GDJ – Breakdown of the design process in Dune: House Secrets, part 2

In the previous article, I discussed most physical components of Dune: House Secrets and what their purpose was in the game, and how they helped immerse players in the story. Today we continue the breakdown of the design process – I’ll discuss one deck and the website.

Mindmap
One of the most famous components in Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, were photos. A square-shaped deck of cards with portraits of every non-player character in the story. As the game progresses and players meet these witnesses, suspects, and consultants, the photos land on the wall creating the beautiful, insane mind map of correlations and interactions between story characters. Players are detectives. They must find the murderer. The photos and mind map does the purpose.

Your experience in Dune: House Secrets is quite different. In Dune: House Secrets, player characters are now rebels, not investigators. So while players are still challenged to explore a world and unravel a complex mystery, the story itself unfolds in a new, exciting way. When players are given visual glimpses into this world, it’s less about building a mindmap of suspects and case evidence, and more about navigating this rich, foreign setting. We hired an army of illustrators to visualize the various key characters and locations that you encounter during your missions. As the game progresses and players visit new places and cross paths with new people, they draw cards that transport them to the deep deserts of Arrakis and help to bring this immersive experience to vivid life.

This one small change in the art direction, moving from non-player character portraits into environmental artwork and location visualization is another small piece that adds to the new experience in Dune: House Secrets.

Antares database
As mentioned in the previous article, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, is known for its integration with the website — the tool that allows players to log into a sort of FBI system and browse through databases, compare fingerprints of suspects, check DNA samples, and do other cool things.

I guess you heard about The Butlerian Jihad, the war that ended up removing computers from human life in the Dune universe. That was one of our first topics when discussing the game with Legendary. What about the website that the Detective system uses? Will Dune: House Secrets use a companion website?

Yes, with the twist.

We decided we would use it as a tool for players, not player characters. Let me explain.

In Detective, the player uses Antares website, but they do it roleplaying as their character. It’s their character who logs into the system and checks DNA samples.

In Dune: House Secrets, the player characters cannot use an in-world website during their adventure, because there is no such thing as a website to access within the Dune universe. May it be in Portland or Poland, only the players themselves can access our website for their own purposes, so we needed to find an authentic way to use the website to enrich the gameplay.

How’s that?

We decided we would use the website as a guide into the rich lore of Dune. We use it to educate players about the Houses, conflicts, politics, and all things their character living on Arrakis already knows, but players living in Dallas don’t.

Also, being aware that so many players will be discovering the world of Dune for the first time, and we cannot leave them behind, we decided that the Learn History feature is a must.

Beautifully animated cutscenes, two minute long videos assist players in some crucial moments educating them about Atreides, Harkonenns, Geidi Prime, and other important facts. Facts important to understand the depth and all layers of political plot we have in the game. Not only does this material establish the existing Dune canon, but also explains new stories exclusive to the game.

These videos are visually stunning, but more importantly, they make the complex mythology of Dune more accessible and help players comfortably navigate this world and solve the mystery on their own terms.

Final report
At the end of each game of Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, players must complete the Final Report and answer questions. They answer who was murdered and what the motive was. Although this element seems absolutely mandatory in the murder mystery game, we’ve struggled with it for years. What we see in the feedback and playtesting is one big issue: players have a blast feeling like they’re awesome detectives for three hours, only to give a few wrong answers during the Final Report at the end and learn they weren’t that awesome, after all. The positive energy, the fun, the amazing memories, and the experiences are all gone in a split second. You finish a 3-hour game session, and the game leaves a bad taste in the mouth… all because you gave one wrong answer at the end.

We played with this system and changed it for the Vienna Connection game, and then, seeing very positive feedback, we followed up this design direction in Dune: House Secrets.

In Dune: House Secrets, we went for the concept of the RPG campaign. When you play a tabletop roleplaying game, the game sessions flow, one after another, without Victory Points or the Game Master judging your efforts and achievements with some Final Score. You just get to play, enjoy the story, and wait for more.

