Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy Review

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Eyes still glistening after the IMAX spectacle that is Dune: Part 2, we all had one thing on our mind – we wanted more Dune! We wanted to explore that universe beyond what we’ve seen on the screen, but also to see what would happen if the balance of power was a little bit different.

Incidentally, that same week, Gale Force Nine sent us Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy to review, a game that brings that cinematic masterpiece to our table. We immediately unboxed it and set it up for our first game.

Is this Dune board game as epic as the movie, how does it differ from the previous games, and is there a Shai-Hulud token? There’s only one way to find out, so read our Dune:A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy review to find out!

Rating:7
Playing time:30 to 60 minutes
Number of players:2 to 4
Age:12+
Complexity:Medium game
Genre:Strategy game
Release date:2021
Publisher:Gale Force Nine

Pros: 

Cons:

Dune components

My Arrakis, My Dune!

The very first impression you’ll get when you put Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy on your table is familiarity. Especially if you’ve seen the new Dune movies by David Villeneuve. There’s Timothée Chalamet watching you from the box cover alongside Zendaya and other star actors. Dave Bautista is one very angry Harkonnen, while Jason Momoa ponders the orb in the distance.

It’s moody, thematic, and definitely a movie tie-in. Nothing wrong with that, of course, considering how everyone and their sandworm are now obsessing over the Dune franchise.

This isn’t a simple money grab. You see, many decades ago, there was a Dune board game called, well, Dune. It garnered a cult following of sorts, with players creating a whole tournament scene around it. Then, in 2019, publisher Gale Force Nine released a remaster of that game, ironing out some quirks and adapting the tournament rules into an official product.

A few years later, they released the game we’re reviewing today. Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy is a further streamlining of the age-old game of Dune. It was made to provide a similar experience, the feel of playing the Dune board game, but in a more manageable playtime. In short, it’s a game that you can get dune with (sorry) in 30-something minutes. Whoever came up with that idea could very well be Lisan al-Gaib!

Ride the Worm

To win a game of Dune: AGoCAD, you’ll either need to conquer three strongholds or possess the most Spice at the end of round 5. Each player takes the role of one of four (instead of the original six) houses that vie for power and domination – Atreides, Fremen, Harkonnen, and the Imperium. You’ll get some Spice, a set of pucks that represent your leaders, 20 troops in reserve, and off you go!

Dune cards

Just like the Dune 2019, this version also follows a strict turn structure. First, the sand storm will make a move around the board, wiping away any units that didn’t take the cover of rocky terrain or strongholds. Then, you’ll pull a card from the Spice blow deck that will spawn some Spice Melange around the board. Oh, and sometimes it could be Shai-Hulud instead, a giant sandworm that munches everything in this way.

Players will then get to draw some cards to arm themselves for the upcoming conflict and, optionally, buy tricky Market cards that give one-time powers and can mess up with other players’ plans. You’ll then get to ship some units onto the surface of Arrakis and move, just once, a group of your units across these territories. Then, you’ll get to punch your friends (in the game, that is, please don’t actually punch your friends).

Choosing the faction isn’t just about some flavor text and picking a color. No, in Dune board games, the factions unbalance the game, each in their favor. The Atreides have more leaders and can see one part of their opponent’s battle plan, the Fremen can survive sand storms and move the furthest (but can’t ship outside of the central territory), Harkonnens can turn leaders into betrayers, while the Imperium is the richest and gets money whenever other players buy the Market cards, but can also use the Voice and force the opponent to (not) play a certain weapon type.

This asymmetric approach makes everyone excel at one very specific task, technically breaking the rules along the way. It’s why we kept trying different factions every time we sat down to play this Dune board game, figuring out tactics and the best ways to use the chosen faction’s powers.

Dune Imperium faction board

Surprisingly, this can be played as a two-player board game, too, something that wasn’t possible in previous iterations of Dune. You’ll each get to control two houses at once, though, with some extra rules on how your hybrid factions work and, obviously, a slightly different board setup with fewer strongholds to fight over.

