Dune may be the most well-known and respected Sci-fi franchises in the known universe outside that little Star Wars thing and that is mainly because of the original source material. There is a lot of Dune stuff (games, movies, books) but it all started with the iconic Dune novel first published in August 1965 by author Frank Herbert.
All that respect and subsequent story came about because this novel then, and still today, was and is considered the greatest science fiction work ever written. Dune contains a depth of worldbuilding that is rarely matched anywhere else in the genre.
A great article from Wired on the greatness of the novel quotes many authors and literary personalities that give a lot more insight on why the novel is so great. Not only do they talk about the achievement of the time, but how much this iconic property has inspired so many things that came after it like Game of Thrones for example.
From Novel To Much More in the 80s
The critic and audience reception for the novel in 1965 was huge and that set off a content spree. Frank Herbert wrote five sequels to Dune, and his son Brian Herbert (together with Kevin J. Anderson) has written more than a dozen more. Fantasy author Rajan Khanna sampled the first few sequels but remains most interested in the original novel.
The Frank Hebert sequels span 1969 - 1985. The Brian Herbert books span from 1999 - present. But that is not all the makes this franchise what it is. There are many other iconic things that came out and happened along the way.
The First Board Game (1979)
Back in 1979, board games were not at all where they are today. The quantity released per year was much lower and we didn’t have many of those mechanics we know and love today. Settlers of Catan was 16 years away from being published.
Players each take the role of one of the factions attempting to control Dune. Each faction has special powers that overlook certain rules in the game. Each turn players move about the map attempting to pick up valuable spice while dealing with giant sandworms, deadly storms, and other players' military forces. A delicate political balance is formed amongst the factions to prevent any one side from becoming too strong. When a challenge is made in a territory, combat takes the form of hidden bids with additional treachery cards to further the uncertainty.
The game is very well-loved. Here is an excerpt published by Polygon:
Originally titled Frank Herbert’s Dune, the game was first published by The Avalon Hill Game Company in 1979. It’s widely considered a classic, and was a personal favorite of GF9 head honcho, Peter Simunovich. An early prototype of the classic strategy game was even on display at this year’s Gen Con, the nation’s largest tabletop gaming convention.
“As Peter will tell you,” said GF9’s John Matthews, “‘I’ve played 500 games of this!’ And you know, he might not be wrong. He might actually have played 5,000! It pretty much seems that’s all he did through university was play Dune.
More Info: BGA Page
The First Film (1984)
It only took 2 years from the novel coming out before a major film started to develop. After the novel's initial success, attempts to adapt Dune as a film began in 1971. A lengthy process of development followed throughout the 1970s, during which Arthur P. Jacobs, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Ridley Scott unsuccessfully tried to bring their visions to the screen. In 1981, executive producer Dino De Laurentiis hired Lynch as director.
Dune is a 1984 American epic science fiction film written and directed by David Lynch and based on the 1965 novel. The film stars Kyle MacLachlan (in his film debut) as young nobleman Paul Atreides, and includes an ensemble of well-known American and European actors in supporting roles. It included a soundtrack by the rock band Toto, as well as Brian Eno.
Set in the distant future, the film chronicles the conflict between rival noble families as they battle for control of the extremely harsh desert planet Arrakis, also known as "Dune". The planet is the only source of the drug melange—also called "the spice"—which allows prescience and is vital to space travel, making it the most essential and valuable commodity in the universe.
Paul Atreides is the scion and heir of a powerful noble family, whose inheritance of control over Arrakis brings them into conflict with its former overlords, House Harkonnen. Paul is also a candidate for the Kwisatz Haderach, a messianic figure in the Bene Gesserit religion.
Surprise! The movie bombed and was a big letdown. It was not anything like the high quality of work we have seen from writer/director David Lynch over his career. Lynch, the man behind things like Twin Peaks and Mulholland Dr., is known for his weird and interesting style so that has lent itself to this becoming a bit of a cult classic over the years.
The Dune Media Resurgence in the 2010s
Dune never stopped going strong. Fans remained loyal and new fans discovered the original source material by the thousands and grew to love it. Not just the original books, but both the board game and original films that have since become cult classics.
Everything was going along as usual and then a major event happened that would set off a boom in additional Dune content to come over the next decade. On November 21, 2016, it was announced that Legendary Acquires Frank Herbert’s Classic Sci-Fi Novel ‘Dune’ For Film And TV. Legendary is the big-budget producer behind such blockbusters as the Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy, the new Godzilla series and the Hangover franchise to name a few.
