Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Playing time: 30 minutes
Age range: 10+
(Image courtesy of endou_kenji@BoardGameGeek)
I first got a chance to play Dominion as a prototype at Origins and even then knew it was going to be something big. I have to say, though, I didn’t realize that it would start off an entirely new genre of games: the deck-building game. Since I’m going to be covering other deck-building games soon, I thought it would be best to start from the very beginning.
For those not familiar with them, deck-building games are related to collectible card games and “living” card games: each player has their own deck of cards with abilities that are reasonably simple, but can be combined together to create much more powerful effects. However, with those other games you pre-build your deck up front, and play from and add to your hand incrementally. The new mechanic that deck-building games bring is that you start with a very simple and small (usually around 10 cards) deck, draw an entire hand each turn, play what you can, and discard the rest. As the game progresses, you buy new cards which are added to your deck, making it progressively more powerful. These cards are limited, so you’d best buy them while you can…
Dominion’s theme is that you’re trying to build up the most prosperous kingdom. The conceit is that the cards that you’re buying represent land or other limited resources in the area that you’re battling over with your fellow kingdom makers. Due to the art, this theme feels rather thin (in fact, I didn’t realize that was the theme until I read it on BoardGameGeek to prepare this review). For example, your end goal is to collect the most points in your deck, which I guess represent areas of land. Hence, the Victory point cards have names like “Estate”, “Duchy” and “Province” on them, but what you’re really focusing on are the big “1”, “3” and “6” printed on them. Other cards allow you to perform actions, but you care more about what they do, as opposed to what they correspond to.
Each player starts with 10 cards in their deck: 7 coppers (1 Treasure each, which allow you to buy cards) and 3 Estate cards. There are also 16 supply piles laid out for everyone to use: 3 with points (listed above), 3 with Treasures (1, 2, and 3 respectively) and 10 piles of Kingdom cards, which are chosen from a set of 25 different types. How these are chosen is up to the players, though the game comes with some recommended groups of ten. Almost all of these cards allow players to perform an action of some kind. For example, the Laboratory allows you to draw 2 more cards, and play 1 more action (again, what this has to do with lab science, I don’t know). The Mine allows you to trash (remove from the game) a Treasure card from your hand and then take one that would cost 3 Treasure more. And so on. In general the more powerful the card, the more Treasure it will cost.
Everyone starts by drawing 5 cards. Then, on your turn, you may perform one action (if you can), then buy one card (if you can), and then discard the remaining cards and draw 5 more. If your deck runs out, you draw what you can, shuffle your discard pile, and then draw the remainder. The game ends when any three supply piles run out, or the Province pile runs out. The winner is the one with the most Victory points in his or her deck.
The key to the game is hitting the right balance of Victory cards (which allow you to win the game), Treasure cards (which allow you to improve your deck) and Kingdom cards (which allow you to do things). Too many Victory cards too early on, and you’ll end up not being able to do much on your turn, as they just take up space in your deck. Too many Kingdom cards early on, and you’ll find you don’t have enough Treasure to buy new ones. And too much Treasure means you won’t be able to chain actions together for their full effect.
Dominion is a great game, and it’s easy to see why it spawned a new genre. The only downsides to the original are the thinness of the theme, and the lack of interaction with the other players. That’s why I prefer the sequel Dominion: Intrigue. It doesn’t completely solve the lack of theme, but there is more interaction between players and the cards have more interesting effects. As you’d expect by the name, the interaction is of a backstabbing nature but at least you don’t feel like you’re playing a four-way game of solitaire. That said, if you get both you can combine them together to play a 6- or 8-player game. And there are further sequels and expansions, but I can’t comment on them as I haven’t played them.
Dominion – Recommended
Dominion: Intrigue – Highly Recommended
[Note: I’ve decided to change my ranking system. Highly Recommended corresponds to the old “Buy” and Recommended corresponds to the old “Borrow”.]