Dune. That inscrutable novel. As a youngster it seemed to me to be about purpose and awakening, puberty maybe, definitely victimhood, all trammeled by the reality that every life touches everything else, sometimes for the better but often for the worse. Its game adaptations, both cardboard and digital, were disappointingly narrow, preoccupied with the competing factions that served as the backdrop to its larger questions. Of those many attempts, however, the closest anything came to approximating the feel of Frank Herbert’s magnum opus was Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and Peter Olotka’s 1979 board game, the very same that received a supernal remake only a few years back.
Dune — the 1979 board game — was also longer than Shai-Hulud. In an attempt to bring it under control for modern audiences, Gale Force Nine tapped Greg Olotka and Jack Reda to help create something more digestible. An abridgement, if you will.
The resultant Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy is certainly more playable. But it’s more playable the way bowdlerized Shakespeare is more watchable. Most of the individual beats have survived intact. All the same, the cutting has not been kind to the overall intention of the piece.
It’s hard to imagine what our geekish DNA would look like if Frank Herbert had never written Dune. It touches so much, and says so much, but never seems to follow any one thread to its conclusion. Maybe because it’s as varied as the thoughts rattling around Herbert’s head in the early ’60s. Poverty grasses and climate patterns. Resource monopolies and shortages. Religion as opiate; opiate as religion. Charismatic heroes unleashing murderous jihads. Carl Jung’s collective unconscious and cellular memory, spurring hosts to destruction and rebirth alike. Great houses entangled in destinies both inevitable and mutable, like plunging headfirst into a sandstorm with just enough will to select the ground where your flesh will be scoured from your bones.
And the beauty of Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and Peter Olotka’s 1979 design of the board game version is that it got it right. As right as could be got, anyway.