It would take some time for this property to get staffed, developed, made and released, but it was enough to bring back interest and people trying to get in on it (or a very proactive licensing department at the studio who knows).
The Re-Release of the Original Dune Board Game
The board game everyone loved after coming out in 1979 was finally reprinted 40 years later in 2019. This is basically exactly the same title but with updated artwork and a few game tweaks to appease the community.
Imagine you can rewrite the script for one of the most famous science fiction books of all time. Welcome to the acclaimed 40-year-old board game which allows you to recreate the incredible world of Frank Herbert’s DUNE. - From the Publisher
Dune 1979 Board Game vs Dune 2019 Board Game
It is a remake but inevitably there were some updates. Below is a list of the major changes from the original game in 1979 to the revised version released in 2019:
- Major Artwork Revamp
- The Emperor’s powers are enhanced (mostly dealing with Revival)
- Alliances are capped at two (more or less) and have more explicit rules for who can do what
- Game turn maximum reduced from 15 to 10
- One is reasonably priced and one is not
More Info: BGA Page
Dune 2019 vs. Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy (2021)
This is Gale Force Nine's second stab at honoring the original Dune while repackaging their 2019 version into a more approachable game:
- Updated look and feel to reflect the upcoming film's aesthetics
- More spice, streamlined rules, and a new market deck you can purchase from to put you in advantage states
- New 2-player mode to open up more gaming opportunities
- Player count changed from 2-6 to 2-4, reducing playtime and making it more accessible for gaming groups
More Info: BGA Page
New Dune: Imperium Board Game is released - And the Community is Impressed (2020)
This was the first big take on Dune where the source was not the original base novel. It is very highly acclaimed by both critics and audiences alike.
What is it?
Arrakis. Dune. Desert. Planet. Raise your banner above the vast wasteland before you. As the Great Houses of the Landsraad marshal their forces and their spies, whom will you influence, and whom will you betray? A tyrannical Emperor. The secretive Bene Gesserti. The shrewd Spacing Guild. The ferocious Fremen of the Deep Desert. The power of the Imperium can be yours, but war is not the only way to claim it.
Dune: Imperium blends deck-building and worker placement in a deeply thematic new strategy game where the fate of the Empire hangs on your decisions. Will you seek political allies or rely upon military might? Economic strength or subtle intrigues? A council seat...or a sharpened blade? The cards are dealt. The choice is yours. The Imperium awaits.
Why is it so good?
Everyone loves this game because it delivers the Dune universe in an approachable package with simple but clever mechanics. Similar to how Stonemaier Games' Red Rising sparked curiosity within gamers to Pierce Brown’s dystopian sci-fi world, Dune: Imperium is a chance for fans and newcomers alike to enjoy the IP in a game that masterfully blends two familiar mechanics: deck-building and worker placement. This might not be the most accurate representation of Dune’s complex universe, but it’s a great one that will get that one friend, spouse, co-worker, or someone to think about watching the upcoming movie or reading the novel.
If you take a look at all board game media reviewers and content creators' lists of the best games of 2020 and then you do a bunch of data stuff, you see that Dune: Imperium came in second place only being narrowly beaten by Lost Ruins of Arnak. Regardless of who they are, everyone has something great to say about this game.
Any review you find of this game is top notch. Even the low scores are high. Sure there is always people jumping on the bandwagon, but you really do see great excitement for this one.
Top board game reviewer Tom Vasel gave it a 90 out of 100 and said, “One of my favorites of the year. I thought about giving it a perfect score, that is how much I liked it, but I have to ding it for the components. Still amazingly high. I will even say this is a better Dune game than the other one that has been around, that people love.”
More Info: BGA PAGE
Portal Games Launching Dune Game Based on Detective Series (2021)
Arrakis, the planet of spice and endless sand at the far end of the Imperium, is filled with intrigue, conflict, and war. On the infamous planet of Dune, you find yourself between two Great Houses. The sinister House Harkonnen schemes for power and profit, while those loyal to House Atreides rally a rebellion among the native inhabitants long suppressed under Harkonnen rule.
