Dominion Review

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You are a monarch, like your parents before you, a ruler of a small pleasant kingdom of rivers and evergreens. Unlike your parents, however, you have hopes and dreams! You want a bigger and more pleasant kingdom, with more rivers and a wider variety of trees. You want a Dominion! In all directions lie fiefs, freeholds, and feodums. All are small bits of land, controlled by petty lords and verging on anarchy. You will bring civilization to these people, uniting them under your banner.

But wait! It must be something in the air; several other monarchs have had the exact same idea. You must race to get as much of the unclaimed land as possible, fending them off along the way. To do this you will hire minions, construct buildings, spruce up your castle, and fill the coffers of your treasury. Your parents wouldn’t be proud, but your grandparents, on your mother’s side, would be delighted.

(Taken from the box)

Gameplay

Dominion is one of the first deck building games, and is still one of the prime examples of the genre. What is a deck builder, you ask? A deck building game has each of the players customize their own deck of playing cards in order to best reach the game’s goal. This is similar to the deck construction you would see in the collectable card games like Magic: The Gathering, except that in those games the players are constructing decks from their own collections of cards, purchased or otherwise obtained through starter packs, booster packs, game winnings, and so on. In a deck builder each player begins the game with an identical starting deck, generally small and underpowered, and throughout the game each will have the ability to add new cards to their decks, cards pulled from a common pool.

The strategy, then, in a game like Dominion comes from each player laying out their plans on how they will build out their decks to maximize their chances of winning, knowing that each of their opponents will have the same opportunities, or the same opportunity to block those plans.

For Dominion the common pool consists of three different denominations of money: copper, silver, and gold, three types of land: Estates, Duchies, and Provinces, and a random assortment of “Kingdom” cards. Those cards all have their own unique impact on the game when they are played from the hand, either offering more money, more actions, or other special effects for the person that plays them. Having different Kingdom cards in each game changes the priority for card purchases as different card combos will be available.

On each player’s turn they will draw five cards from their deck and play whichever cards they want to play down. Playing money earns money, which will last for the length of the turn, and can be used to purchase a new card, each of which has a different cost. They can also play one action card, which will occasionally offer more money, or additional actions, or have some other impact on the game.

The ultimate goal of the game is to get cards in your deck that add victory points. Most of these cards are dead weight during the game itself, offering neither money nor power, only taking up space in your hand when they are drawn, so the players must be careful not to overload their deck with them too early. But they can’t wait too long either, or they could find themselves at the end of the game with a lot of money and power, but no victory points.

There are ten copies of each of the Kingdom cards that are selected at the beginning of the game, and the game ends when a preset number of those stacks becomes empty.

Theme

Dominion’s theme doesn’t actually have much to do with the game play, but it does come across through the cards themselves. Each of the kingdom cards is something or someone that you can add to your domain. You can improve your domain by purchasing Throne Rooms, Cellars, Markets, and Moats. You can hire Spys, Militias, Witches and Adventurers. Throw a Festival or have a Feast. And of course there are the basic structures of Estates, Provinces, and Duchies. Each of the cards are at least arguably related to the effects that they provide. For example, the Workshop provides you with a free card when you play it, and the Spy lets you see what your opponents have coming up.

Replay and Expansion

The fun of Dominion really comes out in the different strategies available in a given game based on the cards that are available. There are twenty five kingdom cards available in the base set, with each game only using ten, so there are a lot of different combinations. That expands considerably with any of the many expansions available for the game. Each of them expands upon the theme with a variety of new cards, often introducing new mechanics to reinvigorate the game.

Final Thoughts

Dominion can be a lot of fun, and offers up a lot of variety as well, even with just the base game. It’s expansions really provide a lot of extra depth, so even after multiple plays there will still be something new and interesting to find. The variety in the game can also mean that the feel of the game will change quite a lot from game to game, some will be much more focused on what the individual players can do, while others will be more directly confrontational depending entirely on which cards are available. Dominion can offer up a lot of depth and strategy, while still being very approachable. It’s a good buy.

Dominion by Donald X. Vaccarino

Published by Rio Grande Games

4-6
60 min
Card Drafting, Deck / Pool Building, Hand Management
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