Monday, February 18, 2008

Can Dune be rethemed and still be Dune?

There's some excitement in Geekdom over word that Fantasy Flight Games is going to publish a new edition of Dune, widely considered one of the true classic of gaming. FFG is known for its excellent quality product, so rejoicing was widespread.
Ah, but wait! It turns out that FFG didn't get the licensing right from the Herbert estate, so their Dune will have to be rethemed, reportedly into FFG's Twilight Imperium universe. If so, will this still be Dune?
I don't see how it can be anything other than a brand new game that resembles Dune in its playing style.
Rethemed Euros are fairly common, because theme is definitely secondary to the game design for them. But even there, a rethemed edition will generally be considered a new game.
But with wargames theme is central, Indeed, the design achievemnt in Dune is how well the game captures the thematic elements of the Dune novel, which is no mean achievement considering the complexity of that book. From the Bene Gessert prediction, to the Atreides foresight to the spice blows the game's key elements make sense only in the Dune context. Will a Twilight Imperium edition merely copy those mecahnics and paste on some new justification? Or will the game strive to capture the spirit of the T.I. universe and come up with entirely different rules that reflect that setting? The first choice seem likely to leave fans of both dissatisfied, while the second choice will remove the game even more from being a new "Dune."
Many classic games have second and even third lives with different publishers. Games such as Diplomacy, Acquire, A House Divided, Napoleon, War at Sea and Russian Campaign have been reprinted successfully.
But some games can never be replicated, especially wargames that rely on licensing because they are set in a proprietery setting. Dune is one of those. The Avalon Hill edition will never be seen again. If you want one, ebay is your option.

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