Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rex: First Impressions

So here we sit with Rex: Last Days of An Empire. An almost mythical game, reborn back in 2012 from the ashes of Avalon Hill's original Dune board game from 1979.

I have taken it apart, assembled all the pieces and played a single turn. The single turn took an hour, because I was constantly checking the rules and explaining the game.

Assembly took 2 hours because of the lively discussions focused on how the battle wheels and Dreadnaught Fleet should go together.

Play was lively, I enjoyed it, but will definitely need more of it to get the full picture.

So these are rough observations.


An incredible theme. Dune was one of the first "ecological" science fiction novels. It created an entirely alien culture of distant future humans, inventing an astounding level of detail that nevertheless manages to be very cohesive.

Yet Rex is certainly not Dune. There is not a character from Dune, a creature or even a word that exists within Rex. The aliens are lifted from Christian T Peterson's Twilight Imperium universe and bear absolutely no relation.

So it comes as something of a shock that I felt connected to Dune even as a I played this game which had nothing to do with it. If you've read Dune, you will see it in this game too. From the suicide-squad-style tactics used in the battles, to the traitor mechanics, to the betrayal win conditions.

The spice Melange, in particular, cannot be under-appreciated.

"Influence" is what you harvest in this game. But as to why it randomly "blows" up from the ground, and why your agents slowly hoover it up a piece at a time doesn't make a huge amount of sense unless you consider the original source.

If you haven't read Dune, the plotting, poker-hand bluffing and inevitable backstabbing might feel torn right from the pages (or TV screen) of Game of Thrones. With the added awesomeness of being in space.

The Play

The movement of the pieces feels like an older game. There is no deck building or worker placement to be found. And honestly, I enjoyed it. You get to move your pieces and pass the turn…instead of the fractured micro-turn splinters a lot of games are serving up nowadays.

And there is absolutely no dice rolling. Movement is standardized and easily anticipated. Combat is a simple affair, once the multiple layers of bluffing and strategy cards are played. Winning or losing is like revealing a poker hand…you know who is going to win, unless they've been feeding a line all along, and only now reveal their true power.

Finally winning (although I never got to this point) is an incredible array of victory conditions depending on faction. There is a faction of magical turtles who must guess which faction will win and on what turn. If they are correct, they are actually the faction that wins. I can only imagine these turtles were once the Bene Gesserit,

Which brings us to…

The Factions

In Ryan Sturm's "How to Play Podcast" on Rex, he mentions how playing the different factions feels almost like playing different games.

Typical Rex faction card.

Each faction has a mountain of special rules. Each starts in a different location, with different currency levels and troop levels as well. I am reminded of Axis and Allies, or any other game based on a real conflict. The sides could not be more uneven, and explaining the exceptions to inexperienced gamers would be a nightmare. Especially if someone refuses to read their faction card.

Do the factions feel like Dune? Of course. It's pretty easy to guess when faction were originally House Harkonnen. And the others stand out pretty well too. But again, referring instead to Game of Thrones it would be just as easy to see them as House Lannister, House Stark, House Greyjoy and so on.


No one understands combat until you go through it once. I explained it multiple times, but no one "got it" until the first actual battle happened. Let me say it now: in Rex, all soldiers are suicide-bombers. The only soldiers you don't lose are the ones you choose not to commit to the battle in the first place. And if you lose, the ones you held back die too. Battles are horrible, unless you have a trick up your sleeve. And usually your opponent has a trick or too as well.

In the above battle, the mewling Federation of Sol uses a cowardly atmospheric ionizer to cancel out my glorious biological weapon. He didn't really need to, though, because he also happened to have a TRAITOR card matching my deployed leader. Playing the traitor card removes all strategy cards from the battle, destroys my leader, and murders all of my troops being led by said leader at the time. A true Dune-style betrayal.

Finally the Dreanaught Fleet

The Dreadnaught Fleet, under nominal control of the Federation of Sol, conducts bombing upon the board as it leisurely travels in a slow orbit. Anything its path crosses is immediately destroyed.

The Fleet is represented by a intricately crafted miniature.

I'll keep it short: this little guy will break the moment your kid grabs it off the table. The moment someone bumps it with their elbow. The moment you put it in the box and close the lid. But it will be easy enough to use anything, since the Dreadnaught simply moves around the board independent of any of the factions.

More thoughts are certainly to come. But first I will have to play it all the way through. Hopefully with six players. Is it possible? Can I do it? If I can't you probably won't hear about it. But if I do…you know where to read it.

Until next time…

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