The cutthroat competition, politics, and warfare in Frank Herbert's Dune novels are a natural fit for strategy games, and Northgard developers Shiro Games are looking to capitalize on that with their upcoming RTS/4X, Dune: Spice Wars. Releasing into early access next year, Spice Wars will have us using guile, military might, and careful management of resources to control Arrakis as a number of different factions representing the Great Houses and other important groups from the setting.
The action will take place on a circular map representing Arrakis' North pole, and we'll have the option to roll up a randomized version or use an "official" configuration that is very faithful to the description in the books. While the whole planet is, of course, a big desert, the devs have gone out of their way to make sure it doesn't all feel like a big, homogeneous sandbox. They even consulted a geologist to try and come up with enough visually and mechanically distinct types of arid terrain to keep things interesting.
Rocky areas are valuable as they offer some safety from the worms. Deep Deserts are the opposite: acting almost like seas in a Civilization game, simply venturing into them will be suicidally hazardous until you unlock later techs. All military units will be limited by supplies, which can drain very quickly in unforgiving environments. And of course, the worms are an ever-present threat, with all of your units generating vibrations that will attract them. When one shows up, your only option is usually to evacuate the area until it goes away.
Becoming the ruler of Dune can be accomplished in one of three ways: destroying all of your rivals outright, being declared Governor using political maneuvering, or achieving a score-based Hegemony victory, which can vary from faction to faction. The two factions that have been revealed so far are House Atreides and House Harkonnen, and true to their lore, the former has more options for diplomacy and indirect control while the latter is focused on brutal military domination.
House choice isn't the end of the story, either, as you'll also choose a small number of consulars for each new campaign. These sub-leaders are drawn from your faction's cast of characters and can further customize your playstyle. Lady Jessica is an adept politician, for instance, while Duncan Idaho will give benefits to your military.
Spice will of course be the main resource, and the primary way to get money. Its price will fluctuate over time, and you'll always have to decide how much to sell and how much to stockpile to take advantage of this. There won't be a full supply and demand system at launch, so you can't flood the market to suddenly deflate the price or hoard your stock to keep it high, but the developers are interested in looking into that kind of system more after the initial early access release. You'll also always owe a small spice tax to the Emperor, with dire consequences if you don't pay it.
GAMES OF SUCCESSION
The Emperor isn't the only political force in the galaxy, though, and interacting with the Landsraad, a ruling council of powerful houses, will also present its own challenges and opportunities. This is your principal link to the greater game taking place beyond Arrakis, where you can vote on resolutions to help yourself and/or hinder your enemies. If you play your cards right, you can clinch a win by being named Governor of Arrakis. And not all of the maneuvering happens out in the open.
Espionage will also be a major system, though you can choose to specialize in it heavily or barely touch it at all. The ideal Shiro sees for these shadow games is to reward players who can correctly predict what their enemies are going to do. For example, your agents could launch an operation to severely hinder an oncoming enemy army if you know the attack route they plan to follow. You should feel clever for reading the board and letting the enemy play into your hands like a chess master, not merely be rewarded for deploying spies out without a plan.
All the while, we'll run into side stories that can be anything from a one-off involving the recovery of a crashed ornithopter, or a multi-step event wrapped up in political subterfuge. The devs are striving for a balance between the natural storytelling that will arise from the AI Baron Harkonnen you're playing against, well… acting like Baron Harkonnen, and more handcrafted mini-stories like this. They mentioned Stellaris as a point of comparison, though each campaign should take only a few hours to finish as opposed to dozens.
We'll be able to pack our bags and head for Arrakis when Dune: Spice Wars hits early access some time in 2022.
Leana Hafer is a freelance writer for IGN