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Dune: Imperium Plays the Hits - Review

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07 Jan 2021 12:24 #317800 by Michael Barnes
Dune: Imperium, designed by Paul Dennen of Clank! fame, was...

Now That's What I Call Board Games vol. 20

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07 Jan 2021 15:44 #317801 by hotseatgames
I would very much like to try this game. I won't be buying it myself though... I picked up Dune (the original) and it has hit the table exactly once.

I also was bored to tears by Tyrants of the Underdark.

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07 Jan 2021 16:02 #317802 by Jackwraith
I think that's really fair criticism. One of the things I've found appealing about the Tiny Epic series is that they're often not great leaps forward, but they're almost always engaging, intriguing, and generally fun. There are moments of real insight (the war cost system of Kingdoms, the move/attack balance of Zombies, etc.) but none of them are "transformative" in a way that would have you thinking: "This game is a whole, new thing!" Indeed, I think that that's part of the intent of the series: comfortable, fun, little insights that make them their own thing, but mostly based on transport- and cost-accessibility.

It strikes me that Dune: Imperium could have been created with that same thought in mind. It's possible that WW didn't want to try to run the race with the original Dune game because they recognized that it would be a losing effort in comparison. So they made a different Dune game that's comfortably within the wheelhouse of both their design intent and the audience that they hope to reach. I haven't had the opportunity to play (I was gifted a copy over the holidays), but it will be interesting to see how well our play experience coincides with the points you're making here.

And, yes, the board is still god-awful. Win some, lose some.
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07 Jan 2021 17:04 #317805 by n815e
Sometimes a game does something innovative and that wows me.

Sometimes a game just takes the tried and true, does it well and that wows me, too.

I did pick this one up on a whim, not expecting it to be more than average. I played it once, solo, to learn the mechanics and it kind of did seem to meet those expectations.

It may open up with repeated plays, because there is a bunch of stuff going on and it’s not really possible for me to understand how I should value different cards, resources, or actions, and what the paths to victory are. With more familiarity and maybe (one day) multiple players, this could be a wonderful experience. Or it may not. I don’t know yet.

I never like to judge a game until I think I understand it. Most games require many plays to see their depth.

This is not the old Dune. There’s not going to be scheming and backstabbing and wild, tense moments. It doesn’t seem like that type of game.
This is another one, where it seems pensive and quiet and calculating. A different kind of fun, but still fun.

So I’ll give it more chances.
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08 Jan 2021 09:12 - 08 Jan 2021 09:14 #317807 by Sagrilarus
Mr. Barnes, that was slipping the blade in slowly if I've ever seen it.

That said, I think somebody relatively new to the hobby could find this quite a revelation of modern gaming, and get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Target audience is always in the mix, and a game such as this that engineers its pieces extremely well will likely have an audience. You simply can't appeal to the entire market simultaneously, and though your takeaway from the game was less than positive you certainly point out that the product is well made for its intended use. You see good gaming here.

I think the bigger message coming from your review (at least from my perspective) is the tug between doing things well and doing things new. It's a rare game that does both, because frankly, it's hard, like, really hard. That's a more interesting discussion for me personally and I think given the amount of material coming out of the "endless sewer flow" (a phrase I fully endorse) any game that does either one well has a place.

But I'll ask the question -- how many games come out a year that both do things well AND do things new? I'm not looking for an answer like "1 percent" because that's a cop out. One year from now if all goes well, how many 2021 titles would you expect to ring both of those bells simultaneously?

(I'll just mention in passing that more than 5000 boardgame SKUs hit the market in 2020.)
Last edit: 08 Jan 2021 09:14 by Sagrilarus.
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08 Jan 2021 09:16 - 08 Jan 2021 09:16 #317808 by Sagrilarus
By the way, excellent writing. Thanks for the good morning read.
Last edit: 08 Jan 2021 09:16 by Sagrilarus.
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08 Jan 2021 10:03 #317812 by Shellhead

Sagrilarus wrote: Mr. Barnes, that was slipping the blade in slowly if I've ever seen it.

That said, I think somebody relatively new to the hobby could find this quite a revelation of modern gaming, and get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Target audience is always in the mix, and a game such as this that engineers its pieces extremely well will likely have an audience. You simply can't appeal to the entire market simultaneously, and though your takeaway from the game was less than positive you certainly point out that the product is well made for its intended use. You see good gaming here.

I think the bigger message coming from your review (at least from my perspective) is the tug between doing things well and doing things new. It's a rare game that does both, because frankly, it's hard, like, really hard. That's a more interesting discussion for me personally and I think given the amount of material coming out of the "endless sewer flow" (a phrase I fully endorse) any game that does either one well has a place.

