GTM #249 - Dune: Imperium
by Dire Wolf Digital

Dune: Imperium

I saw the first Dune film in a Delaware theater in 1984. My brother and I were visiting our cousins and we’d all gone to the theater. My brother was very excited. At the time, I didn’t know anything about Dune, and to be honest, after the movie I didn’t fully understand what I’d just seen. But it piqued my interest enough that I read the book and soon fell in love with the world that Frank Herbert created.

Thirty-six years later, I find myself in a very different place. This time, I’m excited along with countless other Dune fans about the upcoming Denis Villeneuve-helmed film from Legendary Entertainment. I’ve also had the privilege of getting some sneak peeks of the film over the past year, so that we could find the right inspiration to make Dire Wolf’s brand new board game – Dune: Imperium.

Dune: Imperium uses deck-building as a core element of gameplay. As we did with Clank!, we wanted to use deck-building as a way to deliver a highly thematic board game experience. Because Dune is a complex world of intrigue, where leaders plot and scheme to maneuver their pieces into appropriate positions, I decided that worker placement was a good fit. And it was important that the game take a different approach than the classic Dune board game. That game focused solely on Arrakis, challenging the six major factions of the Dune universe to fight for finite land and resources. In Dune: Imperium, we widened the scope of the playing field, building Arrakis and many of these famous factions into the board for a larger story to unfold across the universe.

Our game welcomes each player to portray a leader of a Great House of the Landsraad, fighting over control of Arrakis and the spice trade. Each player is not only waging a land war for precious territory and resources, however. They must also court the key pillars of the Imperium – the Emperor, the Landsraad Council, the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit, CHOAM, even the Fremen – all NPC factions offering strategic advantages to any House who earns their favor. In one game, you might play as Duke Leto Atreides and befriend the Fremen and make an alliance with the Spacing Guild. In another, you might be Baron Harkonnen, exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses with the Bene Gesserit’s secrets and schemes, while tying your destiny to the Emperor. We take a “what if?” approach to gameplay, staying true to what each faction should feel like within the context of the game, but allowing players to divert from the specific political alliances and events in the book allowing a new, yet authentic, Dune narrative to emerge in every playthrough.

This “what if” approach goes even further. In the book, one of the reasons that Duke Leto becomes a target is that the Atreides family has attracted some of the best allies in the Imperium. Thufir Hawat is a celebrated Mentat, Gurney Halleck is an inspirational military leader, while Duncan Idaho is an unrivaled swordsmaster. In Dune: Imperium, all of these powerful figures who loyally served House Atreides in the books are now available to any House to recruit. What if the Beast Rabban rose to power with Duncan at his side? Or if House Richese aligned with Lady Jessica?  You get the idea.

Finally, the story of Dune is not only about politics. Why would you be recruiting swordmasters and military geniuses, if there weren’t wars to be waged? So we obviously had to inject a healthy dose of military conflict into the game. Every round, there is a conflict that players can engage with, a skirmish or battle to be won. You’ll have to decide whether to use your cards to send your agents into battle or toward other endeavors. Keeping a watchful eye on your opponents is key; if a battle is heating up between two of your rivals, perhaps it’s better to sit it out and instead muster some troops for future conflicts. Much like the film, we’ve made a game where the fate of the Imperium is determined by the choices you make. What strings will you pull? Who will you trust or betray? How much will you claim, destroy, or sacrifice? With every card comes another choice and challenge that takes the story in a new direction, making each game an epic and memorable adventure.

Paul Dennen is the Creative Director of Dire Wolf Digital, where he created Clank! and other great tabletop and digital games. He is the lead designer of Dune: Imperium.