Dune: Imperium Review

Dune: Imperium is inspired by the original sci-fi book franchise and the upcoming movie. You’re put in charge of one of the Great Houses of Landsraad during the warring period to manage agents, gather resources, and achieve control over Arrakis!

Dune: Imperium
  • Deck-building meets worker placement
  • The first new Dune board game in nearly 40 years
  • From the creators of Clank!

Brief Overview of Dune: Imperium

Dune: Imperium board game box and components

The license for Dune was heavily guarded, which is why only a couple of board games have been made so far. Dune: Imperium is a 2020 release that combines deck-building and worker placement in a package that not only exceeds board game standards, but also the high expectations of Dune fans. 

The game can be played solo or with up to four players and is moderately challenging. It strikes a balance between accessibility and depth of gameplay, with plenty of strategies to try out and optimize over time. Sessions last between one and two hours, depending on the skill and number of players.

Versions & Expansions

Dune (2019)

The original Dune board game is not related to Dune: Imperium, but is worth mentioning as it was recently re-released after the initial printing in 1979. It still holds up to this day and is worth checking out if you’re looking for more Dune content. 

Dune
  • Set thousands of years in the future, Dune the board game is...
  • Number of players : 2-6
  • Playing time : 120-180 minutes

Unboxing Dune: Imperium

Dune: Imperium board game box, cards, and miniatures

Dune: Imperium has plenty of components to unpack:

  • Game Board
  • Board Space Guide Sheet
  • 24 Reserve and 18 Conflict Cards
  • 67 Imperium and 40 Intrigue Cards 
  • 8 Leaders
  • 15 Water, 24 Solari, and 23 Spice Resource Tokens
  • 1 Mentat and First Player Marker
  • 4 Alliance and 4 Baron Harkonnen Tokens
  • 40 Starting Deck Cards
  • 64 Player Cubes
  • 12 Control and 4 Combat Markers
  • 8 Discs and 12 Agents
  • 31 House Hagal (Solo Play) Cards
  • House Hagal Rules Sheet

After opening a number of boxes only to find the rulebook and pamphlets bent and creased, I’ve started to really appreciate well-thought-out packaging. 

Dune: Imperium places the full-sized paper rules on the top but because the game board is a bit smaller than the box, it’s surrounded by foam cutouts to keep it in place. A piece of white paper protects it from beneath, just in case any of the pre-packaged components manage to bump or scrape the board during transport.

The compartmentalized bottom half of the box is where the cards, tokens, and markers are stored. Agents, resources, cubes, and discs are all made out of wood. Considering that most games don’t fully exploit the molding capabilities of plastic, I’ll always prefer simpler wooden pieces.

The front of the leader cards features a large illustration of the character, clearly inspired by the actor’s depictions from the Dune 2021 movie. It doesn’t feel out of place and it’s nice to have that franchise link. 

Cards are separated into mini and regular-sized decks with barely any text written on them, leaving plenty of room for detailed illustrations. I quite like the color palette, as it features rich, contrasting colors that fit well thematically.

How to Play Dune: Imperium

Dune: Imperium is a competitive game that combines deck-building and worker placement. The goal is to score the 10 victory points or have the most points in the final round. 

Game Setup

If you take a look at the leader card, next to their name you’ll find one to three icons, representing the difficulty rating. For your first few games, don’t pick a leader you like the most, but instead, choose one that is easier to play.

Decks

Aside from the standard setup rules, each player gets an identical 10 card deck. Throughout the game, you’ll add and remove cards from your deck, and by doing so, greatly change how the game will unfold. 

Agents

The game starts with two agents per player, with the ability to add a third later on or use the temporary Mentat agent. They represent the workers of the game and are placed on the game board to gather resources and perform other actions. However, to place an agent, you must first play an appropriate card.

Intrigue and Factions

Intrigue cards are another way to achieve almost anything an agent can do. They’re primarily used as trump cards, as the owner hides them from other players and can use them to gain an advantage in certain moments.

The four factions represent the standard progression tracks that award victory points as you raise your influence to a certain level. The gained points can be lost if your influence falls below the limit, but once you reach the final award, it cannot be taken away from you.

Taking Turns

A round of Dune: Imperium is broken into five phases:

  1. Round start
  2. Player turns
  3. Combat
  4. Makers
  5. Recall

At the beginning of a new round, a new conflict card is revealed, and every player draws five cards to use during the round.

Player Turns

Players can either play an agent or reveal. Using up all of the agents first is advised, as reveal action is final. However, you may take it while there are still available agents, or even as the first and only action of the round.

Placing agents follows detailed rules and requirements which I’m not going to burden you with. What’s important is that after spending cards to place agents, the remaining cards are used in the reveal phase. 

Resolve the effects of every revealed card in any order. Persuasion is a separate resource you’ll collect during a round. You can use it to acquire more cards for your deck, as long as you can afford them.

Combat

Before resolving the combat phase, players can play as many combat intrigue cards as they want to reinforce their strength. This involves some mind games as people commit a different number of cards.

The conflict is won by the player with the most points, and they get the top reward from the conflict card. The second reward is always available, but the third is only unlocked in a four-player game. 

Makers

During the makers’ phase, restock spice on specific board spaces, but only if they’re not occupied by an agent. The spice will accumulate on these spaces over rounds, making them more appealing spots to take early.

