25 May 2023
Control the Spice to Rule the Tabletop
Sometimes, you just wanna take over a planet. You just get that itch to completely rule over an alien world and best everyone you know with your military and political might. But for me, it’s the wargames that encourage players to work together as well as fight each other that really stand out.
Each player is the chief of a Fremen tribe, the people who call the spicy dustball of Arrakis their home. The planet is mostly desolate with few scattered resources providing the essentials needed to not only survive, but to stand tall as the proud owner of three Sietches (think cave villages) and win the game.
Every round is split into phases, with a dice roll determining whether players will be able to gather resources, trade them with other players, transport them to their scattered forces or even create new armaments or Sietches to edge them closer to victory. Not knowing exactly what will happen in a round ensures that you cannot rest on your laurels and are always on the hunt for an advantage.
Everything that is owned by a player must exist on the board; no squirrelling away resources in an impenetrable HQ player board, if you want your water and worm teeth you’ve got to gather and hold it on a space, made all the more difficult when almost everywhere is beset on multiple sides, leaving plenty of ways you can be attacked.
Once the randomly affected actions are complete, each player takes two actions, which could involve scavenging for better equipment, further shipping to ensure your most prominent force is well equipped, or to attack a neighbouring enemy.
There is no randomisation in combat; players count up a territory’s defence and strength based on what is inside that territory and in the territories adjacent to it. Highest number wins with attackers taking over the new land whilst paying “Water Debt” to their losing opponent, a fantastic mechanic which ensures no one play is constantly bullied as well as giving them means to catapult back into the running with a consolation trove of goodies.
What gives this game a fiery kick is the necessity to cooperate. It’s hard to get your own resources where they’re needed, unless you trade with other players so both of you can redistribute however you want. Winning or defending key regions is difficult alone, but anyone not directly involved in a conflict can offer their strength to either side. It’s even possible for players to team up if they feel that someone has a significant chance to win; much like the classic tabletop adaptation of this property Dune (which saw a superb new edition in 2019) two players can form an alliance, creating a team win condition and giving the players a chance to win together.
Arrakis is a game where being the cold hearted tactician may help you seize the first two sketches, but that game-winning third will forever elude you as the table decides to shut you out. Winners will often be players who will fight and push for control, but are sympathetic and always willing to negotiate trades and consider others needs to gain the advantage.
Even with these considerations, Arrakis is still very much a traditional wargame at heart, with a dryness that fits its desert setting but might deter some people from dipping their toes into the sand. If you’ve been curious about wargames or are looking for a way to win without being all-out aggressive, Arrakis is a perfectly suitable game available at a modest price.
PLAY IT? YES
A fine wargame that incentivizes discussion as much as conflict, a great (if a little dry) experience well suited for fans of the genre.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Dune...
No, we’re not saying to play this because they’re both Dune themed. If you like your wargames to include a healthy proportion of negotiation, co-operation and heart breaking betrayal, Arrakis is for you.
Designer: Peter Olotka, Jack Kittredge, Bill Eberle, Greg Olotka, Jack Reda
Publisher: Gale Force Nine
Time: 90-120. minutes
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