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Dave Shapiro
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Rex: A Different Perspective

My purpose here is not to describe the mechanics, the how to play or begin/continue the debate on Dune versus Rex. I hope to present players who are 'on the fence' about trying or purchasing the game, a taste of what Rex offers the players. If you are expecting a 'put the key in the slot and turn forward until the engine engages' type of review - look elsewhere. This is more on the order of: when I pressed the accelerator to the floor, I could feel the vibration crawl up my spine.


There was a time (about twenty tears ago) where the game group I played with, played Dune with fanaticism. We played it every week for more than two months. These games were most often six player games with the occasional five player game tossed in. There were other games that were played to this degree such as Civilization (loved it), Diplomacy (the only game I've ever played where one player physically attacked another) and Supremacy (hated it). These were the days when cable tv and computers were in their infancy. We had the time and the desire.

As time passed and marriage, kids, work and ambition intruded, the group shrunk and the composition changed. Lighter, shorter games took the place of the previous collection. For a short period, Cosmic Encounter was as close to Dune as we played. Some of us missed the old games and about ten years ago we were able to convince the group to try Dune. (Civilization was out of the question as everyone had played the computer version.) We played a few times but the length of the game killed it. Very often the game ran more than two hours and with late arrivals and the need for some to depart for home commitments, the games became rushed, uninspiring and unsatisfactory.

There are two items I would like to mention here. First, some of the players who joined the group later were not familiar with the Dune literature or even the film. Attempting to explain the Dune saga in a reasonable amount of time was impossible. One of the original members of the group mentioned that the Dune game had originally been themed as a Roman political game. He actually invented a Roman themed story to explain the mechanics. The goal was to become Caesar by controlling three of the five critical strategic points near Rome. Spice was an abstracted method for describing influence, money and food. The storm represented an invasion of barbarians. As everyone was, at least mildly, familiar with ancient Rome, this worked.

The second item I want to mention is the resolution of the time problem for our group. We decided to play Dune only on the nights when everyone had the time. Often this meant that we played with fewer than six players. I have played with as few as three players and I discovered that with the change in the number of players, the game changed. Of the various configurations, I preferred the five player version but among knowledgable players any of the configurations offered a challenging and entertaining experience.

Now, what does all of this have to do with Rex? I believe it is appropriate that you understand the history I had with the game before I comment on Rex. I am not a Dune purist; in fact, when I read that Fantasy Flight was unable to obtain the Dune license, I had hoped they would consider the original theme. It is my intent to consider Rex in a vacuum; not as a Dune reprint but as a game in its own right.

Rex is a game of conflict; it can surprise, challenge, excite and disappoint. This is not a game that can be played casually; it is significantly deeper than a cursory reading of the rules would indicate. There are some games where the actions of your opponents are of minimal impact. These can be very thought provoking experiences. There are other games that draw on, not only straight analytic considerations but on intuition, personal experience and even 'feeling'. These types of games are driven by the combined actions of the players. There can be no formula, no best move because the various player interactions are the driving force of the game. Rex is one of these games.

Consider the difference between two older Euro games: Carcassonne and Modern Art. Carcassonne, like Dominos, allows the player to examine a few tiles and play what is available. There is very little player interaction; simply make the best move with what you have. Modern Art requires the player to analyze what painting to offer, what is the potential value, the playing styles of the other players and possibly bluff a bit. Carcassonne, like Dominos, is fairly linear; Modern Art, even with such simple rules, can be convoluted, deep with significant amounts of surprise. Carcassonne is mechanic driven; Modern Art is player driven. Rex is a player driven game.

There are six factions in the full Rex game. Each has a unique ability and in some cases, a unique victory condition. Among experienced players the factions are well balanced however, some of the factions are significantly more difficult to play well than others. It is similar to Diplomacy in this aspect. Like Diplomacy, often it is not the combat on the board that determines the winner. I might win a strategic area while setting my opponent up for a much more critical move.

Even the combat is deeper than most other games. When you engage I combat there are a multitude of factors to consider. At the strategic level, you must determine how valuable the location is to your plan weighing that against the potential loss of assets (troops, cards, etc.). It is possible to win an area but weaken yourself. At this level the player must consider the position of all of his opponents, not just the one he is attacking, and their individual victory conditions while watching the turn track. Assuming that after these considerations the player decides to proceed with the assault then the next set of factors must be evaluated.

