Monday, April 13, 2015

A world fit for a CCG

Frank Herbert's Dune series of novels are about a universe populated by many different factions, each with its own distinct personality and flavor, using every resource at their disposal to fight for control of the most powerful planet in existence. It's a concept that sounds tailor-made for the type of epic strategy game that most collectible card games published in the 1990s tried to be.

The Dune CCG was originally published in 1997, and it has a lot in common with the majority of games published at around that time. The structure of the game is very complicated, with an elaborate system of battle comprising four different types of conflict and numerous, highly structured windows of opportunity to play cards that will affect the battle's outcome. The game's core mechanic revolves around the buying and selling of spice, for which there is a constantly fluctuating exchange rate. It also requires players to keep track of their numeric influence value, which changes throughout the game and can be used for various game effects.

Players use location cards to generate money, which is used to buy spice and pay for cards, but even getting those into play has an added layer of complexity. Locations (and other resource-generating cards) and main characters are played from a side deck, and when a player attempts to play one of these cards, the other players have an opportunity to bid the cost of the character or resource up higher in the hopes of making the card too costly to play, or at the very least causing a drain on their opponents' finances.

The mainstays of a player's deck are the persona cards, representing the unique characters working for the player's faction, and holdings, representing the player's income-generating property. All of these cards are unique, so a player's copy of a particular persona or resource card can't be played if another player already has it in play.

Over the course of the game, players put their personas and resources into play, bolster them with equipment and enhancements, and use them to attack the other players' cards via one of the four different methods of conflict: dueling, intrigue, battle, or arbitration. Each type of attack can only target certain cards, and each has its own rewards for success and penalties for failure.

One thing I definitely like about the game is that characters tend not to be as disposable and replaceable as they are in other CCGs. Here, when a character loses a battle they are turned face-down, and can be re-purchased by their player on a later turn; a nice touch that reflects the indefinite nature of death in the Dune books, where characters frequently return to life as ghola clones, or simply turn out to have narrowly escaped certain doom. It also helps the game feel like one of long term strategy rather than short term cost-benefit analysis.

All the action is in the service of helping the player get 10 influence points, and accumulate 10 spice. Neither is as easy as it sounds, as there is only a finite amount of spice available at the start of the game, so more has to be generated via game effects, and influence can be spent to help with card costs, or lost as a result of losing battles, so it can be difficult to hold on to.

It's a lot to take in, and a lot to remember while playing, but somehow this level of complexity seems in line with the tone of the Dune books, and doesn't seem out of place.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) Honestly I don't think we've played Dune enough to give it an accurate rating, but  we're intrigued enough to keep playing, in spite of the game's complexity and the difficulty in finding cards for an 18-year-old collectible card game.

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