened.

Folks, I want you to know that I love EON’s original Dune so much that I propositioned a stranger to play it once. I was loading some groceries into the car and I happened to notice that sitting on the seat in the car next to me was a copy of the French edition. Now, this was back when any copy of Dune was pretty rare. So I found a scrap of paper and wrote “Hey, I happened to notice you have a copy of Dune! Hit me up if you need a player!” May as well have wrote this is crazy, but here’s my number, call me maybe.

They never did of course because it’s weird that I did that and frankly I would have been creeped out myself had I found such a note on my car. But come on, cut me some slack. Everyone knows that Dune is a six player game – no compromise. Yeah, you can barely wing it with five and if you are just absolutely desperate four will do and god help you if you start dipping into the low player count variants that are out there. And this one of the many things that has made Dune somewhat inaccessible over the years. We all dream the dream of playing Dune with five others who all know the game really well and don’t have to be taught about spice blows and CHOAM charity, let alone the intricacies of how all of the factions interact.

Gale Force 9, bless ‘em, have heard both our cries as well as the cries of the market riding high on Dune awareness thanks to the upcoming Villenueve picture. So out pops a new edition of Dune, not too long after their excellent reprint of the original game. But this time it’s got Chalamet and the gang on the box and a revised design made for four or less players. And it flippin’ WORKS, ya’ll.

Yes, that’s right, with four, three or even two players – you can play Dune for real. It’s true that with fewer players seasoned Spice Barons will miss out on some of the interplay between player actions, faction abilities, and most of the compelling (and more formalized) diplomatic elements. But as a trade-off, this is a somewhat leaner, faster, and definitely more accessible version of a classic design that now doesn’t need a table of six Dune masters organizing a game that can have a wildly unpredictable play time to get the full effect. And before some of you inevitably start with the “dumbed down” comments or pondering if this is “Dune Lite”, neither is accurate although it is judiciously streamlined. This is by and large the real deal.

Dogmatic purists will insist that it’s somehow less of a game because there’s no longer an auction for Treachery cards but surprisingly, I don’t miss the time it takes to bid up a Jubba Cloak in hopes that you don’t get stuck with it. Doing away with the auctions actually shaves off quite a few minutes of play time.  The surrogate mechanism is that there are now Battle cards, which everyone receives by default, along with Market cards that are blind-bought for 2 Spice each with the Harkonnen player getting paid for them. The Market cards have special actions, most of which tend to accelerate or enhance other gameplay functions. The Spice economy is revved up with essentially a double spice blow every round and that also speeds things up, as does a five turn cap on the whole affair – if nobody wins with strongholds, it comes down to an economic victory. He who controls the Spice wins the game.

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Some of the more detailed elements like the Kwitzsach Haderach and Sardukar tokens have been simplified or abstracted and although I do miss the narrative specificity, I don’t find myself pining for them either because most of that stuff is smartly incorporated elsewhere among the cards and faction abilities. Hardcore Bene Gesserit players may lament that their faction and some of their functions (such as “The Voice”) have become part of the Imperium, but maybe now they’ll have an actual shot at winning. There are some map changes, which many may not even notice. My biggest complaint is that Trip to Gamont, one of the original worthless cards, is out. It’s always a good laugh when someone overspends on a sex planet vacation. 

I’m finding that this edition of Dune is full surprises despite not really being a new game – it really shouldn’t work with the downscaling and edits, let alone in a playtime that can be as reduced as 1/3 that of the original game. But it does, and this is testament to some thoughtful renovation and re-prioritizing. I’ve found that the variant two player game offered in the rules, wherein one player essentially plays both House Atreides and the Fremen while the other commands House Harkonnen and the Imperium, is surprisingly fun and captures most of what I like about Dune- the surprise traitors, the battle wheels, the random spice blows, the huge fights over the strongholds, the sandworm popping up to eat your people, and of course all the cool powers. You can get all this in an hour or less with two and I think that for Dune, this is a revelation.