At the end of each mission of Dune: House Secrets, players read the epilogue together and choose one topic that interests them the most. The one plot element they feel is most important, but they just scratched the surface. They ask Zarzur, one of the leaders of the Fremen rebellion, to tell them more about this particular element and help them prepare for the next game session.

We know this is an unexpected shift for all of you who’ve played Detective before, but it’s a natural and satisfying conclusion for the game and anyone who has played tabletop RPGs.

Final words
It’s fascinating for me, as a designer, how much you can play with the system, how much you can tweak and change even in such a simple game mechanic like Detective. How we – designers – achieve our goals, specific player experience by changing a few small elements here and there, and how it was possible to change a full-blown investigative best-seller into a brand new beast about sabotage and rebellion.

I wish you all the best with the game, and I hope that you and your friends will have a great game night on Arrakis.

GDJ – Breakdown of the design process in Dune: House Secrets part 1

Dune: House Secrets is a story-driven game inspired by award-winning Detective: a modern crime board game. The game uses the same system to tell an engaging story, but at the same time, with some tweaks and changes in the rules, it brings a very different experience. In this article, I’d like to discuss a couple of these changes.

The board
Detective: a modern crime board game was all about putting players in the shoes of characters from procedural TV shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Players take the role of law enforcers and detectives. They visit the Lab to examine DNA samples, they visit Court and City Archives to dig in old files and cases, they visit Richmond PD to question suspects and witnesses. The game comes with a small board to help manifest this simple structure – Lab, Richmond PD, Court – this is your terrain, this is your playground, this is your procedure.

Dune: House Secrets invites player characters to Tel Gezer, a small city on Arrakis they never visited before. They are members of resistance on a secret mission. There is no structure, there is only unknown, there is only the fog of secret war.

In Dune: House Secrets, I decided to throw out the board as players know it from Detective to remove the safety of well-known locations. I gave them the map of Tel Gezer, a big paper map like in RPG sessions. I marked on it 26 different locations – tavern, palace, landing pod, gallery, market, all different places—the whole big city, the city that is unknown to the newcomers. Instead of solid structure from Detective, they are given a handout with things they need to explore and places they need to learn about.

It’s a simple design change. Remove the board with four familiar locations and give a map with 26 unknown ones. Suddenly from the confident law enforcer, you turn into a traveler that visits a new place.

The resources
In Detective, at the beginning of each game, characters add their ability tokens to the pool. This represents their skillset and how they can add value to the team by excelling in some areas. These tokens are then used in the game to dig deeper into some cards and learn more about certain plot elements.

One of the characteristic elements in Dune is Fremen’s frugality, their sacred care for water and spice. They are quite the opposite to today’s society in which the word waste goes along with every day. I wanted to show it in the rules, both the scarcity of resources and the respect to what a person has. The ability tokens received one simple tweak. Once spent, they are gone. They don’t replenish at the beginning of the next game.

Players begin the campaign with a few resource tokens. That is all they have for the whole 4 mission-long campaign. Each time they want to spend a token, they think twice. Each time they spend resources, they debate if this is the moment. Each time they spend resources, they feel the gravity of the action.

Welcome to Arrakis.

Taking risks
In Detective players are law enforcers. Confidence is their unlimited resource. They can visit crime scenes, they can question witnesses, they can check police databases, they are in control of the situation.

In Dune: House Secrets, you play a rebel fighting against evil Harkonnens. You act undercover, you run in shadows, you watch every step you take, and your every action is a risk.

To represent that with a simple mechanism, we decided to add a small Push your luck mechanism in the game. When taking certain actions, like passing behind guards or breaking into a Harkonnens building, players must take a risk test and draw a Consequence token. We have 2 good ones in the pool and 3 alert ones. When you draw the red one, the Consequence track moves, and if it ever reaches the final spot, the resistant forces are in trouble.

It’s a simple mechanism added to the Detective system, but it adds this moment of uncertainty, the split-second-long thrill when you draw a token knowing that you are just doing something very risky…

Epilogue
These are three small changes, small tweaks in the Detective system we introduced in Dune: House Secrets that allowed us to change the feel of the game and help players immerse into Dune. They are no longer detectives. They are rebels in the city of Tel Gezer.

