Review: Dominion

Dominion review

“Look son, everything the light touches is our kingdom.”

“Dad, why are you blocking one of my eyes?”

“Because that part belongs to the neighbours.”

Dominion is a game where you need to use your assets to develop the best kingdom in order to win. It’s not your usual property/economic game though. It’s a deck building game (DBG). Dominion is actually the grandfather of all deck building games. It is still one of the giants though and can go toe to toe with the new games any day.

Dominion was released by Rio Grande Games back in 2008. Since then it has spawned 9 expansions and won a lot of awards including the SDJ for 2009. At its core it’s a DBG where you need to buy land cards to get victory points and the person with the most victory points at the end of the game wins.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the Box

Specs on the box:

2-4 players

Ages 13+ (it’s easy to learn but hard to master, my son was playing when he was 8 and if you don’t keep an eye on him he can sneak through and win!)

30min

Opening the box of the base game you’re greeted by 2 rule books and around 500 cards. They are all neatly divided into their different types and each section of the insert is labelled so you can easily find the cards and put them back too.

Most deck building games, especially these days, get the cards all mixed up and if you want to sort them again it can become a bit of a mission. Sometimes you don’t want to play with an expansion, just the base game will do.

Dominion review
Neat box and nothing moves out of place.
Card Sleeves

For Dominion I’ve used Mayday Games Euro sleeves. They do not fit 100%, there’s a few mm extra over the top of the card but not enough to be annoying.

Dominion Card Sleeves

Theme

It’s medieval times and you find yourself facing the big bad world with nothing but a few estates and a handful of treasure to your name. It’s up to you to build on your lands and higher the right workers so you can increase your fortune and expand your empire.

That’s the story. The names of the cards and the functions that they perform do fit in quite well. The Militia can go and harass your opponents but you can build a Moat to keep your opponents Militia at bay.

The art though, it leaves much to be desired. The cards look dated but theme is not why you play this game. You play it because it makes you think, because it’s clever.

Gameplay

This game has very few rules, however for someone who has never played a DBG before it can take a few rounds before they actually figure out what’s going on because your initial 2 turns don’t give you immediate responses. If fact it’s only from turn 3 or 4 that you see the effect of what you did in turn 1.

To setup the game you take out all of the treasure cards from the box and place them into separate piles, Copper, Silver and Gold. Then you do the same for the lands, Estates, Duchies and Provinces.

Now, if you’re still learning then you will setup the rest of the cards according to the recommended scenarios in the rules. If you’re past that then you will get 10 random sets of action (kingdom) cards and place them on the table.

All of these cards will form the supply, i.e. these are all of the cards that you can buy for this particular game. Deal each player 7 coppers and 3 estates to make their starting deck. Everyone will shuffle their deck and then draw 5 cards.

Dominion review
The Supply ready to go.

On your turns you can do 2 different things, which are entirely optional but happen in this order :

  • You can play 1 action card from your hand – you don’t start the game with an action card so you will first need to buy one.
  • You can buy 1 card – you have a choice of any card in the supply that you can afford so you can buy bigger treasure or lands or actions. To buy a card you play treasure cards from your hand and total their value and then purchase a card whose cost is equal or less. The new card will go into your discard pile; you don’t get to use it just yet.

When you’re done, buying and playing actions, all of the cards that you played this turn will go into your discard pile. Next you discard all of the cards that are left in your hand and then you draw 5 new cards from your deck. This is where most new players start wondering what’s going on because everything they just did went into the discard pile and they cannot see the benefit.

When you need to draw your 3rd hand of cards your initial deck will be empty. You then shuffle your discard pile into a new deck and draw 5 cards from there. So now you will start drawing the new cards that you bought and get to use them.

The action cards can do all sorts of things. If it says +1 buy then you get to buy an additional card that turn. If it says +1 Action then you get to play another action card. If it says +1 Card then you draw another card from your deck. Some of them attack other players; some give you extra money to use in that turn, others can block attacks. There are also combinations of all of these abilities.

Dominion review
The Market is not the best card but it can combo well with a lot of things.

If, for example, you have a Laboratory in your hand and it says ‘+2 Cards, +1 Action’. You play it and first draw 2 more cards. Then you can play another action. If you drew another Laboratory then you can draw another 2 cards and play a 3rd action for that round. On top of that you will still be able to buy something; with the extra cards you drew you might be able to buy the largest land cards, the Province.

The land cars are useless when you draw them. They don’t give you anything. It’s only at the end of the game were they are really worth their weight in gold. The game ends either when all of the Provinces are gone or when any 3 other piles of cards are exhausted. Then you total up the value of all of your lands you own and the person with the most is the winner.

Conclusion

It all sounds rather simple, and for some, boring. The beauty of the game comes with the interactions that you can build between the cards that you buy for your deck. Facing off with opponents all sharing a common pool to purchase from and seeing whose strategy will be the best. Sometimes you will want to go for speed and a fast deck. Sometimes your deck might take a while to get going.

In an average game you will play with +-15% of the cards from the box, most of which are selected at random. So the replay value is huge. It’s got a lot of depth. Setup is very simple as is packing away. Dominion ticks all the right boxes.

Dominion review
These are the victory points needed to win the game. they are the last thing that you want to see during the game.

I actually bought this game to get my wife to play games. She has a very analytical mind and loves solving problems. She was not a gamer when I got the game and only played once, I think because I asked her too. Over about 3 or 4 months she played another 3 or 4 games and suddenly he started asking me if I would like to play!

I have to say she used to win a hell of a lot more than me, that forced me to start using cards that I’ve not considered using before. I’ve also started seriously thinking about deck building. Now I’m on the up, but I think it’s time to get an expansion.

Dominion is really good. There’s a reason why it’s won so many awards. There are lots of sites setup specifically to discuss the strategies of the games. There is even a tournament at ICON every year.

Even with a host of new DBGs available today, Dominion is still a good game and deserves space on almost any shelf.

Can I play this at a braai?

You can play this almost anywhere. We’ve played at braais and at restaurants. Once you know what you’re doing you can play a game in less than 15 minutes and feel like you’ve done something. It’s very easy to pause the game and pick up again. You can even move all of the cards and then move them back if you want to continue the game later.

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