Dune: Spice Wars is a real-time strategy game set on a desert planet that we’ve seen a lot in books, movies, and other Dune games, but what’s exciting is that it’s not just about pushing an army: it’s also about alliances And the wider galaxy of economic dunes. In a recent hands-off demo, I saw an Atreides player exploring the surface of Arrakis from a starting area while also taking part in an imperial conspiracy, which you can see in the new trailer above at this point.
Spice Wars shares many of its design foundations with Shiro Games’ acclaimed Northgard, an RTS that focuses on capturing and controlling territory rather than spreading out across a sprawling map. This works well with the 4X DNA in Spice Wars. Vast desert terrain outlines each territory containing a small town. Conquering towns allows you to control territories, and every part of the desert can develop resources such as spices for trade, Plascrete for construction, or various rare goods in exchange for cold hard cash.
Conquering territory is more than just picking some troops and sending them forward like you do in Command & Conquer games. Factions like Atreides can diplomatically annex small towns if they wish, although this will take a lot of time. They can also join the army, but this is expensive and dangerous: the locals start a fight, and conquering one town will turn other towns against you, as Freeman bandits will then raid your territory. Additionally, any troops that venture outside of your turf will automatically go to the clock: they will die quickly once their supplies run out.
A desert is not a uniform piece of sand. Deep deserts are the equivalent of oceans in other 4X games, where infantry units quickly run out of supplies and are at great risk of being attacked by sandworms. At the same time, special areas such as polar ice caps can provide resources that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. Marketing executive Adrien Briatta said during the streaming preview that water “is going to be an issue”. Players will be drawn to the ice caps of the North Pole, which means conflict.
There is no place like CHOAM
Most of Northgard’s resources are used to build obvious material things. For that, Spice Wars really only has Solaris, Plascrete, Manpower and Water. True control of Dune will require the clever use of soft political currency, as well as agents who infiltrate and lobby important organizations. At the same time, your hard assets support these games by expanding your assets in the world.
Dune is a far more political work than military sci-fi, and Spice Wars seems to respect that. While the game only takes place in Arrakis, the politics of the wider empire and its factions are critical to success. Players will curry favor in Landsraad, trying to pass decisions and laws that favor themselves over others. The goal is to be named Governor of the Dunes, but if they get too aggressive in a military conflict, they will find the path difficult.
Landsraad’s Favor is just one of the currencies that players can accumulate and spend. Your authority will flow to likeable factions like the Space Guild, Bene Gesserit, Emperor, etc., and you’ll receive direct rewards for doing so. There’s also CHOAM, the spice sales and distribution company, which buys all the spices you don’t hoard yourself—and you have to, because the emperor also required direct taxes on spices. (You may have heard that it has to flow.)
Dune: Spice Wars will be released in Early Access steam This spring. Multiplayer, new factions and a full campaign will be added as updates to the unfinished version.