In yesterday’s Mechanic Monday we looked at Card Drafting, one of my favorite mechanics carrying over from my days as a MTG Booster Drafter. Today we are following that up with a look at Dominion; a game that was once the new hotness, and after releasing it’s fifty second expansion last month is still holding on in many people’s top 10 lists. (yes the 52nd expansion was an exaggeration there are only 9ish expansions)
Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
EPT: 30 minutes
We are experimenting with a slightly new format today; rather than give an in depth rule explanation we will merely skim the rules as this isn’t a tutorial so much as a review. In Dominion players are attempting to earn the most points in the form of green Estates, Duchies, and Provinces. At the end of the game the player who has drafted the most points wins, along with these green cards, however, are purple curse cards that count as negative points.
Players begin the game with a deck of 7 coppers and 3 estates with a pool of 10 of the available 25 cards laid out for players to buy. On players turns they can play 1 action, buy 1 card, then place all their played cards, unplayed cards left in hand, and purchased cards into their discard pile before drawing back up to 5 cards. As they play actions they may unlock the ability to play additional actions, draw additional cards from their deck, or buy additional cards from the available pool. When a player needs to draw cards from their deck but there are too few cards available they shuffle their discard deck before making it their new draw pile.
Play continues until there are no province cards left to purchase or 3 of the other purchasable card piles are empty at the beginning of a player’s turn. When this happens all players count the number of victory points on the cards they have in their deck and the player with the most points is deemed the victor.
Dominion uses mechanics in an interesting way which is part of what made it so popular upon its release. Players are drafting cards from the center of the play area so as to construct a deck; their drafts are open and public, however, so players know what each other are doing and can thus build their own decks accordingly. This use of Card Drafting added a fun strategic element in which players can attempt to counteract one another’s strategies more readily. Partnering the Card Drafting mechanic with Hand Management in the form of the on card actions creates an interesting engine building scenario in which a player desires to streamline their hand so as to maximize buying power each turn; they further developed the viability of this strategy by adding the ability to trash a card from one’s hand; removing said cards from the game for its entire duration. The trash ability also allows players to remove unwanted curse cards as well so as to not only remove the negative point values but also streamline their deck in the process.
The game plays smoothly; a great sign of laborious play testing. Players have the option of using preset kingdom layouts or have the option of dealing a random layout. The random layouts may have fewer interactions between cards available, which is not necessarily a bad thing in that multiple strategy paths become more available, though card combos may be less frequent.
There is a slight learning curve issue the game faces that can discourage first time players. The game’s skill/luck balance is one in which a more experienced player can reduce their deck’s luck dependence so that a player can purchase a province (the highest scoring green card) every turn. New players will either see this and be disheartened and never play again or see it as a challenge they want to overcome; each player will react differently and I have seen it happen both ways. The new players will also face much more Analysis Paralysis each turn as they attempt to wrap their heads around the available card abilities as well as translate that knowledge into a potential strategy; experienced players, meanwhile, will often get to their turn with a full knowledge of what they want to do and will finish their turn in seconds; though a well developed machine may take longer when a player gets to run through their entire deck in a turn.
The visual on the cards add a fun element as each kingdom card has a different image that is often related to the card’s name; militia showing soldiers, moat showing a moat, woodcutter showing people cutting down a tree. Not all cards follow this rule but enough do that it adds to the experience. The theme is still moderately pasted-on; there is a rough sense of developing one’s kingdom as they add villages, workshops, and mines though many other themes could fit with the game play; though the use of a theme keeps the game more interesting than merely labeling the cards with the costs and abilities.
The game is fun but can grow repetitive. The designer overcame the repetitive nature of the game by releasing an expansion every 6-12 months. This is great for the Dominion die-hards that are willing to pay 250 bucks for the full collection or those who prefer to play the game until they get their fill before just moving onto their next game. I personally enjoy the game in moderation. When I first played it; I loved it and played it many times over, though my infatuation with the game died overtime as other games stepped in to take its place.
All that being said Dominion is a great game that revolutionized Card Drafting and Hand Management as it introduced many of us to the idea of in-game Deck Building. Dominion thus now sits at a 6.5 out of 10; from where it once debuted as a 8.5.
Visuals – 1.5 // 2
Skill/Luck – 5 // 1
Pacing – 1.25 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1 // 2
Mechanics – .75 // 1
Fun Factor 1.5 // 2
Tomorrow we will return to the world of the Worker Placement games as we look at a worker placement game that less of you will have heard of in the form of Zoophoria.
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