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A collection of bits from Dune: Imperium - Uprising, including cards depicting Timothy and Zendaya, plus wooden water and spice tokens. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

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Movie delay be damned, Dune: Imperium - Uprising brings the battle for Arrakis home

It does not get any more metal than riding into battle on these tiny plastic sandworms

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Even though its release was delayed by over a year on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was both a critical and a commercial success. So too, it seems, was Dire Wolf Digital’s ambitious board game Dune: Imperium. When Polygon reviewed it in early 2020, we called out its easy-to-learn deck-building mechanics and its lightning-fast pace. Since that time, the game has gone on to achieve an excellent reputation among fans of strategy board games, and it’s been supplemented by multiple excellent expansions. So what’s up with this sequel, Dune: Imperium - Uprising?

Oddly enough, Uprising faces a similar hurdle as it comes to retail this November. The game is rushing into the busy holiday shopping season with all guns blazing: cards decked out with the likenesses of the film’s theatrical cast, a series of in-depth developer diaries to explain itself, and even a surprisingly low-key private tournament hosted by hype manufacturer Mr. Beast. But once again, the movie that the game is based on has been delayed, this time on account of the strike between the Screen Actor’s Guild and the AMPTP.

Can Dire Wolf succeed again in the face of these headwinds? Time will tell, but the good news is that Dune: Imperium - Uprising is excellent.

There’s yet another wrinkle this time around, however. Uprising isn’t a sequel in the traditional sense of the word. It’s more an augmentation of the original board game, to the extent that it’s fully compatible with all of the existing expansions already on the market. But its updates to the original game are both significant and substantial, making them well worth the $60 price point. Additionally, Dire Wolf has packed a few curious goodies inside the box — including an all-new six-player game mode.

Just as in the original, Uprising’s deck-building mechanic should be familiar to anyone who has played similar games in the genre — including Dire Wolf’s own Clank! series, but also games like Slay the Spire, Gloomhaven, and Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game. Each player at the table manages a short stack of cards, which can be purchased from a communal pool that sits along the sideboard. The satisfaction comes in tailoring the number and type of cards in your deck to create the most effective engine to advance your strategy.

The biggest change from the original Dune: Imperium is the inclusion of spies — small gray wooden tokens that can provide big advantages from round to round. In addition to being a deck-building game, Uprising (just like the original) is also a worker-placement game. That means players are fighting each round to be the first, and therefore only, player to be able to take certain actions by occupying certain spaces on the board. Spies, in addition to providing other benefits, allow a second player to occupy a space already held by another player’s token. It may not sound like much when written out like that, but when executed with precision, a spy’s placement can swiftly change the course of the game.

As a result of this and other changes to the core game loop, the factions themselves — the game ships with nine total — more fully come into their own during the course of play. Characters from House Atreides — Including Muad’Dib and Gurney Halleck — are powerful offensive leaders, while Lady Jessica and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen have complex, evolving, and unique skills that provide a challenging ramp-up with a powerful payoff. More so than the original, the characters in Uprising feel more thematic and gratifying to fans of the source material. It’s the ultimate blend of heady strategic decisions and a highly thematic, Ameritrash-style presentation.

Four white plastic sandworms sit on a game board with a Citadel paint pot for scale.
Four highly detailed plastic sandworms come bundled inside the box alongside the standard wooden meeples. 18-milliliter paint pot for scale.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

But by far my biggest takeaway from the game is how much it emphasizes decisive military conflict compared to the original. The secret to Uprising’s success when it comes to combat? Sandworms, naturally, which tower physically over the game board with a handful of screen-accurate plastic miniatures. There is nothing quite like setting up your enemies for a crushing defeat, drawing out their forces toward what seems like an unprotected objective, only to bring down one — or more! — towering Shai-Hulud to utterly destroy them on the battlefield.

Dire Wolf has gone to great lengths to add even more value inside this box, including alternate wooden sandworm tokens for traditionalists. They’ve also included all the bits you need to ensure compatibility with existing expansions, and that alternate mode of play for a table of six. But that still may not be enough for fans who were looking for something less than a full-price board game. In my experience, however, the upgrades to the game’s core mechanics provide enough value to justify the upgrade.

Dune: Imperium - Uprising delivers on the promise of Frank Herbert’s Dune series, leverages more than ever the incredible world-building of Denis Villeneuve, and amps up the challenge of an already desirable strategy game. Whether you’re a fan of the source material or not, I count it among the few must-play tabletop games released this year.

Dune: Imperium - Uprising will ship in November. The game was reviewed using a pre-release physical copy provided by Dire Wolf Digital. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.


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