Happily, the tournament grew some this year, with many veterans and a good number of new faces mingling together to play 14 qualification games, only the second time this number has been achieved, the first being in 2012.
The only new changes to rules this year were minor Karama adjustments that helped clean up timing issues for Fremen and Harkonnen special abilities.
We continued use of the house rules designed to keep the tournament game duration from running to excess, with fairly good results. Players seem to appreciate the use of diplomacy tokens to limit time spent away from the table, and several games actually chose to use the clock guidelines to keep turns moving on pace. Bringing the Shield Wall in as a 6th stronghold earlier in the game definitely opens opportunities to go for the win sooner and has not adversely affected game quality. As a result, average game duration held very even with last year’s decrease to 6.9 turns in 3.9 hours. Three games still needed to be adjudicated after the 5-hour limit, so there is still room for improvement.
The house rule to allow Fremen and their ally to dial full-strength for free in battle also continued to be well-received, although it’s possible that players are learning to amplify the effect of this ability. The first two years this rule was in effect, Fremen still had the lowest (or tie for lowest) win count, but were much closer to the pack. This year, there was a major spike in Fremen victories, with the desert folk participating in 8 of 14 victories (over half!) This marks the first year ever that the Fremen have been the most winning faction! Does this mean that the Fremen house rule is too powerful? It’s difficult to tell, but I expect to try to playtest a couple of minor adjustments between over the next year to see if I think a change might be needed. Or I may want to wait to see if we still see Fremen dominance next year before I act too swiftly – over the past 6 years, each of the 6 factions have now appeared as the most-winning faction once – Emperor in 2013, followed by Harkonnen, Atreides, Guild (tied), BG, and now Fremen. So it may be that this is only a normal variation in a game with very complex balance dynamics.
Interestingly, the faction win-rate order this year was almost a flip of last year’s results. This year, Fremen led, followed by Guild, Emperor, Atreides, Harkonnen, with BG at the bottom. (Compared to last year’s BG, Atreides, Emperor, Harkonnen, Guild, Fremen.) I believe the large negative turn-around in BG wins is at least partly due to the high number of 5-player games played where the BG were left out (which accounted for 7 of 14 games.)
Every game this year was won by a 2-faction alliance; there were no solo wins nor prediction wins this year, which is unfortunate because those are always exciting to see. Only one of the qualifying round victories was a Guild default victory, but probably at least two of the adjudicated games were headed that way.
Best Faction plaques were awarded to Aidan Powers for best Atreides; Lee Proctor, best Bene Gesserit; Jake Dyer, best Emperor; Bastien Plastre-Jacques, best Fremen; Michael Day, best Guild; and Tegan Powers, best Harkonnen.
In what seems to be becoming a tradition, the final game featured Lee Proctor, making his 7th consecutive appearance) plus a matchup of two Powers (father Michael and son Aidan, both second-time finalists) and two Dyers (brothers Quinn and Jake, the latter making it into the final as 1st alternate when Matt Hannan could not attend.) Glenn McMaster rounded out this fierce table containing no less than 4 former champions.
In order of qualification, Aidan chose Atreides (because “card knowledge is sooooo good!”), Michael took Harkonnen, Lee was happy to get Fremen (having won twice with them during the heats), Quinn took Emperor, and Glenn chose BG, leaving Guild for Jake. (While the BG are very powerful and popular allies, it’s difficult to win 1st place with them, while the Guild are difficult to win with at all unless going for a default victory.)
All players agreed to play out the full experience, a 15-turn game played to completion, disregarding time limits. Fortunately, a table was available that would not conflict with other tournament scheduling, because this was sure to go for a while.
Harkonnen going last in turn 1 concerned the table a bit, but after buying 2 cards they knew he did not have a large treasury left for battle. Any worries that the Powers would go easy on each other quickly evaporated as they bickered over a spice blow. Harkonnen drew first blood and captured an Atreides leader.
