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Subject: Dune: The Making of a Custom Boardgame rss

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Jason Lutes
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Howdy fellow 'Geeks,

At the request of several BGG denizens, I am outlining here for public perusal the steps I went through to produce my custom version of the great Avalon Hill boardgame Dune. Hopefully some of you out there will find this information of interest and take it upon yourselves to defy the forces of eBay and keep this classic alive by making your own homebrew edition.

A LITTLE HISTORY

I played the 1979 edition of Dune for the first time in 1983, when I was in 9th grade and hanging out with the Olsen Brothers, a pair of cooler, older kids who collected about them a loose agglomeration of teenage rejects and social outcasts who sought refuge from the endless, soul-sucking sprawl of suburban San Jose, California. The Olsen parents never seemed to be home, and whenever you dropped by the remodeled garage or climbed into the brothers' attic refuge, you were sure to find one form or another of escapist entertainment in the offing, whether it was watching Fred Ward ride his motorcycle through the old west in Timerider on VHS, pitting Denebian Slime Devils against Space Vikings in Galactic Gladiators on the Apple II, or sitting down to a little backstabbing internecine conflict on the cardboard surface of Arrakis. It was pretty much nerdvana.

I had been playing a lot of D&D since the 5th grade, and by 6th grade had been bitten by the boardgame bug in the form of Cosmic Encounter, but I credit Dune as the real catalyst for what has become a lifelong bout of ludophilia. After that idyllic summer of 1983, I didn't get a chance to play Dune again until exactly twenty years later, in 2003, when I won a copy on eBay during a year I spent living in Asheville, NC. I introduced my Asheville friends to the game and it was a big hit -- better even than I remembered it, since I could grok the rules more thoroughly as an adult, and I didn't lose every game to the older kids. When I left Asheville, I entrusted my copy of the game to an honorable steward and made my way back to Seattle, unsure if I would ever play it again.

As fate (or the Bene Gesserit) would have it, I was able to start up a weekly game group here in the Pacific Northwest, and soon found the urge to ride the Shai'Hulud rising once again. I entered numerous auctions on eBay for copies of the game, and they always got a little too high for my budget. So finally, I decided to make my own copy. In the course of the project, I found out a lot of interesting stuff about Frank Herbert that I hadn’t known before, such as the fact that he attended the nearby University of Washington, and found the spark of inspiration for his books while working on a journalistic report about the ecologically-minded effort to contain spreading sand dunes in a village on the Oregon coast.

Thanks to the AWESOME resource that is BoardGameGeek, I was able to find just about everything I needed, and thanks to the obvious dedication and craftsmanship of the creators of the other custom Dune boards on view in the image gallery, I was inspired to strive for higher production values than I might have otherwise.



THE BOARD: I am fond of the artwork that accompanied the original game, especially the dated acrylic illustrations of the six faction leaders (of which Paul Atreides bears more than a passing resemblance to a young Malcolm McDowell), as yet untainted by the (brilliant) visual design of David Lynch’s movie version of the story. The board, a watercolor painting of the different regions of Arrakis divided up into storm sectors, with the Tleilaxu Tanks off in one corner, was very evocative for its time.

I found an excellent scan of the original board among the files here on the ‘Geek, downloaded it, and opened it up in Photoshop. Immediately I realized there were some visual aspects of the board I didn’t like, and some things that I thought could use some clarification. I opened a new layer and “traced” the basic outlines of the original board, to make sure all of the territory relationships were correct. Then, I made the Tanks circular instead of squared off and filled in each of the regions on the board with different textures derived from images I found on the web. The next step was to create the storm sectors, which I decided to make white so they wouldn’t take visual precedence over the territory borders. Then I entered in all of the territory names, created a star-filled galaxy backdrop, and tinkered with a different “Dune” logo I found online before slapping it in the upper right-hand corner. Since one of my goals in customizing the game was to minimize the bookkeeping necessitated by the original, the final touch to the board was to add a 15-turn track under the logo. I created a small round marker to use on this track, meant to represent the First Moon of Arrakis. In retrospect, I wish I had made the turn track and marker larger, so perhaps an enterprising Photoshopper will improve on this oversight.

