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A Review of Dominion: A Deckbuilding Game

You are a monarch, but you find your current pleasant kingdom too small. What do you do? Claim more land! How do you do that? By collecting cards!

I’m not sure how I got roped into playing this for the first time. On the day after my birthday my local game store had a discount day on all board and card games. With some nicely timed birthday money and low prices I picked up a couple of games. On my way out with my girlfriend the owner piped up to us, another couple next to him:

“Hey, these two have just bought this game and would like to try it out, do you fancy it?”

My girlfriend and I looked at each other. We had been in this situation before and didn’t enjoy the time that followed. We decided to relent and play Dominion with these strangers. And we were both glad we did. A week later I invested in a copy myself. We never saw the other couple again, like potential advertising spectres they disappeared into the night.

Dominion is one of those games which fall under the title of being a “deckbuilding” game, which is unsurprising considering you spend the whole game making a deck, increasing its power and buying the right cards to chain some tasty combinations together. To start off with you have seven pieces of Copper and three Estate cards. Each turn starts with your having a hand of five cards; you follow a strict A-B-C structure: Action – Buy – Clean up. When you finish your turn you discard your hand and draw a new hand of five cards, recycling the discard pile back into the deck when you draw out your deck. Eventually you will draw and be able to use the useful cards you obtained in previous turns.

An example of how later acquired cards can work in harmony, so purchase cards wisely...
An example of how later acquired cards can work in harmony, so purchase cards wisely…

Each game starts out the same, you have some Copper and Estate cards, and you can’t use any Action cards because you simply don’t have any. So you have to buy some with what little money you have in your hand. Because of this every game starts out slow. It’s the Action cards you purchase and how you use them later on which determine victory. There are 24 Actions cards in the core game alone, which you make a combination of ten piles for everyone to choose from. This gives you a huge amount of variety and replay value. But be warned, if you use the same combination of cards you’ll find yourself and others you play with falling into a pattern of play which can get boring and neglecting other strategy options you can discover when playing with other Action cards.

A winner is determined by how many Estate cards you have in your deck and as such having the biggest dominion in the land (see what they did there?). You could easily take an early lead by buying them straight away, however until the end of the game they have no value and are nothing but dead weight in your hand, taking the place of precious Gold and Action cards which in turn can get your more Action and Gold which can then later be used to buy Estate cards. When someone finally plucks up the nerve to be confident enough to purchase a Province Estate card, worth a whopping six Victory points, you know the end is nigh and you best get your skates on and start getting some yourself before they’re all gone and the game ends.

Moats: Not only effective against Spies and Thieves, but black magic wielding Witches also. Obviously.
Moats: Not only effective against Spies and Thieves, but black magic wielding Witches also. Obviously.

It’s not all a solitary game played in a group; there are opportunities in which you can mess up your opponents’ chance of winning also. The Witch card gives other players a Curse card – essentially a minus Victory card, as well as other cards with deck and hand crippling talents. Help is at hand with the Moat, naturally a well-recognised defence against magical attacks.

With seven released expansions and an extra standalone game in Dominion: Intrigue, there’s little possibly of becoming a stale purchase as you can then mix and match Actions from as many expansions as you can afford and create the craziest dominion ever.

 

images © Derek Wheatley

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