Dune: Spice Wars: RTS? 4X? Or something else entirely?

Like, what, Leo’s ottoman?

Just to add to what @KevinC said, if you’ve played Northgard, you’ve played Dune: Spice Wars.

I was half-expecting a game in the tradition of the olden times Command-and-Conquer Dune, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is just the Northgard developers reskinning Northgard with a desert vibe instead of its usual snow vibe and calling it “Dune”. It just feels like Sand Northgard to me after an initial playthrough, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t really feel very Dune. Hoever, I imagine once you explore the faction asymmetry a bit, you might taste a hint of spice. But I can’t imagine it’s ever more than a hint.

Contrast this to loading up Dune Wars – the mod for Civ IV – where I get a much stronger Dune vibe, probably because I think of Dune as a deliberately measured 4X instead of the steady beat of this game’s real-time resource management and army juggling.

While I like Northgard and think it’s a neat little RTS, it’s kind of an odd choice to map a dune game onto. The factions are not distinct enough, and scale is pretty small…although I guess I’m not surprised since it’s the same dev. It saves time, money, and is easier just iterating on what you’ve already built instead of tossing it out and starting fresh from scratch.

I might have to give that Dune mod a look.

Yes, this is where I landed as well. I just can’t get over the way this feels like a fan mod of Northgard.

At first, I was a bit salty about the similarities. WTF, Northgard devs?

But then I figured if other indie developers aren’t going to rip-off Northgard, heck, why not let the original developers do it themselves? It is a pretty nifty little formula!

I wonder if exploring their faction asymmetries more deeply might trigger more Dune flavor. I liked seeing where they laid some of the groundwork with stuff like Diplomacy Juice (not its actual name) and special Imperial favors and CHOAM exchange rates and so forth. But Northgard is a pretty glacially paced game, so it would take a lot of playtime to unearth that asymmetry. I barely scratched the surface in Northgard, so I sure didn’t make much progress here either.

Indeed you might! It holds up, assuming you’re hip to Civ4.

Some Old World style events based on Dune lore would spice this up.

Interesting. One of my complaints with the game is I don’t get a Dune feel/vibe at all, but it doesn’t feel like a Northgard mod to me. Maybe that’s because it’s been so long since I’ve played Northgard? Granted, I can recognize some shared DNA, but that’s usually true for games in the same genre from the same studio.

Were you playing the new Conquest mode? I haven’t played 1.0 yet, but I was enjoying the FFA shenanigans much more than the underbaked “not a campaign” / “not a story mode” Conquest which I dropped after a few boring maps. It’s been reworked since then, but…

In Northgard it makes sense for the campaign to be a series of islands. In Spice Wars, it’s bizarre for a winner-takes-all conquer-the-planet 4-way skirmish to be repurposed as smaller scenarios, even with the goal variations and random maps. Like, they could at least give the whole game a Paul Atreides mystical-vision-timeloop framing device or something.

I disagree. Beyond some broad similarities, like the food/Spice stockpiling and region-based map, I was surprised by how different they are.

Northgard is all about managing worker roles, which is completely absent from Dune. Waging war is difficult because you have to sacrifice your workers to train soldiers, or you can fall behind and have to revert them back into workers and lose the sunk training costs. I felt like winning Northgard was mostly about maximizing production aligned with my faction bonuses.

Dune has far less settlement management, more asymmetry in the strategic layers, and a lot more necessary warfare and scheming to undermine your adversaries. Northgard has no equivalents to the agents/espionage/operations, Landsraad voting, airlifting armies, sandworms swallowing them, nor nuclear weapons. As large an army as you can field is basically mandatory.

Northgard feels like a juggling act. Spice Wars feels like investing in mad plans to conquer the world and desperately scrambling to execute them.

That’s encouraging to read, because it’s exactly what I was hoping for! I haven’t yet rage- or boredom-uninstalled, so I’ll take this as a nice incentive to jump back in and explore further. Special thanks for breaking down the specific differences from Northgard! Apologies if that’s something that had been discussed earlier in the thread, but since it’s only recently gone to version 1.0, the game and thread are all very new to me.

And, yes, the conquest mode was actually what got me to install in the first place! But that’s where I realized I should probably, you know, learn to play first, so I just dialed everything back down to skirmishes, reading tooltips, and making inferences about similarities to Northgard. I didn’t even realize it was the Northgard devs until the game started feeling weirdly familiar, so I checked the Steam page… : )

But thanks for jumping in to correct me, @Bobtree!

