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Dune - Classic CCG By Steven Baumrucker, MD 
BG DISTRANS 03.04.04

Dune - Classic CCG
By Steven Baumrucker, MD
Published in Scrye Magazine, May 2003

Manufacturer: Wizards of the Coast/Five Rings Publishing Group/Last Unicorn Games
Fan Website:
Number of Players: two to six
Designed for Ages: 12+
Learning Curve: Difficult
Playing Time: 30-120 minutes
Pros: Wonderfully immersive game that puts you into the Frank Herbert universe.
Cons: Complexity of gameplay can be intimidating for the meek.

Concept: 5
Gameplay: 4
Appearance: 4
Overall: 4+

Dune is one of those CCGs that just never got the attention it deserved.  Based on the Frank Herbert novels, each player becomes the head of a planetary House--battling, conniving, and bribing its way to greatness.  Along the way, players bid for powerful characters, search for the life-prolonging spice melange, avoid sandworms, engage in interstellar commerce, and, naturally, try to kill each other.

            The game begins with each player in control of a Homeworld and a little money.  Powerful characters are brought into play by auction, and players try to outbid each other to keep characters out of play, or to entice players to waste what little money they have.  This initial bidding is remarkably strategic and can have a long-term effect on how a House performs.

            Depending on who has the greatest favor with the Emperor, players deploy aides, make money on their investments, perform tactics and ventures, and initiate "Rites of Kanly".  The "Rites" are formalized combats consisting of duels, battles, negotiation, or intrigue (spying, assassination, etc.).

            One of the cleverest innovations was the creation of the "CHOAM Rate of Exchange".  In the books, CHOAM was the governing body that controlled the flow of spice throughout the Imperium.  In the game, the CHOAM bank actually responds to the law of supply and demand.  When the spice is scarce, business costs rise, and when plentiful, prices drop.  Since winning the game depends on a healthy procurement of spice and money, many strategies relied on manipulating the Rate of Exchange.  This economic element adds a dimension to DUNE that isn't found in many games.

            The artwork was very stylized, but fit the subject, especially the cards depicting Dune fiefs.  Initially, FRPG had (or thought they had, it was never made totally clear) a license to use images from the David Lynch "Dune" film, but litigation forced the creators to change some images.  This resulted in some CCG hilarity as the designers replaced the image of the Hunter Seeker with that of a paper airplane in the second expansion. 

Even more fun were the insane proofreading errors in the original edition, entitled Dune: Eye of the Storm.  For example, Count Hasimir Fenring was called Kazimierz more than once.  To true fans of the game, finding goofy typos merely added to its quirky charm.

            One of the reasons the game didn't succeed was the sheer intimidation factor; a two-player game might take up a whole table before it was done, with cards and tokens scattered everywhere.  For some, this level of complexity was frightening.  However, the main reason Dune didn't make it was its "Rolling Thunder" release schedule, a gimmick pushed by Wizards to release many small expansions at a rapid pace, sometimes every 60 days.  This was a disaster for collectors, since the expansions were so small a booster box would yield 3 full sets.  It was also a nightmare for players due to the rapidly changing game environment.  In the end, "Rolling Thunder" killed Dune and Rage, and contributed to the demise of Doomtown.

            The original set was followed by three mini-expansions entitled Judge of the Change, and three more called Thunder at Twilight.  These sets saw the advent of a "Water Sellers Strategy" that was so broken that playing against one was like watching cement dry.  Until that point, the game had been extremely interactive, but the Water Sellers ended that and drove the last nail into the coffin of a great game.

            The new "Dune" films on the Sci-Fi network have rekindled interest in this universe, and Dune CCG cards can be had for pennies on the dollar at distributors and game shops worldwide.  Anyone thirsty for a further taste of Dune and the spice Melange should consider giving this CCG a second look.  The Emperor will view this move favorably.

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