Sure, I get it, all that wonderfully squishy negotiation doesn’t happen in a two player game and it is obviously diminished in the 3-4 player game. It’s definitely a less volatile Arrakis without alliance-defining Nexus events and the formal rules for what an alliance means and how they can win together. But the core values of the original EON design nonetheless shine through here, and they do so better than I’ve seen in other fanmade variants and house rules to accommodate four or less. Gale Force 9 had the guts to get back into the design and retool it, and I think the risk has paid off handsomely.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the production is all that handsome. I like the film visuals and I’m happy that folks that see the Villinueve picture will have some up-front buy-in with it, but the overall quality of this edition is fairly spartan. The board is too dark, a lot of cards are walls of text, and some of the illustrations that aren’t directly from the film look cheap. And what a bummer that the Tleilaxu Tanks are just a big empty space on the board. Now, with that said, this is a modestly priced game and I absolutely appreciate that it is not a $300 crowdfunder with scads of plastic junk. I’m perfectly fine with the old school cardboard chits here, I just wish that it all looked a little more distinguished.

Regardless, Gale Force 9 has proven themselves to be worthy conservators of the Dune legacy on our tabletops. Their 2019 edition of the classic game was something of a miracle in itself as it was the first time the game had been in print for decades (excluding the execrable Rex). But this may turn out to be the version of Dune that keeps its legacy going – a slightly modernized, “pop” Dune that blows through barriers to entry like an atomic through a shield wall.

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Dune (2021)
A wonderful, modernized, and more accessible revision of one of the best board games of all time.
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of and as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #327342 21 Oct 2021 09:59
How does it compare to Rex: Final Days of an Empire?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #327343 21 Oct 2021 10:08
1. it’s actually Dune and not a soulless Ghola
2. I don’t think Rex really supported lower player counts
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #327344 21 Oct 2021 10:21
Great, and surprising, review! I can't believe I'm actually thinking about picking this up. I bought the 2019 reprint, excited to finally get to play Dune. I got a group together and we played it exactly one time. I had the full complement of 6 players. The game went WAY too long, I think 4 hours.

It has slept on the shelf ever since, and these days getting 6 players is pretty much an impossibility for me.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #327348 21 Oct 2021 12:03
I'm getting a crew of six together this Saturday to watch the film at the IMAX and then play the original afterwards. I assume we're going to end up either being friends for life or hating each other by the end of it all. It's going to be all of our first time so here's hoping it doesn't drag on too long!

This review suggests that this game is right sort of modernisation; it stands in contrast to some of Restoration Game's efforts by acknowledging that subtracting things is often better than adding more stuff on.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #327349 21 Oct 2021 16:21

sornars wrote: I'm getting a crew of six together this Saturday to watch the film at the IMAX and then play the original afterwards. I assume we're going to end up either being friends for life or hating each other by the end of it all. It's going to be all of our first time so here's hoping it doesn't drag on too long!

Ha, you are doing exactly what I wanted to do a couple weeks ago!

I know you may have read my article on what rules to use so I only want to make one suggestion. If you have a big tablet and don't mind some digital assistance, try out Atreides Mentat so they can track who has which cards. I've found it easier and better than pen and paper, just disable deck tracking.
Nodens's Avatar
Nodens replied the topic: #327354 22 Oct 2021 08:01
Thanks for a great read.
I strongly disagree on one point:

'They never did of course because it’s weird that I did that and frankly I would have been creeped out myself had I found such a note on my car. But come on, cut me some slack.'

Not only am I cutting you slack here, I think you made the world a better place. I once dropped a note in the mailbox of a newbuilt house in my street after seeing a wall full of games from the street. I was aware of the creepiness factor so I gave my own adress (felt only fair since I was standing in front of theirs). That person replied and we played games weekly for years. A great dude whom I maybe never would have met had he put up his curtains earlier.
It may be 'weird' behaviour but I am convinced it is far more personal and interesting than only using designated groups on the internet. Mainly because I am more and more convinced that a huge amount of people who are fun to play games with need nothing more than a curious disposition.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #327360 22 Oct 2021 11:15
Man, I didn't think I needed this. I have a copy of the French version that I last played in... *checks calendar*...2015. And in truth I don't often do THAT well with heavy diplomacy and negotiation. This might be something I need to get, because between the shorter playtime and somewhat less free-wheeling format it might be a better fit for me.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #327384 24 Oct 2021 15:13
Did anyone ever leave a note in your car about wanting to play???? :)
Cranberries's Avatar
Cranberries replied the topic: #327411 25 Oct 2021 11:37
Is this version going to show up at Target? It's so tempting.
JoelCFC25's Avatar
JoelCFC25 replied the topic: #327414 25 Oct 2021 12:01
Stealing from Dune Discord--it's DUNIOR!