Wait! I had no idea that this game was by the Northgard crew. My game group got pretty obsessed with Northgard during the height of the pandemic. Like, 100’s of stupid hours obsessed. And you’ve got to give that team props for an insane amount of support and content, well past anyone’s expectations. If I love Dune and Northgard, does that mean this is the perfect game for me?

Maybe. I could also see players loving only one or the other for different reasons. It’s a solid game and the developers clearly love Dune too, despite being unable to please everyone.

Is “not enough faction asymmetry to really fit the lore” still the major issue here? Especially with respect to the Fremen?

Im fine with most of the houses being flavor difference, but as you said the Fremen AND the emperor should be very different aspects of the game

As much as I’m willing to defer to @Bobtree on the overall feel of the game, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of us who’d die on this particular hill. : ) I haven’t played the Fremen much, but it was disappointing to see they’re basically House Spice Tent, because they build tents instead of refineries to harvest spice. There are, of course, concessions to making the Fremen unique, but what’s probably disappointing to people is how you’re mostly playing them the way you’d play any of the House factions.

I sat down with the game a while longer last night, and I’m not sure I came away with any better sense of what @Bobtree was talking about, simply because it takes so long to play a match! And not just in running time, but in pacing. It’s slowly paced on purpose, but then I end up in some sort of economic death spiral somewhere deep into the midgame, and I give up in frustration, and have to start over. Which is exactly how Northgard played, which is why I was inclined to say dismissive things like “Sand Northgard” or “meh, it’s a Dune reskin”. I’m having the same problems learning the game I had with Northgard: it takes so long to play, and my matches invariably end in failure because I’m apparently not learning the right lessons. Which is fine in an RTS where the matches take 15 minutes; but this ain’t that!

Anyway, I took more time to explore the espionage and diplomacy, which seem to be the main distinctions between Dune and Northgard. There’s some cool stuff in there, I suppose, if only I could built an economy to stay alive long enough to actually figure out how to use it…

No need, I’m just sharing my experience. We didn’t learn to play Old World overnight either,

True (~3h realtime is very long for an RTS, but next to nothing for 4X games), but there are speed controls and a fast forward button. The default is ok to poke around as you go, but pausing for important decisions and speeding otherwise is advisable. It’s a bit stop-n-go if you’re just waiting for resources, but usually there’s a steady flow of things to attend to.

I always try to keep the “losing is fun” mantra in mind. There’s no harm in playing to learn or experiment, or on a lower difficulty, or loading saves from key moments.

Northgard can really go badly if you have winter shortages of food or wood or a happiness collapse or population losses. Planning and responding to the crises is essential.

Life is a bit different on Arrakis. Off the top of my head, are you:

  1. installing agents on Arrakis for authority to speed up your early expansion? collecting enough water?
  2. planning expansion around the per-village traits and AOE maintenance reduction structure? selling unneeded buildings? relocating buildings for bonuses? (plascrete always seems plentiful)
  3. grabbing explorable goodies and trading with Sietches or other factions? building enough drones to explore and keep an eye on conflicts or hotspots?
  4. manning and upgrading your spice collectors? using the auto-recall to prevent sandworm losses?
  5. pillaging villages or sietches when you have downtime? (note: Atreides can’t pillage villages). oppressing your own villages as Harkonen?
  6. expanding for spice early to make the first tax payments on time? timing your spice stockpiling and selling with the market price fluctuations?
  7. buying fresh CHOAM shares when you’re loaded and selling if you need cash flow? using the Landsraad votes for price manipulation? holding/selling spice to manipulate the CHOAM shares?
  8. researching & building the home-base upgrades (the one for more unit training slots is great) and completing the socket-set color bonuses?
  9. using the bonuses you can get from CHAOM market share, high Landsraad standing, and the per-faction 5k and 10k Hegemony bonuses?
  10. picking councilors and using their bonuses for the goals or play-style you’re attempting?
  11. placing agents to unlock the operations you want? priming them? using them?
  12. hiring militia for defense? air-dropping or worm-riding fast responders? raiding enemy structures opportunistically? placing structures defensively or forward for front-line healing as needed?
  13. fighting for contested spice fields? upgrading your units? shredding enemy armor?
  14. committing to a victory condition after you’ve expanded and scouted your neighbors? keeping an eye on theirs? making treaties with lagging factions? ganging up to fight when you are behind? turning sour grapes into assassination plots or nuclear vengeance?
  15. feeding too many sand worms? inviting enemy armies out to dinner? using sandstorms as cover?

