Control the Spice and Control the Universe in ‘Dune: Imperium’

Gaming Reviews Tabletop Games

Given the right lever, you can move a planet.”

-Piter de Vries, Dune

Your path to victory over the other great Houses lies in controlling the desert planet Arrakis…also known as Dune.

What Is Dune: Imperium?

Dune: Imperium is a hybrid deck-building and worker placement game for 1-4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 60-120 minutes to play. It is available to purchase from Amazon and other games stores, and retails for $50. It’s the first board game inspired by the upcoming feature film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic Dune, as well as the first original Dune game in almost 40 years.

Dune: Imperium was designed by Paul Dennen, creator of the Clank! series of games, and published by Dire Wolf, with illustrations by Clay Brooks, Nate Storm, Brett Nienburg, Atilla Guzey, Derek Herring, Kenan Jackson, and Paul Ramos.

Dune: Imperium components. Image by Paul Benson.

Dune: Imperium Components

The box contains the following:

  • Game Board
  • Board Space Guide Sheet
  • 15 Water tokens
  • 24 Solari tokens
  • 23 Spice tokens
  • 18 Conflict cards
  • 40 Intrigue cards
  • Mentat
  • 4 Alliance tokens
  • 24 Reserve cards
  • 67 Imperium Deck cards
  • 8 Leaders
  • First Player marker
  • 4 Baron Harkonnen tokens
  • 4 10-card starting decks
  • 64 cubes (16 in each player color)
  • 8 discs (2 in each player color)
  • 12 Control markers (3 in each player color)
  • 12 Agents (3 in each player color)
  • 4 Combat markers (1 in each player color)
  • 31 House Hagal cards
  • House Hagal rules sheet
The Game board. Image by Paul Benson.

The Dune: Imperium Game board may not be as pretty as other worker placement games, but more importantly, it’s clearly and sensibly laid out. On the far right is the victory points track. Dominating the majority of the board is the curve of the planet Dune, with a Spacing Guild Heighliner (starship) in orbit over the planet. On its surface are various locations, a turn order guide, and the combat area and track. And surrounding the planet are the different parts of the Imperium that you will deal with: The Fremen, Bene Gesserit, Spacing Guild, and Emperor, all of which you can gain influence with, as well as the Landraad (the governing body of the Imperium) and CHOAM, the mercantile organization of the Imperium.

Solari, Spice, and Water tokens. Image by Paul Benson.

If you’re familiar with Dune, it will come as no surprise that there are three different currencies, all represented by different wooden tokens. The Solari is the currency of the Imperium, Spice represents power (and is what allows Guild Navigators to “fold space” and travel throughout all the planets of the Imperium), and water is in scarce supply on a desert planet like Arrakis, so is a valuable commodity to the Fremen.

Player agents. Image by Paul Benson.

Wooden meeples are used as the Player Agents…these are the workers that you will use to place at the various locations around the board. Players will also get matching wooden cubes to use both as markers and to represent soldiers, as well as two wooden cylinders to be used as a score marker and a Councilor token, respectively.

Two Alliance tokens and a Score marker. Image by Paul Benson.

Other tokens are made of cardboard. The four Alliance tokens match the four different factions that you can gain influence with. Gain enough influence with any of them, and you’ll gain the matching token. These grant a Victory Point, as well as sometimes conferring other benefits when combined with certain cards.

The 10-card Starter deck. Image by Paul Benson.

The cards are all of a good stock, and come in a couple of different sizes: playing card size for the cards that will form your deck throughout the game, and then a mini-size for the Intrigue and Conflict cards. While they are not linen finish, they shuffle very well, which is important in a deck-building game as you will be shuffling your discard pile frequently throughout the game. The artwork is nice throughout, and, much like the board, the iconography is very clear and understandable.

How to Play Dune: Imperium

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to be the first player with 10 Victory Points at the end of a round.

Game setup. Image by Paul Benson.

