In 2011, game designer Seth Jaffee brought us a deck building game called Eminent Domain. Published by Tasty Minstrel Games, this was one of their earliest titles that helped to put both of them on the map.
Recently, Seth and Tasty Minstrel have hooked back up for another trip into the Eminent Domain universe. This time however, it’s in the form of a micro game. Eminent Domain: Microcosm takes two players in a quick trip through this Sci Fi universe. Can a game this tiny hold our attention for long? Time to find out!
Eminent Domain: Microcosm is a 2 player engine building and deck building game that takes about 10 minutes to play.
Two empires are about to collide and it’s up to you to make sure your empire comes out on top. In Eminent Domain: Microcosm, two players have 9 round to build up their space empires and try to come out on top.
Each turn you take a card into your hand from the supply, then either play a card or retrieve the cards from your discard pile. In addition to an action, each card also has a scoring condition on it. So during the game, you will not only build up your action pool, but also decide on your scoring strategy.
With limited turns, it’s up to each player to make wise selections each round as they build out their deck. At the end of 9 rounds, players total up their victory points. The player with the most is the winner.
Eminent Domain: Microcosm comes in a tiny box of about 35 cards. I say about, because the game also ships with some promo cards for Eminent Domain, Battlecruisers, and Dungeon Roll. It does seem a bit odd for those random cards to be in there, but I’m guessing they had left over space on the forms they send to the printer and figured they may as well make good use of the space. Consider it a nice freebie.
The cards themselves are of a nice quality and I have no issues about them holding up to repeated plays. I was really impressed with the graphic design on the cards. There is a lot of information to be had on each card and I think they are expertly laid-out to be both informative, yet still pleasing to the eye. So kudos to graphic designer Ariel Seoane on a job well done.
The only other thing of note is the rulebook that comes with the game. I’ll address more of it later, but suffice to say, expect to be making a trip to the internet if you want to learn how to play.
How to Play:
To get setup, there are a few different sets of cards to organize. The 18 cards in the Domain Deck are shuffled and 3 are dealt face up to form the supply. The planet cards are sorted by type and placed into 3 facedown stacks. Finally, the 5 technology cards are placed off to the side. Players begin the game with no cards in their hand or deck.
Starting with a randomly chosen start player, each player takes turns in the following manner:
1. Draw a card from the supply: It may be one of the three face-up cards or the top card of the Domain Deck.
2a. Play a card from your hand and resolve its action.
2b. Return any number of cards from your discard pile to your hand.
Each of the domain cards has a few different parts. In the upper left is an action icon. When you play an action card, some may be boosted by showing matching icons from other cards you have. Also in the upper left are planet types. There are 5 different planets that may be scored at the end of the game.
In the center of the card is the action you may take with it. As noted above, these can usually be boosted by revealing matching symbols when played.
In the upper right is a scoring condition. This gives you points for specific sets you’ve collected at the end of the game. This may be technology cards, specific planets, or possibly colonies. All together there are about 7 ways to score points.
The various actions you can take are:
Colonize: Claim a planet from the center and make it a colony. Colonies can be used for their action symbols if revealed.
Warfare: Claim a planet from the center or another player’s colony. These are placed in your spoils pile and will only used for victory point scoring.
Research: Take a tech card from the center or force another player to return one of theirs.
Survey: These cards let you look at hidden cards.
Political Cards: These let you do a variety of things and also have effects while they are hanging out in your discard pile.
Once all 18 domain cards have been taken, the game ends at the end of that player’s turn. Players then collect all the cards from their hands and discard pile and score them. Each card scores points in a specific way. The player with the most points is the winner.
That’s a high level overview of how to play Eminent Domain: Microcosm. If you’d like to view the updated rules PDF, you can download it here. I’d also highly suggest watching this tutorial video from Watch it Played for a more thorough explanation.