May Your Blade Chip and Shatter

Combat is incredibly fast and super deadly for both factions involved. You secretly spin the disk to the number of troops you’ll commit to the battle, slot in one of your leaders, and add whatever attack and defense cards (one of each) you like. These are called battle plans. Once both sides are set, you reveal your battle plans and resolve the results.

Has anyone pulled a weapon that their opponent can’t defend from? Tough luck, that’s their leader out of the fight. A leader turned to be a traitor? Their whole army is done for. And if you committed all your troops and won by sheer numbers? Good for you, but now there’s no one to control that territory for you.

Dune battle plan

You see, any number of troops you commit to a fight is gone, no matter whether you win or lose. Leaders only boost the total strength, so you’ll want at least one of your basic troops to survive. If you lose the fight, though, you lose all the troops in that territory. This game is brutal, but it gets even more ruthless.

There is a set of Traitor cards dealt before the start of the game. Everyone gets just one of these cards, while the Harkonnen player gets four AND they can also draw new cards. When the battle plans are revealed, you can also reveal a traitor card if it matches the opponent’s leader. They betray their unit, destroying the whole army and negating any cards your opponent played. Remember how Harkonnens get more of these cards? Yeah, you’ll be thinking twice before trying to clash armies with them. As the quote goes, fear is the mind-killer.

Combat is what I loved the most about this game. Instead of sitting there in near-silence and calculating, rolling dice, and playing card after card, it’s over in a flash. It’s exhilarating for the participants and the spectators, but ultimately devastating for the loser. Combat in Dune board game is spectacle and it never overstays its welcome.

The Spice is Vital to Space Travel

Just like in the books and movies, the Spice is the most important (and the only) resource in Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy. You’ll use it to pay for Market cards, to ship your units to the board, and also to revive your fallen troops.

I didn’t mention one phase earlier there. You see, no one ever truly dies in this game and these people stay in the Tleilaxu Tanks. From round 2 and onwards, you’ll get to play a Revive phase, where you’ll revive your units and fallen leaders.

Your first two units in a round can be resurrected for free, after which you’ll need to spend 2 Spice for everything else you want to bring back. Unlike your generic grunts, leaders always require you to spend the cash, making it even tougher to balance your economy. A single turn where you overspent and underestimated your opponent’s power can become quite costly, effectively taking you out of the round.

Dune combat phase

The final phase is spice collection and it’s, beside the strongholds, one of the reasons why you’ll be fighting the other armies in the first place. Resources are scarce and everything can become expensive, so the trick is to not spend much, but also spend just enough to have any teeth in this game.

My Road Leads to the Desert

It’s also over far too quickly.

Our first game of Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy was over in the third round, incidentally the round where the early end condition can be achieved for the first time. While I, as Harkonnen, was trying to muscle my way through the Atreides player, while constantly evading the Imperium, the Fremen player walked merrily across the desert and snatched the strongholds after everyone’s armies were grounded into fine dust.

It was incredibly funny to see this happen, even if I felt slightly deflated as the game ended unceremoniously. Our second game ended up in a similar way, but only the third time we’ve seen a game go into the final scoring. At least 30 to 60 minutes of playtime on the box is correct, for once.

What also surprised me is that, for a game with “diplomacy” in its name, there’s not much diplomacy in the mechanics. The rules don’t mention any possibility of making deals like in the 2019 version of Dune and, frankly, there’s not enough time to even make any impactful deals or backstab your allies.

Ultimately, who’s this game for? I’d say it’s definitely aimed at the new Dune fans who want to slowly discover the IP beyond the movies and books. People who are maybe intimidated by the ruthless deckbuilding games like Dune Imperium, or simply can’t set aside a whole evening for the big Dune board game and want something lighter, quicker, and less mean.

It’s also not a game that can break friendships or that requires much of rules teaching just so you can sit down and play, making it a better choice for smaller groups who just want to have a good time on the old desert planet of Arrakis. And if you fall into that group, I think you’ll enjoy this one.