Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday 18 August 2021

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Dunaia

Game: Dunaïa

Publisher: Blam!

Designer:  Thomas Dupont

Year: 2021

Dunaïa is a 2-4 player game with a somewhat generic fantasy theme, in which each player controls six dunaias who are individually awakened in each turn to activate the areas around them. The theme is very weak, but gives rise to very colourful artwork of lush green landscapes and futuristic looking buildings hidden among the hills. The cover artwork, on the other hand looks quite dated to my eye, but is it worth getting past that to discover the tile-laying and resource management game within?


Dunaia starts you off with a 3x3 grid of empty fields. between a number of these fields stand your six Dunaias, large golem like meeple, handily numbered form one to six. At the start of a game a number of dice are rolled, on your turn you will pick one of these dice to take your turn with, you may only pick white dice if available, once the white dice run out you can take the die in your colour. If there is no die for you to take then the dice are rerolled.

With the die you pick you'll do multiple things, first the Dunaia of that number will activate, triggering the effect of the two fields (or builders later on) next to it. These abilities can grant you metal flowers (the game's currency), number chips or the ability to move your Dunaia about the map. After activating your golem friend you can place the die into one of four slots to get a little extra resources, or to buy a building blueprint. You'll have to spend metal flowers to buy buildings, with higher levels being harder to build and more expensive. Finally during your turn you can spend number chips to activate associated special powers, not only do you get the power, but a third of an artifact, with bonus points for players who manage to make several full artifacts.

Since you're only acquiring blueprints, you'll need to build the building before you can use it. Once on your grid you activate a Dunaia next to it and the build marker moves one space to the right, when it's done, the building is complete. Level one buildings provide instant rewards, level two buildings have effects when activated and level three buildings grant bonus points based on your village composition. The game will end when the three objectives for the game have been completed.

Amy's Final Thoughts

Dunaia is certainly an interesting game and it's fair to say I've never played anything that plays quite like it. Worker activation via a die pool, but with the ability to relocate your workers to be in the best spots. Of course the most prominent action you'll want is to build, so you'll be stomping those robots around in a swarm of frenzied construction activity. However most built buildings are useless once built, so the more you build the less effective your golems become. That in itself is enough of a game, combined with the dice drafting trying to ensure your golems are in the right position is a challenge in itself. But with the addition of the number chips granting bonus powers and the artifacts making you want to use an even variety of said powers, things start to lose a little focus.
In a way Dunaia reminded me of Mystic Vale, which might be a strange comparison, but they both felt like games with a fantastic idea behind them that will one day be a great game. Unfortunately this is not it. Little in the game feels exciting, every die does more or less the same thing, your golems all start with the same activations and as you'll move them around, they often continue having the same abilities as the game goes on. At a glance it feels like you should be engine building your own worker placement board, but the reality is you are slowly locking up your action spots as the game goes on. Instead of power cascading upwards into a grand climax, Dunaia tends to peter out with a whimper.

There also the matter of the art, it's good enough when you look closely, the theme of a tribal society reconstructing buildings using futuristic robots from a bygone age is incredibly intriguing. But it's utilised so badly, building sites are a blue hologram, built buildings are covered up by symbology. It's a game where positioning and colour are important, why not have the purple buildings look distinct and interesting compared to the red and yellow ones? There's also the fact that some of our artifacts were printed backwards, hopefully that was a simple misprint, but it's frustrating to have puzzle piece components that don't always fit right!
Overall, Dunaia simply isn't a game for me, it has a solid theme that's thoroughly underutilised by the art. A wonderful game mechanic that gets blurred by neutering it's efficacy. There's certainly a lot to like, but all the little niggles overtake the fun factor and ruin Dunaia for me.

Fi’s Final Thoughts
Dunaia is a hard game to describe. Build your own worker placement? Your choices in this game are extremely customisable - you create the spots on your own board that will be activated by the dice you select. If you really want to activate a particular tile or space on your player board, then if you locate lots of dunaia surrounding that space then you'll be able to activate it lots of times, however, if you're building new locations onto your player board, you'll need to move the dunaias around so that they're adjacent to spaces you are building. In my first game, it didn't click with me how important it would be to move my dunaias around the board. Even in my second game I felt like I really hadn't optimised my game, needing to get a lot of movement to eventually finish building out my player board because I didn't really plan out an efficient way to build things.
In some ways, it's great that I still had more to explore and optimise in the way I played after a couple of games, but on the other hand, I might not offer this as a game to a new player now that I understand what's going on - a new player might have a similar experience to me and get quite handily beaten in their first game. Once you're got into the swing of the game though, it starts to feel like a much lighter game and with two players it only lasts about 30 minutes, and it doesn't have a lot to keep us interested after a first few plays.

I think there's just very little in Dunaia that makes it shine as an overall game experience. It doesn't look great, and the individual aspects of the game seem mechanically great, but just don't come together to make anything exciting happen. It's got lots of ingredients I enjoy, not least the few different ways to score points and the way that you're encouraged down certain paths with scoring objectives, dice combinations that you want to take to gain artifacts and the way that some of your early tile choices might guide your later choices. Sadly it's just not enough for this to be a game that will ever be chosen from the shelf.

You Might Like...
  • Managing your board and creating great spots to activate is a pretty unique mechanism.
  • Your goals are constantly changing as you try to build out your board and optimise your dunaia locations to be most efficient.
  • There's lots of different types of scoring to aim for and to guide your strategy.
You Might Not Like...
  • To me, this game looks like a blue and green smudge on the table, with any artwork very well disguised.
  • It took a couple of games to really click how to play well, meaning that we wouldn't want to put this on the table with a new player.
The Verdict
5.5/10 Dunaia is a pretty quirky game. It does a few things that feel quite fresh and different and kind of feels like a deconstructed dice worker placement game. Ultimately though, that quirkiness made it a bit too inaccessible, with a surprisingly big learning curve for what is eventually a quick light game once you understand it better. I'm glad we experienced it and we enjoyed exploring its new ideas, but it didn't come together and create a memorable experience. Dunaia looks generic, has a generic theme and the mechanisms feel like the ingredients of a great game that just didn't happen.

Dunaia was a review copy kindly provided to us by Lucky Duck Games, on behalf of Blam!.

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