Setup

Place the Game board on the table, with the Mentat meeple on its space in the Landraad, and the four Alliance tokens on the matching areas of each Faction’s Influence track.

Create a Conflict deck: Separate the Conflict cards into Conflict I, Conflict II, and Conflict III. First shuffle the Conflict III cards, then place all of them face down in the marked area on the board. Shuffle the Conflict II cards, and deal five of them face down on top of the Conflict III cards. Shuffle the Conflict I cards, then deal just one on top of the Conflict II cards. Remove any unused Conflict cards from the game.

Shuffle the Intrigue Deck and place it face down next to the Emperor Influence Track.

Shuffle the Imperium Deck and place it face down. Deal 5 cards face up to form the Imperium Row. Next to that row, place the Reserve cards in three stacks.

Reserve Cards and Imperium Row. Image by Paul Benson.

Each player chooses a Leader and a color, collecting all the components of the matching color. Each leader has two abilities: one that is used during each player turn, and then a “signet” ability, which may be used when a Signet card is played during the player’s Agent turn.

Everyone also receives 1 Water token, and a 10-card Starting deck.

A few of the Leaders available to players. Image by Paul Benson.

Place two of the three Agents on your Leader. Place the third Agent next to the gameboard (it is the Swordmaster that can be recruited later)

Place one of the two discs at the bottom of the score track, and the Combat marker at the 0 space of the Combat track.

Take four cubes, and place one at the bottom of each of the four Faction Influence tracks.

Place three cubes in one of the four circular garrisons on the Game board closest to you (these represent your troops).

Create a bank next to the Game board with all Solari, Spice, and Water tokens.

First player is determined randomly, and they take the First Player marker, which is a Sandworm.

Gameplay

Each round of Dune: Imperium consists of five phases:

Phase 1: Round Start

Flip over the top card in the Conflict deck and place it face up next to the deck. This shows the rewards available for the conflict for this round.

Conflict cards. Image by Paul Benson.

Each player then draws five cards from their own deck to form their hand for the round.

Phase 2: Player Turns

Beginning with the First player and going clockwise, each player will take either an Agent turn or a Reveal turn. A player’s Reveal turn will always end this phase for that player.

Piter de Vries. Image by Paul Benson.

Each card that goes into your deck can be used in either the Agent turn or the Reveal turn, but not both. The areas with the sand background show you which spaces you can send an agent to, as well as an additional effect that the card provides. In the example above, Piter can go to any open areas with the matching symbols on the card’s left side(though some of these areas will have additional costs, as indicated on the space itself). Additionally, playing this particular card during the Agent turn will allow you to draw an Intrigue card.

Intrigue cards come in three types: Plot, which can be played during your Agent or Reveal turn; Combat, which can be played during the Combat phase; Endgame, which can only be played at the end of the game. In the example below, this Intrigue card would allow the player to spend 7 Solari in order to gain a Victory Point.

A Plot Intrigue card. Image by Paul Benson.

Sending your Agent to a space will also give you whatever rewards are shown at the particular space, or might allow you to take certain actions, such as selling Spice to gain Solari.

If you send an Agent to a space with any of the four Factions, you will not only gain the indicated rewards, but move your cube up a space on the Faction Influence track. You also gain any reward that’s on a space that your cube moves into, such as a Victory Point. The first player to reach the Influence token takes that token and gains another Victory Point. However, if another player passes that person on the same track, then they will take the token from that player, gaining a Victory Point (and the original player will then lose that point they had gained).

The blue player gains the Fremen Influence token from the red player. Image by Paul Benson.

When the cube icon appears at a space you send your Agent to, you take a cube from your supply (representing a troop) and place it in your garrison on the Game board.

If the space you send your Agent to shows crossed swords, then you may deploy any troops you recruit that turn to the Conflict, which is the large crossed swords area between all four garrisons. You may also send up to two additional troops from your garrison to the Conflict.

Once you have deployed all the Agents that you can or want to deploy, then it’s time for the Reveal turn. At this point, you lay out the rest of your hand, and receive the effects shown in the bottom box of those cards. Most often, you will be gaining either Persuasion or Combat Strength.