There are four items to examine when planning your combat: troop strength, leaders, attack cards and defense cards. The first is how many troops you wish to commit to the battle. Of course you want to use enough to win the location while having a sufficient number to retain control if you win. Consider this example: both player's have 8 troops in a location. How many troops should be committed to win the location (troops committed are lost) while allowing me to retain control of the area? At first glance you might suggest 7 troops. That might be fine but what of the other players in the game? How close are their troops to this location? When do they play in turn order? What will I require to maintain my control?

Leaders are the second facet of the attack plan. Each faction has a group of leaders that add additional strength to the combat value of the troops committed. A novice might automatically select the highest valued leader. However, at the beginning of the game, each player is allowed to select an opponent's leader as a traitor. (One faction has the ability to select all four of the leaders he draws as traitors.) If during battle the traitor-leader is used, the player loses all troops, cards and the leader he had selected. This can be devastating. This is one of the moments when you must consider the play style of your opponent. Would he have selected your most powerful leader as a traitor or would he select a less powerful one as this would not be an obvious choice. (The traitor selection is actually more complex than how I have presented it here. My point here is combat considerations, not how traitors are selected.) do I chance 'the big guy' or try something else? Do I use a less valuable leader while committing additional troops or select a strong leader and reduce my troop commitment?

The last two factors to consider in combat is the attack card and the defense card. Players are permitted to include one of each in their battle plans. Some of these cards kill leaders or have other powers. One of the factions is allowed to see the card when purchased. If this faction is your opponent, does he remember what you purchased? Which card do you play? Will you need it for future battles?

All of the discussion above serves to relate the complexity of the decisions required just for combat in Rex. It may appear too complex until one begins to grasp the concepts. The rules are simple and exact. The decisions are deep. This is one of the reasons I find Rex to be so entertaining. In the combat discussion above. Every single choice a player makes could be changed if he was in combat with a different opponent. The tactical decisions rival some of those found in the best of games.

Each faction has a limited number of troops. In addition to controlling the strategic areas, players will usually need 'influence'. Influence is money. It can be used to buy troops, cards, etc. one faction receives the influence (money) bid on the various cards in the game. The other players must scavenge for influence. Each turn influence may pop up in different areas. Sending troops to retrieve that influence weakens their strength in other areas and exposes them to destruction. It is possible that the next card turned will destroy everything in the last space where influence popped up. This would include any and all troops in the area. In addition to this there is the Dreadnought Fleet which moves at the end of every turn. As it moves to the new location, it sweeps away everything in it's path and this includes both influence and troops. It is a gamble to scavenge for influence but there is little possibility of victory if one is broke.

There are many people I have encountered that do not enjoy any diplomacy in a game. I agree that in some games, diplomacy is a game killer. It can stall the game, kill the pace and introduce a type of meta game to what is being played. In Rex, diplomacy is well defined. It can only occur at specific times and is rigid. Once formed it can only be broken at a specified time. Prior to forming an alliance a player must consider several factors especially due to the increased requirements for victory. Before entering an alliance the position of the other players must be considered and the particular advantage to the potential ally. If a two player alliance is formed many benefits are shared along with victory. However, your ally may actually be able to steal the victory away. The various possibilities are too numerous to examine here but it is important to know that diplomacy and the forming of alliances can alter the nature of the game. It significantly increases the dynamic nature of the game. If you are concerned about the length and depth of the negotiations, if you fear that this is too much on the order of Diplomacy, fear not. The diplomacy is slightly more than what normally occurs in a game of classic Risk. It is (usually) very short, very specific and open. Unlike Risk, Diplomacy or several other games, in Rex agreements are binding (and that is significant). Though it is possible to steal away a victory or backstab your ally, it is a difficult and complex affair. When it works it will deliver a gaming moment that will not be forgotten.

Rex is a science fiction themed game where up to six factions are vying for control of an empire. Those who are familiar with Cosmic Encounter will recognize some of the mechanics in the game but Rex is not a 'serious version of Cosmic Encounter.'