Assembling the board was among the tougher challenges this project presented. The quotes I got from local print shops for color printing on oversize paper stock were too high, so I printed the board file out in sections on cardstock "tiles," which I carefully adhered with white glue (watered down and applied with a brush) to 1/8" cardboard, overlapping and trimming each new piece to fit in jigsaw fashion, until the board was complete. Miraculously, I was able to do it in one try, but the trade-off for this approach is that the seams between the pieces are readily visible. I trimmed the cardboard square, sealed the edges with black masking tape, and cut a line halfway throught he cardboard on the reverse side so the board would fold in half. This last step I took in order to avoid having the map surface buckle when it was folded, but if I were to do it again I would cut the board the proper way (so the surface folds toward the inside instead of out) since it would probably be fine if I scored the board surface opposite the cut with a blunt instrument (such as a bookbinder's ivory).


The original board, left, and my revised version.

You can download the final product from BGG via this link:

http://files.boardgamegeek.com/viewfile.php3?fileid=14933

Note that this is just a high quality jpeg, since my original files were too large to upload via my ISP.

THE PLAYER SHIELDS: Again, conveniently, these memorable, innovative, and somewhat complicated pieces of the original game are available for download via a link from the game’s link section. I downloaded them all, opened them up, and immediately realized that they wouldn’t really work visually with the board I had created, so I resolved to revamp them somehow. I scoured the Internet for portraits of Dune characters and found a fair number of scattered images, but no complete set of the faction leaders I would need. I think it was when I Googled “Atreides” that an appealing image of Paul Atreides came up, which led me to the website of talented artist Mark Zug (http://www.markzug.com).

Artwork by Mark Zug, used without permission.

Under the “Dune” section of Mr. Zug’s website, I was very pleased to discover beautiful portraits of Paul, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, the Guild Navigator, and the Fremen Otheym (whom I used as a stand-in for Liet-Kynes), all apparently painted for a collectible card game based on Herbert’s books. The only faction leader missing was the Emperor, but I was able to find a substitute in the form of the “Cabal Patriarch” under the section of Mr. Zug’s site that features artwork he created for Magic: The Gathering.

None of these portraits fit the horizontal format of the player shields, so I had to do a little fudging around the edges with various Photoshop tools to extend the painted textures and backgrounds. Once they were printed out on cardstock, trimmed, and assembled, I was very pleased with the results.

I am reluctant to post these files to BGG because they make use of Mr. Zug's artwork. While I feel okay about using images I find on the Internet for my own private, non-commercial purposes, disseminating modified versions of someone else's artwork somehow feels unfair to the artist. But I encourage creative game crafters to find their own ways of adapting and improving the exisiting player shields.

THE CARDS: I created my Treachery and Spice decks using the BGG files for the front sides and custom images for the backs, printing them out on cardstock and trimming them to size with an X-Acto knife. Additionally, using the BGG files for the leader disks, I created a "Traitor" deck, which is used in place of the leader disk draw that occurs at the beginning of the game. This way, the players do not have to refer to notes scribbled on a piece of paper, but retain actual cards they keep hidden to represent the traitors in their pay.

THE COMBAT WHEELS: Again, using the exisiting BGG files as a template, I printed out the numbered inner disks on cardstock, and created a new cardboard wheel cover, joining the two with faux-jeweled brads I found at a paper supply store. I left out the inset leader disk holders because I was just tired of cutting circles by hand. Overall the wheels are nice and functional, but they've warped a little with age and humidity.

The combat wheels.

