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

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.

Does the game support co-op (like 2 humans allied against 2 AI)?

Yes, but not in Conquest.

Okay, so I know I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but how the fuck is anyone supposed to ever learn this goddman game?

I’ve done my ingame due diligence by playing the four tutorial missions, so ooooh, now I know how to work the goddamn camera. But for anything more substantive, there’s nothing in the tutorial and – surprise? – there is no manual. Furthermore, there is no ingame help. None. Zero. Zilch. Zip. AWOL. Probably never even there in the first place. What kind of idiots design a complex strategy game without telling anyone the rules? The wiki I Googled is utter bullshit. When I Google a pretty basic question – “dune spice wars investigation levels” – I get shunted to some gaming site’s clickbait and a short unhelpful Reddit thread of similarly confused gamers and anything beyond that seems useless.

One thing I have learned about this goddamn thing is that it wants you to think you’ll be playing this:

When in reality you’re playing this:

This is a map painting game.

It is no more a real time strategy game than Europa Universalis IV, which is to say, yeah, it’s real-time and yeah, you’re doing strategy, but it’s not at all the tactical RTS that first screenshot implies. It is instead a slow and measured strategy game with complex interactions and systems that are completely undocumented, with an AI that is incapable of playing the game as designed, with a UI in dire need of more work, and with erratic pacing that ensures this will only ever be a single-player stop/start/stop game.

I have no idea why I’m still banging on it. I guess I can claim Stockholm Syndrome to the IP, because although I’m convinced this is more-or-less design trash, I’m still curious to see how it implements Dune mythology. My current opinion is that it doesn’t do it very well, but at least it’s trying, and it’s only a matter of time until I rage-uninstall for good and go back to games that work like Old World…

Are you not always playing at 2X speed? For my own purposes, I have no idea why the slower speeds are in here. I bump up to double speed the moment the game starts, so the “fast-forward” [sic] button doesn’t do anything for me. If I need to mess with something, I just tap the spacebar to pause and then resume realtime when I’m done. I don’t see why anyone would run it at slower than max speed, and even then, the games take a long time.

I appreciate the attempts to help, but I can’t help but feel somewhat slighted at how little you seem to think I know about the game. : )

My own economic death spirals are almost always integral to how the economy works, which is one thing I love about the game. As I believe you mentioned, the “spice wars” in the title is apt, because it’s all about managing the flow of an erratic and undependable income. Whether it’s the interruption of sandstorms or losing harvesters to worms or uprisings, or just the vagaries of your economy as it’s buffeted by the actions of the Landsraad, this is a game about managing – and watching! – the flow closely. For the most part, I think it’s done very cleverly and it gives the game a distinct feel, which is probably why I’m still playing. In the end, the interplay among the Houses is just the backdrop; the flow of spice is the main event. I guess that’s so very Dune, isn’t it?

Anyway, I appreciate the list of tips, but I promise I mostly know what I’m doing. I just wish it weren’t all from trial-and-error. : (

Heh, I’ve been all Harkonnen, all the time. Can I tell you what a PAIN IN THE GODDAMN ASS it was figuring out how oppression works, even with the Harkonnen Oppression Buildings, or whatever they’re called? It took me forever to realize that my militia were getting killed in the uprisings and they weren’t being replaced. I only learned this as I started losing my cities to uprisings because – duh – they had no more militia! Anyway, instead of spending fifteen seconds reading a manual to learn how it works, it took me multiple hours spending time on multiple wasted games. Thanks, devs!

But here’s another issue with the asymmetry in Dune: Spice Wars. I was attacked at one point by House Corrino, which was pretty cool to being facing a proactive opponent, except for the tactical AI being braindead. But along with the attack, I got this message:

consoli what now

So, first off, good on the AI for launching an operation alongside an attack. Probably the equivalent of the Harkonnen Combat Drugs operation? While we’re paused, let’s see what House Corrino’s Consolidation operation does.

…oh, right, there’s no manual and no in-game help. This is literally no place in the game for me to check what House Corrino’s Consolidation operation does, short of saving the game, starting a new game as House Corrino, playing until I can unlock and test that operation to figure it out, at which point I could reload my saved game and continue the battle, at last wiser to the House Corrino operation called Consolidation. Except that the battle didn’t go anywhere, regardless of the presence of any Consolidating, because the AI just ran its ranged unit back and forth in a short loop while I killed its melee units and then ran the ranged units down. So much for that.

I think multiplayer could have been the saving grace for this game, but given how poorly paced it is – long slow stretches of nothing happening, combined with extended playtime – I can’t imagine this is ever going to work well against other humans.