This has been getting a surprisingly great reception from grizzled Dune veterans. There's a lot to be said for hitting a more attainable player count and trimming the core of the experience down to something you can play multiple times in an evening--very savvy goals that it seems they achieved while retaining enough of the thematic essence.

If nothing else it's awesome to chuck overboard all the rules variants, the vague language, the miles-long threads about Truthtrances chock full of passive-aggression, and all the other baggage of the original that accumulated over the years. Not to worry, I'll still leap at the chance to play every time, just give me a time and a location and I'm there--but sometimes you just want to poison Stilgar or put a hunter-seeker in someone's melon without all the overhead and time for auctions, remembering corner cases, and all the rest.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that the TTS for this went on the workshop over the weekend, so you can give it a shot now.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #327435 26 Oct 2021 08:54
Good points and you know what, that resonates with the film…put everything that isn’t critical to the central storyline and oppositions in the background. Judiciously pare down the detail to arrive at an essential experience. I can’t say that on my playing of Duneior that I’ve missed Karama, Truthtrances, the auctions or the Guild. I like all that stuff sure but the absence of those things and their rules hasn’t diminished the experience.

The 2 player game is such a revelation to me. It whittled everything down to Atreides/Fremen and Harkonnen/Imperium, which is the core narrative. The treachery/intrigue angle is still present and in the combined powers and the cards there are ‘ore specific story and world elements. I was really iffy about the way the cards are done - I was worried about having action card type features but that actually relocates and reduces a lot of rules and manages specific details.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #327526 29 Oct 2021 00:19
I played a game of this on TTS with a few friends. I won in turn 5 as the Harkonnen, partially through the use of a Traitor to nab a stronghold from the Fremen. Our game had all the classic Dune moments. Lots of traitors, a lasgun explosion, the storm and the worms wrecking different people.

It's really good, I'm definitely going to try to chase down a copy. It has all of that same tension and drama from the original 1979 game, and impressively it feels like it's about 90% the same game. The four factions feel like they all have strong options for how they can win, and for once it's nice playing without having to establish how your table will interpret the ruleset. Separating out the market cards and the battle cards is a good move, as is making the battle cards an automatic draw. To be honest, while the auction being gone feels weird at first, it does little to make the game feel any less dynamic. This is very much a condensed version of Dune, in a way that Rex couldn't possibly touch.

Not gonna lie, I do miss the diplomacy, negotiations, and alliances. That was one thing that made the original game feel really vibrant. I also do have an appreciation for the slower pace of the original game, although I think this new version does just fine by condensing that pace into five turns.

So yeah, it's definitely Dune, and it definitely is very good, possibly great. The old Future Pastimes crew should be applauded for editing this game down like they did. The original is a classic, and still extremely playable, but this is a version that will likely play much better to modern sensibilities.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #327538 29 Oct 2021 12:20
Yeah. I do miss some of the fleshiness and wildness of the original, but I think of the trade off is a game that you’ll actually play more than once a year or whatever then I’ll take it.

Losing the auction was a bigger deal than I thought, it really does trim the runtime and I don’t feel like too much is lost in its absence other than that fun moment when you bid up a card you know is junk.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #327576 30 Oct 2021 18:29
I'm increasingly of the opinion that the auction is one of Dune's weak points. It's an absolutely brilliant mechanism in countless ways but it does just take too long. If you take just one minute per card, that's an entire hour of play if the game goes for ten rounds. That's too long and I can imagine there must be a way to auction several cards at once without losing the appeal.

I am thinking of one small trick, though. Instead of putting the cards face-down on the table and letting Atreides pick them up one by one, I'm thinking of giving them a card holder and auctioning them from there. This way, Atreides doesn't have to check every time they forget which card is being auction, which they will.

I think a small trick like this could save a massive amount of time.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #327623 01 Nov 2021 14:21
It must be noted that the single greatest AH Dune apologist ever misspelled Kwisatz Haderach and Sardaukar in this review. :D

“He came back after a year just to troll Michael Barnes! HE IS THE KWISATZ HADERACH!”

Nice review, Michael. Makes me want to actually play this. The bloody auction phase always pissed me off because it took so long. Smart edit.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #327624 01 Nov 2021 14:22