Dune is a strategy board game set in Frank Herbert's Dune universe, published by Avalon Hill in 1979. The game was designed by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge and Peter Olotka.
After many years out of print, the game was reissued by Gale Force 9 in 2019 in advance of the 2021 Dune film remake.
The game was originally designed with a Roman Empire theme, with the name Tribute. Avalon Hill had acquired the license to produce a Dune game, and contacted Eberle, Kittredge and Olotka when their own design proved unusable. Elements suitable for the Dune universe were added to the game, particularly from their earlier game, Cosmic Encounter.
In 1984, to tie in with the Dune film, Avalon Hill published a second edition of the game as well as two expansions, Spice Harvest and The Duel.
The Spice Harvest expansion changes the initial setup of the standard game by adding a pre-game in which the factions lobby for control of the inter-world Spice market in order to purchase a more advantageous initial position for the start of the main game (control for the planet of Arrakis).
The Duel adds "leader tokens" representing the primary leaders of each faction and a secondary board representing a circular arena for one-on-one combat. Leaders may fight individual combat using a special deck of cards for movement and attacks.
Both supplements included additional Treachery Cards. Both supplements are also incorporated into the French edition published by Jeux Descartes.
In addition, Avalon Hill's strategy magazines, The General and Heroes, published counters and rules for three additional factions: the Bene Tleilax, the Ixians, and the Landsraad, factions/organizations appearing in Frank Herbert's original novels.
The game received good reviews and due to the popularity of the Dune setting, coupled with the lack of new edition since 1984, became a sought-after item among board game collectors, with prices on secondary market reaching hundreds of dollars. A fan-made print-and-play version was also made available online around 2010.
The game was reprinted by Fantasy Flight Games in 2012 as Rex: Final Days of an Empire. Fantasy Flight was able to acquire the rights to the system used in Dune (known as the “Simultaneous Dial Based Order System”), but were not able to get the license for the Dune setting. As a result, the game's setting was switched to Fantasy Flight's Twilight Imperium universe.
With the demise of Avalon Hill, Dune remained out of print for many years despite being a highly regarded board game. With newfound interest in the Dune series due to the upcoming 2021 Dune film, board game publisher Gale Force 9 reached out to the Herbert estate, which owns the general rights to the game, and received permission to remake it. Some of the art was new for this edition and reflects the imagery that will be used in the 2021 film, some of the other art is based on versions of the original game, drawn by Russian illustrator "Ilya77", who was commissioned for the reuse of their art, in addition to the game's original designers, Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and Peter Olotka. Gale Force 9 did very few changes of the game's original rules, tweaking about 3 to 5 percent of the rules. The game was released on October 30, 2019 in advance of the Dune cinematic reboot which opens in theaters in 2021. Along with the reprint, Gale Force Nine also released an expansion set that allows players to control two additional factions, Ix and the Tleilaxu.
Players take on the role of one of the power groups in the politics of the planet Arrakis. The game board, which represents the planet, is split into a number of territories, five of which are strongholds. Players move their units from territory to territory, and if two or more players enter the same territory, a battle ensues and the contest is resolved using a hidden bidding system. Victory in the game is achieved by controlling a specified number of strongholds, either alone or in an alliance with other players.
In addition to the areas, the game board is divided into radial sections, and the planet's permanent storm moves along those sections, destroying any troops in its path. Each turn, one territory (determined by a card draw) produces a "spice blow", which places an amount of spice in that territory.
An auction is held each turn in which players can purchase "treachery cards". These cards contain a variety of uses such as weapons and defenses, which can be used as advantages in resolving battles.
Each player has five leader tokens of varying strengths. Leaders are used in combat to supplement the strength of their units. However, each player has a traitor among the other players' leaders, so using leaders can be a risk. Leaders can be killed in combat, but players may use spice to buy dead leaders back from the Bene Tleilaxu tanks.
When a territory is contested, each player in the contest chooses in secret to sacrifice a number of their troops in that territory. Each unit sacrificed gives them a base score of one. Leader tokens add to the strength of their side, provided it survives the attack by the opposing leader. Attacks and defenses affecting leaders are chosen in secret by the players from their available treachery cards.
Once both players have chosen their strategies, they reveal the number of units, leaders and items used. If the player has chosen their opponent's traitor, they are defeated. Otherwise, if a player has used a weapon against which the other player has not used a defense, their opponent's leader is killed. If a laser is used against a shield, all units and leaders are killed from both sides. Otherwise, the scores are then added together, and the player with the lower score is defeated. The player with the higher score, while victorious, still must lose the number of units they planned in their strategy. In the event of a tie, the attacking player wins the battle.
Each faction has unique powers which modify the rules. Both the default abilities and the optional "Additional Character Advantages" are included below.
Each faction also grants some aspect of their powers to their allies.
A faction wins by controlling three of the five strongholds at the end of a turn. An alliance of factions wins by controlling four of the five strongholds at the end of a turn. In a game with only two factions, the winning faction must control four strongholds.
In a recommended "longer game" variant a faction or alliance of factions must control four strongholds, or all five in a game with only two factions.
Three other winning conditions exist:
The Fremen win at the end of turn 10 (the final round of game play) if no faction has won the game by the normal criteria and the occupancy of certain strongholds meets certain constraints. This win condition represents a situation where the Fremen have prevented interference with their own plans for Dune.
The Guild wins if, at the end of turn 10, no faction has won via the conventional win, and the Fremen win conditions are not met. This win condition represents the situation where the Guild has preserved the status quo on Dune and may continue to provide shipping services.
The Bene Gesserit win if, after a faction or alliance has succeeded in a conventional win, they reveal that they predicted (prior to the game's start) that that faction would win in that turn. The Bene Gesserit need only predict one of the winning players in the event of an alliance win. If the Bene Gesserit cause their own alliance to win in the turn that they predicted one of their allies would win, then the Bene Gesserit alone win. This win condition represents the situation where the Bene Gesserit have manipulated the situation so that their hidden agenda is fulfilled.
The Bene Gesserit cannot predict the Fremen or Guild turn 10 default wins. However they may predict that the Fremen or the Guild will win in turn 10 by the normal majority stronghold occupancy criteria.
In the January–February 1980 edition of The Space Gamer (Issue No. 26), Tony Watson commented that "Not only is Dune a good game, it does an amazingly accurate job of conveying the feel and air of Dune the novel."
In the inaugural edition of Ares Magazine (March 1980), Eric Goldberg gave it a below average rating of 6 out of 9, saying, "Battles are won and lost dependent on the number of spice tokens present in an area. Treachery, storms and the fearsome shai-hulud (gigantic sandworms) enliven affairs. Dune is a nice little game, but nothing special."
In the December 1993 edition of Dragon (Issue 200), Allen Varney considered Dune a classic, saying "Unique flavor comes with the movement rules, combat strategies, and chances that your leaders will turn traitor." However, Varney advised "Don’t bother with the unbalanced advanced rules that Avalon Hill foisted on the clean basic design."
In a retrospective review in There Will Be Games, Jonathan Volk gave high praise to the game's unusual, asymmetrical design. In Dune, he noted, there is no artificial balance, no "Arthurian circularity" to the gaming table: the various player positions have wildly differing strengths and weaknesses, and the unfairness of the world setup makes "a seductive point of entry". More importantly, that unfairness presses players into complex social relations and moral quandaries rarely found in games. It's "impossibly good, better than any board game I’ve played, and I’ve played a lot of them," wrote Volk, summing up: "No game lingers with me more than Dune.