I don’t want to bail them out for any critically low (non-existent?) documentation, that’s lame, so major caveat to my next bit. That said, Ive watched chunks of Dastactic’s current YouTube series on Dune Spice Wars. He tends to be one of my go to sources as a primer and minutiae break down on games I am about to, or just started playing. I just use it as an entertaining life hack when I am doing something that allows YT viewing, but not game playing to maximize my available game time. I am finding his series fairly helpful and between him and this thread, I’m rather tempted to give Dune a proper go this weekend.

I really appreciate the pacing, but I’m not a spring chicken anymore so frantic RTS has lost its calling on me. As to multiplayer, I also have very much enjoyed the roughly equivalent multi-hour, but not multi-day, essentially “RTS” (but in turns) W40K Gladius with a friend. Like with Gladius, I can very much see us penning in a weekend afternoon away from our families to dig into a gluttonous 3-6 hour game of Dune. That sort of thing has replaced our post college days of LAN or board gaming now that kids make such physical presence luxuries seem as gone as our eyesight and metabolism.

One appeal of the Dastactics video I am picking up is the game seems to have a somewhat Kohan feel in its combat. By that, I mean there seems to be positional tactics to fighting, but it’s much more subtle than traditional RTS genre standards. Like Kohan, combat tends to be blob on blob that is decided mostly by the makeup of each blob. However there is some on the edges type positional tweaking can tip the balance. For example, the choice of where an Ecaz Fencer unit is standing or what direction it approaches the battle from can boost its attack stat significantly.

Still, I don’t have the game though. So I could be talking out my rear. So I don’t at all intend to discount your frustrated experience as you’ve actually sat down with Dune.

I’m typing from my phone so it’s hard to c/p the links. He has an episode zero that is pre-game mechanic and lore talk, then actually starts on episode 1 (still breaking down the crunchy bits).

Same situation here on all of the above. Unlike the majority of RTS games I’ve played, Dune can be saved during a game so the game length isn’t really a concern for me personally. Of course, I play Gladius and stuff like EU4 in multiplayer, so I’m an outlier to say the least.

I’m done with the fast paced tactical RTS games, I’m glad to see the S emphasized more in the genre. Still not sure how much I like the game, but planning on putting a little more time into it this weekend and possibly start a match with my friend.

Hmmm. Long periods of nothing happening would be bad. That’s no good for multiplayer.

There have been games of Gladius where either me or my buddy took a near death hit to our military or economy. Then that person is slowly clawing back for hours of turns as the other has a much more entertaining time holding the line. It’s a great feeling of victory if it can be pulled off, but it’s also a very asymmetrical fun factor even if successful. I’m not sure I’d be down for such boring stretches if one of us is just positioning a Landsraad vote for a while, then much later the reverse twiddling thumbs as the other manages Chom prices. Or whatever. In Gladius, it’s bad enough pushing end turn in seconds to have the other person manage a giant war by themselves.

Here’s another example of what bugs me about this game: I can’t trust it.

There’s a bunch you can do with a steady trickle of agents given to each faction. Most of them have little abilities that benefit you in addition to their agenting. For instance, Thora just showed up and I see she’s an Engineer:

Hello, Thora. Glad to have you and I’m especially glad for your engineer skills boosting my income for the resource that builds buildings, plascrete. Since I can use a plascrete boost, let’s stick you someplace with a higher information level. Let’s make you an Arrakis agent, so you’re working at level 2:

At level 2, you should be boosting my plascrete production by 4%. Let’s check the scoreboard!

Thora isnt meeting her work quota

Hmm, I’m producing 112 plascrete, and checking the Engineer tally second from last, I see Thora is contributing 2 of that. Which isn’t 4% by my math. So either the tooltip about Thora is wrong, the tooltip for plascrete is wrong, or the game isn’t doing what it tells me it’s doing. I don’t know if developers realize it, but when you try to tell me 4% of 112 is 2, I don’t believe you. I furthermore question the other things you’re trying to tell me.

But on the upside, hey, I only found out there’s a shortcut to find production buildings because I was taking a screenshot:

how to find your buildings

If only I’d had the presence of mind to read the part of the manual that details the interface, I would have been using this feature by now!

Hmm. Fencer boost is to attack speed not attack stat. How can you confirm that? What defines “nearby ally”? This further proves your point @tomchick.

Yeah, that’s a whole other separate complaint. Bonuses to units are an absolute black box. The game will show you the adjusted values, but there’s no breakdown for modifiers like there is for economic values.

BTW, they kind of have these in the game! Here’s an example:

Old World style events

They’re pretty minor, but they pop up from time to time, usually giving you lots of time to grab either option.