Chris
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Though here at journey's end I lie in darkness buried deep, beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep, above all shadows rides the Sun, and Stars forever dwell: I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell.
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Originally published on menwithdice.com.

Image courtesy of boardgamegeek
user GiochinScatola

Rex sits in the shadow of the legacy of the classic boardgame Dune. The short version of the story is that Fantasy Flight wanted to reprint Dune, but could not obtain the rights. So they switched to plan B, and took the Dune rules and plopped it into their in-house Twilight Imperium setting. Many folk’s opinions of Rex frame it in the context of Dune, and opine that the setting impacts the enjoyment of the game.

Image courtesy of
boardgamegeek user Lou-Dawg

I’ve never played, read, seen, tasted, sampled, dated, or shoveled Dune. I have no emotional attachment to the Dune universe nor any predisposition towards the classic game. So this puts me in a position to assess Rex without those external attachments and view it without personal affections altering my view. And the verdict is that Rex is a variable player power fest with a roller coaster of narrative and off-the-charts interaction.

One of the features that immediately grabs you is the variable player powers. And those powers are enormously variable. Throughout this review I’ll be making generalizations about how the game functions. Consider this a blanket disclaimer that for anything I describe, there’s a faction or ability that breaks that rule.

Here’s a few of the highlights of the differences in the factions:

Imperials: This faction is the only one that gets special, more powerful units. Imperials will also be flush with cash to deploy these strong units.
Fishbowl Heads: Knowledge is power, and these guys get to know a lot of information that is otherwise hidden. During battle, they get an information advantage on their opponent. They also get foreknowledge of what’s going to happen at the card flip for next turn.
Dark Elves of Receding Hairlines: Treachery abounds in this game, and these guys are 4 times more likely to have your leader in their back pocket. They also have access to twice as many battle swinging cards.
Humans: Everyone else has to pay to put out guys. Not humans. Their guys come out completely free. But they can only deploy in certain areas of the board. And they get a movement bonus. Humans also get a special victory condition.
Lions: These guys usually have all the money they could possibly want. Every time someone puts out a dude, they pay the money to the lions. This is so tradition bending that after 8 plays we still sometimes mistakenly pay it to the bank instead of the lion faction. Oh, and on top of this unparalleled economic advantage, they get a price discount when deploying dudes. They also get a faction specific victory condition.
Turtles: Turtles get a few free units. But their main power is that they have the most game bending victory condition. At the start of the game, they pick a faction and a round number. If that factions wins on that round, they steal the victory and instead the turtles win the game. Turtle power!

The only game I can think of that also has drastically different diversity of races is Cosmic Encounter. But Cosmic is more about enjoying the bedlam of the wild, unique combination of different powers each session. Whereas Rex is about 6 fixed powers that are deliberately designed to interlock and foil each other. Because of that, while the game can claim to support 3-6 players, we play it exclusively with 6. When all the factions are in play, you get all the thrills.

A feature I desire in any boardgame is direct conflict. Direct conflict is an easy way to create interaction. When I attack you, we are in contention to change our standing in the game. Having direct conflict forces us to interact by having my game state challenging your game state. This interaction is most meaningful when there are meaningful decisions for both players in order to execute the combat. Out of all of the combat resolution systems I’ve seen in games, Rex is my favorite.

In other conflict games, often the only meaningful decision is when and where to attack. Resolving it is typically just some form of randomness. Another approach is to have no random factors, accompanied by a totally predictable outcome. Rex manages to have a virtually random-less battle, but still have a completely unpredictable outcome. To triumph in combat, you have to win a battle of wits across a succession of decision points. There are several choices each side makes that are done secretly and simultaneously.

Each player has to commit a number of troops. Each troop committed will add towards the total attack value. So commit lots of troops! Oh but wait, all troops committed will die, whether you win or lose. So commit very little troops! But if you lose, all your troops will die, regardless of how many you committed. So commit the most medium amount of troops!

Each player also selects one of their 5 leaders. Each leader has a different attack value that they’ll add to the battle. So commit your most powerful leader! Oh but wait, each player also will select strategy cards. Many of them kill leaders, some of them protect leaders from being killed. There’s a bit of a rock-paper-scissors relationship going. If your leader might get killed, then you don’t want to lose your most powerful one. So commit your most medium leader!