Recall

At this point, if any player has achieved 10 victory points, the game enters the final phase. Otherwise, prepare for the next round by recovering agents and passing the first player token clockwise.

Your First Game of Dune: Imperium 

Dune: Imperium is a tactical game and finding your own rhythm and strategy will take at least a few playthroughs. In the rulebook, there is a page dedicated to strategy and beginner tips, but I’ll also share some of mine.

Combat rewards are great, as long as you don’t spend a fortune to get them. As passing only to rejoin in the next cycle is possible, players can trick one another into overcommitting. Your goal will be to grab easy second or third place, and only go in for the best reward when everyone else is already drained. 

Resources are meant to be spent, but if you’ve got a chance to accumulate a certain type, focus on the spice. Keep the water flowing, as you’ll never need more than 2-3 in your possession. Having 2-3 influence cards throughout the game will be very handy, as it forces your opponents to play differently and act with reservation. 

Buying cards is much easier than getting rid of them, so the last thing you want to do is clog it up further with bad cards. Carefully plan out your deck and focus on the high-value cards that will net you a lot of value in the late game.

Get the third worker when you can, but if someone else steals the spot, take into account that their resources will be heavily depleted. Make bolder moves while others are weakened, but don’t fall behind in workers as they’re crucial for achieving victory. 

Pros & Cons

Dune: Imperium Board Game art and logo

Pros:

  • Great with Any Number of Players
  • High Replay Value

Something a lot of board games can’t get right is balancing the game for a different number of players, and players tend to stick with the most optimal number. Dune: Imperium isn’t a 1-4 player game just to increase its value on a surface level.

With three or four people, the game plays out as you’d expect. But when only two players are involved, instead of limiting board spaces and mechanics, the game introduces an AI. It doesn’t try to win and is mainly a nuisance when players are trying to place agents and resolve conflicts.

However, this works surprisingly well and lets the two players engage in a proper duel. In a solo game, another AI is added, but this time both AIs are trying to win. The game turns from player mind games into strategizing and anticipating the moves AI will make, which is really enjoyable and refreshing.

This naturally leads to high replayability, as different player count dictates the core gameplay, and each individual mode requires dozens of games to be honed to perfection. No tactic will work twice, and strategies you could be designing for days can fall apart in the first few moves.

Cons:

  • Elements of Luck
  • Simplistic Board Design

As with any deck-building game, you have to expect a certain degree of luck to be involved. Dune: Imperium keeps this to a minimum, but as 3 out of 40 intrigue cards are much better than the rest, some games will be affected by luck more than others.

While the cards and leader portraits look great, the same can’t be said for the board. It feels unfinished as if it was a prototype design that never got the final rework. However, the unexpected advantage of this is that the board is incredibly easy to navigate and read.

This is not a detriment to the game, but I should point out that Dune: Imperium is not an engine-building game. The deck-building side doesn’t go in-depth either, however, it’s at the right level to complement other mechanics and create a nice hybrid.

Dune: Imperium Review (TL;DR)

Dune: Imperium is a board game that will satisfy the fans of the franchise, especially if they’re excited about the Dune 2021 movie. If you take out the Dune license, the core game easily stands on its own feet, making it a great experience for everyone.

Conclusion: Verdict?

The first thing I want to say is that I’ve had hardly any knowledge of the Dune universe prior to picking up Dune: Imperium. Because of that, I made sure to ask my friends and do research on what people thought of the theme, to give you a well-informed take on it. 

However, this lack of knowledge turned out to be a benefit. I wasn’t biased in one way or the other by the theme and instead focused on the raw gameplay. And honestly, I was quite impressed with how Dune: Imperium handled things.

I really tried to come up with a game I can compare Dune: Imperium to, but I couldn’t think of any. I can see some elements of Twilight Imperium in it, albeit very simplified. 

It plays out like your typical worker placement game with card elements. One of my all-time favorites, Lords of Waterdeep requires you to place a worker to play an intrigue card, and if you overcommit to collecting cards, you simply won’t get a chance to use them all up.

In Dune: Imperium, cards are an integral part of the gameplay. While it’s true that the deck-building aspect is really simplistic, that didn’t bother me at all – it was just enough to create variations between games. Overall, I’ve quite liked the game, and I’ll definitely pick it up again once I’ve read the essential Dune novels.

Dune: Imperium
  • Deck-building meets worker placement
  • The first new Dune board game in nearly 40 years
  • From the creators of Clank!

We hope you enjoyed our Dune: Imperium review. Have you tried Dune: Imperium or read the Dune books? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this epic game. Drop a comment below!

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2 Responses

  1. Este juego es una pasada. Me a encantado tanto el sistema como la rejugabilidad. Tremendos piques que tengo con mi novia. Ella no conocía esta saga. Yo la descubrí allá por el 94 con el primer RTS de la historia : DUNE 2 – THE BATTLE FOR ARRAKIS, y me volví fan Curiosamente mi facción favorita eran los Ordos, que curiosamente no existe en las novelas. Después vi la película de David Lynch del 84, que me gustó a pesar que costaba entender…

    1. Thanks for the comment. I too love the Dune series, but the David Lynch was a little hard to follow. The Sci-Fi channel’s version was pretty good I thought, and I’m really looking forward to the new movie.

      Cheers,
      Bryan

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Stats at a glance

Players: 1-4

Ages: 14 +

Medium

60-120 Mins

Publisher: Dire Wolf Digital

Published: 2020