You seem rather knowledgeable on this game @Bobtree. I am very curious about it both as a Dune game and also an empire game played out in (board game paced) real time.

Do you find the factions significantly asymmetrical? That is, are they just statistically asymmetrical like in an Age of Empires sense (“this faction has +2 to X whereas that one has +1 when doing Y”), or is the asymmetry much more pronounced in numerous unique mechanics?

How much combat is in Dune Spice Wars? Is it just one path to victory, or is Dune a military conflict game where battles are constant and significant with subterfuge and empire building as the quieter parts?

It’s more than that, but not as much as I would like (I think the Fremen should play completely differently). Each faction has it’s own abilities (Atreides can peacefully annex villages), some unique techs per faction, some differences in what units they have, etc

They’re not dramatically asymmetrical but it’s a little more than +1 to this or +2 to that. I think the distinctions probably become more apparent as you gain experience with the faction/game. That was my experience with Northgard anyway.

Yes, though not to the sort of extreme degree where every faction is like playing a different game. I’m only experienced with Atreides, but they all have a few unique mechanics, base upgrades, techs, operations, and military compositions. The UI remains uniform though, so there’s no “where do I train/upgrade/research X with faction Y?” confusion like some games have.

A lot, and “Spice Wars” is a very suitable title. Something like 30-70% of your time wouldn’t surprise me, depending on what you’re doing and how the game is progressing. It’s slower and simpler than typical RTS combat, as you always have other things to manage, but you do want to focus fire, retreat and heal wounded troops, use the occasional operations buff, and so on.

Combat is mandatory for expansion (you have to attack villages, and Atreides peaceful takeover is expensive and slow) and defense (hiring militia is useful for delaying but won’t stop an army) and you have to deal with raiders from sietches until you can locate and pacify them.

Some of those routine bits become rather mindless, but you also have other players/bots to worry about. War is the default diplomatic state, truces are temporary, and they can be broken early for a cost. Desert power is the primary tool you have to make or break a winning position.

Your home base is sturdy, with included missile launchers and a built-in airfield, so you won’t get killed off immediately, but damage it sustains is permanent (excepting a specific Landsraad vote to regenerate), and the armor can be chipped away. Angering the Landsraad (by poor standing or using nukes) will spawn soldiers against it endlessly, eventually leading to death by papercuts (a dead HQ terminates that faction, except Corrino who can build a backup). I don’t expect base rushing to be popular, but there are probably some specialist players who could pull it off successfully. That said, wars of attrition are also a dangerous resource sink.

One thing about the game setup is that there are no mirror matches allowed, so a 4 faction game (the maximum currently, and unlikely to change due to UI constraints) always has 4 different factions. You’ll never have all 4 relying on the same defensive build. Even with the more aggressive factions left out, expect plenty of conflict.

This all sounds very good. I’m not especially motivated by fractional statistic asymmetry that exists in a lot of RTS games and I definitely like combat to dominate my 4x. My favorite 4x games have been Sword of the Stars, 40k Gladius, and Age of Wonders. Those are very far from your Civ type 4x games.

I also have enjoyed slower “board game” paced real time games, although there are not a lot out there. I never played Northgard, but since Tom brought it up here I’ve been looking into it and might grab it. I like the color pallet and mythical elements over Dune, but…I like Dune as a lore (I loved the main book in my youth and the latest movie is quite an auditory and visual feast).

Your comments sound like they come from a PvP perspective. Maybe I’m wrong. I would be playing against AI (maybe even co-op if it’s an option). I’ve read the AI in Northgard cheats like mad to the point that it’s not even remotely playing the same game. Does the Dune AI do the same?

I’ve only played single player thus far, and the skirmish AI is quite feisty. The difficulty setting tooltips tell you the AI bonuses. It doesn’t have great/annoying combat micro, and I don’t expect it’s a brilliant strategist because 4X & RTS AI is such a difficult problem.

This is from the Discord server in July:

Sylvain [Shiro]: The AI follows all the rules. They have a few eco bonus, the biggest of which is a 30% upkeep reduction on everything (which is a lot, I agree). Depending on difficulty they can also have a few % bonuses to production, but they are relatively small. No free solari. If you start a game right now, you will notice that if you don’t capture any villages, you will gain ressources anyway (at some point the taxman will come, though). This is not an AI specific mechanic.
Sylvain [Shiro]: With regards to conquest : Again, the AI mostly follows the rules. Some specific mission have scripted events that ignore economic necessities. We literally give free unit to the AI, but we also control very closely what they do with it. It’s not the general rule. Most of what the AI do, is just AI playing the game.