REVIEW – Dominion

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dominionName: Dominion
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Type: Strategy, Deck building
Players: 2- 4
Best With: 2-4
Length of Playtime: 30 minutes

 

Give It to Me Quick: Dominion is a popular (it’s even at Wal-Mart and Target) deck-building “card” game that invented a genre. You will build your kingdom (custom deck) from the available card selections, which is unique every game. Add expansions for nearly infinite variety and strategy.

 

Gameplay summary

True to euro-game form, the player at the end with the most Victory Points in their deck wins. These Victory Points will be acquired by purchasing Victory cards throughout the game.

the First Game

the First Game. Remember this, Dominion veterans?

 

Base set Dominion has three types of cards: Treasure cards, Victory cards, and Action cards. A standard Dominion game is set up with 16 different stacks of cards: three different Treasure cards (Bronze, Silver, and Gold), three different Victory point cards (Estate – 1, Duchy – 3, Province – 6), and ten different Action cards made up of the 24 options included in the base set.

On a typical hand, the player will draw five cards from the top of their deck. These cards will be “random” in the sense that they are pulling cards from a shuffled deck, but the deck is made up of cards that the player has purchased on previous turns.

 

Everyone's starting cards, drawn five at time. Will your first draw be 5/0, 4/1, 3/2. or 2/3 copper/estate?

Everyone’s starting cards, drawn five at time. Entire blogs could be written on what the best opening purchase is. Not quite Pawn to e4, but close!

On a given turn, the player can:

1. Action. Use an Action card in their hand or a chain combination of Action Cards. Some of these cards attack other players, some of them allow the player to draw more cards, some allow the player to play another Action card, some add treasure to the hand, and on and on.
2. Buy. After using Action cards, the player can use accumulated treasure during the hand’s Action phase along with the Treasure cards in their hand to purchase one or more cards to add to their deck.
3. Clean up. After purchasing a card (if they decide to), the player discards all the used and unused cards in their current hand into their Discard pile and draws five new cards. If necessary to draw five cards, they will shuffle their discard pile and create a new draw pile.

 

The general idea is that players are continually using the cards in their deck to improve their deck (usually by purchasing new cards from the available choices), making it stronger and more streamlined. The cards that the player gains throughout the game are added to the player’s deck and will come up in the player’s hand in future turns. Other game mechanics are Action Attack cards which affect other players in various ways, and trashing–where a card is completely removed from the player’s hand for the rest of the game.

After one player completes their hand, play continues clockwise to the next player.

 

the Smithy - costs 4 treasure to buy, puts three cards in your hand in-game
Doesn’t get much more straightforward than the Smithy – costs 4 treasure to buy, puts three cards in your hand in-game.

 

The game ends in one of two ways:

1. All the Province Victory cards are purchased.
2. Any three supply piles are emptied.

 

the Province Victory card. Worth 6 Victory, costs 8 Treasure.

the Province Victory card. Worth 6 Victory points, costs 8 Treasure to purchase. You won’t have enough treasure in your hand to purchase this until later in the game.

 

How many players?

In our experience, base set Dominion works very well from 2-4 players, with 3 being the sweet spot for reducing the wait between turns and allowing for enough player interaction. We even broke the rules by playing with 5 players with certain setups, though you don’t want to extend beyond that. You can also get expansions to better accommodate five players.

Something you might read about on other Dominion reviews is the “multiplayer solitaire” problem, where a player will string together chains of 5 or 10 cards, thinking after each one, while everyone sits and waits for their turn. As with any game, there is a learning curve, so sometimes this done happen. Once everyone becomes comfortable with how the cards work, though, games move quickly and you’ll use the short downtime until your next turn to plan.

 

Our Positives

Full disclosure: We love Dominion in our house. When we first purchased it years back, the deck-building mechanic was completely new to us. Since then, we’ve played scores of games in everywhere from 2-5 player groups, created our own custom Kingdoms, and even created a carrying case for our expansions. We introduced it to casual family and friends gamers, who have also loved it.

There are 24 different types of Action cards, and they are designed to switch in and out from game to game. It’s a lot of fun to decide on a new strategy each time you play. One game you might be riding Smithy + Gold to victory, another you might be running Festival + Laboratory combinations, while another you might grind out a victory while knocking your opponents out with Militia.

At first glance, it appears that there’s too much luck at play to build a consistent strategy, but a veteran Dominion player knows how to balance out that luck and consistently win. Getting to that point is a lot of fun. In the meta game aspect of determining the best opening purchase, or identifying how two new cards together can be unstoppable, you’ll have more than enough to analyze for a strategic fix. Now, if this paragraph made you fall asleep, and you just want to roll through your deck with Village after Village, you’ll have fun doing so. You just won’t win.

 

Our Negatives

Base set Dominion goes from great to almost great over the expanse of about twenty games. Once you start to learn which cards are the ones to focus on and everyone catches on to medium-level strategy, gameplay starts to feel a little like a probability exercise.

After scores of games, any other complaint we have with base set Dominion starts and ends with the somewhat limited variety of  interesting Action cards. Fortunately, Dominion has many expansions that bring back the freshness with new waves of Action cards. I feel that once you get an expansion or two along with the base set, you’re good to go for a long while. We enjoyed the base set for about a year before picking up the Prosperity expansion.

 

Accessibility:

playbegins_accessibility7

 

 

 

 

35_party for a Party Maybe, but probably not. Too involved to pick up quick enough.
casual Casual Yes, though this starts to push the boundaries of typical casual gamers. We know several skeptics now who love it.
35_competitive Competitive Yes, you’re always seeing what others are doing and how it will affect you. Depending on the cards in play, games can be more or less competitive.
35_strategy Strategic Yes, mastering each card combination is very rewarding.

 

Final Thoughts on Dominion

Dominion with expansions is the definition of replayability. However, even with the base set you can see a lot of different interesting combinations. Still, while it is technically true that there are “thousands” of different combinations in the set, that doesn’t mean that there are thousands of interesting combinations. After a number of games, it becomes readily apparent which cards to focus on.

Engagement varies depending on which cards are in play. With veteran players, turns typically revolve around the table quickly with little down time, and some cards interact with other players (Militia, Spy, etc). However, sometimes other players will build large chained Actions that leave everyone sitting around waiting. At these times it becomes a competition of very interesting single player solitaire (which is not a bad thing!)

Dominion defined the deck-building genre. This reviewed base set is the foundation on which all the expansions are built. Fantastic game!

Dominion

8.575

Replayability

85/10

    Engagement

    85/10

      Game Mechanics

      93/10

        Theme/Fun

        80/10

          Likes

          • - Lot of interesting combinations
          • - Very replayable
          • - Defined the deck-building genre
          • - Games are typically quick to play

          Dislikes

          • - Strategically, the base set will feel somewhat solved after many playthroughs.
          • - The cards don't always tie thematically to the action on the card

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