Q1: From Dune to Rex

This post was originally written in 2014 and can be found here. As I’ve provided other pieces of content, and to focus this, I’ve streamlined this article.

Dune was originally released in the late 1970s, then rereleased as Rex: Final Days of an Empire in 2012. Consumer tastes and preferences change a great deal in 40 years and Fantasy Flight Games had an immense task to preserve the essence of a classic while also making it a bit more palatable for modern sensibilities. Below, I provide a detailed analysis that compares the original Dune rules against those of Rex.

One thing to note: I am not sugar coating any of this! If you are not familiar with Dune or Rex, I recommend you at least read the Rex rules (linked below) so that you can gain context. They are not that long, and if you do so, this content will be far more interesting. Otherwise, skip to the bottom for my analysis. I also provide commentary throoughout.

Hopefully you find it interesting!

  • Ilya's Dune Rules: This is a super cool BGG community effort to revise the original rules for clarity. They also combine the advanced modes, variants, and commentary.
  • FFG's Rex Rules

A List of Changes from Rex to Dune:

The storm phase is at the beginning of the round in Dune, not the end. I'm curious why they would change this? Perhaps it's easier for the player to think "end of round equals destruction" instead of beginning of the next, which can be overlooked?

The storm and first player rotates counter-clockwise in Dune. This is one of those counter-intuitive things that doesn't seem to have a good reason. Generally, clockwise is the correct decision unless you have a very good reason. Making it clockwise in Rex is a good change.

Determining first player is quite different. In Dune, players arrange their pawns around the board, almost like positions on the clock. The first player for the round is the player whose pawn will be next passed by the storm. This is a slightly more complicated way than just passing a first player token clockwise, as in Rex. However, this mechanic DOES mean that first player may not shift every round, which is interesting. Complexity and variance versus simplicity and more predictable rounds?

Dune ends after 15 rounds (if nobody has met the victory condition), instead of 8. However, an official variant recommends 10 rounds for a more reasonable length game. I felt 8 for Rex was a smidge short in terms of need to progress the game, though with 4 new players, 8 rounds took us 2.5 hours. That brevity is ultimately good, I think, as it forces decisive play.

In Rex, verbal deals are non-binding, but you cannot exchange Influence (currency) at any time . In Dune, verbal agreements are binding. Furthermore, you can exchange Spice (the currency), but it can only be claimed at the end of the round. Here, I prefer Dune's way of doing things. I'm curious why the change was made? There is an ally power that allows a player to  give their ally money during the bidding phase. This is even more powerful if money passed in deals can only be claimed at the beginning. I, however, can give it to my friend when he needs it -- now.

In Rex, everyone gets 2 free influence from the bank in addition to any they claim each round. In Dune, you only get 2 spice only if you have nothing. Pay attention here as this is one piece of the core differences -- the economy. Dune is far tighter than Rex and getting left behind is more possible.

In Dune, currency is only added to a single territory each round. In Rex, it's added to two territories. Here again, the Economy is expanded to be more generous. Dune will strangle you.

In Rex, once you pass in a bid for a single card, you cannot obtain that card. In Dune, if you pass, but the bid increases past what you passed on, you can re-enter the bidding. I think this is a subtle element that is probably fine to remove, though it does allow for a hint more nuance in the way of bidding tactics.

In Rex, you may recruit up to 5 killed Units each round. In Dune, it's only 3. Rex, again, is more forgiving. But, as the game is half as long, they doubled the economy, effectively.

Dune has a fairly complex rule that states if a Leader is killed and revived, and are then killed again, they cannot be revived until all other killed leaders are revived and killed again. I think? I found this rule very confusing. I believe the intent here is to prevent you from just spamming your best leader repeatedly with abandon. It makes the Traitor mechanism more potent, in my estimation. I'm not sure the rule is worth the complexity though.

In Rex, you must move units first, then you may add new units. In Dune, you add units first, then you move them. This is a curious change. The cost to add units to enemy-occupied territory is more expensive, so I assume this forces you to move Units into the territory first, then add additional reserves at the higher price. Rex is generally looser with money than Dune, so I can see the reasoning for the change. With Rex, you have more money, so they need to put in new costs, which this change seems to supply.

In Dune, adding Units to a stronghold costs 1 per, or 2 per anywhere else. In Rex, it's 1 per to an empty or friendly space, or 2 per to an enemy occupied space. This puts a greater emphasis on the strongholds in Dune and slows the game down slightly. It puts greater emphasis on managing your supply lines and planning ahead it seems.

Dune's board (see above) is divided into slivers, like a clock, which are called territories. During movement, players can move between sectors in adjacent slivers, but their units are always in one sector. Sectors may span multiple slivers. A battle is triggered if multiple enemies exist in a territory (the sliver), even if they are in multiple sectors. They can, however, be blocked by a storm in the middle as the storm moves between the sectors. Rex's board (see below) just creates numbered sectors.

