Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dominion or The Purchasing of Royal Estates, Duchies and Provinces


For the review this week I have chosen a game that I am sure many of you are already familiar with as it is one of the first deck building games to come out that was not a collectible game like Magic The Gathering. Dominion has been around since 2008 and has several expansions for it with each adding new cards and endless replay possibilities. The pictures below will include some cards from the Hinterlands expansion as an FYI. Now, on to the review!

Cover Art

The Buildup

Being a freshly crowned noble after the unfortunate deaths of your parents, you have been burdened with the management of your meager kingdom. However, you are undaunted at the prospect and, in fact, you are thrilled to begin because you have ideas. BIG ideas. You are planning on taking your small kingdom and expanding it into something that the histories will sing praises to long after you are dead. You are going to expand the reach of your grasp shoving aside neighbors with underhanded tactics and superior strategies and conquer distant lands. You are going to claim Dominion over all of the land.

The Game

Dominion is a deck-building game where your goal is to have the most land i.e. green cards in your deck by the time all of the Provinces are purchased or the 3 of the 10 cards selected for the game are bought out.

This review has cards from the Base game, on the left, and the Hinterlands expansion, on the right.

The game begins by separating the treasures and lands from the rest of the cards and setting them off to the sides. Then you gather the blue bordered example cards and fan them, face down, on the floor. From these you choose 10. These will be the cards that you will use in your deck to build your wealth and lands.

Preparing to choose our fate

Once the cards are chosen, each player is given a hand of 7 copper and 3 estates. These represent your starting treasury and lands. These are suffled together and 5 cards are drawn.

Starting Deck

Our Game

The game itself is divided into three phases. The first thing is an action phase. This is the point where you can play any action cards in your hand. Most of the cards in the game beyond the initial deck are actions. These modify your turn in a certain way. For instance the Festival above gives you 2 additional actions, 1 additional Buy and +2 coins. If you were to play this during your action phase you would get 2 more actions, 2 Buys and 2 coins in addition to the coins in your hand to buy things with.

Once you are out of actions, then you move to your buy phase. This is where you use the treasure in your hand, or represented on your action cards, to purchase additional actions, treasure or lands based on the number of buys you have. This is base 1 modified by your action cards played. Each card has a coin cost in the lower left hand corner. In order to purchase, or gain, that card the cost must be paid. 

Example Buy
Once your buy phase is done, all cards gained and used as well as any cards left in your hand get discarded and you draw a fresh hand of five cards. Play then progresses to the next player. This continues until the game end conditions are met, being the last Provence is bought or 3 of the 10 card sets chosen for the game are bought out. 

The winner is the person who has the most victory points. These are acquired by purchasing lands and other victory point cards such as Farms, Gardens etc based on what comes in the other expansions. Each land card is given a certain VP total with Provinces having the most in the base game at 6.

You will notice that land cards have no other effects besides helping you win the game so when you draw them, they are dead cards. It is important to create a balance between your action cards, treasure cards and victory cards in order to achieve the optimum deck build even as you continue to expand it.

Sample Deck Build. I lost this game by 2 points.

This is the deck that beat me. The Farm above was the deciding card.

The Review

Rules - 12 / 15 

The rules for Dominion are pretty straightforward without any real wrinkles. These come from the combinations of the cards that are present. Since the rules are clean, the rulebook is clean as well. It is simple to read, easy to teach and relatively easy to reference. The additional rules and card descriptions for the base game could have the same kind of heading style used in the actual rules though.

Gameplay - 12 / 15

A pared down and streamlined rules set will let to streamlined game play. Once the players understand how the game works, turns will move quickly as each begins to jockey for the cards that they think will give them the best combo to win. You almost always feel like you have a chance to win unless you have an ineffective combo or your cards aren't in the right proportion. That being said, if you do not choose wisely in your initial buys, it could come back to haunt you in the mid to late game if playing against a skilled opponent.

Components - 8 / 15

The cards are made of good quality materials and will show little wear. They are also quite resistant to bending. Overall the art work is sufficient while not being eye popping. The pictures get the job done but many of them seem to be missing that spark that really adds to the theme of the game. Most of the time the pictures disappear on the card as you are focused on the card's abilities.

Re-Play Ability - 15 / 15

This game is one of the kings of re-play ability. With so many different cards to choose the 10 cards for the game, the possibilities are endless. Not to mention how each set of 10 cards will usually require a completely different strategy and combination in order to win. On top of this you can add all of the expansions as well leading you down the rabbit hole of Dominion from which you may never return.

Theme - 7 / 15

Most folks don't talk about the theme of this game. Usually talk revolves around the fast game play, the ease of teaching, the card combinations and the endless replays that are possible. There is a reason for this. The back story of the game seems plausible enough but the cards themselves don't really sell the theme to you in my opinion. Some of the card abilities make sense in accordance with their titles but the game doesn't really revolve around the need to acquire a chapel or a cellar for thematic reasons. These are usually purchase for mechanical reasons, to throw out negative cards or discard dead cards in hopes of getting better ones.

Fun - 20 / 25

I am a huge fan of Dominion and am almost always willing to play this if it is offered. The diversity of card selection and mechanic interactions makes this game rife with strategy. Pitting each player against the other also adds a nice sense of urgency to the whole game as you really do feel like you are struggling to conquer the lands beyond your borders at times. Then there are times where it all becomes an intellectual game when the only thing that matters is the card combos. There isn't anything wrong with this as it is certainly designed to be that way but it does tend to break what little thematic immersion there is.

Overall - 74 / 100

Final Thoughts

Dominion is an excellent game and an exemplar of the deck building genre. It is easy to teach and is well worth the investment. The expansions will add even more variety to a game that is already loaded with it right out of the box. Occasionally though the game can become a bit stale as the theme is lost in the intellectual scrambling for the best combo available.

Thanks for reading!