The tournament opened this year with a lot of discussion about the upcoming new edition of Dune, scheduled to be published by Gale Force 9 this summer. Dune fans everywhere are eagerly awaiting the new version, and we at the WBC are discussing how to incorporate it into the tournament format. I took a straw poll, and a majority of this year’s Dune players appear to be fully in favor of allowing players to choose which edition they wish to play in next year’s tournament. I would probably choose the version played in the final based on majority vote of the finalists. We will wait to see when the game actually gets published and assess the differences vs. the original edition before defining the tournament rules for 2020.
This year we saw a return to longer game durations, compared to the last couple of years. Game time spiked back up to a 4.5 hour average, but maintaining game lengths of 7 turns, meaning players were spending more time per turn this year vs. recent years. Those averages are actually under-reporting durations as well, because almost half of the games played had to be adjudicated at the 5-hour time limit. Notably, all of the 5-player games finished in time. I’m still seeking a way to make games more likely to finish within the allotted time – ideas include limiting games to 5 players, adding a 7th stronghold, or even returning to requiring only 3 strongholds for an alliance to win. Otherwise, the scheduled time slots may simply need to be increased form 5 hours to 6, which is not really desirable since 5-hour slots are already considered to be very long for most players.
The house rule to allow Fremen and their ally to dial full-strength for free in battle also continued to be well-received. The overall balance of faction win rates this year was much improved compared to years prior to the adoption of this rule. Fremen, Guild, and Atreides all tied for best with a 40% win rate, followed by Harkonnen at 33%, BG at 29%, and Emperor trailing with his 2nd-worst ever showing at 20%. It’s interesting that this year three historically weakest factions took top honors, while the three historically winningest factions flagged. There had been predictions that the Emperor would get a significant side-benefit from the Fremen buff through card price inflation, but that appears to not have been the case this year. Based on past year-over-year changes in faction performance, I would still say that this year’s results are definitely within the bounds of normal variance, and I’m happy with the balancing effect the Fremen buff has had overall. However, it is true the Fremen have bubbled up to the top of the pecking order from dead last very quickly, so I’m considering possibly reducing the benefit of the house rule somewhat. A variant is now being tested for the first time to require the Fremen (or his ally) to actually pay the spice needed for support and then recover that spice paid at the end of the turn. As a side note, it appears this rule is partially adopted in the new edition (excluding the alliance benefit), which I think is a good decision.
There was one solo win this year, a Guild default victory this, achieved by Jon Anderson. All of the other games were won by alliances, some only through adjudication, which counts less toward advancement to the final.
Best Faction plaques were awarded to Aidan Powers for best Atreides (2 years running); Michael Powers, best Bene Gesserit; Lee Proctor, best Emperor; Mindy Kyrkos, best Fremen; Meng Soon Ong, best Guild; and James Denam, best Harkonnen.
For the final game, in order of qualification, James Denam chose Harkonnen (perhaps hoping to repeat his Best Faction performance), Glenn McMaster took Fremen (a big change from years past when Fremen were always last choice), Lee Proctor took Guild (with his eye clearly on the long game), Carl Krosnick took Atreides, and Aidan Powers chose Emperor, leaving the BG for Bill Dyer. (While the BG are very powerful and popular allies, it’s difficult to win 1st place with them, usually serving more of a supporting role in an alliance. The Guild are difficult to win with at all unless going for a default victory at the end of the game.)
All players agreed to play out the full experience, a 15-turn game played to completion, disregarding time limits. And they were off…
Alliances were made early, with Fremen and Harkonnen teaming up to try to dominate the spice blows and provoke general mayhem, but an early setback for Harkonnen encouraged the Fremen to switch alliances to the BG (and that alliance would prove to last for the rest of the game.) Atreides and Emperor allied to monopolize the treachery card market – they filled their hands and the Emperor build and maintained a strong hand for most of the game.
The Fremen were taking heavy attrition at spice battles and Glenn was having some difficulty managing his token strength. He had wound up with a large force rather “stuck” in Tuek’s Sietch as a result of needing to block an early Guild attempt at the win.
Then in mid-game, the BG-Fremen alliance were contending against and Emperor-Guild alliance, while Atreides and Harkonnen remained. With the Fremen in Tuek’s, the Emperor held Habanya Ridge Sietch, the BG held Sietch Tabr, and Atreides held Carthag with a chance to go for a solo win, with the Shield Wall in play. The table focused on preventing an Atreides solo win, but the Guild had an ace treachery card up his sleeve – the Hajr, hidden from game start. The Guild’s Emperor Ally attacked Atreides in Carthag, but the BG reinforced Sietch Tabr, having realized the Guild threat to attack both Tabr and the Shield Wall. The Emperor encouraged the Guild to go for the win, but the Guild eventually backed down in the face of a coordinated defense and a strong bluff by the Atreides that he held a Karama. The game continued. (Subsequent analysis would reveal that the Emperor-Guild alliance actually could have won at this point if the Guild had followed through.)
