Review - Is Dune the Second Coming?

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05 Sep 2019 00:00 #301390 by Michael Barnes
Gale Force 9’s reprint of Dune is the most significant,...

The sleeper has awakened.

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05 Sep 2019 08:43 #301391 by Sagrilarus
I'm rereading the novel (actually listening, the audio version is a deluxe production by the way) for the first time since 1985, and one of the things that's struck me is how much I am remembering that first read as I proceed. The source material is as immersive as the game, something that sticks with you, apparently for three decades in my case. My first play of Dune followed just a few months later, and boy, I sure do remember that too. I can tell you who was sitting where at the table. It left quite an impression.

I think you've hit a couple of critical points that other reviewers have left out in your article -- the game is an event, not something that you pull down off the shelf when no one knows what they want to play. It's a game where you need to announce your intentions to have a session days in advance so that people can claim seats and come prepared for the session. Not a whole lot of games where I've seen that done -- Struggle of Empires, Maria, Britannia, that's all I can think of. Good company.

And I think understanding the level of entanglement the source material has with the game is a valuable observation as well, both in terms off the thematic elements but also in its spirit. The game is notoriously unforgiving, but the novel has all the factions on knife-edges as well, fully aware of the huge stakes involved in making a mistake in their machinations. You read the novel with a level of worry, knowing that the people you're watching are in the center of one great big rat-trap of a planet. The book isn't named Atreides, it's named Dune because that's the center of all, the location of the huge political battle that's playing out. The game gets that, and its traitor mechanics and alliance mechanics make for a game where you may have plans, but you sure don't have confidence in them.

I started a thread a few weeks back asking the question of how the game will be received. At the moment it's the central point of conversation in the hobby, something that doesn't happen anymore now that five titles are announced per day. But six months from now the re-release will have either changed how people think about their gaming (and please help me, let this replace Scythe as the play over and over again game in my group) or will simply fade back into the background with a few new fans that are happier with the prettier print.

Time will tell.
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05 Sep 2019 09:09 #301395 by Michael Barnes
I don’t reread novels in general. I’ve read Dune three times.

That’s a great point Sag- Arrakis is as much a character as any of the factions are. It has its own agenda and personality, which fits in with the ecological themes. And lo, these are in the board game to, as is the notion that the planet itself is a character.

I love that it feels -dangerous- to send your people out across the sand to gather spice. And you leave them right where the Wormsign appears...

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05 Sep 2019 09:11 #301396 by Vysetron
There will be a few game groups that become Dune groups off the back of this reprint, I think. It demands replays, switching seats, complete knowledge of the cards and their capabilities, etc. and some folks will definitely put the time in. But most won't. The length, brutality, and wildness of it is going to make it nothing but a pretty piece of wall art for the modern market. No one aside from like-minded folks here would give a game like this the time of day if it was brand new and unknown.

Barnes' Root comparison is an interesting one. They obviously share some DNA, but I think they fill different niches. Root's COIN-esque play, flowchart turns, and relatively short play time are more restrained than anything Eon has ever touched. They seem distinct enough to warrant having both if you enjoy strong asymmetric designs.
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05 Sep 2019 09:50 #301398 by ubarose
WBC (World Boardgame Championships) still holds a Dune tournament. I wonder if this release will attract new participants, and how they will address the rule changes if it does.

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05 Sep 2019 10:19 #301399 by charlest
This is one of the best things you've written in awhile Michael. Really enjoyed the read.
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05 Sep 2019 11:05 #301406 by JoelCFC25

ubarose wrote: I wonder if this release will attract new participants, and how they will address the rule changes if it does.


The biggest rule changes--or perhaps more accurately, rules ambiguities--that somehow crept into this edition that the hardcore WBC crowd sound most concerned about are bribery and the strange wording of the Emperor's alliance power.

Instead of the original game's infamously open-ended bribery rules, it's now the case that only allies can pay directly for each others treachery cards and shipments, but may not bribe each other! Meanwhile the sky's the limit for non-allies, so you can see that without clarity about exactly when spice is allowed to change hands, you can easily cook up faux-bribes to facilitate spice transfer for payments just as if you were allies.