Persuasion are numbers in blue diamonds. These are used to either purchase cards from the Imperium Row, or buy one of the Reserve cards. The costs for those cards is at the top right of the card, also in a blue diamond. After purchasing one of the five cards from the Imperium Row, a new card is immediately drawn from the Imperium Deck to replace it in the Row.

Combat Strength are the sword symbols. If you have any troops in the Conflict, then you will set your strength on the Combat Track as follows: each troop is worth 2 strength, and each sword on a revealed card is worth 1 strength (this is also shown on the Game board). Move the Combat marker to the appropriate spot on the track.

Troops in the Conflict. Image by Paul Benson.

Discard all the cards from your Agent and Reveal turns. Once all players have finished their Reveal turns, then move on to the next phase.

Phase 3: Combat

Beginning with the First player, each player may play any number of Combat Intrigue cards, or pass. Different Combat Intrigue cards may allow you to add strength to your combat, retreat troops, or even remove any troops. In the example below, the blue player spends 2 spice in order to add 5 to his combat strength, thus passing the red player on the Combat Track.

The blue player uses a Combat Intrigue card. Image by Paul Benson.

Once all players in Combat have passed consecutively, then you resolve the Combat. The player with the highest strength wins the top prize on the Conflict Card, and second-highest gains the second reward. The third reward is only awarded in 4-player games.

If players tie for first place, no one wins the Conflict, but instead the tied players all receive the second reward. Players that tie for second place receive the third reward.

Phase 4: Makers

If any of the three spaces with a Maker icon (the sandworm) don’t have an agent on them, put a Spice token onto those spaces. Multiple bonus Spice tokens can build up there, but will be taken by a player once their Agent is placed on that space during a future Agent turn.

Phase 5: Recall

If any player is at 10 or more Victory Points, or if the Conflict Deck is empty, then Game End is triggered. If this is not the case:

  • Return the Mentat to its designated space if it was used this round.
  • Players recall their Agents.
  • Pass the First Player marker to the next player clockwise, and start again with Phase 1.

Game End

Play and resolve any Endgame Intrigue cards. Then, whoever has the most Victory Points is the winner.

Tiebreakers are, in order, amounts of: Spice, Solari, Water, and garrisoned troops.

Solo & Two-Player Games

House Hagal cards for solo and 2-player games. Image by Paul Benson.

For playing solo and 2-player games, Dune: Imperium introduces a new faction, House Hagal. This is a deck of 31 cards that you will use to control the actions of that House as a rival faction against you and your opponent, or control two rival factions against you during solo play.

While there are some gameplay modifications that you will make (especially during setup) for single and 2-player games, the use of the House Hagal deck is a quick and easy way to control “dummy” players in the game. These AI-driven rivals will still compete for worker placement locations on the board, add troops to the conflict, and gain influence with the Factions. There is even a simple way to emulate them playing Intrigue cards during a Combat, simply by flipping over one of the House Hagal cards and seeing what, if any, swords are on the bottom box.

The one thing that the House Hagal cards will not do, however, is gain cards from Imperium Row. So while you(and your opponent in a 2-player game) will still purchase those cards, you won’t see as many of the cards in the deck in these modes as you would in a 3 or 4-player game.

One of the setup screens in the free app. Image by Paul Benson.

Even easier for players, Dire Wolf has made a free downloadable companion app for the game for those playing either solo or 2-player games. You select your difficulty level and your rival Leaders, and the app will walk you through the changes in setup from the regular rules.

A House Hagal card in the app. Image by Paul Benson.

You also use the app as a substitute for the physical House Hagal deck. When you draw a card, not only do you see the card on your screen, but it instructs you on exactly how to use the card. This makes it a great tool while you’re learning both the nuances of the game and what the different symbols on the cards mean.

If you are interested in reading the solo rules, you will find them in the back of the downloadable rulebook(they are on a separate sheet in the physical game.

