This year saw continued success with the recent tournament rule changes. Allowing the Fremen and their allies to dial full strength for no cost made them a definite factor in most games, but apparently without overbalancing them, at least according to the counts of wins by faction. Also, most players continued to be happy with the use of diplomacy chips to limit the amount of time players are allowed to spend away from the table.
Measures taken to try to encourage games to end within the 5-hour time limit (bringing in the Shield Wall as a 6th stronghold earlier, and giving fewer qualification points to adjudicated victories) had mixed results. On the plus side, average game duration was down this year from 7.2 turns in 4.7 hours to 6.9 turns in 3.9 hours. However, 5 of 12 games still required adjudication at the end of the time limit. Since no one is particularly happy with adjudications, we will continue to consider options for allowing games to run to completion. It was noted that of the 5 adjudicated games this year, 4 were 6-player games, and all but one of the 5-player games played completed within the time limit. Looking back over 17 years of records, 5-player games finish in an average of 3.5 hours, vs. 4.4 hours for 6-player games. So one possibility might be to arrange only 5-player games when possible. However, most players want the full 6-player experience! The only other option might be to extend scheduled heat duration to 6 hours instead of 5.
We experienced two rules issues that will require clarification for next year: First, it was realized that an older house rule meant to help the Fremen could be a major exploit. A while ago, we allowed the Fremen to play a Karama to summon a worm during their own movement for a surprise move. However, with the advent of worm count bringing in the Shield Wall as a 6th stronghold, this is now deemed to be too powerful for the Fremen to potentially “create” a new stronghold and move into it with no possible response if they move at the end of the turn. It’s kind of surprising that no one really exploited this before, but at least a half-dozen people starting asking about it this year, so we ruled mid-tournament that the Karama worm could only be summoned during the Spice Round, as originally written. Second, after experiencing a number of timing issues around a Harkonnen Karama hand swap, we will rule next year that Harkonnen may only play a Karama to swap treachery cards at the start of the Battle Round. This should prevent a possible exploit where Harkonnen with a Karama can potentially compel multiple players to play cards for no effect (to avoid getting valuable cards stolen) multiple turns in a row. In general, we’ll be providing an updated and clarified table of allowed timing for all possible Karama plays next year, as these questions seem to come up year after year.
Win rates were very comparable across factions again this year, probably due to the Fremen buff we’re now using. Including the final game, Atreides and Harkonnen won 5 games apiece; BG, Emperor, and Guild each won 4; and Fremen won 3. All games but one were 2-faction alliance wins (actual or adjudicated), with the one exception being a solo Guild default victory pulled off by Quinn Dyer.
Best Faction plaques were awarded to:
- Ty Hansen for best Atreides
- Stephane Dorais, best Bene Gesserit
- Lee Proctor, best Emperor
- Aidan Powers, best Fremen
- John Tammes, best Guild
- Liam Dyer, best Harkonnen.
The final game turned out to be populated by 2 members of the Dyer dynasty featuring 4-time champion Bill, reigning champion Quinn, and 2 members of the up-and-coming Powers clan, young Aidan and Robert. Perennial finalist Lee Proctor and prodigal son Tony Burke were caught in the middle. With our recent change to allow qualifiers to choose factions in order of finish, Triple Winner Quinn took Harkonnen as first choice, repeating his winning selection from last year. Tony followed up by choosing Fremen, perhaps thinking to repeat his historical Fremen default victory in the 2001 final. Aidan took the Emperor next, Robert took Atreides, and Lee took Guild, leaving the Bene Gesserit for Bill. While the BG are very powerful in assisting an alliance win, it can be very difficult to win first place with them, given our need to have a single winner with a tiebreaker of number of strongholds held.
All players agreed to play out the full experience, a 15-turn game played to completion, disregarding time limits. Fortunately, a table was available that would not conflict with other tournament scheduling as this was sure to go for a while.
The game moved along quickly at first, with all players jockeying for position. From the beginning, the Emperor and Harkonnen were both hunting Fremen as they both had high-level Fremen traitors in their pay. At the first worm, Harkonnen and Atreides formed a powerful alliance, but a couple serious attempts at a win were blocked by the other players. This alliance ultimately broke up when the Family Atomic/Weather Control combo wiped out Carthag and Arrakeen.
At one point, a Harkonnen/Atreides alliance, a BG/Emperor alliance, and the Guild solo were all simultaneously going for a conventional win. However, parity was sustained with no one being able to hold enough strongholds to win and no one faction really taking enough damage to create a power vacuum. In fact, throughout most of the game, fairly significant stacks were maintained in the strongholds, preventing any easy, opportunistic conquests.
By early midgame, Harkonnen had acquired a Karama card, enabling the dreaded hand swap, and everyone knew it. Play slowed to a crawl as all of the potential hand-swap targets tried to figure out how to avoid being a target or dump valuable cards before being swapped. For 4-5 turns, players could not go for the win as they knew the Harkonnen could stop them, but likewise, Harkonnen could not put together a win either, neither with the Atreides nor with the BG. The Harkonnen Karama would hang like a pall over the game until the very last turn, when Harkonnen finally swapped hands to win a multi-faction battle on the Shield Wall, only to fall to a Fremen traitor call!
In turn 8, the BG saw an opportunity to fulfill his prediction of a turn 9 Harkonnen victory. If a Nexus had come up in turn 9 and the Harkonnen had been able to ally with the Guild at their peak, it may have been a foregone conclusion. However, the worm didn’t come up and the Harkonnen/Emperor alliance did not quite have the means to take the win, so the prediction opportunity was lost.
In another interesting development, a major clash between Atreides and Emperor, played by the Powers brothers, resulted in a lasgun/shield explosion that wiped out Habbanya Ridge Sietch. This left a gap but no one else could use it to leverage a victory.
The best chance for the Harkonnen/BG alliance came around turn 11 when House Harkonnen held Carthag and Tuek’s Sietch comfortably while the BG held Habbanya Ridge Sietch. The Guild attacked Arrakeen and hajr’ed 19 tokens into Carthag in conjunction with a large Fremen force against Harkonnen in Sietch Tabr to prevent the win, despite interference from a BG worthless card Karama. Later, the BG were to claim that if they had only been able to buy a snooper, Harkonnen/BG could have won the game at this point.
Eventually, the Guild and Harkonnen leapt at the chance to form an alliance on the last worm of the game and in turn 15 had a possible chance to try for a legitimate victory. But the battle for the fourth required stronghold could not be made a sure thing, so in expected fashion, the Guild dialed all of his tokens away in his last fight to assure a stalemate, bringing up the Guild default victory after 15 grueling turns of play over 10+ hours.
Congratulations to Lee Proctor who finally found the winning formula, after appearing in the finals every year since 2012, and took home the first place plaque. This ended the 5-year Dyer dynasty. Congratulations to all of the finalists for playing an excellent final game, and many thanks to all the players who make this a great tournament to be a part of!