Dune: Imperium – Immortality Design Diary: ResearchOctober 19, 2022
The Dune universe is filled with interesting characters, concepts and organizations, and in many ways the Bene Tleilax are among the most intriguing and mysterious of these. While I’m not a Dune scholar, I’ve always viewed them in juxtaposition with the Bene Gesserit. Both groups delve deeply into genetic manipulation, but while the Bene Gesserit are female and their methods are patient, the Bene Tleilax are somewhat the opposite: their representatives are male and their methods are unnatural. They seem to act more hastily and are more willing to break moral codes to change things in the here and now, while the Bene Gesserit plan things out over centuries or millennia.
While it’s difficult to imagine enjoying the company of the Bene Tleilax, or Tleilaxu, it’s easy to enjoy reading about them. In Dune: Messiah, it is revealed that they engineered Face Dancers: unmatched spies with the ability to change their appearance. Even in the original Dune, Frank Herbert mentions the Tleilax and their renegade training center that produces “twisted” Mentats. Material like that is tough to ignore as a game designer and I expect there are lots of players out there who are as excited for the Tleilaxu to be represented in Dune: Imperium as I was.
The question I asked myself when deciding to focus on the Tleilaxu was how to represent them in the game. To be quite honest, I attempted to include Tleilax in the Rise of Ix expansion, though of course it wasn’t called Rise of Ix at that time. Instead, it was conceived of as an expansion that would bring two of the most powerful/famous fringe organizations of the Imperium into the game. But, alas, as I explored that idea, I and the play-testers here at Dire Wolf found that we weren’t doing the Tleilaxu justice. They were being included, but there just wasn’t enough room to flesh them out, along with all the other things that Rise of Ix wanted to do. They felt like an appendage rather than a critical component, so we cut them from Rise of Ix and decided they could get their own expansion.
I couldn’t be happier with our past selves because we now get to shine a spotlight on the Tleilaxu. And, as I wrote about in the last designer diary, from a mechanical perspective, we wanted this expansion to focus on deck-building. Immortality’s Tleilaxu concept gave us multiple sub-themes that fit well with the idea of deck improvement. For starters (as called out last time) the idea of building up a pool of genetic specimens and manifesting strange experimental cards was a fun and thematic concept. Furthermore, the idea that the Tleilaxu are active scientists at work on experimentations was a good match for letting players feel like they are doing that kind of experimentation at the table. This manifests in a few distinct ways: specimens, the Research track and grafting.
The Research track is part of a small board – the Bene Tleilax board – that is added to the game when you play with Immortality. The Experimentation card we showed in the last designer diary allows you to interact with the Bene Tleilax board in one of two ways: either you reveal Experimentation and gain a specimen, or you play Experimentation during an Agent turn to perform research. Research is accomplished by simply moving your Research token to the right on the Research track.
You’ll earn a reward from the space that you enter, starting with a specimen in the first space but then branching out to a variety of things. For your second research, would you rather have a specimen or trigger a Tleilaxu icon, which looks like a beetle and represents embracing the most illicit aspects of the Tleilaxu? For your third research, do you want to trash a card and gain another specimen? Or do you want to keep focusing on advancing along the Tleilaxu track (if that’s what you chose for step 2)? You might even want to choose the path of “fast tracking” your Research by moving into a space that contains another Research icon which will let you advance to the far right side of the Research board more quickly. Which path you choose, and even how often you research, will likely vary from game to game, and may depend on what your opponents are doing, what you have done, what cards you’ve acquired, etc. As with other elements of Dune: Imperium, we spent a lot of time during development attempting to balance a variety of approaches here.
There are certain Imperium, Tleilaxu, and even Intrigue cards you might acquire that will encourage you to “research faster!” These cards have genetic marker icons on them. For example, if you get your hands on any of these cards, you’ll want to trigger your research icons often, and you might even want to take one of those fast-tracking “short cuts” on the Research track.
Tleilaxu Master could very well be called the poster boy of the Research track. Its first ability is triggered as long as your marker has researched that first genetic marker, but it gets even stronger if you’ve reached the second genetic marker at the end of the Research track. And if you haven’t gotten there yet, no need to worry; simply reveal Tleilaxu Master to gain two steps on the Research track, so that next time around, you might be able to get that powerful Agent box ability.
As mentioned above, in addition to the Research track and the Axolotl tanks, the Bene Tleilax board includes a Tleilaxu track.
This is the part of the board we referred to earlier with that beetle-like Tleilaxu icon. You’ll advance here by choosing to do more… questionable experiments in conjunction with the Tleilaxu.
As you advance along the Tleilaxu track, you’ll earn an Intrigue card or two, and potentially two Victory Points, but only if you’re particularly devious. The Tleilaxu also attempt to lure players to this track with the promise of a bonus of two spice for the first player to reach the mid-point of the track.
Occasionally, you’ll find an Intrigue card that also lures you to the shadowy side of the Tleilaxu. Harvesting cells of fallen troops is a mini-theme among the new Intrigue cards that come with the Immortality expansion. (There are 15 new Intrigue cards in total.)
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this diary entry, and have yet to talk about another important way in which Immortality evokes the feeling of performing genetic experiments. The final way – and one of the premier new mechanics in the expansion – is called grafting. We’ll explore that next time!
Want more? Read Dune: Imperium – Immortality Design Diary: The Tleilaxu!
Sign up for the Dire Wolf newsletter for more Dune: Imperium updates!
Signup Complete, Thank you!