And the biggest potential surprise in battle is treachery. The leader you select could betray you. Your opponent might have a traitor card matching your leader. A traitor is the most dramatic and powerful way to win a fight. All units die for the loser, the winner loses no one, no matter what was committed before the battle.

Once the secretly chosen decisions are made, they are revealed and the attack value is totaled. This is just the number of dudes, leader strength, and possibly a card. No randomized number is added. You win or lose battles based on the decisions of the involved players.

But battles are far from deterministic. Battles are as dangerous as brawling a honey badger that is riding a bear chucking cobras at you. There are 3 different things players are secretly choosing, with multiple motivations to choose high or choose low. The outcome of each battle is often a nailbiter. Even if you have an overwhelming force, it’s still a tough decision to make sure you still win while limiting costly losses.

Even trying to position yourself for a favorable battle is an interesting challenge. Each turn you only get to do one move and then deploy in one area. So you can’t plop down fresh recruits and move it into action on the same turn. And dropping dudes straight into an enemy’s territory costs you twice as much money. At most you can start 2 fights per turn, and even doing that can be costly and challenging. Because movement and deploying is so limited, there’s a lot of tension and pressure to make it count and make it meaningful. It can require planning ahead to be able to assault the stronghold you need.

Combat resolution is far from the most intriguing thing Rex has to offer. There are many layers, conditions, surprises, and changes to how you achieve victory. At the start of reach round there’s a card flip. A few of the cards allow formal alliances to be formed, or even break previous alliances. These alliances are binding and change the victory threshold. 5 of the areas on the board are strongholds. You achieve a solo win if you control 3 out of 5 of these areas. If you have one ally, you must instead collectively control 4 strongholds. If you have a team of 3, then you must sweep the board and have all five. A team of 4 is right out.

There is variability in the frequency, timing, and total amount of alliance forming opportunities. At most there could be 4 alliance building times. They are shuffled randomly into a deck of cards, which means there will be unpredictability in the frequency and quantity of alliance forming opportunities. This adds to the rollercoaster effect.

As previously mentioned, some factions have their own victory conditions. One race wins if they control a couple of specific areas and no one has won by turn 8. Another faction wins if even after that point still no one has won. And finally there’s the turtles. They pick a faction and pick a turn number. If that person wins on that turn, turtles win instead. Having a turtle ally is always thorny. You can never be sure of their motivations.

And then there’s betrayal cards. If you’ve been paying close attention, yes, there are both betrayal cards and traitor cards. So yeah, it’s fair to say this game has an element of backstabbing. Betrayal cards kick in if you win as a team. If you fulfilled the condition on your card, you may reveal it to steal the victory all to yourself.



So while everyone is striving for a normal victory, players are simultaneously trying to manipulate the game state to accomplish treacherous motives. The game is so much more than playing the board. You also have to play the players. Manipulating outcomes and influencing your opponent’s choices is just as important as your own strategic decisions.

Victory can go back and forth like a ping pong ball. Here’s an example of the way a session may shape up. I may start off the game going towards a solo victory. My goal is 3 strongholds. I then throw my lot in with a partner. We now need 4 strongholds. That partner may suffer some serious losses and become dead weight. A new alliance card pops up, allowing me to link up with two different powerful players. My aim is now 5 strongholds, and I’m attacking my former partner. We may never hit the required strongholds, but one of our team member’s race wins if the game ends at round 8 and no one else has won. Now my objective is just to stall and block anyone else from winning. We get to the end. A team member with a fulfilled betrayal card intends to steal the victory and claim a solo win. But lo and behold the turtles predicted one of our team members would win on round 8. The betrayer is disappointed, having his stolen victory stolen before he could steal it. With all of these different victory conditions the drama is like wrestling a crocodile while bungee jumping over an active volcano.

All of this adds up to off the charts player interaction. The direct conflict pits players in meaningful chances to alter another player’s position in the game. The alliances allow for direct communication and negotiation. If you want any chance at successfully manipulating the board, you have to interact with your allies and foes.

There are also economic factors to consider in this game. The game calls it Influence, but for this review, I’m calling it what it really is: money. Two factions will naturally be flushed with cash. The rest will have to scrimp and fight and claw their way to get money.

The main way to get money is to control the territories that have it. At the start of the turn there’s a card flip. The most common thing experienced by this card flip is seeing money placed out on the board. If you control the spot with the money, you can collect it.

