Tom vs Bruce: Dune Wars

, | Tom vs Bruce

II. Bruce’s first term: The Geryk Manifesto

Being a veteran in this league has certain advantages. One of them is being able to remember the old days. Before gaming’s surrender to relentless consumerist culture and its reduction to a vehicle for selling the latest social media add-on, video games — then known as “computer games” after the room-size apparatus on which they had to be played — were at the forefront of the fight for social justice. The Dune series featured an all-powerful emperor who ruled the universe and whose autocratic methods spawned the cleverly named Fremen (a disguised spelling of the words “free men” meant to get past the era’s draconian entertainment media censorship) paralleling the civil rights marchers and Congolese mercenaries who were their contemporary philosophic brethren. Games of that time were often centered on all-powerful characters, known as “bosses”, who were the apotheoses of various oppressive ideologies and whose defeat in computer games presaged their real life demise. Political figures like Richard Nixon, military leaders like Marshal McLuhan, and religious demagogues like the Pope of Greenwich Village all met their virtual doom at the hands of rocket-launcher-wielding social reformers. The groundbreaking game “Doom”, known for its seemingly endless succession of boss fights, was actually a play on the name “Dune” and was largely an homage to its predecessor’s anti-establishment ethic. Today’s video games, centered on vapid exchanges between electronic “friends” sharing no common experience except the acquisition of a few more broadband approval badges, are a far cry from the pioneering days of computer gaming, when so many developers were harassed, imprisoned, and even executed for daring to squeeze a few bytes of democracy into 16k of code.

Dune pays tribute to these dead heroes of the diode with its overriding anti-technological theme, based on the tyranny of The Inquisition. Led by a cruel, vain Patriarch (widely thought to have been modeled on Adlai Stevenson), “Inquisitors roamed about the Empire in small task forces looking for forbidden knowledge and servants of evil”. In game terms, “Church Inquisitors fly from system to system trying to spot labs researching proscribed techs. While they are moving about, they look for labs and Churches. If they spot a lab they will move to it. If the lab contains forbidden knowledge they attack it. Scientists are sent to the rack, crucified and then burned.”

Knowing all this ahead of time lets me draw the appropriate lessons and act accordingly. It’s like a Bradygames Strategy Guide for Dune Wars, only it’s called Life: The Strategy Guide, a.k.a. History, and it will be around long, long after Bradygames goes out of business.

Secret Santa Agenda Item Number One is establishing very clear guidelines for our nation-planet. Dune Wars has some pretty cool extra victory conditions that simulate the real life conditions present on worlds created by Robert Heinlein. The first, called a “terraforming victory” based on some kind of environmental nutjobbery, suggests that growing frankencense and myrrh all over whichplace automatically transforms your planet into a kind of galactic utopia. Now I see where Brian Reynolds is funneling his PAC money.

My interest is in the second victory condition, called a Spice Monopoly or also called Someone Listened to Reason Magazine. The suggestion there is that if you are able to successfully control 65% of the spice on the planet, you may be able to get Bain Capital to outsource it for you. Since that’s a win-win for everybody, you win as well. Because I’m playing as a hard-working everyman, I’ll double-win. This game is all about playing the percentages.

Right now, that’s a long way away, because I can’t even build a spice harvester. In typical Chick fashion, Tom has started us off by researching Mining, and then instead of continuing on to Spice Extraction, he switched immediately to the water tech line and pushed straight through three techs to Arrakis Habitation. You know what that tech enables? “Oppression”. I am completely not joking.

Anyway, on turn 50, Tom left me one settler in perfect position to found a new city. It’s my refined sense of respect for History that makes me name it Sergeybrinograd.

Wind Traps give +1 water and are essential early-game improvements

Right now there isn’t much to do except build improvements and explore as fast as possible, so let me clue you in on some of the secrets of Ursula K. LeGuin’s amazing world, which has the advantage of being 100 percent historically accurate. Sand in this game acts like water in Civ IV, and water acts like food. Food acts like nothing, because there isn’t any. Seems like Tom’s halfway to his worker’s paradise already.

I need to get Spice Extraction researched, so that we can start getting those harvesters built. After that, it’s on to Education, because that is a prerequisite for Human Potential, which opens up a civic called Meritocracy. I know you’re thinking exactly what I’m thinking.

In the midst of this, it’s time to create the House of Atreides’ third city. I’m looking to combine a respectful nod to the political developments in Libya with a little more of a porn theme. The game reads my mind with its default suggestion of “Bangazi.”

Walid Jumblatt is a democratic politician in the very undemocratic nation of Lebanon. It’s typical of the courageous attitude the Dune Wars developers have toward the Middle East that when I finish researching Education, the game informs me that “the Walid – Youth Era has begun!” The prescient reference to a technology-empowered global youth movement, here on a desert planet under the grim reign of a technology-hating Patriarch, frankly gave me chills.

As I close the game in preparation for sending the turn to Tom, I pause in the wrapper to remind myself how great the wrapper music for this mod is.

Atreides score: 393
Tom: 148, Bruce: 245

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