In the second part, I will discuss how we approached the Antares website and adjusted it to the world in which computers do not exist…

My wife said — you will never play it again!

I am not allowed to play Bohnanza. It was 2009, we were on vacation at the Polish sea with friends, and I epically won Bohnanza. In the evening, when we get back to the room, my wife Merry, with a solemn tone, said to me: ‘I forbid you to play this game ever again. You embarrass our family.’

Since then, over the past 12 years, I have played Bohnanza twice. Secretly, so Merry doesn’t know. I am petrified of her anger.

***

She forbids me from playing this game and many other games where you need to talk a lot and negotiate because, in these games, I somehow turn into a crazy salesman that yells, outtalks everyone at the table, begs and threatens other players, throws money, grabs cards from people’s hands… I cannot explain it. Something is happening with me. I lose control. It’s pure madness. It is really embarrassing. 

***

My wife Merry didn’t playtest Dreadful Circus. If she did, though, she would be proud of me. Over the years, I grew as a player. I don’t yell. I don’t grab other player’s cards. And I still win. Because instead of yelling, I think. In Dreadful Circus, there are so many layers to discover and then take advantage of. Let me explain. 

In Dreadful Circus, in each round, two players put one of the cards from their hand on auction. The rest of the players can make an offer for these cards. If a player wins the bid, they add the card to their tableau. These cards modify final scoring. It’s super simple – see what cards are offered, pick the one you prefer, and make an offer. 

And then there are these beautiful layers and levels of thinking the player who sells the card discovers. Should I take a better offer? Or should I be satisfied with the smaller bid but be sure that the offered card won’t end up at John’s table? Should I sell this card to Martha because this card has no synergy with her other cards, so basically, I will get money, and she gets nothing?

Nice. But what about we take one step backward. Before you choose offers… You look at your hand. You see what cards you may offer for sale. Do you go with the card that Robert would loooove to have, and you expect to earn good money? Are you going with the card that would help Mathiew? He is in a terrible position, and with this card, he could come back into the game. Will he pay a lot for it? 

Nice, huh? But what about we take one more step backward. The setup is done. You have 7 cards in hand. You will put one of them in your play area now. It will tease a bit of your strategy for this game. You will sell four of these cards to other players during the game. These will help them score points. You will play the sixth card in your tableau at the end of the game. And you will discard the 7th card. No one will get it.

You smile? You see yourself building the strategy when you get the cards. And then in each round, you are adjusting strategy, and you put differently than the planned card on auction. You see how players’ tables are growing, what they need, and what you have in your hand. 

Dreadful Circus is a brilliant set collection game with the perfect mix of planning, negotiating, and outsmarting opponents. Bruno Faidutti did something exceptional here. 

And most importantly, Merry allows me to play it!

You don’t know it yet.

It was 2001 when everything changed. My parents, who never were very enthusiastic about my passion for fantasy and science fiction literature, suddenly started talking about Gimli and Legolas. Suddenly they knew who Gandalf was. Suddenly they were passionate about Nazguls. Suddenly they needed answers and were asking me about the Gondor, Saruman, and what happens to Merry and Pippin next.

Peter Jackson’s movie made the Lord of the Rings novel a worldwide phenomenon.

Today everyone, your aunt, your brother, your mother-in-law, literally everybody knows words like a hobbit, shire, Gollum. Everyone discovered this fantastic story. The story we geeks already knew for years.

***

Ten years passed.

It was 2011 when everything changed again. My wife’s sister, who never read a single fantasy book and has nothing to do with us, nerds, suddenly started talking about Ned Stark. Suddenly she knew who Daenerys is. Suddenly she was passionate about Lannisters. Suddenly she needed answers and was asking about Arya and what will happen to her next.

HBO’s epic show made Game of Thrones novel a worldwide phenomenon.