 

GeekDad Approved 2021

Dune: Imperium is GeekDad Approved!

Why You Should Play Dune: Imperium

Hey, you got your peanut butter in my chocolate!”

If you’re old enough, you might recognize that quote from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Two people would collide, one eating chocolate, and the other eating peanut butter, and find their snacks suddenly mixed together. They’d both taste the new combination, and happily declare, “Two great tastes that taste great together.”

I’m a big fan of both worker placement games and deck-building games, especially the Clank! deck-building games by Paul Dennen. And in the case of Dune: Imperium, putting those two styles together into one game really does take two great mechanics and make a combination that works great together.

The Player Turns are the heart of the gameplay. Dividing that phase up into the separate Agent Turn and Reveal Turn, while having to use the same cards in your hand for both, is a fantastic choice that forces the player to make difficult decisions on where and how to deploy their resources. As I had detailed earlier in describing the gameplay, you can only use each card in your hand for either the Agent Turn or the Reveal Turn. So you’ll have to strategize at how best to pursue your path to victory each round.

And there are a lot of different pathways you can choose during the game. There are multiple ways to earn victory points, from gaining Influence with the Factions, to winning Conflicts, to drawing Intrigue cards, to even just purchasing “The Spice Must Flow” cards from the Reserve cards.

Purchasable victory points. Image by Paul Benson.

Of course, accomplishing these tasks means acquiring the resources you will need to undertake them. “The Spice Must Flow” cards cost 9 Persuasion to purchase. So if you want one, you’ll have to acquire cards from the Imperium Row. It ptobably wouldn’t hurt to send an agent to the High Council, which will give you a permanent 2 Persuasion bonus for each Reveal turn. But getting that High Council seat will also cost you 5 Solari, as well as take one of your Agents for that round.

A seat in the High Council. Image by Paul Benson.

The importance of when and if you participate in Combat shouldn’t be underestimated, either. You have to weigh the cost of acquiring and committing your troops to the Conflict against the particular awards available, as well as how important it is to deny another player those same awards. This can become a particularly agonizing decision later in the game, as the top award for Combat will often include 2 Victory Points.

I’ve talked a lot about the great gameplay, but let’s take a moment to talk about theme. Dune: Imperium incorporates the theme with the mechanics in a very satisfying manner. If you’re familiar with the novel or previous cinematic adaptations of Dune, you’ll find reflected on the Game board the internecine struggle between the Houses, seeking to curry favor with the different factions. And you’ll also see the singular importance of the planet Arrakis, which is the sole source of Spice.

But this merging of gameplay and theme extends even deeper. If you look at the various cards, their functions make sense for the characters and factions. For example, it’s no surprise that the devious Piter de Vries allows you to draw Intrigue cards. Bene Gesserit cards not only have powers representative of those psychically-gifted women from the Dune universe, but some of those cards benefit from being paired with other Bene Gesserit cards.

Some of the Bene Gesserit cards. Image by Paul Benson.

While this seamless blending of theme and gameplay is fantastic for fans of the source material, more importantly, you don’t need to have any knowledge of Dune to enjoy playing Dune: Imperium. You can look at the benefits that a board space or card will provide, and easily intuit how it all works together. The game becomes richer for the source material, but the underlying gameplay is incredibly strong.

I’m not generally a fan of playing solo board games, but the pandemic has unfortunately forced some changes in how we play. I’m happy to say, I very much enjoyed playing the solo mode in Dune: Imperium. The simple and elegant approach to the A.I. opponents allows you to focus on your own game. That said, I’m counting the days until I can sit down at a table with my friends and play this in person. Dune: Imperium has been one of my favorite games I’ve played this year. It takes the world of Dune, deck-building, and worker placement, and stirs it into a delicious treat for your board gaming senses.

 


Click here to see all our tabletop game reviews.

 To subscribe to GeekDad’s tabletop gaming coverage, please copy this link and add it to your RSS reader.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekDad and GeekMom on Patreon!