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cover-Dune: Spice Wars

Saturday, July 8, 2023 11:36:22 AM

Dune: Spice Wars Review (failcopterwes)

The most interesting thing about Dune: Spice Wars to me is how it presents the established setting through the game mechanics and then uses that to make a rather unique 4X experience. Those familiar with the franchise will appreciate that the Spice does not directly translate into money (that being the Solari), but you can set how much of your income you keep to pay your imperial Tax (or bribe the Spacing Guild in the Fremen's case) and how much you sell directly into the open market (which you can then buy shares in). The amount of Spice you need increases each month, so the game forces you to keep expanding or you lose the political benefits of being able to fulfil your contract...and earn the ire of the empire itself. But expanding isn't that easy. Anything on the sands (including harvesters) has a chance to attract a worm, which will eat whatever it finds, but the rocky areas are safe staging posts. Unfortunately, being out in the open also drains your units supplies, and so a military campaign requires a lot of investment and preparation.
This leads on to the main focus of the game, espionage and politics. Being in open combat with a faction does not prevent trade, and you can use a promise to stop trying to assassinate someone as part of a deal, or even just trade captured spies. Having a truce with someone unlocks longer lasting contracts such as economic agreements. But this does not stop you from infiltrating them. Everyone expects you to be looking into everyone else, and are doing the same to you. It's only a betrayal of their trust if you use it for something aggressive rather than information gathering, such as sneaking a thumper into where their army is gathering to make a sandworm attack them. If you're good you can win the game entirely on the strength of your spies and their affects on the world. The other large political component is the Landsraad. Every few weeks this council of minor and major houses gathers to discuss several political ideas. The member factions (the ones with House in their name) have set numbers of votes to support or discourage these, but everyone has political influence that they can use to further nudge the result how they would prefer. This can create massive opportunities for players if worked on properly, and is key to one of the victory conditions.
I have only done two matches so far, and so have not tried all of the factions, but each one seems suitably distinct in play style even when they share buildings. A few interesting examples: most factions can build airfields to move people around the map, but the Fremen can ride worms around if they have Thumpers available; everyone can infiltrate and cause a lot of damage with it, but the Harkonnens can make it a suicide mission for the spy to get the operation over with fast at the cost of needing to hire a replacement; House Corrino, being the house of the Emperor, can deploy a secondary main base to help co-ordinate and reinforce their settling procedures, while House Atreides can annex villages peacefully using their political influence and reputation for being honourable so that their military can work elsewhere. (Edit: forgot to mention the Smugglers, who can create underworld buildings in other people's territory to sneakily expand and leech off of everyone else.)
In summary, it's a very interesting game. The combat may seem simplistic, but between unit effects and the tide-turning power of espionage it gets more mechanically complex quickly, and the AI will use it against you without hesitation (and leads to chaotic scenarios such as releasing chemical weapons in my own territory to try and discourage an invasion while my troops got there, while the enemy dropped an EMP to weaken my defences and tried to use a thumper to make a worm eat my troops before they arrived). Tutorials are in it at this point, although while they do let you work out some things yourself they can be repeated whenever you like and the in-session pop ups can be set to show up each game to remind you.
Edit: Another thing that is interesting is the limit on your army size. Most battles are skirmishes and while you can have stationed militias in areas and build defences, your actual aggressive capabilities and response forces have to be carefully thought out when your territory expands. You probably can't defend everywhere at once, but neither can your opponents, and the AI will absolutely try to tactically retreat to draw you into the range of its missile batteries so it can counterattack.