I'm very curious how the experience changed, if at all, but I can say with absolute frankness that Rex seems to have streamlined this very appropriately. Of all the sections in Dune's rules, the territory versus sector confused me the most. Typically, players see sectors as a control point and a path for movement. Dune abstracts that strangely and I feel, without playing Dune, FFG made the right call.

In Rex, you simultaneously select your Units to spend and your leader. However, after revealing these,  you may choose which cards to play (though you pre-determine whether you will play cards, and you must use them if you chose to do so). In Dune, you submit everything at once. I think I prefer the tension and simplicity of Dune's method.

In Dune, the winner of a battle gains Spice (currency) equal to the strength of all leaders killed in the battle. This bounty is a great boost in income that I find very compelling. In Rex, only certain cards do such things.

In Dune, once you use a Traitor cards, it's shuffled back into the deck. In Dune, you regain the Traitor card. I find this fascinating. Once a traitor, always a traitor, eh? It also means you have a permanent, but now known disadvantage against certain enemies. The first step in avoiding a trap is knowing it exists, right?

Players in control of certain spaces in Dune gain the Spice Harvester card, which grants them additional spice. I like this. Most of the spaces in Rex are just spaces. Were it expanded (it won't be), this is a simple area to add additional complexity.

Additional Rule Variances

In addition to the main game, Avalon Hill released an advanced set of rules to develop the game further. Some elements of it are considered essential to the experience, whereas others are quite controversial. I'll only discuss the ones that pertain to Rex.

Originally, Dune's economy was considered overly strict. The new edition added Carryall and Smuggler bonuses, which were granted for controlling specific sectors and granted additional income. Rex handles this by giving everyone a flat 2 Influence every round. I actually like both methods. Rex's mechanic is simpler, but Dune's carries some strategic nuance.

Advanced mode added the concept of supporting Units in battle. You could support each Unit in the battle at the cost of 1 spice. Supported Units gave their full value, whereas unsupported units provided half. Therefore, it would take 2 unsupported units to equal 1 supported unit. This is a bit complex and added a layer of math. It seems to be generally disliked by the community. I agree.

In the Advanced Dune, they modified the amount of spice added each round from 1 to 2 territories, which is precisely what Rex employs. This added quite a bit more to the economy, which is potentially why they introduced the notion of supporting units. FFG inflated the economy, but removed some of its costs, as well. Remember that in design, everything must be in balance. If you have a deep game with several layers, modifying one layer will affect another. 

Finally, the addition of the supported rule put the Fremen faction at a strong disadvantage. To address this, Fremen were considered supported (for free) when fighting outside of strongholds. In Rex, the Sol faction (aka Fremen) is able to add units for free to certain zones and gains Units in the recruitment phase at a higher rate. Essentially, they have an economic advantage when bringing forces to bear in certain situations.

My Analysis

It seems very clear that Dune, overall, is a slower, less forgiving, and longer game, based primarily on its economic tuning. Units cost more to add to the board, they take longer to bring back from the dead, there is less money in circulation, no default income provided except when you are broke, and leaders are more difficult to revive.

Basically, if you screw up in Dune? You're toast.

Dune, in this sense, is probably appreciated more by those who pay greater attention towards long term planning. Units are sent to battle more cautiously. It also gives a very big incentive for gaining the treachery cards (battle modifiers) and killing leaders via traitors. In our game of Rex, the cost of the Treachery cards was generally relatively low, primarily to hinder the player gaining the income for their purchase. I think if Treachery cards hold more weight, this bidding phase will be more lively and compelling.

For my personal tastes, and I think modern tastes in general, cutting the game in half (from 15 to 8 rounds), making sure everyone has income, and increasing the rate of bringing back troops seems to have the advantage of speeding up the game with fewer negative consequences.

However, I believe the best version of the game is a bit of the advanced Dune with some notes from Rex. 10 Rounds, with the Carryalls and Smugglers, 2 Spice blows, and binding negotiation throughout seems to be a really strong way to play. Regaining Traitors and having a bounty for killed leaders looks fantastic and really puts a proper edge on conflict. Also, with the troop limitations, but a little more income, I think it leaves a little currency for bribery and increasing the bids on the treachery cards, which then increase in value.

But, economics aside, it's difficult to ignore some of FFG's improvements. The new board is far simpler and in the best way. Having a guaranteed first player rotation might remove a layer, but it's not one I think most people would miss. Shifting counter-clockwise to clockwise is just an obvious choice.

Some of the tactical decision are, I think, streamlined in the right way. Instead of stronghold versus non-stronghold, FFG put the increased deployment tax on enemy-held regions, which means you can move into open spaces freely. This makes them quite valuable, but you can't just hot-drop into an enemy space without paying. They also swapped the order of movement and deployment. Therefore, while speeding up the game's flow, they still preserved some difficult decisions on where and when to allocate troops.