10 Great Sci-Fi Board Games


Dune/Rex: Final Days of an Empire

The original "Dune" board game... Avalon Hill Games

If you're looking for great board game fluff, Frank Herbert's "Dune" saga has it in spades: space drugs, sand worms, a desert planet and multiple, byzantine factions to squabble over it.

But of course great fluff is useless without great game mechanics, which is why Avalon Hill merged its "Wheels Within Wheels" gaming system at the "Dune" franchise in 1979 to create one of the most beloved sci-fi board games of all time.

Each player controls a key faction, such as the noble House Atreides, the devious House Harkonnen or even one of the setting's more mysterious factions like the Bene Gesserit order. The factions employ military action, political treachery and the formation of alliances to win control over territories on the planet Arrakis. The game mechanics reflect this via a circular game board, treachery cards and a hidden bidding system that determines how many lives a player's willing to sacrifice in combat.

Here's another thing about great fluff, though: It can prove a bit difficult to hold onto. While Avalon Hill released the game as a licensed "Dune" product in 1979, the franchise and gaming system have sense gone their separate ways. Parker Brothers acquired the license and released an unrelated "Dune" game in in 1984, while Avalon Hill released two more expansions before their "Dune" went out of production.

In 2012, Fantasy Flight Games acquired the rights to the mechanics of Avalon Hill's "Dune," but none of the copyrighted fluff. Luckily, they had their own space opera setting in the form of their Twilight Imperium universe, and simply applied it to "Wheels Within Wheels" to produce "Rex: Final Days of an Empire."

If you're a purist, however, you can probably find a print-and-play version of the original "Dune" game online, or drop a few hundred dollars on a used copy.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.