Shortly after that, the Fremen-BG alliance was in a good position and moving late in the turn order. The BG played a Karama to force the Guild to move in turn order, and it looked like a solid attempt at victory was possible. The other factions worked out a plan to successfully block the win, but it required the Guild to deploy heavily and also expend his Hajr. It was a close call, but the Guild seemed to be weakened at this point, while the Fremen-BG alliance maintained a strong threat. The BG during this time was expending worthless cards and real Karama cards alike to invoke various Karama powers to keep their position on top.
In the late game, an interesting situation occurred where the Shield Wall had been destroyed and the Atreides held the Weather Control as the storm approached large Emperor and Harkonnen stacks in Arrakeen and Carthag respectively. Extensive negotiation resulted in the storm remaining where it was, leaving the Emperor and Harkonnen unscathed. This, however, was soon regretted when a Nexus came up in the next turn and the Emperor and Harkonnen allied with an excellent position to go for the win. Partly because it became apparent that Harkonnen held a Karama. Atreides and Guild allied in response. Fremen and Atreides both attacked Harkonnen on the Shield Wall, and the Fremen ultimately was forced to deploy a Lazgun-Shield explosion there to prevent the win, and also eliminating sizable stacks from multiple players.
By turn 13, it was clear a default victory was on the horizon – but what type? The BG were controlling Tabr and the Fremen were solidly in Tuek’s. While still making a strong play for a 4-stronghold win, the Fremen-BG alliance were also eyeing the possibility of a rare Fremen default victory.
In turn 14, the other factions had to again coordinate to stop a longshot Fremen-BG victory. This included Atreides blocking Habbanya Ridge Sietch while smartly keeping an additional token in the desert next to the sietch to allow for an additional block in turn 15.
In turn 15, it was down to a Guild default victory, or a Fremen default victory if they could wipe out all tokens in Habanya Ridge Sietch. But the Emperor-Harkonnen alliance and the Fremen-BG alliance also had credible chances to go for a standard victory. Somehow, the table had miscalculated how many worms remained in the spice deck - they were expecting two worms to come up at the end, but only one remained. (If consecutive worms had been revealed, the Fremen could have ridden into Habbanya Ridge Sietch, which would have been critical for a chance at the Fremen default victory.) During this final turn’s bidding phase, the Guild was shown a Karama card by his Atreides ally. The Guild finally managed to outbid the Emperor-supported Harkonnen for this card with a bid of 26 spice! (This is probably the most expensive card purchase I have ever seen.)
Fortuitously for the Guild, the storm blocked Arrakeen, making one less stronghold available for any last-ditch victory attempts. As expected, the Fremen-BG forced the Guild to again go in turn order (this time moving last.) However, Atreides shipped into Carthag and moved his one reserved token into Habbanya Ridge sietch, locking up the board and denying any Fremen-BG win attempt. The Guild then blocked Harkonnen from shipping, resulting in a long, hard-fought Guild default victory!
Congratulations to Lee Proctor for expertly managing the board through a 10.5 hour, 15 turn game, and gaining his 2nd championship.
This does make three years of Guild default victories in the final game in a row. It seems as if the top players have definitely learned how to overcome most of the house rules that have been introduced to try to make standard victories a little more possible.
With diligent blocking, heavy negotiation, expert board assessment, and minimal battle errors, Dune proves to be extremely difficult game to win – at least when requiring 4 strongholds for alliance victories (even when including a 6th stronghold.) Unfortunately, decades of experience have shown that requiring only 3 strongholds for an alliance is very easy to win, usually rather quickly. Since the Dune tournament players tend to want to have a chance to play an “epic” game, this may not be a desirable change to make. But if 3 strongholds is too easy to win, and 4 strongholds is too difficult to win, what lies in between? Discussions continue… However, it should be noted that the new edition of Dune is officially adopting the 4-strongholds rule for alliance wins, without adding any provision for additional strongholds, keeping stronghold blocking, and also keeping the ability for players to freely exchange spice, which was house-ruled away many years ago in the tournament after having been identified as the easiest means for blocking wins. We will have to see how new Dune victories are tallied…
Nonetheless, we look forward to the new Gale Force 9 Dune with the expectation that it will bring a number of new players and new opportunities to the tournament next year. See you in 2020!