About 5 years ago, Donald X. Vaccarino came up with the idea of making a game around building your play deck during the game, instead of before. Since that time, the deck building genre has taken the gaming world by storm. There are more deck building games now than you can shake a stick yet, each with their own unique theme and mechanics. But it’s time we looked back at the grand daddy of deck builders: Dominion. Does Dominion have the lasting power 5 years later to still be worthy of your time or was it just a blip in the gaming radar.
Dominion is a deck building game for 2-4 players that plays in about 30 minutes. Are the 500 cards you get with the base Dominion set enough to keep you entertained? Read on to find out.
As stated earlier, Dominion is a deck building game. What that means is that everyone begins the game with the same 10 cards in their play deck. Throughout the course of the game, players will buy more cards and add them to their original 10 card deck. As the game progresses, this deck gets larger and larger with the newly acquired cards. This bigger deck gives you expanded play options on your turn via the action cards you purchased during previous game rounds. More victory point cards (how you win the game) and currency cards (how you buy new cards) will also make their way into your deck. Players have to walk a fine line of buying actions cards, victory points and currency cards during the game. Too much of one of them means a player will be drawing less of the other ones during the game. While a hand full of victory point cards is horrible to draw during the game, you need those at the end of the game to win. Card drafting, hand management and deck building are the main themes of this game. Spend your resources wisely on your turn and you should come out as the victor.
How to Play:
The game play of Dominion is actually quite simple. Everyone starts with 10 cards in their deck, 3 victory point cards and 7 currency cards. You draw 5 cards into your hand and the game is ready to begin.
As to how to play your turn, someone figured out that the best way to teach Dominion is with the letters A-B-C. Each turn of Dominion consists of 3 parts:
A: Action. You may play an action card from your hand (Optional)
B: Buy. Using the coin cards in your hand, buy any card from the available pool of 10 action cards, 3 currency cards, or 3 victory point cards.
C: Clean Up. Discard all the cards you played, didn’t play and bought that round into your discard pile and draw 5 new cards.
The game ends when either all the Province cards (6pt victory point card) have been bought or when 3 of any other pile is empty.
And that’s it. The hardest part of the game is knowing what each of the action cards do, but after a few rounds, most people will seem to remember. Turns tend to go by rather quickly once everyone has a basic understanding of the game.
The Game Experience:
I first played Dominion a few years ago and was hooked instantly. The idea of a Deck Building game was brand new and I can’t believe no one had thought of the concept sooner. Many, many years ago I was an avid Magic: The Gathering player. One of my favorite parts of that game was constructing different game decks with all my cards. I’d spend hours pulling cards in and out of decks to try and make them better. Considering how much enjoyment I got from deck building back in the day, it makes a lot of sense that someone would turn that into a game.
First off, let me say that playing Dominion is a lot of fun. When I first played it, it felt different than any game I’ve played before. There are so many different strategies a player could use to try and win the game. It helps that the games are short enough that you can try out new strategies and if they don’t pan out, you’ve only give up 30 minutes. Nothing is worse than trying something different in a heavy euro game, only to realized that it’s not going to work and you have enough hour to suffer through in last place.
With Dominion, you will get a whole LOT of cards. 500 to be exact, and that’s just with the base game. But don’t be intimidated. Since everyone will need copies of the same card, there are many duplicates. In fact, there are only 25 different types of action cards (10 of each). But since you only play with 10 in any given game, you have over 3,268,760 possibly combinations of cards you can play with in any given game. Dominion has a lot of replay value for someone that doesn’t want to see the same game twice. The rule book does have some suggested card sets for specific types of games, but we have fared just as well by randomly picking cards. In fact, once you start buying expansions (there are at least a dozen or so out), your choices can get almost overwhelming.
As minor as it is, that’s probably my biggest gripe with Dominion. They released so many expansions so quickly, I am suffering from expansion fatigue. I have quite a few of them and don’t want to see any more Dominion cards, even though I love this game. I even built a custom case to hold all my cards. While having a lot of options isn’t a bad thing, a new player might feel like they need all the expansions to have the complete Dominion experience.
I’ll go on record of saying that you don’t need every expansions. Unless you are the most die hard of Dominion fans, I’d suggest you pick a few the sound interesting and stop there. Trust me, you don’t need 250 different action cards to choose from when setting up a game.
The other knock against Dominion is that its theme is fairly tacked on. You are supposed to be building your kingdom, but no one really feels like you are. The cards have names and artwork is very nice looking, but both are wholly unnecessary to the game. If you are looking at a thematic deck builder, there are many better options out there.
But don’t let that deter you from picking up this game. Those two gripes are incredible minor. Dominion is still a fantastic game, even after all these years. You can get through a game in about 30 minutes. Once everyone gets familiar with the cards on the table, turns will go by very quickly. Late in the game, it’s not unusual for someone’s turn to take under 15 seconds.
While player interaction isn’t a heavy part of this game, there are a few cards (called attack cards) that will affect your opponents. These are more prevalent in some of the expansions rather than the base game though.
With all that said though, Dominion is a great game experience. Its game play is very unique (at least it was when it was first introduced), turns are quick, and the game is just downright fun. I love constructing my deck as I play, trying out new strategies with the different action card options Since your victory point cards are part of your deck, know one really knows who’s winning until the game ends. This helps add some mystery during the game as you don’t ever know if your ahead or not.
I’ve also found Dominion to be accessible to non-gamers as well. The theme isn’t deep enough to turn anyone off and the game play is easy enough to understand in a few turns. With a 30 minute playtime you won’t overwhelm anyone either. In fact, one of the reasons Dominion is so accessible is because a player can play with as much strategy as they want. With all the action card variety, you can spend your turns trying to create powerful combos using the various cards you buy, or you can just buy whatever you feel like when your turn comes up. This isn’t a game that punishes anyone for not going in with a solid strategy. At the end of the day, it’s pretty easy have fun playing Dominion, not matter how you attack the game.
In case you haven’t picked up on it by now, I loved Dominion. While it does have some minor flaws (tacked on theme, expansion fatigue, lower player interaction), the pros easily outweigh the cons. Its unique game play experience, combined with its short play time and easy to learn rules make it a big win in my book. It’s nice to have a different kind of game that I can pull out with my gaming group and family alike.
For any new Dominion players out there, don’t fret the amount of expansion choices. Start with the base game and if you like it enough, pick a few expansions that sounds interesting and stop there. Trust me, you don’t need all of them unless you are going to be playing this game multiple times a week over the next few years.
If you are looking to jump into the deck building genre, you’d be hard pressed to find a better all purpose deck builder game then Dominion. It’s worth giving a try and if you like the genre, perhaps take a look into one of the more thematic ones. Either way, Dominion is sure to be a hit on your gaming table.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $32
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – The grand daddy of deck building games is till a lot of fun, even after all these years. Give it a try!
• Tacked on theme
• So many expansions, can cause expansions fatigue