Dominion, originally released back in 2008, is the deck building board game that started the entire genre. Published by Rio Grande Games and designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, the game sees 2 – 4 players become monarchs. Born into the royal family of a small kingdom players will want to expand their control to turn their kingdom into a Dominion. Taking around half an hour cards will be played, purchased and one player will come out on top. However, does the game still stand up today as a quality board game? Let’s find out!
Each starting with an identical deck of 10 cards, players will have 3 Estates (worth 1 point) and 7 copper cards (worth 1 coin). 7 types of base cards including the likes of copper, silver, gold and point scoring cards are always included in the central supply. On top of this a range of additional kingdom cards are included for the games available market of cards. With 26 types of kingdom cards to pick from, only 10 are used in a single game. Which are included is up to the players, though suggestions for sets of 10 kingdom card types are included. After each player has shuffled their starting deck of 10 cards they can draw their starting hand of 5 cards and the game is ready to begin.
Turns follow an ABC structure. A refers to an action, B is for the buy stage and C is clean up. In the first step the active player may play one card from their hand to perform the denoted action. At the start of the game players won’t have any so this part is skipped. By the end players will often have choices to make. Some action cards allow for additional actions to be taken, otherwise only one action card can be played on a turn.
Next, players can reveal treasure cards from their hand. These indicate a worth, for example copper is worth 1 coin while silver is worth 2 coins. The player is then able to buy 1 card from the market, with left over coins wasted. Akin to how some action cards allow for extra actions, some allow for additional purchases. Any purchased cards are placed onto the player’s discard pile. The final stage of a player’s turn is clean up. This is done by placing all cards that they had in their hand, used or unused, onto their discard pile. They then draw 5 cards from their deck. If their deck runs out the player shuffles their discard pile, with it becoming their new deck to continue drawing from.
Play continues with the next player clockwise around the table taking their turn, and so on. While the grand aim is to buy point scoring cards they don’t have actions on them. Neither do they offer coins to buy things – they effectively clog up your deck. The kingdom cards in the supply all feature actions, which help you do more on your turns. These range from forcing others to discard cards or cursing opponents to simply being able to spend more coins by buying more cards. Building up an engine can allow players to gain expensive treasures which in turn can lead to being able to pay for the more expensive and higher point scoring cards. The game ends when either the pile of province cards, the highest of the point scoring cards, or any 3 piles in the supply are empty. At this point whomever has the most points wins.
There is occasionally a lull just before the end of Dominion. When everyone has built their deck to a certain level there is a point where things switch to just trying to play enough treasures to purchase point scoring cards. This certainly doesn’t occur in every game though, as different types of cards from the supply spice things up. As an example including the gardens or witches means that the end game isn’t always as pre-defined – offering another way to gain points or curse opponents respectively. Changing the available cards makes a lot of difference as in one game the amount of points Province cards can generate seems the optimal route. In other games piles in the supply will have dwindled causing the game to end at a slightly different stage, perhaps before players are able to consistently purchase Provinces.
With limited changes to setup Dominion is a very fast paced game at 2 players. As expected, the strength of certain cards can feel like they have been reduced while their cost hasn’t. This isn’t necessarily the case though. For example, the attack action of the Militia card sees all other players discard their hand down to only 3 cards. In a four player game that impacts a lot of other players around the table, therefore it feels a bit lackluster if using against a sole opponent. Still, as this would then be a 1 on 1 any advantage a player can gain is still vital to getting the victory. Other options might be better value but causing your opponent problems is always a fun strategy.
Dominion comes with an incredibly useful insert, if you plan on storing the box flat, and a near useless one if you prefer your games to be stored vertically. Coming with a thin cardboard reference sheet players can use the insert to store all of the card types, all 26 of the kingdom cards and the 7 base card types, in individual sections. Unfortunately, standing the box upright sees the cards explode into a mixed pile. It does take a few minutes to set up the box before an initial play, and it does add a little to tear down time of the game. It is however worthwhile as it makes setting up the game, finding the full sets of the kingdom cards that you want to use a breeze.
At first glance the market of cards in Dominion is on the daunting side for new players. While there are many card types left in the box, the full supply of kingdom and standard cards still reaches a total of 17 types. The designer has been clever to include a suggested starting selection though. Utilizing a number of cards with simple and similar abilities it allows new players to pick up and play the game with incredible ease. This turns around a situation where players could have been flustered, with too many options. So, after a game players will have seen the 10 kingdom cards in play and are actually excited to go again but with a new combination of the supply.
This is amplified via the simple ABC game phase approach – which is ideal for stepping players into the game. In the first few rounds all new players will be able to do is buy a single new card, before perhaps having the chance of playing 1 action card. They’ll have a chance to look over the supply before learning one or two of the cards which they pick up. This means players will know some cards, having seen them multiple times, before their deck is built up to an extent where it offers multiple action choices each turn.
Dominion is the grandfather of modern deck building games, spawning an entire genre of games. Coming into the experience off the back of playing deck building games such as Arkham Horror, with its cooperative twist, and Clank!, which has a board to move around, I was concerned that spark might be missing. Instead, the streamlined nature of just deck building gives Dominion an elegance. After amassing a large deck in one game players will want to restart, throwing in new card types to allow for exciting and different combos. All of a sudden, that card type that was fought over isn’t available and new strategies emerge. While it looks like a lot, new players can quickly pick the game up, though it may take them a couple of games to truly compete. Still, it is one of those games that is easy to pick up off the shelf, play and enjoy – so it’s earnt its space on my gaming shelf!
(Editor’s Note: Dominion was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, some of which are reopening! Find your local store here.)