But I'll ask the question -- how many games come out a year that both do things well AND do things new? I'm not looking for an answer like "1 percent" because that's a cop out. One year from now if all goes well, how many 2021 titles would you expect to ring both of those bells simultaneously?

(I'll just mention in passing that more than 5000 boardgame SKUs hit the market in 2020.)


Great points, definitely pointing toward a worthy standalone topic here. 5000 new boardgames in 2020? Wow. I would be surprised if I would be interested in even 1% of them. I don't need every game to offer innovative mechanics or perfect rules or a unique topic or setting. But I do need a game that can justify the time spent learning to play it, especially if I am pondering purchase. I have a terrible time letting go of possessions, so when I buy a game, it's going to take up shelf space or storage space for possibly years to come. So I want a game that offers an experience that is sufficiently different from all the other games in my collection. Variety is good, and it makes it easier to get a game on the table if I can quickly pitch why we should play that game instead of any of the others.

Within a few weeks, I expect to receive Masters of the Night, a boardgame that I kickstarted maybe a year ago. I almost never go for kickstarter games, and I am trying to cut back on buying more boardgames in general, so I feel like it's worth explaining why I went in on Masters of the Night. And it seems like there is no one specific reason, just a combination of factors that added up into a purchase decision.

First, Masters of the Night looks attractive and distinctive. The miniatures are lovely and the map cards have a nice '40s noir vibe, like an archetypal Gotham City. It's co-op, which means that it can also be played solitaire. The topic is vampires, and there is a lot that can be done with vampires due to their complex combination of strengths and weaknesses. The preview version of the rulebook was well-organized, and that Universal Head guy was involved with the overall visual design of the game. So my quick pitch to a table of players would be: noir '40s vampire co-op that is easy to learn.

Nothing about Dune: Imperium is at all enticing, though it's nice to hear that the gameplay is mechanically solid. I already have a great Dune game, so I don't need another one if I want to play in that setting. I feel that deckbuilding and worker placement mechanics tend to support games with low player interaction and high passive aggression, and I found both those qualities to be undesirable. The board is drab, and looks like it may have began life as a spreadsheet. It's possible that the interplay of the deckbuilding and the worker placement might deliver an entertaining sense of story, but I find that so unlikely that I would need to try this game before even dreaming of buying it.
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08 Jan 2021 10:18 #317813 by Msample
Michael, I appreciate that your reviews NEVER take up 80% of the article length recapping the fucking rule book. Far too many “reviews” do this, like a grade schooler grinding out a book report that has a required minimum word/page count.
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08 Jan 2021 10:54 #317814 by Gregarius
Thank you for this GREAT article, Michael. I really loved reading the conflict of your inner thoughts on this game.

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08 Jan 2021 11:08 - 08 Jan 2021 12:34 #317815 by Josh Look
I have alot of feeling about all of this, some of which will projecting for sure. Inaccurate they may be, perhaps there's still some food for thought here.

Call me regressive, but I don't much care for new ideas in games. Hear me out on this. Few so-called new ideas end up meaning much of anything (the only one I've seen that's held any weight, oddly enough, is deckbuilding). They come out, make some sort of splash, usually divisive, and are forgotten just as quickly as any other game that Michael might deem "unimportant." There's a reason for this and I'm sorry to disappoint the crowd eager to harp on Kickstarter at a moment's notice, but it isn't because there are too many games. It's that they actually aren't any fun. Of course, they're going to be fun for someone as anything is, but most of the time they're outside of the box for no reason other than to be outside of the box. There's a punk rock charm in that, I get it, but just as certain right-wing contrarians I know think that shitty ideas gives them an edgy outsider's opinion and that somehow makes them interesting, new ideas do not equate fun. That this is a criticism for some seems...well, kind of fucking stupid to me.

Now, I am going to refute that there isn't a new idea here. It may be more of a new wrinkle on deckbuilding, but I've not seen a deckbuilder that offers a different reward for not playing a card. It may not open up a huge new section of decision space, but it does change how you play the game vs other deckbuilders. I also don't think I've seen one so dedicated to flipping the script on the satisfaction of building a deck. You don't want to do that here, you want to select new cards carefully, cull often and liberally, or else you will really be at a disadvantage. This is a game the rewards efficiency, something many deckbuilders wants to do but don't because everything still rewards you.

I've played the game at least 15 times in just the last month. I enjoy it greatly. Greatest hits package it may be, I do not carry even a hint of lament over it's lack of new ideas, in fact, I celebrate it. The combined package is a great deal of fun and I keep coming back to it over and over again. To reinvent the wheel with every new game (and to go looking for that) is a guarantee on disappointing results.
Last edit: 08 Jan 2021 12:34 by Josh Look.
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08 Jan 2021 11:59 #317819 by Cambyses
Michael, feel free to come in and correct what I am about to say.