Dune: House Secrets is a cooperative story-driven game in which you join the resistance against House Harkonnen! Experiencing an original adventure inspired by the blockbuster film, you must complete a series of missions with limited time and resources. It's impossible to experience every encounter, and the story changes as you make hard decisions and sacrifices along the way. How will you uncover the secrets of Arrakis?
The game is built atop the same foundation as their Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game system.
Initial Announcement: Q1 2021
Portal game’s Ignacy Trzewiczek announced three new games during the live stream keynote of PortalCon 13 on January 23, 2021. One of those games was a brand new Dune board game with a different type of play unlike any other Dune game in existence. The only gameplay details available at the time were that it would be based on the system used in the Detective series of games.
Pre-sale Campaign: July 12th - July 26th *NOW
You can make your purchase for $45 right now (US). Portal has launched a 2 week long pre-sale campaign for the new game that has tons of information and exciting game unlocks. You can follow along and shop over at Portal Games, but here is a recap of the updates released so far -
Game Ships: Q4 2021
The game is expected to start shipping to pre-sale purchasers in the fourth quarter of 2021. If you are not in that initial sale, you are probably not getting into until after that.
More Info: BGA Page
The Upcoming Film (Streaming and In Theatres 10/22/21)
The behemoth of cinematic events is coming soon. The new Dune film is a massive epic being helmed by auteur and Canadian Denis Villeneuve, one of the best directors working today and maybe in history. There is so much talent and awards gold across this cast and crew that the lead of the film is a guy named Oscar. Event films are Marvel movies, Christopher Nolan movies and a very select few others. This is one of those others.
The film is a remake so if you are familiar with the 1984 film, this is going to be that but different and the hope is better. The source material is still Hebert’s original book, so a film adaption went through the same process. Same facts, just a different interpretation.
Cinematic Event? I thought this was streaming? Yes and yes. Back in November of 2020, the distributor Warner Brothers announced that their entire 2021 slate would be simultaneously released in both theatres and on HBO Go (in the US at least) due to ongoing pandemic concerns. This was not well received in the industry, to say the least. Not so much the idea of it, just the audacity to drop that decision like it was nothing, making it seem perhaps not well thought out and just a move to bolster one arm of their business (streaming) while demolishing another (theatrical).
The previously mentioned Christopher Nolan, who has released most of his movies with that distributor and is probably the biggest single-person cash cow for a studio, was not happy and said, “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.” This was published by the Hollywood Reporter on December 3, 2020.
Maybe This Day and Date Movie Release Thing is Not So Bad
Missteps in announcements aside, we are now half a year in the future from that point and we are starting to see how things are playing out. There is a vaccine now and the world is opening back up from the COVID pandemic. Theatrical movies are not there yet, but they are climbing and people are seeing movies in theatres again.
What is interesting in all this though, is that we are seeing a difference in theatrical taste. You really need to deliver that big event film, and if you do, people will go see it in theatres, because they want that experience. Soft comedies, dramas, small scope things - all maybe now feel like streaming movies? People may have had enough of a period to ask themselves why do they even go to the theatre at all.
The big movies, titles like Godzilla vs King King, Fast and the Furious 9, Black Widow and Space Jam, have all reportedly seen pandemic success, whatever that means. Dune could absolutely be one of those films. There is a reason to see it in theatres and mark this point in time, it is going to be huge and a collection of some of cinema’s best working talent all together. Huge talent and scope that couldn’t possibly fit on just a living room tv.
Is this Thing going to be any Good?
The film releases roughly 95 days from now so it is no surprise that there are no official reviews yet. With all the good stuff here, it is expected to be excellent. A way you can always tell (if you think through the logic, no insider info here) is when reviews drop. If reviews are held back until release weekend, it means it is not great and the distributor is trying to hide something. MAYBE it is about saving some reveal, but that is rare at best. So keep an eye out, this is one where you should care about the reviews.
How Does this relate to the Dune Board Game(s)?
The source material is the same for the film as the original Dune game released in 1979, the remake of that game in 2019 and the new Crime Solving Adventure-like game coming in 2021 so you are going to be living that same story with those same characters.
Dune Imperium is kind of half based on that original novel, but also expands more on that world and goes past the first book in details utilized.
Where all the extra good stuff is coming in is in the expansions of the different games. Those will take you to new places. For now, instead of just watching the upcoming film, you can live it.
There is lots of great Dune stuff, go out there and experience it! Leave a comment about your favorite thing about the Dune universe. Which Dune board game is your favorite or least favorite?