Dust is an alternate reality sci-fiction wargame along the lines of Risk. Players are in control of their nations, attempting to build up their armies and areas of control to win the game. Unlike Risk however, players must manage not just the quantity of their armies but the mixture of the units in the armies, production centres and power sources to fuel their production centres. This makes Dust a much more strategically involved wargame, but streamlined rules and a victory point condition makes the game faster to play and finish.
Appearance: Firstly, Dust has the cutest little tanks ever. Seriously, those tanks are so, so cute. The various other models for the units are very well designed as well, cute and easily distinctive across a table. In addition, the artwork on all the cards and in the rulebook is great – I like the comic style art that they have going on. However, the biggest complaint is the board- instead of using a mounted, folded board, the board is made up of multiple cut pieces that are meant to join together. Which they do. Sort of. Various bulges appear consistently, causing pieces to lie askew and sometimes slide.
Rules / Ease of Learning: Since Dust is a Risk derivative game, the basic rules are well known to most players. Each player has units, which do battle against other units via die rolls. However, additional rules are added in Dust to make the game more strategic. First, players have action cards that they play in the beginning of each round which dictate their turn order, the number of production points they have, the number of movement points and attack actions. In addition, each action card has a special ability that may be used once per round. Since the cards (and values) vary,players must balance their options and the main goal of each round before playing the card.
Production of units are dictated by the number of production centres, power sources and the cards controlled by each player. In addition, production of units can only occur in production centres, so players must consider exactly where to locate their production centres.
In Dust, each round moves through production then movement of troops then attacks for each player before the next players turn. There is additional impetus to attack in Dust to receive additional victory points, which is how the game ends (most commonly).
Overall, the rules of Dust should not be hard to teach, leaving the majority of the time to actual gameplay.
Gameplay: Firstly, I should note that I’m a huge fan of Risk-derivative type games. I enjoy the strategic level of gameplay allowed in these games, without getting bogged down in individual unit details. There’s also a lot of fun in tossing dice.
With that said, Dust scratches the itch very, very well. It does exactly what I want it to do – play fast, provide a high level of strategic and tactical decision making where luck might play a part but certainly doesn’t control the game. Good decisions are rewarded in Dust, while tactical surprises can still occur due to the various action cards.
The play between production centres and power sources forces players to hold both areas tightly, attempting to balance both their ability to produce units with the power sources needed to run the centres. In addition, the need (towards the latter half of the game) to keep their Headquarters under guard adds another element of risk to the game. While there’s some complaints that keeping HQs in Dust invoilable in the first half of the game reduces the tension, I think it allows players the ability to be aggressive with their units, which is a good thing.
Conclusion: Dust is fun to play and by far the best Risk-derivative game out there. It certainly does better than Risk 2210 A.D. with fast play, additional strategic and tactical complexity without bogging the game down in too large swings in power dynamics. While luck still plays a factor in Dust, it’s definitely not the major factor in gameplay.