THE LEADER DISKS: These were the biggest hurdle after the construction of the board, owing to the fact that they're disks. I could have just made them cards, but that felt like it would water down of one of the game's many unique traits; part of what made Dune Dune. Plus, I wanted to minimize confusion for players when it came to rules terminology. Cutting them by hand was right out, due to the labor required and the inconsistency that would result; I tried several other approaches (including the use of an electric drill attachment that resulted in a lot of wasted mat board) to little avail.

In the end I was able to find packets of circular cardboard tags of roughly the correct size, at the same paper supply store I found the brads for the combat wheels. I printed out the leader disks (using the more attractive versions that came with the French edition of the game) on cardstock at a lsightly smaller size than the tags, cut them out by hand (ugh!), and attached them to the tags using white glue. The final touch was to clean up the border between the edge of the hand-cut borders and the edge of the tag with a black Sharpie.

All in all, the leader disks proved the most labor-intensive to produce. And the best option I was able to find -- the tags -- are thinner than would be otherwise desired. So, the leader disks do their job, but only adequately. Some day I'll find a better solution.

THE TOKENS: I value the tactile qualities of boardgames pretty highly, so I knew I had to find an alternative to the cardboard counters that came with the original edition. Back in North Carolina I had replaced them with glass beads I found at a fantastic bead store in downtown Asheville, so I opted for the same approach in Seattle.

After some hunting, I was able to find a type of fairly cheap glass bead that came in distinct colors. There were green, black, blue, and red beads, but no Guild orange or Fremen yellow, so I substituted white and amber, respectively. All that was required to integrate them into the rest of the game was a switch in the color of the Guild and Fremen leader disks, which was easily enough accomplished in Photoshop.

Left to right: Atreides, Harkonnen, Bene Gesserit, Guild, Fremen, and Emperor. The larger Fremen and Emperor tokens represent Fedaykin and Sardaukar, respectively; the beads along the bottom are used for Spice.

While at the bead shop, I came a across a heap of glittery, brown, unevenly-shaped beads on sale; they seemed like the perfect thing to represent Spice, so I bought a few fistfuls and considered that base covered. They can be a bit fiddly due to their small size, but fulfill their function nicely and add some flavor to the game.

IN THE END

I'm very happy with the results of this little hobby project. I learned a lot about fabricating different game parts, which gives me confidence for producing prototypes of my own designs in the future, and I now have a playable version of my top-rated boardgame. Luckily, it wasn't a waste of time, since I've been able to play it with my weekly group on four or five occasions so far.

However! In the end, it cost me a little bit more than any of those eBay auctions I entered. The beads were the biggest expense. But as we all know, there is no resisting the Voice.
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Sat Elg
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I'll take 2
 
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Martin Sarnecki
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Fantastic work! Well done.
 
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Rob Rob
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"I was just tired of cutting circles by hand"

FWIW: have you ever tried a 'circle cutter'? It's a scrap-booking tool that lets you make perfect (and adjustable) circles. It's a yo-yo sized double cylinder that you press down on the paper and rotate.
 
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Ron Pfeiffer
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A spectacular rendition of one of my favorite games! Congratulations for a job well done.
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Robert Martin
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Nice job. This game is definitely worth it and the original Avalon Hill components are a bit dated. Would love to see this game re-issued with modern production standards by Avalon Hill or Eagle Games, but I'm sure that is a pipe dream. The gameplay definitely stands up extremely well against today's games.
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Jason Lutes
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Quote:
FWIW: have you ever tried a 'circle cutter'? It's a scrap-booking tool that lets you make perfect (and adjustable) circles. It's a yo-yo sized double cylinder that you press down on the paper and rotate.

I think a woman at the paper supply store showed me one of those when I asked about cutting circles, but I balked at the price. Maybe there's a cheaper model out there. If it's as useful as you say, I will definitely invest in one if I ever feel inclined to remake the leader disks.