An early nexus saw the Atreides turn and ally with his Harkonnen enemy, opposing Fremen-Emperor and BG-Guild alliances. The Fremen-Emperor alliance looked the most threatening, but secretly lacked the cards to be serious contenders. The nexus was rapidly followed by a Lasgun-Shield explosion that eliminated the Emperor stronghold in Habbanya Ridge Sietch, and no one side was able to secure dominance.,/p>
Around turn 5, a new nexus resulted in a total alliance switch-up, landing on an Atreides-Guild alliance fending off the Harkonnen-Fremen and BG-Emperor both trying for victories. During this period, battle casualties were high and many leaders were sent to the tanks, which can have a very significant effect on tactics. By mid-game, Atreides had lost all leaders and were buying gholas from tanks.
A few factors were having a dampening effect on strategy through the mid-late game: First, it became known that the Guild held the Lasgun, causing people to be wary of placing large stacks, and the Hajr, causing people to fear that the Guild moving last could attack both Carthag and Arrakeen from space. Second, the Emperor freely supplied his BG ally with free card purchases from a deck dominated by worthless cards (Karamas for the BG) and Cheap Heroes, which actually allowed the BG to rather mercilessly and repeatedly assassinate leaders.
Unfortunately for the Emperor, this also led to an erosion of the Imperial coffers, putting him in a very difficult situation when it came to a major battle between the bulk of the Emperor’s tokens vs. a large Fremen force. When the BG played a worthless card to force the Fremen to pay for troop support, the Fremen responded by playing a real Karama to cancel the BG’s worthless Karama. It was clear the Emperor was worried about spice and the Fremen were worried about losing one of their two remaining leaders. Negotiations began, and a bizarre deal was struck for both sides to dial all of their tokens away in an arranged battle. This allowed preservation of spice and leaders, but at what cost??
Battles raged throughout this period with attempts to win turn after turn by both the Harkonnen-Fremen and BG-Emperor alliances, but neither side seemed to have a very plausible chance of controlling 4 strongholds, especially with the Atreides-Guild alliance playing goaltender.
Around turn 11, the BG and Guild started openly talking about allying at the next opportunity, with the Guild thinking the Voice would give the best chance of being able to hold out for a default victory, and the BG hoping to share in that victory and find a way to come out on top. In turn 13, the BG-Guild alliance was cemented, despite some intense lobbying by Atreides.
To begin the climactic turn 15, the BG played Weather Control to blockade Sietch Tabr with the storm, which even more importantly forced the Fremen-Harkonnen alliance to move last, severely limiting their chance of fighting for a late victory. The BG attacked the Emperor in Tuek’s Sietch, and then the Guild moved early to attack Atreides in Habbanya Ridge Sietch and moved troops from Arrakeen to both Carthag and the Shield Wall using his carefully hoarded Hajr. The BG and Guild were fighting in all 6 strongholds, but knowing the Guild was unlikely to win in either Carthag or Shield Wall, the Fremen attacked in Arrakeen in force.
The Guild did indeed lose to Atreides on the Shield Wall, but then responded by detonating a Lasgun-Shield explosion in Carthag to eliminate the Emperor. Meanwhile, the Guild won in Habbanya Ridge Sietch, but purposely dialed away all of his tokens to guarantee a default victory of which he would be the champion by tournament rule definition! (A bit of meta-gaming here – If the Guild had not dialed away all of his tokens, the BG-Guild alliance may very well have won a standard victory, splitting 4 strongholds evenly 2-2. In this case, the BG probably would have won 1st place in the tournament-defined tie breakers.)
Congratulations to Jake Dyer for expertly managing the board through a grueling 12.5 hour game, and gaining his 3rd championship. Interestingly, this victory very closely mirrored his 1st championship, also a Guild default victory. And thank you to all the finalists for a great game and to all the entrants for another great year at WBC! It was especially nice to see the new players who showed up, and I sincerely hope they will return. With our 20th anniversary of WBC Dune tournaments behind us, here’s looking forward to another 20.