Tom vs Bruce: Dune Wars

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VI. Bruce’s third term: The House on Totilo Hill

When you started reading this, I’m wondering if you thought to yourself, “I hope this contains some Dune universe fan fiction written by Tom Chick!” Because I think Tom is considering another Kickstarter to help him fund the sequel to that story.

Speaking of fiction, before we started this game, one thing I looked into was getting a hardcover first edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Sort of a memento to commemorate my first victory in the renewed Tom vs. Bruce wars. That turned out to be no problem, as long as I was willing to part with fifteen thousand dollars. If some wear in the dust jacket or even a tear or two are okay, that might come down to seventy-five hundred or even forty-seven hundred clams. Disappointed, I decided to lower my horizons from a fantastic galactic war of untold dimensions to just some skirmish over an overgrown island. Sights suitably lowered, I was able to secure a slightly damaged 1943 first edition of James Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary, at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, for nine bucks.

As the political and military situation on virtu-Arrakis went progressively pear-shaped, I found that changing my book acquisition activities from “Mission Accomplished” type showmanship to practical information on how to survive a ferocious military campaign in a hostile, alien environment never previously encountered really paid off. While I was reading Tregaskis’ account of Admiral Halsey’s visit to the troops on Guadalcanal, it occurred to me that unlike Vandegrift’s 1st Marines, I don’t have a lot of troops defending all the social programs that Tom has tricked me into building.

I’ve reviewed the numbers, and it’s pretty clear to everyone here on the spice desk that we aren’t going to be monopolizing anything melange-wise in this epoch. The whole “spice monopoly” thing has me more than a little bitter, and here’s why: the “control 65% of the spice” isn’t some kind of reward for creating a hyper-efficient spice cartel and distribution network. Instead, it’s really just another form of territorial victory. While the Great Spice Sea is just off our own Eastern Seaboard, there isn’t a sufficient concentration of it relative to the planet’s overall spice supply to form some kind of strategic focal point for conflict. Instead, “control the spice” is really another way of saying “control a lot of territory.” Which is great, except the Fremen beat us to it.

Instead, we have a lot of other problems. One of them is the fact that I’m running a lot of peaceful, spice-outsourcing programs, and other players are making machines that shoot guns and hurt people. While trying to parse the real-life reference the Dune martyrs were trying to convey in the “Tahaddi-Strength Era” message I just got, I decided I should concentrate on the “Strength” part. My research shifts to Aerial Combat, which should give me a ton of upgrades for my flying units, once I build desert airports.

Detail of the Great Spice Sea southeast of Minas Tirith, showing Fremen and Corrino encroachment.

There’s a place just south of the city of Kotaku Rock which I’ll call Totilo Hill. The reason for that name is that the Harkonnens are piling military unit after military unit onto that square, probably in some kind of massive investigative journalism effort to find out what my game developers in Kotaku Rock are developing. Like any good PR firm, I’m preparing a nuclear response capable of wiping them out before they can print a single carriage return.

I have another problem developing, though, and that’s House Corrino. You may remember them from the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy by Brian Herbert. They’ve set up on our southwestern border and I don’t have much down there right now to be able to hold off both them and the Harkonnens. I shuffle some Hardened Bladesmen down through Sergeybrinograd.

With the news that we’ve researched Aerial Combat, I set our research path to Mobile Armor, Military Complex, and finally Aerial Tactics. As soon as we get Military Complex, we will be able to build the Mongoose Trooper, a powerful and versatile infantry unit that can intercept aircraft, and gets bonuses against non-infantry units (including +100% against vehicles). My strategy will combine these with aggressive probing attacks towards Totilo Hill with Light Scorpions (enabled by Mobile Armor) which are good open-terrain units and can withdraw from combat. I’m hoping to whittle down the Harkonnens and then bring in the upgraded Thopters once Aerial Tactics is complete. We have a fully formed war-winning strategy!

But faster than you can say Errol Morris’ Fog of War, the Harkonnens start rolling down Totilo Hill. Entrenched at Kotaku Rock are the finest of House Atreides. The 5th Mobile Armor Regiment is fully equipped with Light Scorpions upgraded to First Strike – except that they’re handicapped on defense. The 2nd Caladan Guard, composed of elite Hardened Bladesmen, is great for city attack – less so for city defense. The Royal Thopter Wing is excellent for scouting and harassment, but mismatched in a close-quarters fight for our southernmost city. The hornet’s nest on the hill got poked a few too many times by my nuisance raids. I guess I should have remembered the lesson of Giedi Prime.

And so down they march, Harkonnen Sardaukar Troopers, the Mentat-slaughtering, Duncan Idaho-subverting swine, and in the largest single battle I have ever seen in Civilization IV, the finest soldiers of House Atreides are put to the space sword. Speaking of Mentats, I did have a sizable force defending Kotaku Rock. Not anymore.

This all plays out on a laptop in a Starbucks in Queens, over a cinnamon dolce latte and their free wireless Internet. Yeah, I’m the guy playing video games in Starbucks. The battle takes forever. At least ten minutes. It’s so crowded that I have a hard time taking notes without overturning someone’s coffee. At one point a guy turns around and jostles me, my coffee, my notebook, and the virtual Arrakis of my laptop as he’s trying to take his drink back to his table. “Er, sorry about that,” he says. “Not nearly as sorry as Duke Leto, my friend” I mutter without taking my eyes off the screen as one after another Atreides military unit bites the dust. I wonder what his reaction was. Probably similar to what Tom’s will be when he gets the turn file.

Atreides score: 2205
Tom: 1602, Bruce: 603

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