Dune: Imperium – Rise of Ix
It’s safe to say that the positive reception to Dune: Imperium by gamers around the world has exceeded all of our expectations. Count me and the team here at Dire Wolf among the fans extremely excited about the upcoming release of Legendary Picture’s Dune movie this fall. I started working on the first expansion, Rise of Ix, late last summer before the base game’s release, and the development team began working on it in early 2021. This timing allowed us to consider early player feedback while making development decisions.
Like all of the best strategies for galactic domination, our plans for Dune: Imperium are long-term. The base game is focused mostly on the events that correspond to the same timeline of the first movie, with art inspired by the movie’s style, actors, and locations. When it came to the first expansion, we decided to hold off on events and characters from the much-anticipated movie sequel, so that we can maximize coherence and immersion between the game and the movies in a later expansion.
That meant that we wanted to take a conceptual detour for the first expansion. Fortunately, the massive Dune universe offered us several good options. The world of Ix and its advanced technology culture offered a great thematic match for some gameplay ideas I’d been playing around with, and we quickly zeroed in on our new thematic focus.
One of the main goals for this expansion was to offer players more ways to spend their resources. While Dune: Imperium already includes a variety of paths and play patterns, I suspected that as players became more experienced with the game over time, they would appreciate even more diverse options. For example, in the base game, you almost always want to accrue Solari (the game’s “money”) to acquire a Swordmaster and/or a High Council seat. And you have a few good options for spice that you harvested – either selling it via CHOAM to convert it to Solari or use it to visit a few powerful spaces on the board. I wanted to disrupt these common patterns – not eliminate them, as much as offer more opportunities and increase replay value.
One of the main ways Rise of Ix does this is through the use of tech tiles. These tiles are randomly shuffled at the start of the game, and three of them are put on offer at the planet Ix. Tech tiles always cost spice, so players are now tempted to divert from their usual “spice tactics” by paying a visit to pick up a powerful piece of Ixian technology. For example, if a useful low-cost tech is revealed at the beginning of the game, you may want to make a quick spice harvest and visit Ix to pick it up before your competitors get to it.
In conjunction with offering players more opportunities to spend spice, I felt it was important to remove the base game’s Sell Melange location from the board.
The expansion introduces a small overlay board which covers the Landsraad and CHOAM areas of the original board. The CHOAM revamp gives each player control over a freighter token, representing their house’s efforts in commerce and shipping across the Imperium. When you visit one of the two CHOAM spaces – either Smuggling or Interstellar Shipping – you may either advance your freighter up on the freighter track or you may recall the freighter and earn all the rewards you’ve already reached. This offers players juicy options. Do you recall now and get those nice rewards to help propel your economy? Or do you continue to invest in your freighter for even better rewards later? I really enjoy these types of decisions and think the theme of CHOAM and commerce was a great thematic fit for it.
The lowest-tier effect of the shipping track is that you receive 5 Solari and all other players receive 1. This now allows players to earn more Solari without needing to convert spice to get it. You’ll still need to send agents to get big benefits, so the action economy is still similar, but players are now more able to direct their spice hauls into a wider variety of interesting (and hopefully effective!) choices and gameplay opportunities.
Another interesting tweak to the CHOAM overhaul was that the Interstellar Shipping space now offers players more incentives to get on good terms with the Spacing Guild. That space – which is approximately twice as powerful as its sister space, Smuggling – is only open to those players who have at least 2 Influence with the Spacing Guild. The base game already had a space – Sietch Tabr – that rewarded friendship with the Fremen, so this was a natural and thematic extension of gameplay that players were already familiar with.
While we’re on the topic of economy and offering alternatives to players, Rise of Ix offers another option that intrepid players can explore. Instead of stockpiling your Solari until you have enough to acquire either a High Council seat (at 5 Solari) or a Swordmaster (at 8 Solari), there is now also a 3-Solari breakpoint where a player can visit Ix to buy a powerful fighting vessel called a dreadnought. 3 Solari is more than most leaders can afford in the first round, but usually easily affordable in round 2 and beyond, and anyone who invests in one or two dreadnoughts will see their combat prowess raised meaningfully.
Dreadnoughts are more powerful than troops (boosting your combat strength by 3 per dreadnought) and they can’t be destroyed. If you lose a conflict where you have a dreadnought, it returns to your garrison instead of back to your supply. Each player has two dreadnought pieces, so you’ll only need to visit Ix twice to reach your dreadnought cap. And, of course, being a worker placement game, typically only one player will be able to buy a dreadnought each round, so it is not necessarily easy to reach that cap!
The other interesting thing about dreadnoughts is that they interact with the rules regarding control markers. If you win a conflict where you have at least one dreadnought, you will send one of them to take control of a space on the board.
This control lasts for one round, and then the dreadnought returns to your garrison. There is also a tech tile you can buy that skips over this effect and instead gives you an even better one – you can trade in your dreadnought for a victory point. As anyone who has played Dune: Imperium already will probably tell you, a victory point is good – you only need about 10 to win!
Paul Dennen is the Creative Director of Dire Wolf Digital, and the lead designer of Dune: Imperium, Clank!, and the upcoming Wild Tiled West, among other board games and video games.