The graphic layout is excellent in communicating information to the players. early on I wondered why Fantasy Flight went with cardboard chits versus plastic figures. Once we began playing I appreciated the chits as it quickly conveyed the information rather than counting plastic figures. As each faction is identified by color and symbol, there is no problem for a color blind player. (Unless you are colorblind, it is difficult to fathom the problems encountered with playing games having identical sculpts that differ by color only. Though I like the game, Through the Desert is tough.) The only disappointment in the graphics is the board itself. I would have preferred something with a greater variety of color and design. It is simply esthetic and does not affect the game in any manner; just personal taste.

For players new to this game allow me to make a suggestion. Give it time. This is not a game that reveals itself in one or two plays. Many of the possible complex interactions and situations will not occur in one game. Know that there is a learning curve; a real learning curve. Some games are said to have a learning curve until you become familiar with the cards in the game. In Rex, memorizing every card will not work. It is a very subtle game; this is not Risk with large armies pounding across the map. If you spend the time, the reward is significantly more than that presented by most other games.

One of the changes incorporated into the Rex design is the reduction in the number of turns. With only eight turns, everything becomes more critical. There is no time to turtle; no throw away turns where you can wait to see what others are doing. Unlike so many other games, Rex is tense from the beginning to the end.

Rex is deep, very deep. I suggest that anyone who plays the game ten times will admit that they were repeatedly surprised and that even after all of these plays, they are continuing to discover new wrinkles to the game. There are many trivial games available. There are quite a few good games. There are only a handful of great games and Rex is one of them.
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Moritz Eggert
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Thanks for this well-written summary! Your experiences with the original "Dune" are very similar to mine - we met at Guido's game store in Frankfurt every week, playing either Dune or Advanced Civilization. Those were the days...
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Peter Asimakis
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Another vote of thanks for the time and effort put into this review.
Your passion for the game comes through in the writing.
I too played Dune as a younger man, great gaming moments indeed.
I bought the French Descartes version new at my FLGS many years ago,
prior to my knowledge of the existence of BGG.
I returned it because I hadn't a gaming group to play it with.
Kicking myself for that mistake ever since.
I have just ordered Rex, and your review makes the anticipation of it's arrival even more enjoyable.
Thanks again.

PLB.
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Tim Kelly
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Excellent. Thank you!
TK
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Mike Smith
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I have only played Rex once (Dune maybe 10 times or so) but your feelings seem perceptive and nuanced, and your warnings to certain types of player justified. Great review.
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Stephen Williams
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I concur with the rest. A fantastic review of a fantastic game. It's a huge wall of text, but if anyone out there is considering buying Rex and just glossed over the OP's post and scrolled down here, I highly recommend you go back up and read it through. =)

I agree that Rex is not Dune and probably should not be treated as "connected" in any way to its predecessor. That said, understanding the history of the game engine can provide valuable insight into "why FFG made decision X about the game." As such, the OP's background in Dune speaks well of his opinions about Rex.
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Martin Presley
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Excellent review! We need more passionate articles that treat games as a whole, rather than dry rules summaries followed by bullet points of pros/cons. Love it!

Unfortunately, I don't have a regular group to play board games with, so I can't give this game a fair shake at this time. If I ever do get a standard group together, though, I'll be sure to throw down.
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Dan
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The key to this game is paying attention to how OTHERs win, and using psychology, guesswork and manipulation to pull victory out of their mouths at the last second.

Excellent review.
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jbrier
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I have little interest in this genre of games yet for whatever reason clicked on this article anyways. Once I started reading I couldn't stop, as I was completely engrossed in the style and substance of your review. This is what reviews should be like, not the myriad of pictures and shallowness of substance that so often gets passed for a review nowadays. A million times bravo.
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Luis Fernandez
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Great review of the game! i played once and feel like you were explaining, is a good game and i love the theme!
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Łukasz 'farmer'
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Wonderful review!
Thank you!

yours,
 
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Stefan Lopuszanski
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So hear me roar! RAWR! (Or ask me about it)
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verandi wrote:
I have little interest in this genre of games yet for whatever reason clicked on this article anyways. Once I started reading I couldn't stop, as I was completely engrossed in the style and substance of your review. This is what reviews should be like, not the myriad of pictures and shallowness of substance that so often gets passed for a review nowadays. A million times bravo.


Oh, come on. Pictures would have made this great review even GREATER!
 
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David Williams
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I probably will never play this game, but I really enjoyed reading such a well thought out review.
 
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