Dominion is a game that’s been begging for a review by me for quite some time now. The game has been out since 2008, but I only discovered it about a year ago during my second year exploring this brand new world of tabletop gaming. It is easily my favorite game and the one I encourage every game player to try at least once.
Donald X. Vaccarino’s Dominion (currently published by Rio Grande Games in America) created a popular and broadly used mechanic called deck-building, which is just as simple as it sounds. The game starts with a small deck consisting of 10 cards: 3 Estates, Victory Point cards worth 1 point a piece; and 7 Coppers, Treasure cards that are worth 1 monetary value each. You shuffle the deck and draw the top five cards in preparation for your turn. (You can see your next had between turns. In fact, due to some card effects, you _have to_.) On your turn, play goes as such:
A.) Action – You can play any Action cards in your hand. You will not have any on your first turn and are unlikely to have any on your second. But we’ll talk more about actions soon.
B.) Buy – You play your money cards and can buy one card from the center of the table. These cards could be other Treasure cards, Action cards or Victory Points.
C.) Clean-up – All played cards and purchased cards move into your discard pile. Yes, that means cards that you ‘spent’ on your turn aren’t actually gone. Everything you use and acquire goes back to you. At the end of the clean-up phase, you draw your next five cards. If you are unable to draw five cards, you draw as many as you can, shuffle your discard pile and use that as your new draw pile in order to draw up to five. Throughout the game, you will be continually drawing the same cards but your deck will become larger as you build. That’s why it’s called a deck-building game!
The game really is that simple to play. What keeps bringing players back for more are the cards sitting in the middle of the table. The basic cards are always the Treasure cards of Copper (costs nothing to buy), Silver (worth 2 but costs 3 to buy) and Gold (worth 3 but costs 6 to buy) and the Victory Point cards of Estate (worth 1 VP but costs 2 to buy), Duchy (worth 3 VPs but cost 5) and Province (worth 6 VPs but cost 8). You will always want to buy more Treasure cards in order to increase your chances of having enough money in hand to purchase Victory Points. However, you do not want to buy too many Victory Points too soon because you can do nothing with them when drawn. They are only valuable for counting up at the end of the game. Speaking of which, one way to trigger the end of the game is to buy all of the Provinces. When that pile is gone, the game is done.
The less basic cards, so to speak, are the cards that comprise the Kingdom – 10 piles of cards available to buy during the course of the game. These cards are randomly selected from 25 cards included in the base game. Most of these cards are the Action cards mentioned earlier. Some cards, such as the Smithy, will allow you to draw more cards. Some cards will let you root through your draw pile for specific cards, like the treasure-seeking Adventurer. Some cards may even drastically alter your play during a turn by giving you extra actions or extra buys (or both!). The real strategy of the game comes from analysing the cards available and figuring out the best way to buy as many Victory Points as possible as quickly as possible. And the other way to trigger the end of the game is to empty three piles that are not the Province pile, so it could be some combination of Treasures, Victory Points and Actions.
A common complaint about the game is that it can seem like a game of solitaire played in a group, with the only player interaction being who gets to what cards first. There are setups like this, certainly, but there are attack cards that facilitate greater player interaction. Of the 25 Action cards, 5 of them are attack cards. The attacks are varied and interesting, from forcing players to discard cards from their hands to stealing money from their draw piles or giving them Curse cards (which are worth -1 VP at the end of the game and also clog up decks). If players ever get a setup without attack cards, they can always swap out a card for their favorite attack.
The other complaint about the game is that there are too many expansions. I would be inclined to agree if it weren’t for the fact that every expansion really does add something new to the game. I won’t go into detailing each of the 8 expansions right now, but I will say that I appreciate each one for making me think about the game and how I play it differently. Plus you are not required to get any expansions you don’t like. The biggest problem is that you will want to own every expansion at some point.
Dominion is a much more thoughtful game than to which many players are accustomed. There is no player elimination and luck is mollified by your own actions throughout. Abstractly, the game is about building your future, since every card you buy will be encountered again at some point. Some cards work well together. Some cards you just need to get in order to impede your opponent. All of this must be done on a tight budget of what you’ve drawn.
I cannot recommend this game enough. You can play it for free online, but I don’t recommend it.