Dune: Spice Wars is a 4x game that brilliantly merges tabletop and real-time strategy into one.
Dune was always a book I had wanted to read. I just never got around to it, or maybe I feared that rabbit hole. The glossary in the back had words I never heard, to add to my memory that will only ever be used here. I had enough trouble learning Spanish. I still don’t know Spanish. I barely understand English. But here I am, diving into the unknown in so many different ways.
The one thing I have going for me is my familiarity with real-time strategy games like Starcraft, Age of Empires and Command and Conquer. Dune: Spice Wars, from Shiro Games, is a 4x game, meaning “a popular subgenre of strategy games in which players control an empire and ‘eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate’ to progress through the game.” As defined by www.cyberdefnitions.com. So I knew I was in for some heft in the learning curve.
In the Beginning, of Dune: Spice Wars…
Starting Dune: Spice Wars, I was given a choice of 4 houses, Atreides, Harkonnen, The Smugglers, and the Fremen. I read through each description. The art design for each house is very distinct. I chose House Atreides mainly cause for some reason I always play the “good guys” until you find out they were bad all along. Next, I had to choose my Councilors, which seem to give buffs to a certain playstyle. I chose Gurney Halleck for the military boost and Duncan Idaho for his relations gains with Sietch. I don’t know what that means but it seems important.
So here I am on Arrakis. Sand everywhere. I need to use my Ornithopters to Recon around the map in search of Spice. Which I can then trade in exchange for CHOAM, one of the primary currencies in the Dune: Spice Wars. There are a lot of currencies: Solari, water, Plascrete, Man Power, Fuel Cell, Authority and Landsraad Standing; Landsraad is important cause keeping it too low will make you a target. Right now I need to Recon a Village that has a Spice Field. So I send out my Ornithopter on Auto-Recon and they will navigate to the nearest town to reveal it.
Dune: Spice Wars has a massive map. And when I say massive I mean, MASSIVE! When starting a new game in Dune: Spice Wars you can choose the size of the map. But don’t let choosing small fool you. It will still take a lot of Recon to discover it all. And most games you won’t even reveal more than 30%. So set those Ornithopters on Auto-Recon.
I found a Village that has Spice next to it but I need to take the village over in order for me to be able to mine the Spice. Back at Arrakeen, which is your command center I begin to train a Trooper (Melee) and a Ranger (Ranged) unit. Villages are usually defended by Militia units which you can train at each village. But they only defend, so I still need the firepower to overtake them. I trained one more unit just to be safe.
I can see my Ornithopter discovering some landmarks I need to send units out to. But first I need this Village for its resources. I just need to be careful as not only do units have health but they have supply too which begins to run out as you go further away from friendly territory. But this Village should be safe. The battle went smoothly. No casualties, only one unit taken down to 75% health, but they will be healed soon. I used the last of my water to take over the Village so now I need to produce more water in order for my troops to survive.
I am now able to choose different Developments to train for each playstyle. Diplomatic, Military, Resource-Based and Local Native Outreach is the best way I can describe it. So I go more Military based to start and I am able to queue up to 2 new units, Agents and Espionage. A system allowing me to send Agents I have acquired out into the field on missions to spy on other Houses. Gaining Intel for me to gain a Political upper hand on other players during Referendums that the different Houses will vote on. So I send out an agent to spy on the Harkonnens. I feel I need to keep an eye on them.
Sure enough, I just received a message from Vladimir Harkonnen, wondering why now I have decided to come to Arrakis after all this time. Guess he doesn’t like it. Time to build a Refinery in the Village near the Spice Field. While that is building, I trained an Ornithopter and sent out my troops to explore a little.
Tax time. Every 25 days each player has to pay the Imperial Tax in Dune: Spice Wars. Not being able to cause penalties. But I am ok for now. My Harvester is ready and is being delivered by air to the Spice Fields to gather. In the meantime, I send an Ornithopter out to investigate this nearby abandoned Fremen camp.