Thanks for the comments, everyone!
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Lee Hodgson
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My you've done a classic some justice ! I got this game for Christmas , early '80s . Played hundreds of times back then ( still have all pieces intact ) . The one mechanic I was always impressed with is that this is a strategy game that doesn't involve a single die roll. I suppose the weather tokens could be substituted with a d6 but only if one is lost or missing. Great game . And since the six box art is taken from the book before the movie its interesting how close the characters look when the movie was released( except the Guild , I guess. A lizard in trunks? Well he does exist in some liquid filled container).

Great job on your endeavour !
 
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Nate Merchant
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We made your board, laminated, and enlarged it. It's gorgeous! Thanks!
 
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Tim Thorp
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"Come on! Come on! Come and get it, baby! Come on! I don't got all day! Come on! Come on! Come on you bastard! Come on, you too! Oh, you want some of this? "
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You are a God! How much would you want me to pay for a copy?

The only change I would make is that I would use images from the movie/miniseries. Sting as Feyd Rautha, William Hurt as Duke Leto, Patrick Stewart as Gurney Halleck, etc. But that's just me.

Well done!
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Chris Malme
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Jason Lutes wrote:
Additionally, using the BGG files for the leader disks, I created a "Traitor" deck, which is used in place of the leader disk draw that occurs at the beginning of the game. This way, the players do not have to refer to notes scribbled on a piece of paper, but retain actual cards they keep hidden to represent the traitors in their pay.


I had the game already, but I have also done this. The whole mechanic in the rules bugged me - what is to stop a player writing down a leader he hadn't drawn? Also, in the case of the Harkonnen player, showing the other players that he has one traitor written down, without them seeing the other traitors is a right pain.

Now people simply draw from a pack of traitor cards, and keep the traitors the choose throughout the game.

Chris
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Nathan Hoffmann
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Chris__M wrote:
what is to stop a player writing down a leader he hadn't drawn?


The people I play with aren't cheating, game-ruining asses. That's what stops us from doing it. shake
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Armin Sudhoff
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rydiafan wrote:
Chris__M wrote:
what is to stop a player writing down a leader he hadn't drawn?


The people I play with aren't cheating, game-ruining asses. That's what stops us from doing it. shake

Our guys aren't cheaters as well (afaik ), but the traitor cards are simply easier to handle, as you say.
We have a "combo" of both: We use small discs as traitors, but because only the Harkonnen may keep them all, the other players write down the safe leaders and only keep the disc of their "real" (chosen) traitor.

oh, and I almost forgot: gooooooooooooooooooood work, Jason! I'm very envious of your playershields, the map and the boxes for the different tokens... although I wonder, how you manage to place ten of that tokens in Arrakeen or Carthag, because they don't look very stackable.
 
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Nathan Hoffmann
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Oh, I agree that the Traitor Deck makes life easier, but I will never use "it stops people from cheating" as a reason for anything ever.
 
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Armin Sudhoff
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But how do you handle it?! Write down all the drawn leaders?! What if I can't remember wether I have chosen Feyd or Staban Tuek as the "real" traitor? Or do you use a different procedure?!
 
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Jeffrey Vaca
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We've had people in our game write down the wrong leader (circling number 3 instead of the strength 3 leader) and also attempt to reveal the wrong leader (Burseg? Traitor! Oh, wait - it was the OTHER 3, Caid, that I had).

This usually requires that the person who had actually drawn the leader in question speak up, which just screws things royally. I need to get around to making a traitor deck!
 
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Jeffrey Vaca
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HivedOne wrote:
But how do you handle it?! Write down all the drawn leaders?! What if I can't remember wether I have chosen Feyd or Staban Tuek as the "real" traitor? Or do you use a different procedure?!


We circle all of the leaders drawn and color in the circle of the traitor chosen. Good information to have.
 
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Jeffrey Vaca
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Oh, and getting back to the original topic...

...nice job Jason! It all looks great.

...but you need to get off your but and give Dune the 10 that it deserves. No excuses!

 
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