So I have to admit it, the micro game genre seems like one of the quickest burning fires in our hobby. After Love Letter took the industry by storm, micro games flooded the market. After seeing too many of them that, for the most part, weren’t very good, I quickly got burned out on the genre. So I to be honest, I didn’t have very high expectations for Eminent Domain: Microcosm.
That being said, I saw the game being demo’d at Gen Con this year and I’ll admit, my interest was piqued. I’m a fan of Eminent Domain and was curious if the same designer could capture some of that magic into a 10 minute game. Short answer: yes he did. Now for the long answer.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Eminent Domain: Microcosm is actually a solid engine building game that can be played in 10 minutes. For the life of me, I never actually thought that would be a thing, but designer Seth Jaffee managed to pull it off.
One of the ways he accomplished this was through multi-use cards (always a favorite mechanic of mine). Each card contains an action, a way to earn victory points, a planet type (usually), and also a way to boost other cards. This not only allows for players to have many ways to tailor their strategies, but also provides many different paths to victory. In fact, most of our plays of Eminent Domain: Microcosm have been incredibly tight. It’s been rare for anyone to win by more than a handful of points.
The other nice thing about Eminent Domain: Microcosm is how quick the game plays. Once you are up and running, the game should take you no more than 10-15 minutes. This allows you to jump in and play quickly. This is in part because of the 18 card draw deck.
However, with this tiny deck of cards, sometimes you can get burned by lady luck. If one of the warfare cards is on the top of the deck, and the other 2 are on the bottom… well you will just have to live with that, no matter how much you want to attack that colony. There isn’t much in the way of mitigating the luck of the draw deck in Eminent Domain: Microcosm. But to be honest, as quick as the game plays, that’s not really a deal breaker for me.
However I do need to talk about the elephant in the room. As I alluded to earlier, the rule book (rulesheet?) that comes with Eminent Domain: Microcosm is, for lack of a better term, horrible. It doesn’t explain how to play the game very well and left me quite confused. I apparently wasn’t the only one as there are comments all over the internet with questions on how to play. Fortunately, I was saved by two things. Tasty Minstrel Games has updated the rulebook as a PDF that helps clarify how to play the game. Also, the Watch it Played video that teaches you how to play was really helpful. With both of these resources, I was able to finally sink my teeth into this game.
And once I did, I really enjoyed it. I think that Eminent Domain: Microcosm is a game that gets better the more you play it. Once you learn the cards and the scoring, the game is a lot deeper than it appears on the surface. In our first game, we mostly just grabbed domain cards that seemed interesting, completely ignoring how they each score. But as we learned how the game plays, the decisions became a lot more interesting as we not only had to choose cards that had actions we wanted, but also scored how we want. This helped give the game a lot of depth, especially for a micro game!
Eminent Domain: Microcosm will never be more than a filler game, but in that role, it does a great job of it. I’ve found Eminent Domain: Microcosm to be the perfect game for while you are waiting for other people to show up to game night, or when it’s just me and my wife and we are looking to kill a little bit of time. When we want something light and quick, Eminent Domain: Microcosm makes a great choice.
Despite me burning out on the micro game genre quickly, Eminent Domain: Microcosm quickly exceeded my expectations. There is a surprising amount of depth in these 35 cards. I’m a big fan of both engine building and deck building games, so Eminent Domain: Microcosm fits right in my wheel house.
While actually learning the game can be a bit harder than it should be, once you get your head wrapped around this little gem, I think you have a game that will be gracing your gaming table quite often. With its quick playing time, low price point, and stellar game play, there aren’t too many reasons not to own Eminent Domain: Microcosm. If you are looking for a unique and quick playing game for two, pick this one up today.
If you’d like to get a copy of Eminent Domain: Microcosm for yourself, you can pick it up for about $10.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A surprisingly fun micro game with a lot more depth than I expected. Once you get past the rulebook, you’ll be diving into this game quite often.
• Solid Mechanics
• Quick game play
• Multi-use cards
• Many paths to victory
• Rulebook needs help
• Luck of the draw can sometimes frustrate
This was a great little microgame, I’m glad I picked it up.