But first, it’s time to look at the Resolutions I will be voting on soon. Each one focuses on different aspects, Military, Political and Infrastructure. And I can also see how many Votes and how much Influence everyone has available to them. While I do have more Votes and Influence over the Harkonnens, who said hello in a very threatening way. The Minor houses still have more than us all combined. So better stay neutral for the moment.
I needed to produce more water so I built a Windtrap in the Village I took over. Windtraps pull moisture out of the air and the amount they can pull is also based on the Wind Strength of the Village it is attached to. This Village I have has a Wind Strength 6 so I should be good. Water is obviously important to keep the balance of happiness in your villages as well as support your troops out on the map. But it also is required to take over a Village as well. So managing it is important.
The Fremen contacted me wanting a trade. I obliged as they were trading money for some resources. I can use it to bolster my troops now. Heavy Weapons Squad should add some nice pop. I should have waited though. I had sent Unit 1 out to take over the Tabmah Village to the South and as I was approaching, several Raider units came from the north and helped the Village defend itself. But they gave the location of their Sietch. I will deal with that later.
In the meantime, I had a red alert pop up on my screen. Sandworm warning! But where? I had to quickly scour the map and move all my units to safety. Fortunately, my one Spice Harvester was picked up by air and secured. But Unit 1 is still on the move and I can now see the sand rustling under their feet as they try to run away. All of a sudden a Sandworm bursts from the ground in the distance and swallows up Unit 2. They never stood a chance.
Unfortunately, it was also when Raiders came in from the east and took over my one village that produced Spice as I was both running away from Sandworms and moving in to protect my Village. Long story short, my people died.
DUNE: SPICE WARS FINAL THOUGHTS
Thus is Dune: Spice Wars. A game where you need to pay attention for the long haul. Dune is a true strategic game that can take some time to get used to. But each game does seem to start at a pace that allows you to get your feet wet and then guides you through each step of the way. The tutorial never felt like it was too much info to take in. It was just enough explanation. The pace throughout the game does go through ups and downs with so many different things to keep in mind.
Managing your resources, the morale of your villages, your relationships with different houses and how you plan to observe them, in addition to the discovery of the map and all its locations is a lot but fun if you’re into this type of gameplay. The incredible soundtrack adds to the mystery of the investigation, making it that much more enjoyable. There is a handful of politicking and diplomacy but if you play your cards right and negotiate well when the time comes, it can be a huge advantage.
This is why I love sending out Agents. They can either be diplomatic with other houses or spy on them. I usually spy on the houses to keep them on their toes.
Dune: Spice Wars is a 4x game, as I mentioned earlier with many different ways to win. I initially expected the Dune: Spice Wars to be like a traditional real-time strategy game. But I realized that it leans more into a classic tabletop-style strategy game. It feels very turned-based with the spacebar acting as a pause button so you can plan out your attack. Once I began thinking about the game in more of the sense of tabletop games, the more it began to all fall into place.
Dune: Spice Wars is a very well-thought-out game that, from learning the basics, is very easy to catch onto. Mastering your playstyle and strategy is the hard part. You are never pushed to move too fast for your own comfort level while playing. Allowing you to develop and really explore the land.
Political negotiating is a fun feature that makes each game of Dune: Spice Wars more narrative-driven than just a simple jump-in, play the match and go. For this review multiplayer was not readily available, but I can only imagine the possibility of roleplaying your generals’ role when playing alongside other people. Since I am passionate about table-top games I was very pleasantly surprised by the similarities and how there was nothing lost in translation from turning table-top mechanics into a video game.
I give Dune: Spice Wars an 8/10.
Dune: Spice Wars is now available on Steam in Early Access.
Have you played Dune: Spice Wars? Which house did you choose? What is your playstyle? Let us know in the comments below and share your Dune: Spice Wars strategies with us on Twitter.