It sounds like Olotka informed someone that a GF9 FAQ is in the offing, so hopefully a few rough edges will get sanded off.
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05 Sep 2019 11:24 #301412 by Gary Sax

Vysetron wrote: Barnes' Root comparison is an interesting one. They obviously share some DNA, but I think they fill different niches. Root's COIN-esque play, flowchart turns, and relatively short play time are more restrained than anything Eon has ever touched. They seem distinct enough to warrant having both if you enjoy strong asymmetric designs.


Root is similar in its asymmetry, but far different in its play time. Makes it more realistic to actually reach that point of mastery with a single group.

That said, extremely asymetric long games riddle my shelf so I see the appeal. One area I think Barnes is selling a tad short is the connection to multiplayer CDG wargames, which have a lot of Dune in them but are crunchier ruleswise (I prefer that). Here I Stand, Napoleonic Wars, etc.
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05 Sep 2019 11:48 #301416 by DarthJoJo
Is this game really the purest distillation of Herbert’s themes though? Setting? Sure, all the main players are present and are encouraged to act like they should. There’s spice and sand worms.

But theme? You may as well say the Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game is the thematic pinnacle of Lord of the Rings games. Everyone is acting like Timothy Zahn wrote Dune, but war is really a secondary concern for Herbert. His real attention is saved for religion, messiahs, culture-shifting revolutions.

Great review, though.
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05 Sep 2019 11:59 #301418 by quozl
True, it's surface level but what boardgame goes deeper than that? And it's the diplomacy between players that can really bring out the deeper themes.

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05 Sep 2019 13:06 #301426 by fightcitymayor

Vysetron wrote: The length, brutality, and wildness of it is going to make it nothing but a pretty piece of wall art for the modern market. No one aside from like-minded folks here would give a game like this the time of day if it was brand new and unknown.

Precisely. As I've opined here previously: For every over-the-hill gamer who achieves erection with this Dune, there will be 1000 younger flaccid wangs longing for the next CMON box of plastic.
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05 Sep 2019 13:20 #301428 by Space Ghost
The credit to Hamblen is what elevates him to "greatest designer ever for me". This along with Gunslinger, Merchant of Venus, and Magic Realm are four of my favorite games --and they are all so different.
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05 Sep 2019 13:51 #301433 by Josh Look
I watched demos of the game at GenCon whenever I got the chance. There were more newcomers to it than vets and it was definitely going over well. I even heard a few folks say they took in multiple demos, just to get another taste. It’s not all gloom and doom, folks, the game is a classic for good reason.

I got my copy of the new edition last Friday. It’s gorgeous. I would love nothing more than to actually play it.
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05 Sep 2019 14:15 #301435 by DarthJoJo

quozl wrote: True, it's surface level but what boardgame goes deeper than that? And it's the diplomacy between players that can really bring out the deeper themes.


Knizia’s cooperative Lord of the Rings is the go-to example for blending literary theme and mechanics. Battlestar Galactica is pretty good on that front as well, though it also misses out on the series’ religious elements. Homeland, though I’ve neither played the game nor watched the show.

To be sure, I’m not saying this as a criticism of the game. They’re different media after all and excel and struggle in different things. Board games, not surprisingly, are very good at bringing out themes of conflict.

But it wouldn’t be the worst if designers and publishers pushed themselves to look past the fighting and battles when building games. I mean the cover of the 1980 War and Peace game is a battle, and it is a war game. That’s only half the title! Unless your actions changed nothing about the outcome of any given scenario. Then all would be forgiven.
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05 Sep 2019 15:27 #301443 by drewcula
Some MB hyperbole is easier to digest than others.

But I'll agree, this was a fun read. And I'm biased. I love Dune.

I hope the best for this reprint.*

*I saw the GF9 exclusive markers for the game at Gencon, and they are unfortunately rubbish. Thankfully, they're also completely unnecessary.
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