Today everyone, your uncle, your sister, your father-in-law, literally everybody knows words like Westeros, Iron Throne, Night’s Watch. Everyone discovered this fantastic story. The story we geeks already knew for years.

***

Ten years passed.

It is 2021 when everything will change again. Your friend, who never read a single science fiction book, suddenly will start talking about the Fremen. Suddenly he will know who Stilgar is. Suddenly he will be passionate about Harkonnens. Suddenly he will ask you questions about Thufir Hawat and what will happen next.

Upcoming Denis Villeneuve’s masterpiece will make Dune novel a worldwide phenomenon.

This fall season, everyone, your cousin, your father, your neighbour, literally everybody will know words like Melange, Bene Gesserit, mentat. Everyone will discover this fantastic story.

The story I already loved for years.

You don’t know it yet, but I already know – you will fall in love with Dune. I am happy for you.

(illustration comes from book cover for the new print run of Dune)

Life of a rebel — Dune: House Secrets Dev Diary

Dune: House Secrets is an adventure game that takes place on Arrakis. It thrusts players into the midst of a conflict between two great houses and allows players to play a small part in Dune’s history.

Dune: House Secrets is inspired by the award-winning Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, but unlike its predecessor, it’s an adventure game. Players are not playing as investigators, detectives, or cops — they are rebels, part of the resistance forces fighting against House Harkonnen.

This brand new angle gives a fresh, unique turn to the gameplay. Players won’t have access to files and FBI databases. They won’t be allowed to visit crime scenes or question suspects. The whole game changes into an exciting adventure, where stealth, bribery, and sometimes brute force are the only tools available. It’s reminiscent of a good old-school RPG where a small team of heroes must complete a quest. Players eavesdrop on guards and soldiers, sneak behind their backs, and spend Resources like Water or Spice to get to places normally unavailable to them. Some of the Encounters resemble classic video games like Thief or Dishonored rather than modern crime shows. In some missions, players must commit the crime rather than find out who did it.

Do you have the strength to oppose House Harkonnen? Are you ready to join the resistance? Welcome to Arrakis, rebel.

Learn more about Dune: House Secrets at https://dune.portalgames.pl/

Dune: House Secrets – adventure game on Dune

Dune: House Secrets is an adventure game that takes place on Arrakis. It’s set during the events described in the novel and allows players to play a small part in Dune’s history.

The game is inspired by the award-winning Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game. It’s a card-driven game in which players have three unique Chapters to complete. Each chapter is a series of Encounters represented by cards that, based on the player’s choices, shape the game’s story, just like in RPGs.

Each card in the game represents one Encounter. It might be spying on somebody, talking to merchants, breaking into a mysterious warehouse, or following a spice transport. Each Encounter pushes the story forward, reveals new choices, and gives access to new Encounters. Players will gain new allies, new enemies, and with each card, they will learn more about the story.

To resolve Encounters, players may need to spend their Resources: Water, Spice, and others. Sometimes they use them to bribe a guard, but they could also use them to fight their way through. To add to the theme of the game, Resources are limited, just like in the merciless desert of Arrakis. Players start the game with a Pool of Resources, and the supply
doesn’t replenish unless they gain Experience Points (XP) at the end of the mission and spend them on training. In Dune: House Secrets, you not only pursue leads to reveal the story, but also manage your Resources to survive another Chapter on the planet. If you spend too much of your Resources, or if you don’t gain enough XP for training, your adventure may end sooner than expected.

Welcome to Arrakis. Are you ready for an adventure?

Check out tomorrow’s update and see what bonus we’ll be adding to your copy of the game!

LEARN MORE AT: DUNE WEBSITE

Italy won, England lost, or EuroCup blog

Ignacy:
I always supported England. I was a die-hard fan of the team with Joe Cole, with Frank Lampard, with Steven Gerrard, with David Beckham, I loved them all. I remember the epic shot from Steven Gerrard that was a goal, but there was no goal-line technology back then, and we all in front of TV saw a goal, but the referee did not. I remember myself taking bets that David Beckham will have the most assists in the cup. I remember the anger I felt when Sven Goran Eriksson lost the match that was basically won, but he decided he will do the substitution…

I always supported England. Always, but not this time.

