INTRODUCTIONScience fiction/fantasy games are a bit of a departure for me: I don’t like them; I virtually never buy them; and only under extreme duress do I ever play them. For this reason, I do not usually offer game profiles or game analysis on either sci-fi or fantasy games. I am, however, making an exception to this personal rule for Avalon Hill’s DUNE. The sad story of my one and only experience with this title, I recount below. Suffice it to say that this piece of unmitigated pig offal is not a game that I could ever recommend. In short, and I am trying to be generous, in my appraisal: I really hated it. And, in the spirit of the good old USSR, if something is as bad as this game, then someone must be responsible; but who? The actual game designer, being no dummy, chose anonymity rather than become a hunted man. Thus, we are left to blame the game’s Avalon Hill game developers. Thin gruel, I know, but at least those names are known, aren’t they, Mick and Richard? But, hold on: to be fair to Mick Uhl and Richard Hamblen (may their crops wither and die, and their flocks become barren), this was one of their earlier developmental efforts, so perhaps they should be shown some mercy. After all, if Jim Dunnigan can atone for, and rise above, the debacle of 1914, then those of us tarnished by this foul sci-fi creation should extend the same chance for redemption to Mick and Richard. Restraint will be difficult, I know; none-the-less, compassion should be shown, even if it is far more than these game developers deserve!
DUNE is a science fiction game of conflict and diplomacy intended for from two to six players. Each player assumes control of one of the major factions struggling to dominate the planet Arrakis — known by its inhabitants as Dune — and by so doing control the precious Spice that is the ultimate source of power within the Galactic Empire. The factions competing in this life or death struggle for control of Dune are: the Bene Gesserit; the Guild; the Fremen; the Emperor; the House Atreides; and the House Harkonnen. Each of these factions has both advantages and weaknesses, but none can emerge the game’s winner without skill, luck and a sizeable supply of guile. DUNE is played on a game board representing the planet Dune. The game is played in turns, and each game turn follows the same rigid order of phases and is sequenced, as follows: the Storm Round; the Spice Blow; the Bidding Round; the Revival and Movement Round; the Battle Round; and the Collection Round. The competing players have a maximum of 15 game turns in which to use a combination of leaders, tokens, treachery cards, and spice in their fight for control of the limited number of strongholds on the game map. In the case of the multi-player game, a player wins when he controls three strongholds; in the two-player game, a player must control four simultaneously to win. In addition to the basic game, DUNE also offers an advanced version, as well as a number of optional rules that can be implemented, once players are familiar with the basic game system. Needless to say, DUNE’s solitaire suitability is very low.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Let me begin by admitting that I was never a big fan of Frank Herbert’s DUNE Series of science fiction novels, and that I found the first installment, DUNE, quite enough to eliminate any appetite I might have had for any future stories from the planet Arrakis. My wife, on the other hand was a big fan of the entire series. When the Avalon Hill game came out, she noticed an ad in one of my Generals and immediately began hinting for me to buy the game, DUNE. After much foot-dragging — science fiction games, as I indicated previously, are not my thing — and no small amount of carping on my part, I finally ordered the game by mail. My capacity for self-delusion, it turns out, can be really quite amazing; by the time that the game actually arrived in the post, I had more-or-less persuaded myself that it probably wouldn’t be all that bad: perhaps, a sort of DIPLOMACY meets STARSHIP TROOPERS kind of game. Well, the long and the short of it is that it wasn’t. The map board was even uglier than I expected, and the rest of the game’s graphics were strictly from the “Land of Third World Comic Books.” There was, however, one bright spot. The game rules, although badly-organized and almost incomprehensible, were at least blessedly short.
Despite my own misgivings, my better half would not be denied. In no time at all, my wife had succeeded in rounding up — mainly by promising a board game that the wives and their husbands could share — a couple of pleasant, but gullible volunteers. With the “additional players” obstacle out of the way, she decided, one Sunday afternoon, that it was time to give the game a try. Thus it was that, on a balmy evening in September, the four of us tentatively sat down around our dining room table and set about to try to learn the game rules. While the husbands assembled the game’s two “Battle Wheels” — a joint project that easily used up almost a whole minute — the wives read the rules. Then the husbands read the rules. Then, one by one, four college graduates (two with advanced degrees) reread the rules, again. Things, it was obvious, were not starting out well. However, in spite of the clear warning signs, we all decided to plow resolutely ahead. It was a mistake. I knew that the game was really in trouble when the eyes of the other couple that my bride had tricked into joining us in this rapture began to glaze over from an overload of confusion and boredom. Finally, as we struggled to complete what seemed like game turn forty, but was, I think, probably only game turn six, my wife finally cracked. “This is the stupidest game I’ve ever seen,” she exclaimed. The whole table went completely silent. Then, as if with a single voice, everyone else around the game board burst out: “I surrender!” And just like that, the torture session was over. “Let’s just go ahead and play EMPEROR OF CHINA,” she continued, “I’ll get the cheese and wine.” Thus ended my one and only attempt at DUNE. Of course, it is always possible that buried somewhere beneath the embarrassingly bad artwork and the incoherent rules, there might be a real game still hiding, but if there is, you’re going to have to go in there and find it without me.
- Two 8” x 16” Area Movement Map Boards
- Six Player Shields
- 30 large colored Discs (5 per shield)
- 120 small colored tokens (20 per shield)
- Two Battle Wheels (unassembled)
- One deck of 21 Spice Cards
- One deck of 33 Treachery Cards
- 54 Spice Tokens
- One Storm Marker
- Six Storm Movement Markers
- One Player Aid Pad
- Two plastic clips to hold game board together
- One Avalon Hill Customer Response Card
- One 8½” x 11½” x 2” bookcase-style Game Box