The Spice must FLOW! Deck builder driving worker placement in Dune: Imperium
Gain victory points by winning conflicts, gaining influence with factions, and unleashing intrigue at critical moments. The cards you play can be used to acquire new assets and aid your combat strength OR can determine where you place your agents for other effects. Picture Lords of Waterdeep meets Dominion.
I’ve been a fan of the Dune universe since junior high, drawn in by the philosophies and the Machiavellian politics and of course the vast scope of a universe though most of the action was centred on but titular planet. I’ve watched many an adaptation (the subject for another rant) and that on it’s own was almost enough for me to want to play this game. Yes, I also have the recent remake of the classic Dune board game and would love to see another take at the old video game.
When it comes to deck building games, I find most boil down to a very similar feel and its the theme that captures my attention. I’ve got a stack of expansions for Marvel Legendary and DC Deck Builder (the Crisis expansions make for a better game than the base game in my humble opinion, but again, a rant for another time) because I am a sucker for super hero comics and can bring some mild narrative to the game as the cards come together. I’m more meh about Dominion though I do get a certain joy of when I get some synergy of cards going.
Dune: Imperium has another layer on top of all that. The cards you gain have two ways to be used. The first is about worker placement (called agents in the game, fitting the genre). Cards have icons that tell you if the worker can be played on a specific faction or in a particular action space. Some higher cost cards have additional abilities like recruiting more combat units or drawing cards or other. The second way cards can be used is to use the bottom part of the card to gain the benefits there, typically points for buying new cards or adding to the combat value of your units.
This is the exciting part – weighing how important it is to use a card to gain faction influence and gain victory points or to use them to improve your deck for the future. Another game that engaged me like this was Tyrants of the Underdark, a criminally under-rated board game of deck building and region control with at least five different ways to gain victory points. Even on the rounds where I couldn’t purchase a new card, I still had plenty of other options of things to do with the action spaces. The starting hand isn’t just gain more cards or attack – they include gaining faction influence and activation of board spaces for different effects. I found it highly amusing and appropriate that the Dagger card could count for combat strength or for placing a worker on a Landsraad action (the Landsraad being the ruling body made of the Great Houses).
For gaining cards, two equal priced cards can offer radically different benefits so there is the impression that these choices make a difference to more than just gaining more cards or scoring victory points. Come end of game, these cards are worth nothing (exception – certain Intrigue cards give end of game bonus points for achieving goals). At end game, even the Solaris (coins) and Spice aren’t counted except to break victory point ties (end of game triggers at 10 victory points or running out of Conflict Cards).
Personally, I’m a fan of games with set end of game conditions of so many turns. One too many games of Axis & Allies and Risk will do that to you. I’m probably biased, but once I got past details like Duncan Idaho being recruited by the Beast Rabban, the rest of the game had that feel of waging a war against another household on multiple fronts – resource control, military might, and spreading influence with the other factions. The artwork draws heavily on the 2021 movie adaptation, but that’s not a bad thing. The wooden pieces have got a decent heft to them and the ‘five’ piece for Spice and Solaris are noticeably larger than the single units.
My complaints are few and easily resolved with my own copy of the game, namely the ease of seeing things. The gamers around my table are getting older and our eyesight isn’t what it used to be (one of us is legally blind so that’s been interesting finding solutions to and working with her assistance devices) so that’s a thing.
- The yellow game pieces are dull and muddy, going with the general ‘desert planet’ aesthetic, but blends in with parts of the board – so a new coat of brighter paint will help.
- The ‘Conflict Spaces’ on the board are easy to overlook so I will likely outline their subdued appearance.
- A number of the cards have red swords against a red background. Again, it’s tempting to go in and outline those to make it clearer but writing on a non legacy card seems wrong somehow.
- This game only plays up to four, though there have been some homebrew solutions to adding a fifth player with the expansion. I can see this getting bogged down with a sixth player, but I really wish more games were built for at least 5 players. On the flip side, as an added bonus to the game, there are rules (and an app) for a solo game or with only 2 players.
Yes, I will play this again and expect to play it many times. The Intrigue cards can make things a little swingy (a fistful of Intrigue cards seized victory with a very narrow gap between player victory points) but sometimes a little risk is welcome. Once you get the basic mechanics, it flows pretty well. I’m likely to pick up the expansion for some more options and perhaps see about a five player variant some day.
Meanwhile, if curious about it, there are plenty of videos on how to play as well as a rules pdf available online.