Rahim Sterling’s dive in the match against Denmark was a disgrace. I couldn’t accept it. I turned my back on England for the first time in my life.

England scored a quick goal against Italy and stopped playing. From the 10th minute of the game, they decided that they want to keep the score. No ambition to score again. No motivation to create a spectacle. Just stone cold Mourinho style game. It was a disgrace. The whole world watching and you just defend the 1:0 score. I couldn’t accept it. I felt it was good I turned my back on England this time.

English fans attacked Italian fans on Wembley, including kids. The video spread like crazy on social media yesterday. It was a disgrace. I couldn’t accept it. I felt it was good I turned my back on England this time.

English players took off the medals they won the second they got them showing disrespect to the achievement. It was a disgrace. I couldn’t accept it. I felt it was good I turned my back on England this time.

I discussed in this blog a few days ago my First Martians case. I discussed Pride as a deadly sin.

England was drowned in Pride yesterday.

Congratulations to Italy. You played great football over the course of the whole tournament.

Thomas:
That’s it. The Eurocup ended yesterday.

In England, people woke up this morning with an eternal hangover, on a more depressing Monday than ever. In Italy, people are just about to go to bed. The hangover will probably come too but has a different cause.

For a fan, watching your team win Eurocup is something you will always remember. You know where you were, what happened, and how it happened. At this moment, you never realize how long you have to wait until next time. I myself remember that moment in 1988 very well. I was 11.

But as the smoke clears, people start to look at the club football again. The clubs are already playing their practice matches again. It’s really relaxing to go and watch one of your clubs. No tension, no fight for championship or against relegation. You need that on a holiday. Just watch new players trying to work themselves in the first team. Look at a couple of goals. See your friends again and discuss the best lineup, as if you were managers. A little relaxation during the summer holidays.

In Eleven you will also discuss your best lineup with your friends. But only after the match. You don’t want to help your opponent of course. It’s always nice to give your friend a little advice after he messed up. It’s not only about the victory points. It’s about honor. Of Course, you know more about football tactics. In Eleven you can prove it.

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Thomas Jansen is the designer of Eleven: the football manager game. Ignacy Trzewiczek is the developer of the game. They both will share their thoughts about EuroCup 2021 and also talk about the design or development of Eleven. Be with them every day during Euro! If you like football and board games, please, share the news about Eleven!

You can learn more about Eleven HERE!

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Friendly match or derby? EuroCup blog!

Tonight Italy played against their friends and rivals Spain.

There has always been some kind of bond between Spain and Italy. At the same time, it created some rivalry between the two. I guess you can compare it with a Netherlands – Belgium match, or Everton – Liverpool.

Every club football fan is looking forward to the match of the season: The game against their local rivals. Winning this match is almost as important as winning the league. How many underperforming coaches have been fired after losing against their rivals? Or have delayed their dismissal by winning the clash?

We all know the famous derbies:

Manchester United vs Liverpool
Celtic – Rangers
Barcelona – Real Madrid
Boca Juniors – River Plate
Borussia Dortmund – Schalke 04

But do you probably know a few smaller ones too?

Millwall – West Ham United (England)
Vitesse – NEC (Netherlands)
Red Star Belgrade – Partizan (Serbia)
Union Berlin – Hansa Rostock (Germany)
Hibernian – Hearts (Scotland)

They are often more intense than the big ones. You can’t watch these games on tv.
Only when present, do you experience the tension, the atmosphere, the noise. You’ve got to be there yourself.

In Eleven we touch the subject too. It can be one of the objectives the club wants you to fulfill. They are happy if you win the match. But of course, it’s even better to defeat them by a big margin. It will earn you even more victory points.

Sometimes the board sees an opportunity to work together with your rivals. It will earn you money or will develop the team. But do you think the fans will like it? What would you decide?

