At Gamer Nation Con I a few years ago I got to try out Dominion briefly. It seemed fun so it went on a (very long) list of games to potentially get. Well, this year my wife got it for me for my birthday and we’ve had a chance to play it a few times. So how is it, you ask?
Dominion is a deck-building game which means lots and lots of cards. And all of the cards have the same back. That means if they get mixed up it is a real pain to sort. Fortunately, Rio Grande Games has you covered. The 33 different types of cards in the core box each have their own individual storage slot within the box. This feature right there makes the game a cinch to set up and clean up.
The cards themselves are all good quality material. There has been little to no wear so far in the half dozen or so games we’ve played. But there have been some hints that the cards might begin to fray. Just a few nicks and less than smooth edges, nothing serious. But enough to indicate continued shuffling might wear them out. And, as a deck building game, you will be shuffling the cards quite a lot.
The premise of the game is that you are a ruler trying to grow your dominion. You purchase new holdings and locations in order to grow your prestige. The person with the most prestige, measured by victory points, at the end of the game is the winner. It’s not a bad theme but it’s kind of irrelevant.
Artwork on the cards works for the game because it too is not bad but not anything fancy. Each card has a different image to match the name of the card (Chapel, Militia, Market, etc). These vary from very nice to just okay. But none of them really stand out and you end up really needing to rely on the name more than the art to distinguish the cards. Additionally, the art style isn’t very consistent across the cards. Some have a relatively realistic depiction of people and others are very stylized.
In the end, the theme takes a back seat to the game play. For some games this would be a major deal but doesn’t really detract from Dominion.
The goal of the game is to acquire the most victory points (VP). You start the game with three cards, the Estate, each worth one VP. In every game there are two additional cards you can purchase, the Duchy for 3 VP and the Province for 6 VP. There is also a fourth card worth VP, the Gardens, that are worth 1 VP per ten cards in your deck. But you will only use this in some of your games.
The basic structure of the game follows a simple sequence; Action, Buy, Clean-Up. You will skip your Action phase for the first few turns for the very simple reason that you don’t start the game with any Action cards in your deck. As you gain more and more cards this step will grow in importance.
The action cards you can acquire do a variety of different things. Most of the cards let you either draw more cards into your hand and/or take additional actions. This can lead to quite the set of chain reactions where you play a card which lets you draw a new card and then play a new action. Then you use your new action to play another card that does something similar. This can steamroll quite quickly in some cases if you have some cards that let you draw two extra cards or take two extra actions.
These draw/action effects might go along with other special effects; such as the Witch which allows you to put a Curse card worth -1 VP into your opponent’s deck. Alternatively, you could have a Moat which protects you from Attack Actions, such as the Witch, if it’s in your hand, and also lets you draw two cards if played as an action.
During the Buy step, you can use your money to purchase new cards to add to your deck. You start out with seven Copper with a value of 1. You can later purchase (or obtain from actions) Silver, value of 2, and Gold, value of 3. What you can purchase each round will vary based on how much money you have in your hand. The 6 VP Province card costs eight money to purchase. In order to get that much with a hand of five requires having purchased lots of gold or playing several action cards that grow your hand.
Gameplay continues until either two stacks of cards are depleted (ie all have been purchased) or there are no more Provinces left. Then everyone counts up the VP in their hand and someone is declared the winner. While simple in function the strategy for each hand changes each time you play.
Out of the 33 types of cards in the box, seven of them are your basic cards (money, VP cards and curses) which are used in every game. The remaining 26 are your actions card. Of these 26, you will only use ten each game. So for any individual game, almost two-thirds of the cards are not available. That can mean that a really powerful card one game has almost no value in another because the cards it comboed with aren’t available. This change in card selection is what gives the game its replayability.
There are quite a few expansions available for Dominion. As we just got the core box we have not tried out any of those yet. But we like the game enough to consider it.
Dominion is a fun game that can work well for two players or more. It is simple to teach but has a lot of replayability. You will need to shift your strategy each game but it also does not require intense or detailed strategy in order to have a good time.