I get the sense that "it doesn't do anything new" is the way Michael found words to put to a feeling that goes along the lines of "the game doesn't really excite me or make me want to play it, but there's nothing wrong with it." It's not that there is a problem, per se, with a game combining well-known elements and not introducing anything new. It's that there might not be enough to entice someone to want to buy and play it.

But with each "greatest hits" up for consideration, you have to see which side it falls under. Is the game an Italian ragu—which is really just meat/tomatoes/mirepoix cooked for a long time, but somehow they become a perfect, single dish—or is it Mary Kate and Ashley putting it on the pizza ?

Based on what I know about the reviewers here, Michael's personal "excitement threshold" is pretty high, and that's why he is always declaring New Hotnesses (the ERP, Warhammer's latest offering, etc). We all know that going into a Barnes review. I don't think there's anything wrong at all with Josh's perspective, either, and I'm glad to read both opinions.
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08 Jan 2021 12:17 - 08 Jan 2021 12:19 #317824 by charlest

Josh Look wrote: You don't want to do that here, you want to select new cards carefully, cull often and liberally, or else you will really be at a disadvantage. This is a game the rewards efficiency, something many deckbuilders wants to do but don't because everything still rewards you.


Maybe I'm misunderstanding or missing something because I haven't played Dune Imperium, but I don't agree with these statements at all.

Deckbuilding, at it's very essence, is entirely about efficiency. It doesn't matter if every card rewards you because you are competing with other players in a race.

Additionally, the vast majority of deckbuilders share the key strategy of ruthlessly culling your deck.

Dominion illustrates both of these points expertly. Most every other deckbuilder I've played also follows suit.

It's why putting cards in your Vault in Tyrants is usually the best deck structure and why Chapel is perhaps the best card in Dominion.

The deckbuilding component of nearly every game that incorporates it is almost exclusively about efficiency and heavily rewards culling.
Last edit: 08 Jan 2021 12:19 by charlest.

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08 Jan 2021 12:32 - 08 Jan 2021 12:36 #317829 by Josh Look

charlest wrote:

Josh Look wrote: You don't want to do that here, you want to select new cards carefully, cull often and liberally, or else you will really be at a disadvantage. This is a game the rewards efficiency, something many deckbuilders wants to do but don't because everything still rewards you.


Maybe I'm misunderstanding or missing something because I haven't played Dune Imperium, but I don't agree with these statements at all.

Deckbuilding, at it's very essence, is entirely about efficiency. It doesn't matter if every card rewards you because you are competing with other players in a race.

Additionally, the vast majority of deckbuilders share the key strategy of ruthlessly culling your deck.

Dominion illustrates both of these points expertly. Most every other deckbuilder I've played also follows suit.

It's why putting cards in your Vault in Tyrants is usually the best deck structure and why Chapel is perhaps the best card in Dominion.

The deckbuilding component of nearly every game that incorporates it is almost exclusively about efficiency and heavily rewards culling.


What I'm saying is that other deckbuilders allow you to play your entire hand, this you still reap some sort of reward, albeit a small one. You don't do that in Dune Imperium, out of hand of 5, and in some cases 6 or 7 cards, you'll only play 2 or 3 of them. The rest might give you a reward when you discard them, though that is not guaranteed as many of the better cards offer no discard effect or require certain types of cards to be in play as well. You will end up with cards that you can't do literally anything with at times.

You're not wrong about efficiency in other deckbuilders and I did say that's the point in any of them, what I'm saying is that Dune offers even less wiggle room for not culling. That need for efficiency is really dialed in here.
Last edit: 08 Jan 2021 12:36 by Josh Look.
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08 Jan 2021 13:14 - 08 Jan 2021 13:17 #317832 by Josh Look
Had some time to think about it on my way in to work, and think this is where the difference is:

Those deckbuilders are a race to one goal. Here, you have 5 races going on, 4 of them feed into one but are still important in their own right, built on top of worker placement (another efficiency exercise) as well setting yourself up in the battle or making sure you're going into next rounds battle in good shape. You want in on all of that and you only have 2 or 3 actions each round to do it in. Other deckbuilders are at least playable if you don't cull, but here with how it all works, you could end up being able to do nothing of value.
Last edit: 08 Jan 2021 13:17 by Josh Look.
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08 Jan 2021 14:10 #317838 by Shellhead
It sounds like Dune: Imperium is in the running for Cromulent Game of the Year.
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