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Thomas Jansen is the designer of Eleven: the football manager game. Ignacy Trzewiczek is the developer of the game. They both will share their thoughts about EuroCup 2021 and also talk about the design or development of Eleven. Be with them every day during Euro! If you like football and board games, please, share the news about Eleven!

You can learn more about Eleven HERE!

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Expectations. Realistic? Never! OR EuroCup2021 blog

England always faces 2 opponents: The team they’re playing against, and the high expectations of the fans.

Why is it that everyone in England always expects their team to become champions? Is it realistic? It’s understandable. The country has enough people to grow talent, there aren’t many countries where football is more popular, it has the biggest league in the world, and the country is seen by many people as the home of football.

And yet, England only won one big prize (World cup, 1966). Most English wasn’t even born then.

About ten years ago, I read a book which was called ‘Expensive strikers don’t score’. The writers tried to find the answer. They came up with some arguments which could be true. Or not:

Because of the high level of the Premier League, it is really hard for English players to get in. A lot of foreign players took their positions in the big teams and only a relatively small number of players have the chance to prove themselves.

More than in any other country, football is a working-class sport. Rugby is for the upper class. There is not a real mix of classes, which could have an impact on the sport. They even suggested that average English players could be less intelligent than the ones in other countries.

Why do you think England seems to underachieve?

In Eleven, expectations of the fans are high as well. If you lose a lot, you will lose popularity, and eventually, it results in empty chairs in the stadium. You also need to deal with accidental dilemmas in which you have the opportunity to please the fans. But as in real life, nothing is free.

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Thomas Jansen is the designer of Eleven: the football manager game. Ignacy Trzewiczek is the developer of the game. They both will share their thoughts about EuroCup 2021 and also talk about the design or development of Eleven. Be with them every day during Euro! If you like football and board games, please, share the news about Eleven!

You can learn more about Eleven HERE!

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Why French players should play First Martians!

First Martians is the best game ever designed. That was my only thought and approach every single day when I was working on it. It has 6 unique, extremely different, and thematic scenarios based on real NASA projects and simulations. Additionally, it has 5 mission-long story-driven campaigns with twists that no one did in board gaming yet. On top of that, it has another 5 mission-long story-driven campaign with an incredible story, twists, and voice-over and narration done by Hollywood actor Rich Sommer. It’s three years of my life, day and night, weekdays and weekends. It’s the best game ever designed.

Only that, it is not. BGG website rates it with an embarrassing score of 6.5. First Martian became my most famous and spectacular failure. It also was the best thing that happened in my professional career.

How’s that?

Pride (Latin: superbia) is considered the most serious of the seven deadly sins. Known also as hubris (from ancient Greek ὕβρις), or futility.

It is believing that one is essentially and necessarily better, superior, or more important than others. It’s refusing to acknowledge one’s own limits, faults, or wrongs.

It is believing that you can design the best game ever designed. It is creating 6 unique scenarios and 5 more, and 5 more, and with each of them showing off your design muscles, changing rules, adding twists, hoping to blow the mind of players every time they play the game. First Martians is a pride in the cleanest form.

I failed. I failed and I learned my lesson. Humble is the word that lives with me since 2017 and is my most trusted companion. I believe I became a better designer, and I hope I became a better human being after the First Martians case.

I mention this today because I wonder if French players will become better after the game against Switzerland. I couldn’t help – watching the match – but think about the pride. About this terrible force that makes you so self-confident, so assured that it no longer is your strength. It becomes your biggest weakness.

This Euro had great moments of underdog teams stood up against bigger teams. Moments of humble effort and hard work on the pitch. Moments of team spirit and team play winning against superstars or at least, holding fast, like Scotland against England.

It’s a great Euro to teach about one of the greatest virtues – humbleness.

Denmark. Czech. Austria. Switzerland. I applaud you.

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Thomas Jansen is the designer of Eleven: the football manager game. Ignacy Trzewiczek is the developer of the game. They both will share their thoughts about EuroCup 2021 and also talk about the design or development of Eleven. Be with them every day during Euro! If you like football and board games, please, share the news about Eleven!

You can learn more about Eleven HERE!