Last summer, Denis Villeneuve, one of my favorite sci-fi directors, presented his vision for the “inedible” Dune. I had a smattering of knowledge of this universe and its many books, and knew that it had gone through many adaptations over the years. I listened to the audiobook before watching the movie and for the money the director did a fantastic job of adapting half of the first book. Can’t wait for the second part. Despite the strange timing of the release – we were still adjusting to a return to film – it was nevertheless a successful theatrical release.
During this time, several Dune games were released. While some thought it was overkill, IP fans now had several games to choose from. Portal Games was one of the publishers that brought us Dune: House Secrets. It is played by 1 to 4 players, and each chapter, of which there are four, takes 60-90 minutes.
In Dune: House Secrets, you will play as characters from different tribes and factions in the Dune universe, uniting the resistance against House Harkonnen as they manifest their power on the desert planet of Arrakis. Using the detective game system, players will work together in this first game of the planned trilogy to solve the mystery. This experience provides familiar aspects from other detective-infused games, including a story deck that provides your narration, tokens to help make story decisions more difficult, a website to access information and log deductions at the end of a chapter, and maps.
The game also has several new elements. You will earn experience points which are used to upgrade your characters and provide additional tokens later in the game. Tokens will need to be used wisely as you progress through the game, as they carry over between chapters and don’t auto-renew every chapter like in Vienna Connection, another detective experience. With getting XP and further complication of plot decisions, the inclusion of Consequence tokens in the game is connected. If you want to access Story Cards that have Consequence Tokens on them, you will try to get lucky from the Token Pool and risk affecting the experience you earn in this chapter. This is a little different than using the character tokens you have and adds tension to a simple story choice.
Dune: House Secrets makes some assumptions about your introduction to the sci-fi world of Frank Herbert. This is a carefully written universe with a menagerie of characters, dynamic motifs and futuristic gadgets. Think of the connections at the Game of Thrones level. While this is incredibly satisfying for a viewer or reader who loves twisted stories, it also comes with a new lexicon. House Secrets uses this new vocabulary and assumes that you have either read Dune or at least seen any number of previous TV/movie adaptations. Because appreciation and familiarity with intellectual property is so rewarding, the game becomes less accessible and harder to recommend to the average fan of the genre. There is no dictionary included for referencing foreign words or phrases, so if you’re not already familiar, you’ll be looking up meanings and wasting your time getting distracted, perhaps down other logical paths that the game doesn’t take you. way down.
Every detective game has benefited from taking notes. That’s what makes a good detective, right? In Dune: House Secrets, you need to set aside all the information received and review the extended story before starting the next chapter. There will be many places and characters that you will meet along the way of the story, many of which have not very memorable names and relationships. If life gets in your way and you can’t play this game without weeks or months, like I did, you’ll be completely lost and feel like you need to start over. If you play alone, who will tell you the results? While I didn’t mind taking notes, some might not like this secretarial aspect of the experience, even if it helps to make sense of the information received.
Dune: House Secrets is another detective experience that I think is best played solo and will probably only be played once. While it’s a bit liberal to call it a game, it’s primarily a “choose your own adventure” experience. You need to read a lot and choose which way of storytelling to choose. While I didn’t mind this from Dune, I was curious about what other people thought. In the interests of this curiosity, I committed the cardinal sin of the Internet by reading the comments, in particular the comments of the BGG rating, to find out. Based on the number of 1 ratings I found, this was a huge complaint. This surprised me.
Vienna Connection has a much better rating and I felt the experience was similar compared to that. Of course it had more puzzles, and maybe that made it more fun. But both lacked a certain amount of player autonomy outside of single player. Whatever character you decide to “play” as, you won’t take turns or do any of the normal things you expect in a game. Your character’s contribution is a token of a certain color for making story decisions. The player’s contribution can only be a group vote on which map to explore next, or a map reading. I can’t imagine this being an entertaining experience in a group setting.
Since House Secrets is basically a standalone story, despite the various paths you can take along the way, it’s unlikely that it will be played more than once. Apart from wanting to know what information the unopened cards contained, I can’t imagine that would be enough for anyone to play a second time. Heck, if you really wanted to know, you’d probably just look over the deck after the game. There are two options for playing this game presented to you upon installation, so there is an option for anyone to get the most out of their purchase. But these changes mostly affect how they affect your experience and don’t change the story in any meaningful way. Speaking of XP, there are stickers in the game that you should take off and put on your game boards when you decide to upgrade them. But I think reasonably savvy players will just track it down on their own, especially if you play through the game after you’re done.
Dune: House Secrets was an interesting game that had more caveats than I expected and will impact those who find it worthy of their time. If you are a Dune fan and love to read, this game can be played solo. Otherwise, it’s not as accessible as other detective games, or not fun if you’re not familiar with Dune and are playing in a group. One of the interesting aspects of Dune: House Secrets was the Consequence pool. It provided some suspense and risk, and I hope they find ways to integrate this into future detective games. But they are few and far between, and not enough to elevate the experience beyond just a good game, or rather a narrative experience.
Final score: 2.5 stars – A great Dune-inspired story experience for single players.
• Familiar detective experience with some additional elements that add risk/reward.
• Lack of replay value, a narrative experience that is unlikely to be played twice despite offering a second way to play.
• Unfamiliarity with Dune limits accessibility, no word/phrase references included.
• Those who are looking for more “gaming” experience will be disappointed by its absence.