Dudes die rapidly. Losing your dudes can negate your money collecting efforts. Because dead troops don’t just come back to your unplaced reserves. You have to re-purchase them just to have the privilege of getting them in your reserve. And then you have to pay again to put them out on the board. Even if your one of the top 1% richest factions, there’s a five dude limit of buying dead guys and adding them to your reserves. This puts tension on managing both a limited supply of dudes and money. So money is very tight and very necessary. The way money gets dropped on the board is like throwing a cracker to 20 hungry seagulls.

There’s a handful of cards in the deck that blow up all troops wherever money spawned last turn. There’s also a fleet that roams the board, destroying all units from all players in its path. This is on top of players trying to kill each other. The risk/reward of monetized areas, the strongholds needed for victory, the roving Fleet of Death creates an interesting dynamic in assessing board position.

The fast paced ups and downs in this game is like riding a Ferrari on a roller coaster in a tornado. Who your enemies are, the outcome, your chances of winning are all constantly in flux. This makes the game full of unforeseen twists. For my tastes, a good game is one that leaves you with a good story. And a great story is one with a surprise ending. And this paragraph sounds like a great ending to this article.
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Pas L
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Good review for a great game.
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Phil Triest
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If the minority of Dune fans weren't so rabid when this game came out this game would of gained a bigger profile. It is not FFG's fault the Herbert trust was too damn greedy. Anyhow I actually prefer the TI3 theme compared to the Dune one simply because I never got into the series or the books. Anyhow, I concur that the experience of this game with veteran players is hard to better!
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chuck reaume
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As someone who loves the Dune universe and who owned - and loved - the original AH game, I was ecstatic to learn that FFG had re-imagined the classic in TI form. Of course it would have been awesome (to me) if the Dune franchise could have been used, but in the end it was - and still is - a great game.

Excellent review!
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Tiggo Morrison
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Quote:
So commit the most medium amount of troops!


Straight out of Sun-Tzu!
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Chris
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Though here at journey's end I lie in darkness buried deep, beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep, above all shadows rides the Sun, and Stars forever dwell: I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell.
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stuarttigger wrote:

Quote:
So commit the most medium amount of troops!


Straight out of Sun-Tzu!


Well played!
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Luke
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stuarttigger wrote:

Quote:
So commit the most medium amount of troops!


Straight out of Sun-Tzu!


Nice one. Yet in Rex I would commit all the troops but one.
 
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Thomas Huber-Wehner
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Make your opponent use all his troops then kill his leader!! ninja
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Jordan S.
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Rex/Dune is one of my favorites for all the reasons you state. It feels kinda like the hippy love-child between Risk and Cosmic Encounter. The combat system is brilliantly done and the player powers and the way they interact with each other is so well-realized, it's positively sublime.

I have not the slightest complaint about the change in theme and FFG (as always) made it a quality production. All the components are just beautiful and the few tiny tweaks to the original game design are all for the better, IMHO.

The only negative is that you really need exactly 6 players to make it shine they way it's supposed to.

Great review! Because of it, I think I'm going to dig Rex out of my closet again and try to rope my group into it this weekend. Fingers crossed...
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Chip Gunnell
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I'm picking up a copy of this from a friend this weekend, and reviews like this make me think I'm making a great decision.
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Zaid
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Man. You nailed it with this review.

It's a shame the Dune-fanatics slammed this game so hard upon release. I picked it up day one and I love this Ferrari ride in a roller coaster trapped in a tornado.
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Daniel Vieu
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Came here because I also know nothing about dune, picked this up because it was at a good price and I heard people loved the first implementation. This review is awesome and has me so stoked to get this to the table. So many games are 4 max, I love that this one needs six.
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Jeffery Hudson
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It's been nearly 10 years since i played my last game of Dune. I received Rex as a Christmas Present a year ago and finally got it to the table last night.

The game was fantastic. It brought back all the memories of Dune i enjoyed but we finished in 3 hours (and that was with 3 new "Dune" players). It was DUNE streamlined. All 5 of us enjoyed it and all of us will be happy to play again.

As much as I like Dune, i'm sure Rex will see more table time just due to the shortened time frame.

Don't let the lack of Dune Theme stop you from playing this great game.
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Jeffery Hudson
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Quote:
So many games are 4 max, I love that this one needs six.


You don't need need six. We played just fine last night with five. You WANT six....yes, you do want six. :)
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