Monday, September 14, 2009
Board Game Review - Dust
My least favorite kind of review to write is one where I didn't hate a game enough to tear it to shreds, and didn't love it enough to rave about it. Because when I review a game like that, I can't make jokes about monkey poop, and I can't get all wild-eyed about how wonderful it is. I'm always afraid that mediocre games will lead to mediocre reviews. And for that reason, I've decided to build a running gag into this review of Dust, which is a world-domination game that is not bad, but also not good. The running joke will be Michael Dukakis.
One of the reasons I wanted to play Dust is that it is a game based on a comic book drawn by one of my favorite artists, Paolo Parente. I first saw Parente's work in Doomtown, where he made all the art for my favorite cards. He's got a great over-the-top style, and he has a tendency to draw every woman like she was a supermodel with breast implants who is freezing to death, even if she's wearing a fur coat in the middle of the Sahara (in case you're either too young to understand that, or just a little naive, I mean all of Parente's women have gigantic nipples threatening to tear right through their shirts).
But he's not much of a game designer, which in this case is fine, because he didn't actually make the game, just the comic book. Dust is a game where various superpowers battle for mystical alien power sources that can be used to power up their mechanized tanks. It takes place in an alternate version of the 1940s, where an alien power source ignites a world war, and results in a lot of people being naked (at least, that's what happens in the comic. There's no naked in the game, unless the other players take off their clothes).
Basically, Dust feels a hell of a lot like Risk, but it takes a lot longer to play. Sort of like how Dukakis would have been an astonishingly viable candidate, if the only other candidate was a college student in New Jersey. There are some cool things working - battles are fast and brutal, and a good strategy will take you a long way. There are some important card choices, a lot of good counter-tactical maneuvers, and some downright brutal player elimination possibilities.
If Dust had come out before the new Risk (and it may have, but I don't care to look up publishing dates, so just pretend I know what I'm talking about), it might have been pretty impressive. Rather than ending after twelve hours in a last-man standing scenario, Dust finishes when one player accumulates enough victory points for everyone to go home. You get victory points by controlling power sources, so most of the game centers around these critical battles, and lots of times, entire areas are left completely empty so that players can throw more troops into their fights.
Every turn, each player chooses a card that determines player order, how many times that player can move and attack, a special ability for the turn, and how much you can spend on new troops. Choosing this card is really important - choose poorly, and you'll be sorry, I promise. Choose well, and you may still be sorry, because someone at the table probably spent way too long choosing a card, and the rest of you have started to discuss last night's television reruns, and moved onto reality TV before that one guy actually flips up a card so everyone can play again.
There are several places where Dust is just like Risk, only different. Like, you can chain your attacks, so you can hit a place, beat it down, then hit the next place, and so on. Battles are huge roll-offs that result in massive casualties. Strategic control of certain areas can get you more guys on your turn. There's a lot of Risk in Dust.
But unlike Risk, where you just go, 'I get ten guys', you have to buy troops at the start of your turn. This can take a while, and since the player before you probably stomped a mudhole in you and completely screwed up whatever you had going, you can't really do this part ahead of time. That means that everyone else is bored while you sit and do a little accounting. Kind of like a Dukakis campaign speech, only without the math.
And when you do finally get around to taking your turn, the interesting part is over so fast, you'll be wondering what happened, even if you did it yourself (I could make a crude joke about having sex with Michael Dukakis, but I think everyone will be happier if I just let that sleeping dog finish its nap. I know I will). You move a couple times, you fight a couple times, and your turn is up. After you spent five minutes picking out a card and five minutes buying tanks, it's a bit anticlimactic to blow through your whole turn and be done playing for the next half hour.
I am exaggerating the downtime in Dust - but not by much. When I played with my family, my wife got up and did laundry after her turn was over. This sucker can really drag, despite having a whole lot of really cool tactical and strategic chops. It's unfortunate that a game with so much promise turns out to be kind of boring due to the overwhelming amount of time you'll spend sitting on your hands. It's like how the Harvard-educated son of a Greek immigrant who served in Korea could get on television and seem like the most boring man alive.
I didn't hate Dust, but I certainly won't play it again. I have Risk: Halo Wars calling to me, and Risk: Star Wars, and Risk: Black Ops, not to mention the fantastic Risk: 2210. Dust seems like it could be renamed Risk: Boring Game With Big Boobs. If a panicked moment makes me thing it would be cool to play Dust again, I'll just read the comic book and then play Risk.
Lots of cool tactics and fine-tuned strategy
Very neat card-based turn limiters
Fun art by one of my favorite illustrators
Way too much downtime
Could have been a contender, but wound up boring... sort of like Dukakis
If I haven't talked you out of it, and you just have to have a copy of Dust, you can get one from my good friends at Dogstar Games. Even if you're not buying Dust (and I applaud you for that), you should buy games from Dogstar Games because they sponsor this site and let me write the reviews you want to read. Here's the link:
Posted by Matt Drake at 7:48 PM