In addition to the exciting new venue, there were several important rule changes for Dune this year. Probably the most important change was the attempt to improve the Fremen’s chances while also making them a more attractive first tier ally. With player poll support, we increased the Fremen’s house rule special ability to the following: “The Fremen may count their tokens at full strength for no cost in ALL battles. Additionally, the Fremen may permit their ally to do the same in their own battles.” This seemed to be a big success, with players excited (rather than disappointed) to play the Fremen. Fremen became an important consideration at nexus time, and in fact were not uncommonly courted as one of the most popular allies (as opposed to almost always being the last pick). To top it off, we saw the best balance of faction wins in all of recorded tournament history this year. Even though it wasn’t supported by the results, a few players felt that the new Fremen were too powerful. Time will tell if the Fremen’s abilities become unbalancing as players learn to fully leverage their new power, but I believe this rule change will stand for next year.
In addition, we modified a house rule and introduced new tournament rules to try to decrease game duration. Average game duration, in terms of both turns and hours, has been slowly increasing for at least ten years, and too many games are running over the time limit and requiring adjudication. First, we decreased the average turn on which the Shield Wall becomes a stronghold for the purposes of determining victory; now the appearance of the fourth worm, as opposed to the sixth. It was felt that this would open up the game, encouraging earlier wins. Second, we put formal restrictions on the time players could spend on discussions away from the table. All discussions had to be open over the table, with certain exceptions: Allies could have private discussions for five minutes prior to each movement and battle round; all players could have private discussions for five minutes during each nexus; and each player was given three chips that could be spent to have a five-minute private discussion with anyone at any time. Even though players conformed to these restrictions well, it appears that these changes had no impact on reducing game duration. This year, the average game lasted 7.2 turns (near overall average) and 4.7 hours (the all-time high!), with seven of 12 games requiring adjudication at the time limit. Nonetheless, many players reported that the games subjectively “felt” better with players remaining at the tables more. Dune players love the intense negotiation aspect of the game, but I believe most would prefer to have all games finish within the time limit. New changes may be considered to try to address this issue next year, but options appear to be limited. Stricter timing measures, similar to chess clocks, are just impractical and probably too draconian. We are considering reducing the value of adjudicated games for advancement, but I suspect that this will not significantly change player behavior. It may be that the only sensible option is just to increase the scheduled time for heats, but the larger time commitment would scare more potential players away. All input is welcome – please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As noted above, there was nearly perfect faction win parity this year for the first time on record. Every faction except for Atreides (who won three) won four games – it doesn’t get much closer than that. Most games were 2-player alliance wins, except for one Guild/Emperor default win after ten turns of play, and Joe Doughan’s fantastic BG prediction win, stealing the victory from an Atreides/Emperor alliance in Turn 8.
Best Faction plaques were awarded to Lee Proctor for both best Atreides and BG; Malinda Kyrkos, best Emperor; Jean-Francois Gagne, best Fremen; Joe Harrison, best Guild; and Robert Powers, best Harkonnen.
The top qualifying player, Joe Doughan, was unable to appear at the Final, allowing alternate Robert Powers to make his first appearance. Additionally, first-time finalists (but experienced players) Quinn Dyer and Malinda Kyrkos faced off against past finalists Lee Proctor, JF Gagne, and Glenn McMaster. Lee chose Atreides – card knowledge is a sweet incentive, making Atreides the first pick two years in a row, despite their average win record. After that, Quinn selected Harkonnen, perhaps hoping to repeat his brother’s 2015 win. JF took the suddenly popular Fremen, while his default victory partner Glenn chose the BG – the Voice is very powerful, but it’s difficult to win with the witches, who usually prefer to operate behind the scenes. Malinda took the Emperor, and Robert got the Guild.
Turn 1 invoked déjà vu as Harkonnen opted for a possible Turn 1 win in a very similar situation to 2015. Harkonnen was moving last (the perfect opportunity), and played two Truth trances to try to discover the critical card information that would allow a decent shot at victory. In the end, Quinn decided that discretion was the better part of valor.
Alliances were formed in Turn 2 that would last for the duration: Atreides/Emperor, BG/Guild, and Fremen/Harkonnen. Atreides/Emperor were viewed as the primary threat in the beginning. They quickly filled their hands with (presumably) good cards and firmly held two strongholds. In turn, the other factions were then able to purchase cards at discount prices, and unfortunately for Atreides, it was impossible to prevent many good cards going into others’ hands. Then, Atreides and Emperor started to become spice poor due to lack of collection and poor card revenues.
Earlygame to midgame, stronghold ownership was static and evenly divided among five factions, with the Fremen (not unusually) remaining uncommitted and active in the desert. The BG/Guild alliance had weapons, mobility, and moved last for three turns in a row, allowing them to execute a series of attritional/informational attacks while maintaining a strong defensive force, ready to stop most victory attempts. During this time, there was a general chilling effect on spice collection, with the Fremen even calling for CHOAM charity in Turn 4 (unlike in most of the preliminary games, where the Fremen tended to use their new powers to become fairly spice wealthy.) Most of the BG/Guild attacks focused on Atreides and Emperor forces as the perceived leaders, but also to prevent Atreides from blowing the Shield Wall, in the interest of balance of power. In Turn 4, Arrakeen, Carthag, and Sietch Tabr all changed hands, with the BG/Guild alliance holding three strongholds.
Then a number of oversights and misjudgments occurred, allowing a shift in power. First, the BG unnecessarily spent a worthless/Karama card in a battle where Harkonnen’s ability to dial for free (thanks to his alliance with the Fremen) was forgotten. Then the Guild also unnecessarily expended a Karama that could have been used to great effect later, in fear of the Harkonnen hand swap. In Turn 5, Fremen took Arrakeen and Harkonnen took Carthag to put their alliance in the driver’s seat. At this point, it was acknowledged that Fremen/Harkonnen would be difficult to stop, but there was a breakdown in negotiations concerning how to block or defend strongholds against the new leading alliance. The Shield Wall (now in play as a stronghold) and Tuek’s Sietch were both left inadequately defended, made worse by the group oversight that the Fremen now had access to ornithopters.
In Turn 6, the Fremen/Harkonnen alliance won the game with a pair of well-executed battles. But the question of which ally would win was still undecided! In cunning fashion, Harkonnen had played a Hajr to slip his own tokens into a fifth stronghold. While the other players avoided king-making, Harkonnen fought Guild in a dicey battle that would determine a winner. When battle plans were revealed, Harkonnen called “traitor!”, giving him three strongholds to his Fremen ally’s two, allowing Harkonnen to steal the win in truly Harkonnen manner!
Congratulations to Quinn Dyer, making this the fifth consecutive Dyer family championship—a dynasty that is proving tough to beat!