Game Review: Dominion

20131116-124827.jpg“You are a monarch, like your parents before you, a ruler of a small pleasant kingdom of rivers and evergreens. Unlike your parents, however, you have hopes and dreams! You want a bigger and more pleasant kingdom, with more rivers and a wider variety of trees. In all directions lie fiefs, freeholds, and feodums. You will hire minions, construct buildings, spruce up your castle, and fill your treasury. You want a Dominion!”

Late last year my brother was visiting while on break from college. Though I’d heard him rant and rave about a card game he was obsessed with, I hadn’t really thought about it until he placed a rather large square box on the table and said, “we’re playing.” It was called Dominion, and when I played my first card it was like the food critic in Ratatouille who took a bite and was instantly transported to his childhood. I was flooded with memories of my grade school days playing the Star Wars Customizable Card Game, Legend of the Five Rings, and X-Men trading cards. He went on to show me his trunk full of expansion boxes (did I mention he was obsessed?), but the overall experience was, sadly, short-lived. He left and I didn’t really give the game a second thought until a couple months ago when I was handed a large, square present on my birthday…and that’s when Dominion really entered my life.

I’ve seen it written that Dominion is the first game of its kind. Though one would think something similar existed prior to 2008, this is certainly the game that kicked off the deck-building phenomenon. Designed for 2-4 players, it lasts approximately 30 minutes and is meant for ages 13 and up (though slightly younger players could certainly hang). The 500 card base set consists predominantly of Treasure cards (Copper, Silver, Gold), Victory cards (Estate, Duchy, Province), and Kingdom cards (various action/reaction cards). These are known as the Supply, and are laid out prior to the start of the game. Only 10 piles of the 25 different sets of Kingdom cards are used each game. While this can be any 10 of your choosing, the instructions recommend 5 different sets to highlight card interactions and game strategies. I strongly suggest playing these sets first before creating your own, they aptly display the full spectrum of card capabilities and interactions.

Each player starts with 10 cards (7 Coppers and 3 Estates), face down in a pile, and draws 5 cards each turn. A turn consists of an Action Phase, Buy Phase, and Clean-up Phase. Additional Treasure cards must be purchased in order to purchase additional Victory cards or Kingdom cards which go to your discard pile and eventually get shuffled back into your deck. The various Kingdom cards, when played, can put more cards in your hand, add money to your buy phase, affect other players, etc. As the game type suggests, over time your deck builds and will quickly change the entire play of the game. The game ends when either the pile of Province cards is empty or any 3 Supply piles are empty. The player with the most victory points (from the Victory cards) in his or her deck at the end wins.

Do you buy Treasure cards first or Kingdom cards first? Do you attempt to ‘attack’ your opponent or just leave him alone and concentrate on your deck? Whatever strategy you use, when people start buying Province cards…you’d better have a plan. That is an undeservedly brief description of the game, but in the interest of space and time, believe me when I say the mechanics and strategies of Dominion are both addicting and endlessly fun (even my wife loves to play).

Not all is good in the kingdom though. From a collecting, transporting, and overall storing perspective, the Dominion box is entirely too big. Though the storage tray nicely separates the card piles, you can’t exactly throw the game into a backpack when heading out of the door. Also, the two separate instruction booklets is puzzling. One describes the overall gameplay and the other gives examples of turns and describes individual cards. Why it wasn’t combined into one booklet is beyond me. Lastly, while not a con, please note that the majority of the expansions require the base set of Treasure, Victory, Curse, and Trash cards to play.

Retailed at around $30, Dominion is well worth the money. With a light, almost inconsequential medieval theme, this card game has a high replay value, detailed illustrations, and exceptional expansions (I just cracked open Seaside). I know I’m late to this party, but for those in the same boat, this game needs to be a part of your upcoming holiday season. And next time a sibling says they’re obsessed with a game…hear ’em out, it just might be worth your while.

Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

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